I’m not a botanist (though I enjoyed the recent movie that starred a guy who played one – The Martian), but I know something about plants and trees: I know how to tell when they are mature. This past weekend, for instance, we went apple-picking at the Little Farmer north of Fond du Lac, and I know the trees were mature because I picked and ate their fruit. That’s maturity. When a tree bears fruit, it’s mature.
And so it is with Christians. The Christian who is mature is the one who bears fruit.
Now, this fruit can be of the character variety – of course, I’m thinking of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22, 23 – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc.), or it can be of the service variety (evangelism, discipleship – i.e. using your spiritual gift). But you can tell the mature Christian when both of these are happening.
But how do you become a mature Christian? Well, here is where many Christians go afoul, because many don’t realize that the first step to maturity is understanding something. In other words, you have to know something if you want to be mature. It’s a fact that you must grasp, and not just in your head, but also in your heart. Now, of course, the key to bearing fruit is abiding in Christ, but that’s not the fact I’m talking about. Many Christians know that they must abide in Christ, spending time in His Word and prayer, meditating on the gospel, church attendance, fellowship, etc., but they have trouble doing it.
Many Christians know they must abide in Christ but they don’t do it, and the reason is that they are missing a foundational truth. Consider this…
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5 (ESV)
How much can you do apart from Christ? Nothing…not a thing.
Here’s the point – if you are not convinced of this one truth, that apart from Christ you can do nothing, then you will not pray, or read His word, or preach the gospel to yourself or go to church regularly. Of course, you will try to do these things, and you will make commitments and New Year’s resolutions, but it will all end in failure because you are not convinced…that you must.
You don’t know that you can’t.
This is why so many Christians fail to abide, because in the end, they just don’t think they need to. Thus they fail to bear real fruit and thus they fail to become mature, So here is the greatest truth a Christian can know: You are absolutely unable. Meditate on that for a month and see what happens. Really. After all, you had to know this to become a Christian, that you were unable to qualify for heaven on your own. And now, not surprisingly, you have to know this to live the Christian life.
Apart from Jesus…you can do nothing.