Christmas is just round the corner. All major shopping malls are decorated with Christmas trees, mistletoes, reindeers and Santa Claus; the sound systems are filled with Christmas carols, but something seems amiss. Ha! The secular world has successfully removed Christ from Christmas. “Christ” has been replaced with “X” on most secular or commercial decorations, and it is hardly heard in most carols. What kinds of impact can secularization have on the Christian faith? Will Christ be removed from Christianity over time? Why is this a concern of all Christians, and what can we do to overcome such a trend?
Jesus told his disciples: “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
We are not called upon to speak upon all forms of doing, as beyond us, but of that form of it which is intended in the text. There are certain forms of doing in which men excel who know little or nothing of Christ. But the text must be viewed in its own context and the Truth of God is clear. Believers are here described under the figure of branches in the vine—and the doing alluded to must, therefore, be the bearing of fruit! The text might be rendered as, “Apart from Me you can produce nothing, make nothing, create nothing, bring forth nothing.” The reference, therefore, is to that doing which may be set forth by the fruit of the vine’s branch and, therefore, to those good works and Divine Graces of the Spirit which are expected from men who are spiritually united to Christ. It is of these that He says, “Without Me you can do nothing.”
We have been saved by the almighty Grace of God apart from all doings of our own and now that we are saved, we long to do something in return! We feel a high ambition to be of some use and service to our great Lord and Master. There is the ambition and hope before us of doing something in the way of glorifying God by bringing forth the fruits of holiness, peace and love. We would adorn the Doctrine of God, our Savior, in all things. By pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by love unfeigned, by every good and holy work we would show forth the praises of our God!
Apart from the Lord Jesus we know we cannot be holy—but joined unto Him we overcome the world, the flesh and the devil—and we walk with garments unspotted from the world! The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance and all manner of holy conversation. For none of these things are we equal of ourselves, and yet by faith we say with Paul, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). We aspire not only to produce fruit in ourselves, but to bear much fruit in the conversion of others, even as Paul desired concerning the Romans, that he might have fruit among them (cf. Rom 1:13).
In this matter we can do nothing whatever, alone, but being united unto Christ we bring forth increase unto the Lord. Our Lord Jesus said, “The works that I do shall you do also, and greater works than these shall you do, because I go unto the Father” (John 14:12). Brothers and Sisters, a hope springs up in our bosom that we may, each one of us, bring many souls to Jesus! Not because we have any power in ourselves, but because we are united to Jesus, we joyfully hope to bring forth fruit in the way of leading others to the knowledge of the Gospel!
Unless we have the Lord Jesus, ourselves, we cannot take Him to others! Unless within us we have the Living Water springing up unto eternal life, we cannot overflow so that out of our midst shall flow rivers of Living Water! What if we should be in Christ, but not so in Him as to abide in Him? It appears from our Lord’s words that some branches in Him are cast forth and are withered. “If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch and is withered” (John 15:6). Some who are called by His name and reckoned among His disciples—whose names are heard whenever the roll of the Church is read—yet do not continue in Him. What if it should happen that we are only in Christ on Sunday, but in the world all the rest of the week?
What if we are only in Christ at the Communion Table, or at the Prayer Meeting, or at certain periods of devotion? What if we are off and on with Christ? What if we play fast and loose with the Lord? What if we are an outside saint and an inside devil? Ah me, what will come of such conduct as this? And yet, some persist in attempting to hold an intermittent communion with Christ—in Christ today because it is the Sabbath—out of Christ tomorrow because it is the market and obedience to Christ might be inconvenient when buying and selling. This will not do! We must be so in Christ as to be always in Him, or else we are not living branches of the living Vine and we cannot produce fruit. If there were such a thing as a vine branch that was only occasionally joined to the stem, would you expect it to yield a cluster to the farmer? So neither can we, if we are off and on with Christ. We can do nothing if there is not constant union.
“Without Me,” says the text, “you can do nothing”—you can produce nothing. The visible Church of Christ has tried this experiment a great many times, already, and always with the same result. Separated from Christ, His Church can do nothing which she was formed to do. She is sent into the world upon a high enterprise, with noble aims before her and grand forces at her disposal—but if she should cease from communion with Christ—she would become wholly incapable!
Somehow there is a strange prejudice in people’s minds in favor of bread made with flour and there is also an unaccountable prejudice in the human mind which makes men think that if there is a Gospel, it must have Christ in it. A sermon without Christ as its beginning, middle and end is a mistake in conception and a crime in execution! However grand the language, it will be merely much ado about nothing if Christ is not there. Yes, and I mean by Christ not merely His example and the ethical precepts of His teaching, but His atoning blood, His wondrous satisfaction made for human sin and the grand doctrine of, “believe and live.” If, “Life for a look at the Crucified One” is obscured, all is dark! Without Christ in the doctrine we shall do nothing!
If we do not acknowledge Christ to be All, we have virtually left Him out and are without Him! We must preach the Gospel because Christ has revealed it. “Thus says the Lord,” is to be our logic. We must preach the Gospel as ambassadors delivering their message—that is to say, in the King’s name—by an authority not their own. We preach our doctrines, not because we consider that they are convenient and profitable, but because Christ has commanded us to proclaim them. We believe our doctrines, not because the enlightenment of the age sets its wonderful imprimatur upon them, but because they are true and are the voice of God!
Age or no age has nothing to do with us. The world hates Christ and must hate Him—if it would boldly denounce Christ, it would be to us a more hopeful sign than its deceitful Judas kiss. We keep simply to this—the Lord has said it and we care not who approves or disapproves. Jesus is God and Head of the Church—and we must do what He bids us and say what He tells us—if we fail in this, nothing of good will come of it.
We may talk a good deal without Christ. We may hold congresses, conferences and conventions. But doing is another matter! Without Jesus we can talk any quantity, but without Him we can do nothing. The most eloquent discourse without Him will be all a bottle of smoke. We shall lay our plans, arrange our machinery and start our schemes, but without the Lord we will do nothing! Immeasurable cloudland of proposals and not a spot of solid doing large enough for a dove’s foot to rest on—such shall be the end of all! We may have all the money that generosity can lavish, all the learning that our universities can supply and all the oratory that the most gifted can lay at our feet, but, “without Me,” says Christ, “you can do nothing.” Fuss, flare, fireworks and failure—that is the end of it! “Without Me you can do nothing.”
“Do nothing” and the world dying around us! No bread to be handed out to the hungry and the multitude fainting and dying! The rock to be smitten and the Water of Life to leap out for the thirsty, but not a drop forthcoming because Jesus is not there! Ministers, evangelists, churches, salvation armies, the world dies for need of you and yet, “you can do nothing” if your Lord is away! The age shall advance in discovery and men of science shall do their little best, but you shall do “nothing” without Christ—absolutely nothing! You shall not proceed a single inch upon your toilsome way, though you row till the oars snap with the strain! You shall be drifted back by winds and currents unless you take Jesus into the ship.
Let us cry to Him that we may never be without Him! Let us, with strong crying and tears, entreat His abiding Presence. He comes to those who seek Him—let us never cease seeking! In conscious fellowship with Him, let us plead that the fellowship should always be unbroken. Let us pray that we may be so knit and joined to Jesus that we may be one spirit with Him, never to be separated from Him again. Master and Lord, let the life floods of Your Grace never cease to flow into us, for we know that we must be thus supplied or we can produce nothing! Brothers and Sisters, let us have much more prayer than has been usual among us. Prayer is appointed to convey the blessings God ordains to give—let us constantly use the appointed means and may the result be always increasing from day to day.
Let the song “Come Lord, Maranatha” remind us to keep our eyes on the eternal things of the Spirit, the Christ in Christmas: