Apart from Jesus we can do nothing. When we read this verse in context we see that Jesus is not primarily warning against self-reliance nor dismissing the contributions of non-Christians. Yes, he is drawing a sharp line between those who follow him and those who do not. But this is a call to life.
Perhaps you’ve heard that no one can do anything apart from Jesus. You may have been told this saying refers to our complete reliance upon God. Or, you may have read this phrase during leadership or evangelism training, urging your frequent communication with Jesus.
Context matters. When we learn to read the Bible in context—not just as a collection of memorable phrases—we’ll find that some familiar verses take on richer and deeper meanings.
The Vine and the Branches
The phrase “apart from me you can do nothing” is just a portion of John 15:5. This is part of a long conversation Jesus has with his disciples on the evening of the Last Supper, after Judas departs (John 13:30). Jesus tells them he is the vine and his father is the vinedresser (John 15:1); God takes away branches that do not bear fruit, and he prunes every fruit-bearing branch (John 15:2).
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)
In the immediate context, “you can do nothing” is related to “bear[ing] fruit” and “apart from me” stands opposite to “abide in me and I in him.” We cannot know Jesus’s full meaning in John 15:5 without understanding “abiding” and “bearing fruit.”
In one way, the metaphor of the vine and branches makes clear the meaning of “abide.” Branches draw nourishment and life from the vine; without that connection, they die.
Abiding in Jesus is not an extra level of discipleship—it is essential! He is life itself; anyone who does not abide in Jesus is thrown away like a branch from the vine and burned (John 15:6).