Self-reliant Christianity is a dead end. It will lead to eternal, spiritual death. However, we have a better way. All who have true union with Christ will live a life pursuing communion with him. Jesus wants us to know we are weak so we can find our strength in our communion with him.
In America, it is common to believe that we can achieve anything we put our minds to. Young children imbibe this self-help gospel throughout their earliest years. Parents fuel this mentality by spending exorbitant amounts of time and money helping their children build a successful life based on the fallacy that their hard work and willpower are the ultimate means of their favorable outcomes. None of this is inherently sinful, and we shouldn’t be overly cynical. Hard work, dedication, and diligence are virtues our children and grandchildren need. Yet, when these achievements become their hope, they are blind to the innate weakness found in every one of us.
Like our children, we love to feel strong, too. We desire to stand on our own. We love to marvel at our accomplishments. Can we agree that the hustle culture led to the burnout culture we are facing today? Yesterday’s productivity culture ended up crushing us. We lose our humanness when we refuse to see our weakness. Instead of creatures reliant on the God who gives rain for the grass, seeds for the birds, and dens for the lions, we frame ourselves as little gods who can get on without relying on others.
We don’t say these things out loud. That would be far too crass. Instead, we mumble, “Give us this day our daily bread” as we dash out the door to work—daily bread in hand as we go make money to buy more. As strong as we feel, Jesus wants us to know that we are weak, and he wants us to see that weakness is a prerequisite for true spiritual growth.
Self-Reliant Sanctification Doesn’t Exist
Jesus uttered some of the sweetest words in all Scripture when he said, “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). At first glance, this sounds odd to those of us who haven’t grown up near grapevines. Yet, both in Jesus’s day and in Mediterranean culture today, grapevines produce the fruit needed to make the antioxidant-rich wine found around dinner tables and in churches. Jesus couldn’t be clearer: if the branches of a grapevine aren’t attached to the vine, it is impossible for them to produce fruit.
Christians, we are the branches and Jesus is our true vine. Let those words steep in your heart. Absorb the scent and taste of those words deep into your soul. It is impossible for us to bear spiritual fruit apart from Jesus because self-reliant sanctification doesn’t exist. We won’t even be truly concerned with fruit-bearing and spiritual growth if we aren’t abiding in him.
We may be concerned with keeping up appearances. We may desire to check off the spiritual boxes on our productive Christian to-do lists. We may even desire to please God by obeying his commands. But when we aren’t abiding in Christ, we are living an oxymoron.