“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
The problem with this passage is that God allows people to do a lot apart from Him. People are busy everywhere promoting themselves and their ambitions, building their little mini-kingdoms, and constructing towers that reach to heaven just like Babylon of old. And God allows it all, for a time. When Jesus says, “…apart from Me you can do nothing,” He means nothing that is born of God, nothing that is beautiful, and nothing that will last. The fruit He would give those who allowed His life to live through them, He promised, would remain, not just through time, but for all eternity. (John 15:16)
The root of this fruit is a humility which agrees with God that we can do nothing truly good apart from Him. Without this agreement our Christianity amounts to sincere people trying to look like Jesus by their own commitment and constantly failing, instead of fully surrendered lives which allow Christ to live His powerful life through them. The gospel doesn’t just call us to do good, it shows us the way. We must die to our old selfish nature, not dress it up with the appearance of good, and then we must allow Christ to live through us by the new nature He has given us. Paul, one of the most fruitful Christians who ever lived, said it this way: “I am crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Jesus gave in the first beatitude the secret to all the other ones, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:1) When we agree that we have no righteousness of our own, we are able to embrace His. When we embrace our poverty apart from Him, all of heaven’s resources become ours. Four times in the gospels Jesus says the words, “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Benjamin Franklin, a deist who never embraced Christianity, sought with all his power to master the virtues. He claimed that after many years of seeking perfection there was only one virtue that escaped him: humility. The difficulty was that whenever he did a good job being humble he found he was proud about it. The pride in a human heart can only be conquered by the Savior.