A Righteousness by Faith #8: What Have you Surrendered?

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5

There are certain places we should stay and never move on from. And the chief of all those places is remaining in Jesus. I know this sounds obvious to you who are familiar with this passage. But I found that this was the hardest anchor for my soul to secure. And I suspect it is for you as well.

Why is that so?

I think it is because we generally do not understand what it means to remain in him. I am good at taking up spiritual challenges. Read through the Bible…Check. Share my faith with someone…Check. Join with others to start a new church. Check. Live a moral life…Check. I have filled my days with the busyness of God’s business. I have invested in spiritual tasks on God’s behalf. But I find that, in spite of acknowledging Jesus’ counsel, I am more prone to assume I am remaining in him than actually doing so.

Remaining is about where we rest. Jesus is directing us to recognize the reality that we have ‘taken up residence’ in him. It is about surrender—the opposite to the striving most of us engage in. I remember Bill Hybels sharing how, at the peak of Willow Creek’s phenomenal growth and influence, the core staff members were in a workaholic mode for Jesus. If 70 hours a week were producing so much good, how about bumping it up to 80 hours to see what good would come out of it.

Then the crash came. Marriages unraveled. People walked away from ministry burnt out. Bill found himself on his face before the Lord one night pleading that God would change them—him—so that the ministry would be healed and that they would follow the Spirit’s leading on how ministry should be done.

What he prayed was exactly what Jesus was explaining. We can look at our life’s spiritual accomplishments and make a judgment call. “This has been so worth it!” or “Has this been worth it?” We wonder if anything eternal is going to come out of what we invest our life capital in. The only way for us to know that is through resting—remaining—in Jesus.

What we call our accomplishments may only be dust in the wind. Jesus told us that the outcome of living life apart from remaining in him would be nothing. Those other pursuits are illusionary. We love our achievements and maybe allow our hearts to swell with pride over them. But they infuse us with no ultimate soul satisfaction because they were built by our efforts rather than by Jesus.

The best stuff we do is always done through us by the Spirit. What Jesus called ‘much fruit’ has its genesis in the deep relationship we have with Jesus. That fruit flows out of us, out of our giftedness and passions while we are finding our rest in Jesus.

This is at the heart of Paul’s statement, “found in him, not having a righteousness of my own.” All he had done for God he now saw as waste. All he now longed for was Christ doing the producing through him. Paul’s understanding points out how remaining and not remaining differ.

To remain is a deliberate choice. We choose to rest, to be with Jesus, to recognize his leading, to submit our best plans and greatest ideas to his inspection—not so we can believe that our ideas are right, but to align our thoughts with his. So we can see what his Spirit will do. We deliberately choose to rest because often in our rush to do our next project, we can veer away from God’s path. We deliberately choose to rest because then we are ready for Jesus to work in harmony with our minds and hearts. It is then we will understand what we were made to do and find his strength flowing through us to actually produce much fruit.

I will have more to say about this in my next blog.

Steve Smith