…You can do nothing without Me.
The phrase is intentionally strongly worded. Christ, who was given to hyperbole, was not here overstating something for emphasis, rather he was teaching us our utter dependence on Him in life and ministry.
We have over-emphasized the compartmentalized view of life, as though life could be separate from ministry, but Christ welds the two inseparably together. What happens on my knees in prayer to God determines what happens in the pulpit as I proclaim God’s truth, or any place else I might serve. The same is true for you and for every Christian. Without Christ, not only are we prone to burnout and frustration, and relative fruitfulness, but we can do nothing.
Three ideas are included in this thought. First, that Christ is at work within us transforming us: “For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to will and to act for His good purpose” (Phil. 2:13). Though I may try in my flesh to complete the work begun by God’s grace, every good and Christ-like trait comes only from the Father. Even the thought that I should do some good deed, though it may be acted upon in the flesh, comes from the Spirit. All that is of Christ in my life, though it may be present only in the slightest amount, comes from Christ and Christ alone. There is absolutely no way you can have such a thing as a true follower of Jesus Christ were it not for the Spirit of Christ in his life.
Second, my effectiveness in living for Christ is in direct relationship to my sense of dependence on Christ. This is precisely why Christ taught this point. Had He have been silent on the matter and we would have subjected ourselves to lifetimes of self-effort to “get the Christian life right” and of frustration, and perhaps never have made the connection between living in Christ and serving Christ.
Every day we are on this earth we will be tempted to forget this point. As I get older and people speak of my experience, it is easy to fall into the temptation of serving on that basis alone. Pride enters in and we say, “Oh, I know how to do this. Just let me…” and the next thing we note is failure and frustration. There will never be a moment in our lives where we can forget this matter of our dependence on Christ. He did not say, Without experience you can do nothing. We don’t find it in Scripture, I can do all things through experience. What we do find is that without Christ we can do nothing and that through Him we can do all things.
The third matter is that pride and a sense of self-sufficiency are the reasons why so many believers do not measure up to the standard of Christ. Spiritual maturity and fruitfulness come only to those humble enough to admit their weakness, that in them is no good thing (Romans 7:18), that is in their sinful nature. God’s only path for maturity is the path of the cross and the crucified self. If anyone would come after Christ he must deny himself daily, take up his cross and follow after Christ. If there is ever real power in our ministry, we must understand that this does not come from us and it belongs completely to God. Nothing will quench the Spirit faster than our pride. An anointed ministry must maintain this sense of dependence upon Christ always.
How often we see pride enter into a ministry the moment it gets to be recognized by others. Individuals through whom God desires to do great and mighty things, unspeakable and unimaginable things, are sidelined because they think that that still rather small ministry is a matter to make others notice them. People in ministry get in silly arguments over nothing, division, disruption, distraction result. Blame is spread around; weakness and moral compromise enter in; human personalities get the credit for what only God can do. And He “who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think” waits patiently for us to come to this realization, that without Christ we can do nothing.
If this is you, remember that the Lord disciplines the one He loves, to restore him to usefulness. “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
We sometimes think that we endure temptation in order to prepare for ministry, and we see that to a certain degree in the life of Christ, that He faced temptation in the wilderness before His public ministry. But this is only the proper understanding to a limited degree, because Christ also faced other temptations during His ministry. The better way to understand the Christian life is that when we face temptation, to be faithful in the face of the temptation is our service for Christ at that moment. And there will unlikely be many moments in ministry without some temptations present. We will always need Christ. The daily attitude of utter dependence on Christ, for life, for wisdom, for direction, and for power is essential for fruitfulness.
The believer who grasps this truth, whose life is built upon Christ, who abides in Him daily, who dies to self and lives to God, who is as humble as can be, and who in simple child-like faith believes the promises of God – that believer bears much fruit.
Lord of the harvest, we bow before You as simple workers. Like ignorant farm hands we need Your wisdom and guidance. Forgive us when we have taken credit for what You and You alone have done. We place our lives back in Your hands. Use us. Use us entirely for Your purposes, even if we never receive a single notice of recognition for our service. But give us of Yourself, and that will be enough. Amen.