John 15:1-5 tells us that spiritual vitality is not the result of attending seminary, receiving ordination or serving as the leader of a Bible study or small group. In these verses, Jesus shows us that just as branch receives life from its connection to the vine, his disciples receive life from their connection to him. Spiritual vitality is the result of a relationship.
Theologically, we call this “union with Christ,” where a dead branch is attached to a living vine in order to receive the life of the Vine. This means that as a believer is united by faith to Jesus, that the righteousness of Jesus (his life) is imputed to the believer, giving him/her a new status—no longer considered condemned hell, but justified for heaven. But this is a gift—pure grace.
So, to abide or remain in union with Jesus means that Christ is my righteousness. His obedience to the law becomes my obedience to the law. He moral A+ becomes my A+. His gold medal becomes my gold medal. The metaphors to describe this are unlimited!
And yet there is another dimension of living in union with Christ. Not only do we receive the positional, defining grace of justification, but also we experience the progressive, transforming grace of sanctification. According to Jesus’ word picture, abiding in the Vine is simply to believe the gospel. It is to affirm that Jesus is my only and sufficient righteousness before God and man.
Now, we can see how spiritual fruit is the evidence that reveals spiritual vitality. When a branch begins to produce fruit, we know that it’s healthy. But at this point we need to recognize a HUGE IRONY. It is that in order to produce spiritual fruit, I must confess that I can’t produce spiritual fruit! It must be the Holy Spirit working in and through me. After all, Paul calls the evidence of spiritual vitality the “fruit of the Spirit,” not the fruit of self-effort or moral will power.
When my wife and I see one of my children do something like share with a sibling, repent or forgive, we don’t say, “You are such a good boy or girl.” We tell them, “From what you just did, it sure looks like the Holy Spirit it at work in you. Because what you did is not natural. It is supernatural.”
When I am criticized, my natural reaction is defensiveness—unless I am consciously abiding in Jesus as my life. In that case, with Jesus as my only righteousness (not mixed with any righteousness of my own), there is nothing to defend in myself. I have nothing to prove! No need to boast in myself. My boast is in Jesus! And that is spiritual vitality.