I’ve been a Christian for what seems a really long time. In the Easter of 2011, after I had been on a Church camp, I remember sitting in a bedroom (known as the den) in my grandparents’ house and simply praying to God, recognising just how much I’ve fallen short of His standards and how it is only by Christ that I can be saved. I have experienced genuine joy and celebration in becoming a Christian, yet so much of my walk with Christ has not been filled with such happiness.
The reason for this is that I regularly take for granted what Christ has done for me. He may have died for all my shortcomings yet playing sport to a high level actually seems more important than Him. I also find that instead of rejoicing in my identity as a representative for Him on earth, academic work seems to be so much more urgent. I don’t often appreciate how valuable my relationship with Christ is for everything I do.
Thankfully though, Jesus has something to say about my complacency. In John 15:1-17, He refers to Himself as the vine and His people as the branches. Verse 5 summarises this aptly: ‘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.’ The passage reminds me of how Christian faith is completely and utterly dependent on Christ. Without Him, I cannot do anything; yet if I remain in Him, it is promised that I will be His friend.
What an absolute privilege this is! I have a genuine relationship with Christ, who has made me ‘clean’, as verse 3 proclaims. The essence of Christian faith is not centred around rules and regulations, but instead around relationship with Christ through what He has done for us.
By remaining in Him and trusting in Him, Jesus makes two further guarantees: firstly, as in any relationship, I can talk to Him, the all-powerful Creator of the heavens and the earth, and secondly, I am privileged to represent His name in the world, ‘bearing much fruit’ for His praise and glory.
Jesus also emphasises in this passage from John another vital part of the Christian faith: community and relationships with one another. His command in verse 17 is that Christians ‘love each other.’ This love is not superficial but is deeply profound and even sacrificial, as seen in verse 13: ‘greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ In love, Jesus calls His people to gather together and walk alongside each other: in whatever trials I face, I know that I am not called to do it alone.
Isn’t Jesus’ message here what Oxford is crying out for? Where the notion of identity is so fragile, I believe Christianity tells the better story of being rooted in the perfect, dependable ‘vine’ of Christ. In a city where there is both visible and hidden loneliness, Christians can be a reflection of true community and friendship, based on Christ’s love for His people.
The Christian faith provides me with such a wonderful reason to ‘greatly rejoice’, as 1 Peter 1:6 so beautifully puts it. Although we are people who are so easily swayed by the things of this world, praise the Lord that He remains in us.