That’s an expression used commonly to answer the question, “What does it means to be a disciple of Jesus?” It’s a phrase that’s been around for quite a while so people use it assuming everyone understands it. That can be a dangerous assumption because over time, even the most clearly defined words or phrases tend to become blurred and mean different things to different people.
What does it mean to have a personal relationship with Jesus?
We have a clear answer to that from Jesus in John 15:1-17, where He talks about the vine, its branches and fruitfulness. Israel had been spoken of as a vine or vineyard (Isaiah 5:7ff, Jeremiah 2:21 and other texts), but on the whole, the nation had failed to produce fruit for God by living righteously. By contrast, Jesus modeled the life God desired the nation to exhibit (compare His wilderness experience/Matthew 4:1-11 with the wilderness experience of Israel/Hebrews 3:16-19). Therefore, when He speaks of Himself as “the true vine” (John 15:1), He is speaking as a true Israelite who fulfilled God’s purpose for the nation.
He goes on to say that His disciples are branches—no one can “bear fruit” without a relationship with Him. “If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing” (v. 5). That’s clear enough, but how do we “remain” in Him and He is us?
It’s unfortunate that many hear the word “remain” and conclude that it means as long as someone doesn’t actively unfollow the Lord, everything will be fine. There’s nothing sadder than a person who has worn the name of Jesus for years and their greatest accomplishment is they haven’t left Him. If spiritual health is gauged solely by what we don’t do, then that makes us good by doing nothing, which is another way of saying . . . good for nothing. That is not the way of Christ (Acts 10:38).
“Remain in Me” means that we continue to grow in Christ. Jesus speaks of us remaining in His words (v. 7) and His love (v. 10). The idea is clearly that these things are guiding and shaping us in all that we do. “Remaining in Me” then is a rich, relational phrase meant to convey the truth that we continue to allow Jesus to shape and transform our lives.
“A relationship with Jesus” then isn’t a label we can slap on our lives to justify living anyway we want to because we know Him and “Jesus is cool with that.” We don’t listen to voices in our heads, our hearts or from our culture when they conflict with what He has said by the Spirit through the biblical witness. If we have no Lord, we have no life!
However, if Jesus is our Lord, then listen to what He says about disciples who remain in His word and His love: “I have told you this that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (v. 11). Joy comes through living under the reign of Jesus! The world hears that and sadly it sounds like oppression to them, but disciples know better. We’re never more alive or more joyful than when we’re living for Him.
If you need to start your relationship with Him, read Acts 2 and do what 3,000 people did in making Jesus their Lord.