Which one is it? All or nothing? Nothing or all? It can be confusing at times, but we must maintain the tension we have in these two realities.
In John 15:5, Jesus says, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” In a lot of ways, we can use this verse to sum up much of what Jesus taught in the Gospels: this hard, stark reality that apart from Him we can do nothing. Nothing, that is, of any real, lasting, spiritual significance. We can do human things with our human abilities, but we can't do Kingdom things apart from Christ.
The main theme of Jesus’ teachings was the Kingdom of God. In Matthew 5, at the beginning of the beatitudes, the first thing He states is that the Kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit. What is poverty of spirit? It's the recognition that apart from Him we can do nothing. It is a profound humility that recognizes our complete dependence on Jesus.
Without this first step of life in the Kingdom, we won't be able to make any other steps. This is foundational: Apart from Him we can do NOTHING.
As critically important as this is, sadly many people stop here. As wonderful and foundational as the Gospels are, we need the full revelation of Scripture, including what God gave to the writers of the New Testament epistles.
In Philippians 4:13 Paul says, "I can do all things through Him who gives me strength."
Both of these principles are true. Apart from Jesus we can do NOTHING, but with Him we can do ALL things.
If you try to embrace doing all things in Christ without the revelation of your own poverty of spirit, you'll crumble and fall. Our ability to do all things in Christ is predicated upon the principle that without Him we can do nothing.
If you're so focused on what you can't do, you'll probably never move on to what you can do.
We must recognize all that we cannot do apart from Christ while at the same time understanding that, as a new covenant son or daughter, we are NOT apart from Christ. He is in us, and we are in Him.
When I read what Jesus taught in the gospels, I do not want to just stop there and fall short of the revelation that God gives us through the epistles. Neither do I want to celebrate the truth that I discover in the epistles to the neglect of the Kingdom principles Jesus taught in the Gospels. They are both valid and relevant for us today.
So, which is it? Both.