Abiding in Christ - The Vine and the Branches
Abiding in Christ: The Vine and the Branches (John 15:1-7)
God desires reality and vitality in His relationship with believers. Such real, lively Christian living requires a daily intimacy and a conscious fellowship with the risen Christ. The Christian life is by no means merely a past transaction for forgiveness. It is a daily intimacy with the Source of life. The outcome of conscious, continuous contact with Christ Jesus is called "fruit." That "fruit" represents every aspect of inward character and outward conduct which grows naturally from moment-by-moment contact with Christ. The Lord Jesus give us illustration and instruction in order to understand.
The Lord Jesus Gives Us an Illustration of Fruitfulness
Using that which is familiar from His world, the Lord presents a vine, its branches, and the Gardener. Behind these images stands Jesus, the believer, and God the Father.
We understand the identify of the Vine. "I am the true vine." This is a word of exclusivity. Jesus Himself alone is that great Source for the Christian. It excludes all other sources, even the church itself. This is also the language of Deity. Only God can say such things. No apostle or Christian would dare say to other believers, "I am the vine." Only the great I AM can claim to be the source of life for millions and for me. This is a word about intimacy. Our union of connection with Jesus is like that of shoots on a grapevine. Earlier Jesus claimed to be the Living Water and the Bread of Life. Yet bread must be eaten and water must be drunk. To be a branch in the vine is even more intimate than that. A branch draws its life by simply abiding, connecting with the Source.
Note the word of reality: "I am the true vine." Jesus is the true, ideal, and real vine. The symbol of Old Testament Israel was the vine. A guilded vine was carved into the front of the temple. Yet Israel had failed to produce the fruit God expected (Jer. 2:21) in spite of every divine advantage (Isa. 5:1-7). Jesus fulfills where Israel failed. He also is the true vine in the sense that only He gives true, heavenly life.
We understand the identity of the branches: "you are the branches." The believer is a shoot or branch of the vine. The emphasis rests on the Vine, not on the branches. The responsibility of the believer is to remain in the vine. In the natural world the branch does not consciously decide to remain. In the spiritual world, the Christian makes a constant choice to remain in Christ.
We understand the identity of the Gardener: "my Father is the gardener." The identity of the vinedresser is God Himself. He is the husbandman, cultivator, and gardener. The activity of the Gardener is to remove fruitless shoots and to prune those that are fruitful.
There is a destructive activity of removal: "He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit" (v. 2). This does not refer to genuine Christians. It does refer to superficial followers such as Judas. In February and March the gardener cut away those branches that would never be fruitful. There is a constructive activity of improvement "every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." In August, the vinedresser pinches off some shoots so that nourishment may go to other shoots. So God purges, cleanses, and prunes the life of His own (Heb. 12:6). The agency of God's cleansing is His Word. God removes by loss of that which takes spiritual life.
The Lord Jesus Gives Us Instruction About Fruitfulness
His instruction is a command: "Remain in me." The Christian life is not static. The Lord Jesus gives us the encouragement that while we abide in Him He most certainly will abide in us. This abiding is an act of will. It is a conscious, continual contact with the great Source. It certainly includes constant contact with His word. It means to be at home in Christ.
His instruction is a concept: "No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine." Here Jesus weaves together His illustration and His instruction. A branch must draw its life from the sap in the vine. Jesus repeatedly stated that He drew His life from the Father: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing" (John 5:19). "Apart from me you can do nothing." However successful or sensational a ministry or church may be, that only is real which comes from abiding in Christ. The nature of Christian success is not first of all mere empty activisim; it is abiding in contact with Christ.
His instruction is a concern: "he will bear much fruit." Christ wants to see fruit. That is a quality of character (Gal. 5:22-23), a life of praise to God (Heb. 13:15), and the extension of divine life to others through our lives (John 4:36). The fruit which comes from abiding is our inward character and outward conduct.
His instruction relates to a consequence: "ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you" (v. 7). The life that abides in Christ finds its will coinciding with His will. When we are so saturated with His words that they shape all of life, our prayers will reflect back to Him His own will and word. Every such prayer will be answered.
The secret to fruit bearing is abiding in Christ. This is not first effort, but relationship. Are you in the Vine?