I Am the True Vine

March 18, 2007 / No. 3350

Dear radio friends,

     In our past radio messages we have been following the “I Ams” in John, the “I Am” sayings of our Lord Jesus Christ as recorded in the Gospel According to John—beautiful words, telling us of who Jesus is and what He is to us.

     Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life, I am the Light of the world, I am the Door, I am the good Shepherd, I am the Resurrection and the Life, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  Now today we come to His statement in John 15:1-8, where He begins with these words:  “I am the true vine.”  Jesus Christ explains to us that He is the true vine, whose roots are sunk deeply into God.  He is the source of all spiritual life.  And we are the branches, graciously engrafted into Him, united to Him by a true and living faith in order that we might bring forth fruit.

     Jesus Christ goes on in that passage to say that God prunes each branch in order that it might bring forth more fruit, and that the heavenly Father, the Husbandman, cuts away all fruitless branches out of the vine, Jesus Christ.  God is telling us that, by grace, He has united us to Jesus Christ in order that we might bring forth fruits of good works, fruits of repentance, unto the glory of God.  He is telling us that in Jesus Christ we must grow up in our faith and in knowledge and in good works.  We are saved in order that we might live a holy life, that we might walk with God in truth, and that we may love Him and love one another even as He has loved us.

     The question, then, that we are confronted with as we face these words of Jesus, “I am the true vine,” is this:  “Are we bringing forth much fruit, fruit to the glory of God?”  Jesus said that, as trees of grace, as branches of grace inserted into Him, the living vine, we have not been inserted in order that we bring forth leaves, but fruit.  So Jesus says, “Abide in Me and I in you, for I am the true vine.”

     When Jesus says that He is the true vine, He means that He is the source of all spiritual life.  Only by being united to Him in a true and living faith can we live and bear fruit to the glory of God.

     Let us remember a moment the setting in John 15 in which Jesus speaks these words.

     John 15 is part of our Lord’s farewell.  He is going away from His disciples.  He is going to go the way of the cross and the resurrection and back to His Father through the ascension.  And He says that they cannot follow Him now.  He is going to leave them.  And the question, of course, is:  “What had these disciples ever been able to do without Jesus?”  Whenever they were out of His sight, they were flops.

     So Jesus says, “I am the true vine.”  He speaks that in words of comfort.  In fact, these words are drenched with the wonderful dew of the comfort of Jesus Christ.  He says to you and to me:  “Though I am in heaven, you are not abandoned.  I am the vine, and you are inserted into me by a true and living faith.”

     But there is also a warning in the Lord’s words.  The warning is this:  He is telling His disciples and us that there would certainly be severe dangers for them and severe dangers for us.  We would be in a world that would close in upon us, and the devil would tempt us, and our own sinful nature would be prone to go astray and lead us astray.  Therefore Jesus says, “You must abide in Me.  By faith, you must abide in Me.  You must walk by faith and not by sight.  This is not an option.  This is an utter necessity.  Abide in Me, little children.”

     So He speaks not only for our comfort, He speaks not only for our warning, but, therefore, He speaks of our calling.  Jesus says, “Abide in Me, for I leave you on earth in order that you might bear much fruit.”  Jesus is saying that the church on earth is not to be a flower garden, merely with the fragrance of religion.  But the church on earth is to be a vegetable garden, it is to be one that brings forth fruit to God.  The church is God’s vineyard in the desert, producing the sweet fruit of praise and service and love to God in all the actions of the church.

     “I am the true vine.”  Jesus now is again using a figure of speech, a figure of speech that would be well known to His disciples and audience at that time, for there were many vineyards in Judea.  The landscape was filled with them.  There would be a vine, or a stock with roots, planted into the soil.  Then there would be branches grafted in, branches of other grape vines or of other vines.  Those branches would be grafted into the vine in order that the sap or the life that is in the vine might flow out into the branches to bring forth fruit.

     So Jesus says, “I am the true vine.  I sink my roots eternally into God.  I am God.”  Therefore John can say in chapter 1:4 that in Jesus is life.  He is the Alpha and Omega–the beginning and the ending.  He is the eternal God.  He is the second person of the Trinity, in our flesh.  He is the crucified Savior.  And as the crucified Savior He possesses not only the eternal life of God but the reservoirs of spotless, perfect, and eternal righteousness.  He is the One who possesses perfect acceptance with God for sinners.  He is the risen Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the living One who was dead and now is alive forevermore.  He is eternal God with life in Himself.  He is the crucified Savior with perfect righteousness, with all the fruits of the Spirit within Him.  “I am the true vine.”

     He means that all vines are a picture of Him.  For God has made the creation to reflect Him.  He is the source, the only source, of life, spiritual life.  The only source of good.

     By contrast, when He says, “I am the true vine,” He does not simply say, “I am the vine.”  He says “I am the true vine.”  He means to warn us that there are false vines; there are many who claim to do what Jesus can do.  False religions are always talking of ways whereby they can give life through whatever it may be:  karma or who-knows-what.  There will be many who will come to say, “But I, we, can give.  Our religion can give pleasure and satisfaction and awareness and assurance and self-worth.  Or we can give money and drink and self and lusts.  We can give things that will please and satisfy.”  Jesus says they are all false vines.    There is but one true vine who alone can give life and satisfaction and joy.  That is Jesus Christ.  “I am the true vine.”

     “And My Father is the husbandman.”  Husbandman, there, is caretaker or owner of the vine.  The heavenly Father, God triune, planted the vine Jesus Christ in His eternal counsel.  And in time He gave His Son, Jesus Christ, to be the vine—the babe in the manger, the Christ upon the cross, and the Lord of the resurrection.  Therefore, the heavenly Father hath given life eternal through His Son.

     But, as the husbandman, God is also the One who cares for the branches that are united to Jesus Christ.  He inserts them into Christ by His wonderful grace.  But He also prunes each vine, each branch.  He selects the branches to be in Jesus Christ out of mere grace.  Jesus says that in verse 16 of John 15.   There He says to the disciples:  “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain:  that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.”  It was the Father who chose the branches and inserted them into Jesus Christ.  Other, dead branches, externally connected to Jesus Christ but not truly by grace—they are chopped down.  They are from the old dead tree Adam.  And Jesus says in John 15 that they shall be gathered up by the angels and they shall be burned in everlasting fire.

     But the point is that we must be united to Jesus Christ by a true and living faith or there is no life in us, for there is no possibility for any good to come out of us.  “I am the true vine.”  He does not simply say this for information.  But He says that to you as a child of God in order that you might learn to live out of Him by a true and living faith.  It must be a true faith—a God-given, Holy Spirit-produced faith—that gives you to know your sin and to know the value of Christ and to work in you the heart of thankfulness.  True and living faith, whereby we are united to Jesus Christ, is not a mere human and emotional attachment.  It is not a mere intellectual acquaintance with Jesus Christ.  To have true faith does not simply mean that you know about Jesus, or even that at one point you might have had an emotional event connected with Jesus.  True and living faith is a spiritual bond that God has made between you and Christ whereby, united to Him, you draw out of Him all things and place your trust in Him alone, and receive from Him the assurance of righteousness and also the motivation to live to the glory of God in everything that you do.

     You must be careful.  You must not be a plastic branch.  You must not be an artificial tree that looks like the real thing, but is not the real thing—does not produce fruit, does not grow, has no life.  So Jesus says, “My children do not have simply an artificial attachment to Me.  But they have a true and living attachment to Me.  They live out of Me.” They are not plastic branches, but they are living branches.  A living branch is one whose heart is broken over his personal sin, who has come to know the ugliness and the awfulness of sin within him.  A living branch is one who places no trust in himself for salvation but in Christ alone for righteousness and salvation.  A living branch is one who repents daily over his sins and desires to bring forth the good fruit of repentance and holiness and desires to grow up and increase in the knowledge of God and to do that which is pleasing to Him.

     “I am the vine, ye are the branches:…abide in me, and I in you,” said Jesus.  He says, “I am not the vine simply for Myself, but for you.  Draw from Me your life, your comfort, your strength, your understanding.”

     What is it to be a Christian, then?  Is there really a difference between the Christian and the world?  What is a Christian?  Is it only, merely, that one goes to church, that one wears different clothes, that one is decent and well-mannered?  Is that what it is?  Is there a difference?  Yes.  A Christian is one who is alive.  And those who are not Christians are not alive.  They have only the life of the world that perishes.  The Christian is one who has been given the sap, the life, of Jesus Christ to flow within him through faith so that he weeps—the branch weeps over sin, tears of repentance, and the sap flows and brings forth fruit to the glory of God.

     Christ is identifying Himself as the Lord and the Giver of life, as the crucified, risen, and ascended Lord Jesus.  He lives.  And only by being united to Him can a man, a woman, a child, a boy, a girl live.  “I am the true vine.”

     The Lord calls us, then, to exercise our faith.  “Abide in me and bring forth much fruit.”  “Abide in me,” He says, “and I in you.”  That is a call to every child of God.  That is the call to elders and deacons, to parents, to aged, to teenagers, to boys and girls.

     Maybe you ask me, “But you said God engrafts us into Jesus Christ.  He picks us up by grace and puts us into Christ, right?  And it is all by grace, right?  And He creates within us a desire for Christ, right?  Well then, why does He say:  ‘Abide in Christ’?”  Because that is faith.  Because that is the work of God in you.  Because by faith He gives you to desire to lay hold of Christ, to depend on Christ, to need Christ, to realize that apart from Christ there is nothing and you have nothing, that everything must be Christ.

     There are many dangers for us.  When Jesus says, “Abide in Me and I in you and bring forth fruit,” He means that there are many dangers and many threats to exactly that—threats to cause us not to abide in Jesus Christ.  There is, of course, the threat of our pride, that awful, sinful pride against which we must struggle day by day.  So that we begin to do things in the Christian faith, we begin to do things in the church, out of love for self, so that others may see what we do in order that we might receive the praise and the credit.  There is also the danger of worldliness —perhaps the worldliness whereby the things of this life become so very important.  Christ becomes less important to us.  Then there is the danger of unconfessed sin, which can stifle and destroy and wither our spiritual life.  So Jesus says, “Abide in me.”

     He goes on to say that the Father will purge us through trials, through prunings, in order that we might bring forth more fruit.  The heavenly Father will send into the life of His children chastisements and trials and difficulties.  The whole idea that a Christian is one who will escape the hard things of this life is an ungodly and unbiblical idea.  It is that which is taught by those who are not shepherds of Jesus Christ but shepherds of the lie.  Jesus says that all the branches that belong in Him the Father will purge.  That is, He will prune them.  That means that He will take out His pruning shears, called “trial, chastisement, difficulties.”  And He will go to His work of pruning us and bringing us into ways of trial and sorrow.  Why?  Because the fruit-tree must be pruned, it must be cut back, if it is to produce lush and wonderful fruit.  Of ourselves, we would want to go the way of the world.  Of ourselves, we would want to be left in our own ease.  We want our Christian faith to make our life easy.  Should not the Christian be on “Easy Street”?  And should not the Christian be absolved from the problems of this present life?  The Lord says, “No, it won’t work that way.  That’s not the way it works.  But I will see to it that you are pruned through chastisement, in order that you might draw more and more and more out of Christ.  That ye bring forth much fruit.”

     That is what is spoken to the church of Jesus Christ.  We must bring forth much fruit.

     So, any Christian who does not want to be active in his faith, who says, “Well, it’s not important, you know.  We’re saved by grace, so it really doesn’t matter how I live.”  Such a person is revealing either a very weak faith, which is dishonoring to God, or that he does not have faith at all.  We must not come to this word of God and say, “Well, then the church doesn’t have to be interested in evangelism, and we don’t have to be interested in growing in faith.  It’s all of God.”  No, Jesus says, “Abide in Me.  Bring forth much fruit.  Be active.  Abide, abound, in Jesus Christ.”  We must not live at a distance from Christ.  We must not be apathetic.  We must not be indifferent.  We must not be complacent.  We must not simply slide along with the world.  It is not OK if, as a child of God, as a confessing Christian, you lack vibrancy and vigor and you have nothing to say about Him.  You have everything to say about movies.  And you have everything to say about this world.  And you have everything to say about all kinds of things.  But you have nothing to say about Christ in your soul.  That is not OK.  That is not normal.  That is dangerous.  That reveals either a weak faith or no faith.

     We must contend with our sins.  Abide in Christ.  We must contend with our pride.  We must cast away worldliness.  We must cast away unconfessed sins.  We must confess those sins.  Jesus is saying, “Abide in Me.  Be active.  Persevere—the perseverance of the saints.  Continue in Me and I in you.  Continue in the Scriptures.  Continue in prayer.  Continue, constantly, in union to Me.”

     In order that God might be glorified!  In order that we might bring forth much fruit wherein the heavenly Father is glorified.  Be careful that you do not disparage in the Christian life the need to work out your faith, to work out your salvation, and to be active in good works.  Be careful that you do not do that.  Why did God, why did the divine Husbandman plant His vine, Jesus Christ, in the soil of Mt. Calvary and infuse into Him life in Joseph’s tomb and give Him all power at His right hand?  Why did God do that?  Why did God elect some to be engrafted into Jesus Christ by a true and living faith?  Why has God planted this vineyard and united branches (dead sinners) to the living vine Jesus Christ?  Why has He done that?  The answer is this:  That we might bring forth fruit to the honor and to the glory of God.  That is why!

     Be very careful that you do not accept as orthodox this view of the Christian life, that salvation by grace means that we do not care about living a godly and a holy life and we are not interested in good works and good fruits.  That is a heresy.  That is a God-dishonoring, unbiblical heresy.

     Why did God save us ( Eph. 1)?   He elected us eternally out of mere grace in order that we might be holy and without blame before Him, in love having predestinated us.  Why does He bestow this abundant care upon us in Jesus Christ, giving us Jesus Christ and inserting us into Him by a true and living faith?  In order that we might bring forth fruit.  Why does He bring chastisements and difficulties and disappointments?  In order that we might bear much fruit, that we might be pruned to bring forth much fruit.  For God is glorified by the fruit that is produced through Jesus Christ in us.

     “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit” (v. 8).  God is glorified.  That is what matters, after all—what pleases God.  And this is what pleases God:  that He gave His Son to be the vine and that we, by grace, united to Him, bring forth much fruit to the honor of His name.

     Is there fruit in your life?  I am not asking how much?  I am asking, Is there fruit?  Is it evident that you are united to this living vine, Jesus Christ?  Is your spiritual life shriveled and spoiled?  Or is it vibrant and healthy?  Do you have a broken heart over your sin?  Do you trust in Jesus Christ for righteousness?  Do you desire to serve God in everything that you do, that God might be glorified in you, that Christ may be confessed?

     Jesus says, “You are My disciples.  I have chosen you.  I am the true vine.  You have been inserted into Me as living branches that you might bring forth much fruit.  Now, abide in Me.  And in this way the Father is glorified.”  God grant it to us.

     Let us pray.

     Father, we thank Thee for the Word.  Bless the Word to our hearts today, to the honor and the glory of Thy name.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.