Dear Radio Listeners,
Today we come to the last part of our series on the seven “I am” statements of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of John.
Turn with me today to John 15 and please read carefully the verses 1-8.
The setting of this “I am” statement of Christ is the same as the last one which we considered. Jesus is still in the upper room with His disciples on the eve of His death. And, as we saw last time, Jesus had a word of tremendous comfort for the disciples in view of His death and departure from them.
But they must also hear the word of admonition and warning. The hour of Jesus’ death is a time of spiritual danger for the disciples. The devil is going to tempt them sorely. The world will be closing in on them. Their own sinful natures will seek to lead them astray. Judas, in fact, had already left and apostatized from the faith. They must, therefore, be called to abide in Christ not only so that they will be preserved in the midst of this danger, but also so that they will continue to bear the fruit of saving faith and manifest themselves as Jesus’ true disciples in this world.
To this calling Christ urges His disciples through the figure of the vine and its branches.
When Jesus says that He is the vine and His people are His branches, we understand that He is speaking in figurative language again. Jesus is not literally a vine with branches coming off Him and fruit hanging on Him, any more than that He is literally bread or a door. Rather, Jesus is drawing a figure that was very familiar to these Jewish disciples, familiar because vines were a common part of the landscape and of the farming of that day. There were many vineyards in Judea. The disciples would easily be able to grasp the truth of which Jesus spoke if He used this figure. Besides, this figure would be familiar because it was part of Old Testament, biblical language. In the Old Testament, Israel was called “God’s vine”-for example, Psalm 80:8, 9.
When Jesus calls Himself the vine, then, He is drawing a beautiful picture of Himself with His church. He and His people are one plant, one living organism. It is a figure similar to that of the church as Christ’s body with Christ as its Head. So here, Christ is the main vine and His people make up the branches joined to Him. Together they are a united, living organism. And when Jesus says that He is the true vine, He does not simply mean that He is not a false vine. He means, again, that He is the reality to which Old Testament Israel pointed. Israel was the symbol in the Old Testament, Christ is the reality. She was the type, Christ is the anti-type. Israel failed to be the perfect vine, Christ has come to be the perfect vine and thus to perfect His church.
In addition to this fundamental idea there is also this: Christ is the source of all life and strength and every blessing of salvation to His people. In a vineyard, the vine is the main trunk of the plant. The branches depend on the vine for their life, for their vitality and nutrients. The vine is the source, the tap of these things to the branches. The vine is the means of support, literally as well as physically, to the branches. Without the vine the branches have nothing. They die. That is why they have to be connected to the vine. It is this way, spiritually, with Christ and His people. His relationship to them and ours to Him is such that He is the vine, the source of our life, our strength, our salvation. He is our total spiritual support. We depend on Him for everything, just as the branch depends on the vine for everything. Without Christ we are nothing. It is in Christ that all the nutrients of God’s grace that we stand in need of are found: forgiveness and righteousness and life. That is why we must be united to Him as branches to the vine. That union is by faith.
Right here we may pause to see why Jesus is this vine to His people. It is rooted in that “I am” statement again. Jesus is the true vine and therefore the source of life and strength and salvation to His people, the branches, because He is divine. He is Jehovah, God, the second person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God. In Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And God is the source of all that we need.
Secondly, Jesus is the source of all life and blessing and salvation because He is the Christ, the Savior. Jesus is the Son of God, appointed to be our Mediator, who came in the likeness of men and of sinful flesh even as a lowly vine, that He might bear our sin and death and atone for our sin. Jesus became a dead vine under the burden of God’s wrath that He might save us and then become, through His resurrection, a living vine to make us living branches. This is the glorious revelation of what God is for us and what He did for us.
But there is another element here that belongs to the figure and which Jesus stresses. That is, as the vine, Jesus is also the source of fertility. He is the One who causes the branches to bear fruit. This is one of the major points in this passage in John 15. Five times our Lord mentions bearing fruit or not bearing fruit. And it all hinges, you will notice, on being connected to the vine. Just as in nature the vine is the power of the branches being able to produce fruit, so also in the realm of the spiritual, Christ is the only power that enables His people to produce fruit. The spiritual fertility is in Him. That is why Christ says what He does in verse 3: “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” He had sanctified these disciples and empowered them to bring forth fruit.
Therefore Christ stresses here, negatively, that without Him we can do nothing. We have no ability to produce good fruit without Christ. That certainly says something about our spiritual condition by nature, does it not? All we can produce, of ourselves, in sin, is the fruit of sin. More evil, more depravity, more death. The only reason, child of God, that you and I can bear any fruit pleasing to God is because Christ is our vine, the source of our spiritual strength and productivity. All our good is in Him. All our strength to do any good is in Him.
You know what that fruit of which Jesus speaks is, do you not? It is the fruit of faith: a real, visible, living, working faith. Not a mere profession but a faith that confesses the name of Christ personally, publicly, boldly, unashamedly before the church-world and before the unbelieving world. The fruit of which Jesus speaks is the fruit of a life lived for Christ in submission to His Word, in obedience to His commandments. The fruit of which Christ speaks here is the fruit of a godly character, bearing the image of Christ, such as: purity, integrity, love, faithfulness. It is the fruit of a holy walk, antithetical, separate from the world and pleasing to God. It is the fruit, dear listener, of daily repentance and conversion, sorrowing over your sins and turning from them. These are the fruits which Christ, the vine, produces in His people as branches. These are the infallible signs of a true Christian. We may ask ourselves today: “Do we have these fruits? Are we bearing them, and are they visible before others?”
It is at this point that we need to see how important this fruit-bearing is from the viewpoint of what the Father does as the Husbandman, or Vine-dresser, that is, the One who cares for the vine and its branches. That is part of the figure.
In the first place, Jesus says that every branch that does not bear fruit the Father takes away. There are those who believe that this verse teaches that believers can fall away and lose their salvation. But it is evident from the rest of Scripture that this cannot happen. So our text cannot mean this, either.
I believe the text is referring to hypocrites, to unbelievers who are masquerading as Christians. They are “branches” in the sense that they belong to the visible manifestation of the church and appear to be in Christ, even profess Him with their mouth, but in reality, they are not. So it is that they do not bear any real fruit, either. They only bear wild grapes. Because they do not bear good fruit, the Father prunes the vine of these dead, barren branches. He cuts them off from Christ, the vine, that is, from any connection to Him, because they must be shown that they have no part in Christ.
That, first of all, ought to impress upon us the need to bear fruit in Christ the vine. Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit the Father taketh away.
In the second place, Jesus teaches us that even those true believers who are in Christ and who do bring forth fruit receive the Father’s pruning work. Jesus also says, “And every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” The Father takes fruit-bearing branches, that is, real Christians who manifest a godly character and a holy walk, and He purges them so that they will bear more fruit.
That work is necessary, child of God, because we are still sinful. Even the best Christians are still weak and sinful. Even our best works are tainted with sin. So the Father works on us and prunes away the deadness in us, cuts away the deeds of the flesh that manifest themselves, purges our hearts and lives so that we will be more holy, more devoted, more obedient.
As you know, the Father’s pruning knife can be painful because He works, many times, through various trials in our lives. We think that these will weaken us and make us less productive. But the Husbandman thinks otherwise. The Father’s pruning is an important work in our lives.
Do you see now how beautifully Jesus speaks of His relationship to us? Do you see how seriously He takes this matter of bearing fruit in Him? I am the vine, ye are the branches.
Then you will also understand why Jesus calls you to abide in Him so that you may bear this precious fruit. That is Jesus’ word in verse 4 of John 15. “Abide in me, and I in you.”
That exhortation of Jesus means, “Remain in union with Me. Stay in fellowship with Me. Stay joined to Me, the vine.” Immediately Jesus explains why this is so important, using the figure of the vine and its branches and emphasizing its relation to bearing fruit. “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.”
This must be understood properly. Jesus is not calling for people to become saved by getting on the vine of Jesus. No branch can place itself on the vine. It has to grow out of it or be grafted into it through a work of God. No sinner can join himself to Christ and His church. Christ must produce the branch, or the Father must place him on the vine.
You understand that Jesus is speaking to saved men here, to believers. They were in Him. They were part of the vine, they were real branches, members of the church. Christ bases His admonition on that fact. And thus, He says to them, Remain on Me, the vine. You are in Me. Do not sever yourself from Me and try to live on your own. Abide in Me, stay in union and fellowship with Me.
Why would Christ have to say that? Is it not true that a believer cannot be severed from Christ? A true branch cannot lose union with the true vine, can it? Why, then, does Jesus issue this admonition?
First of all, because, from the viewpoint of the believer’s expression and experience of faith, he can cut himself off from Christ. A Christian is prone to do exactly what Christ warns him not to do, namely: not abide in Him. We can so quickly think that once we are saved we can make it on our own without Christ. We think that we can still be a strong, fruitful Christian without abiding in union with our Savior, without staying in close fellowship with Him. So we walk away from Him and cut ourselves off from the means of fellowship with Him. We stop praying, we stop reading His Word, we stop attending services and receiving the preaching of the gospel. But, as Jesus reminds us here, we can do nothing without Him. We cannot be Christians without abiding in Him, we cannot bear His character without remaining in Him. We cannot produce good works without staying in union with Him. So He calls us to do that. And He promises that He will abide in us and enable us to be fruitful when we abide in Him.
Secondly, this calling is necessary because there are those who do not abide in Him and who perish. That is the truth of verse 6: “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” As we said, we believe these persons are not true believers. They are hypocrites. They seem to be in Christ because they belong to the visible church and profess Christ. They appear to be branches because of their outward connection to the vine. They not only associate with the church but they profess the name of Christ.
But, for all that, Jesus says they are not true Christians. That was Judas, for example. He did not abide in Christ, though he appeared, for a time, to belong to the vine. At some point all hypocrites cut themselves off from all contact with the vine. They forsake His Word, His people, His church, and any association and activity that is Christian. Look at what happens to them. They are cast forth, rejected as a branch. So they wither. Spiritually they dry up and die. Then comes the worst part: Jesus is referring to the judgment when these false branches are gathered up and cast into everlasting hell where they burn forever.
That, dear listener, is a serious warning to us. The sin of not abiding in Christ is in our nature, remember. In the light of what happens to some, Jesus calls to us: “Abide in Me! Do not be complacent and careless with your spiritual life.” Remain in Christ.
How do we do that? What is involved in abiding in the vine? We have already alluded to some things. Notice that Christ points to the importance of His Word abiding in us, verse 7. “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” It is by the power of Christ’s Word, of course, that we are saved in the first place. It is by the power of that Word that we were placed on Christ as branches. Now Jesus is saying that it is by the same Word abiding in us that we will abide in Him and He in us. That means, then, that you and I must be diligent to have Christ’s Word abide in us.
How does that take place? By taking in that Word of Christ through the means of grace that Christ has appointed: the preaching, Bible study, personal devotions, even the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Then, too, by living by that Word, by keeping its sayings.
When that Word of Christ abides in you, then He abides in you. And, you see, it is only Christ who can keep us in Him. Only as He abides in us through His Word and through faith are we strong to remain in Him. Christ is the vine, the source of all grace, of all our strength, including the grace and strength to abide in Him.
So, believer, let His Word abide in you, that He may abide in you, and in that way strengthen you to abide in Him.
The purpose of being a branch on the vine and abiding in Christ is that you bear much fruit. If you remain in Christ, you will be an abundant fruit-bearing branch. Your life will be full of the fruit that pleases Christ and the Father. It is because remaining in Christ, you will be a healthy Christian, full of His life and grace and strength. It is healthy branches that produce fruit. It is healthy believers who produce godly character and godly conduct. That is what Christ purposes and what the Father purposes for His people. Not scrawny branches that produce skimpy or sickly fruit, but vibrant branches that produce abundant fruit-all the fruit of a Christian: a hearty faith, a bold confession, a faithful witness before men, godly virtues, confident prayer, and an obedient heart.
Let that purpose be an incentive to you to abide in Christ. Then the purpose of God being glorified will also be fulfilled in you. That is the ultimate purpose of being on the vine and abiding in Him, the ultimate purpose of your bearing the fruit of good works in your life-so that the Father may be glorified through your much fruit. Let the desire that the Father be glorified fill you. Go and abide in Christ and bear much fruit.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for all these words concerning Jesus Christ, the great I am. For today’s word, too, that He is the vine and we the branches that abide in Him. Enable us, through a true faith, and by the means of grace, to abide in Thy Son so that we bear much fruit for Thy glory. We ask this in His name, Amen.