In chapter 14 Jesus gave a staggering teaching that if anyone loves Jesus, then the Father and the Son will come to that person and make their home with that person (14:23). Jesus wants his disciples to understand the close, intimate relationship that is available for those who follow him. Jesus is now going to show what this means for us as his followers in John 15. Jesus is going to use a well-known image to communicate to his followers the glorious relationship we have with our God.
I Am The True Vine (15:1)
This is the seventh and final “I Am” statement in John’s gospel. The vine is used throughout the scriptures to represent Israel, the people of God. In Psalm 80:8 Israel is called the vine that was brought out of Egypt. In Isaiah 5 we see Israel called a degenerate vine. Jeremiah 2:21 makes the same connection of Israel as the degenerate vine. In chapters 15, 17, and 19 of Ezekiel we see Israel called the vine also. But notice what Jesus does. Jesus identifies himself as Israel. Not only this, but he is the true Israel. Jesus is teaching that Israel, as God designed it to be, had failed. The prophets that we just noted above all made this point. But it is not the end of God’s plan for the world or for his people. Jesus will succeed where Israel failed. He is everything that God desired. We have seen this in the book of Isaiah where we read about Israel’s failure giving way to the promises of the one who will not fail in being a light to the nations and bringing salvation to the ends of the earth. The physical nation of Israel has been supplanted by Jesus, who is the true vine. Notice also that the Father is described as the expert farmer who is cultivating this relationship. The Father who cultivated the vine relationship with Israel is now cultivating this relationship with Jesus as the true vine.
Every Branch (15:2-3)
Jesus then describes what it means for us that Jesus is the true vine and the Father is the vinedresser. One of the key themes to this gospel has been to describe who are true disciples of Jesus. Many messages have been given by Jesus to show who are truly his versus those who claim to belong to God. Jesus returns to this in the final night of Jesus’ life before his crucifixion.
“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, he takes away.” It does not matter what you have done in your past. If you are not bearing fruit, then you are cut off. No fruit means that we do not belong to Jesus because fruitfulness is the mark of a branch. Claiming to be a disciple means nothing. Believing one is a Christian means nothing. There is not a question concerning who is a Christian and who is not. There is clear evidence as to who belongs to Jesus: fruitfulness. We are not able to remain in relationship with Jesus and not bear fruit. I hope we will feel the weight of this declaration. There must be something that can be seen in our lives that shows we are joined to Jesus.
“Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes that it may bear more fruit.” I find it interesting that Jesus does not say that if you are bearing fruit, then everything is going to be easy and wonderful. The reality is that we will not have a pain free life. God is going to prune us so that we are more fruitful. Pruning is the removal of all things that inhibit growth. Suffering is directed by God to cause us to bear fruit. God does not coddle us or shelter us so that we will bear fruit. The painful process is to lead us to a continuing profitable life. The writer of Hebrews made the same point.
For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:10–11 ESV)
Verse 3 is what Jesus said when they first were in the upper room as Jesus is washing the disciples’ feet (cf. John 13:10). These disciples are cleansed because of the words that Jesus has spoken. Jesus’ teaching is life giving and cleanses. The scriptures are the agent of our spiritual growth and change (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16). This means that we do not come to the Word of God for spiritual facts. We come to the scriptures bringing our hearts to the pruning blade of the Father. We open the Word of God and submit our lives to those words so that we remain in Jesus and thus be pruned, rather than ignore the scriptures and be removed.
Live In Christ (15:4-7)
Notice the beginning of verse 4. This statement is another reason why we must see that Jesus is not talking about a mystical indwelling. Rather, Jesus is talking about intimacy of relationship. Jesus abides/dwells/remains in us the same way that we abide/dwell/remain in Jesus. The picture of remaining in Jesus is illustrated for us in this verse. A branch cannot bear fruit by itself. The branch must be connected and live in the vine. Branches derive their life from the vine and the vine produces fruit through those branches. Now listen to what Jesus says because it is powerful: we cannot bear fruit unless we remain or live in Jesus. Verse 5 presses the point even further: apart from Jesus you can do nothing. Obviously Jesus does not mean this in an absolute sense. You can be separated from Christ and still do all kinds of activities. The point is that you can do nothing toward God if you are separated from Christ. As Paul would say in Romans 8:8, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
It is important to recognize the proper flow of this teaching. We cannot reverse what Jesus is saying. We are not saved because bear fruit. Bearing fruit is the product of salvation. The vine and branches imagery helps us see that. The reason the branch bears fruit is because it is connected to the vine. The branch cannot be disconnected from the vine, bear fruit, and then be connected to the vine. Fruit is only borne when the branch is first connected to the vine.
This means that we are to evaluate our lives. If we do not see spiritual fruit, then there is a problem. The problem is very clear. We are not remaining in Christ because his words are not living in us. Jesus said this already in this gospel, says it here, and will say it again in a couple of chapters.
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” (John 8:31 ESV)
Yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. (John 8:37 ESV)
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7 ESV)
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17 ESV)
If someone says that they are struggling spiritually and having problems with their faith, I want us to see that Jesus has the clear answer. Remain in Jesus by remaining in the word of God. This is the medicine that no one wants to take but is clearly prescribed by the Lord. We want other answers. We want other people to change. We want our circumstances to change. We want everything else to change but our own personal habit of not dwelling in Jesus.
In the parable of the four soils, there was only one ground that was fruitful. Why was it fruitful when the other three soils were not? Listen to Jesus again: “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:23 ESV)
What made that heart “good soil” is that the person listens to the word of God and understands it. Luke records the parable like this: “But the seed in the good ground—these are the ones who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, hold on to it and by enduring, bear fruit.” (Luke 8:15 HCSB)
John will write a letter and speak about the spiritual strength that exists in the Lord. Listen to what he writes there: “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” (1 John 2:14 ESV)
He does not care about physical strength. What made these newer Christians strong? The answer is that the word of God remains in them and thus they have overcome the evil one. We must believe what Jesus is saying throughout this gospel. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).
We can do nothing toward God on our own (14:5). The flesh is of no help. We must be connected to Jesus and we connect to him through his words because his words give life. This is how we remain in him and how he remains in us. This is how we are in the Father and the Father is in us. This is how the Spirit is alive within us and live in the Spirit. God works through this word. Jesus is working through this word. The Spirit is alive and at work and will work and transform your life and be with you through this word. We have quoted passage after passage saying it is through the word of God. Peter said this also: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:23 NIV)
Notice that Jesus says what happens to those who refuse to do this in verse 6. “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.” Do you feel like you are withering spiritually? Jesus says it is because you are not connected to him. You have been cut off and are withering. You think you are attached but your lack of fruitfulness shows that you have been cut off. We discussed the implications of verse 7 in John 14:13-14 where Jesus first said this, so I will leave those thoughts there in that lesson.
God Glorified (15:8)
Now an even weightier conclusion. Fruitfulness is so important for two reasons. First, God is glorified by our fruitfulness. Remember, we exist for God’s glory. Our purpose is to show the glory of God to the world. We are to be the lights of the glory of God to the ends of the earth. Second, we prove that we are disciples of Jesus. Fruitfulness is the evidence of our discipleship. It is not possible to be a disciple of Jesus and not show ever-increasing fruit.
When we remain in Christ, we will bear fruit. The Father will prune us so that we can be more fruitful. Therefore we look at the challenges and difficulties of life by faith asking how this suffering can used for the glory of God and bear fruit for Jesus all the more.