“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.”John 15:4 (NASB 1995)
Some Christians have not realized in their lives all that God wants them to be, that somehow, they have compromised themselves with their own culture, and consequently, left the faith. I am sincerely concerned about these believers. But this text screams to me of the radicalness of the call of Christ, and carnality and periphery are no part of this call. Some denominational groups have so emphasized the ‘assurance’, that they have ignored ‘perseverance’. They have put so much hope in an initial salvation experience, that they have forgotten the Biblical thrust that salvation is primarily, daily Christlikeness. It’s not some religious ritual, no matter how meaningful that ritual may be somewhere in the past. “Abide in Me, and I in you…” – it’s an awesome thing. You know, John’s literary style is like he’s weaving a tapestry; it’s like a mosaic put together – the themes are woven together. Verse 1 of John chapter 15 is one of the great ‘I Am’ statements of Jesus. He’s made a lot of them. These ‘I Am’ statements seem to go back to chapter 4 verse 26, where, in speaking to the woman at the well, He uses the covenant name for God, ‘Yahweh’, and its English translation – ‘I Am’. And if she knew anything about Judaism, she knew that Jesus had unveiled Himself claiming to be deity. These ‘I Am’ verses continue through the chapters of John, and here in 15 verses 1 and 5, Jesus said, “I Am the True Vine”. What is He talking about, claiming to be the ‘True Vine’? You know, there are numerous places in the Old Testament where Israel is identified as the vineyard. As a matter of fact, in the Temple of Jesus’ day, was a huge gold grape vine symbolizing the nation of Israel. Every place in the Old Testament, Israel is identified as a vineyard, or grape vines. It’s a judgment passage, and the one that sticks to my mind the so strongly is Isaiah chapter 5 verses 1 through 7. You might want to look at it. It tells about the story of a man who bought the most expensive kind of hill available; a hill that faced the sun, a hill that was graded just the right way as the water would cascade. He built a guard fence and a guard tower, got all the rocks out, got all the weeds out, built a vat to collect the wine, and bought the most sarek grapes available in his day, planted them in this perfect hillside, sunlit and watered vineyard. He fertilized the plants and set back to wait for the grapes that were surely to come. But instead of the wonderful, sweet grapes of the sarek vine, came the wild stinking grapes of the wild olive branch. And the Prophet says to the people, ‘What shall the vineyard owner do with this hill?’ And the people cried out, ‘he should tear down its walls, and let the animals come in. Don’t water it, don’t prune it’. And the Prophet whirled on them and said, ‘you are the vineyard of the Lord’. ‘I’ve done everything for you’, he said. ‘I’ve sent you my prophets, I’ve given you my word, I’ve done everything for you. And instead of the people of God that you ought to be, you’ve become like disobedient pagans calling Me by My Name’. We see the same trend in the New Testament. And in Mark 12 verses 1 through 10 is the parable of the wicked vine tenants. Again, God is depicted as the owner of a great vineyard, where he buys the best field, and does everything just like Isaiah 5. And then he leases it out to a group of men, and he goes on a vacation, and they are to pay him from the grapes. But they won’t pay him and won’t pay him. And he sent servant after servant, and they beat the servants, and they even killed one servant. And then the landowner said, ‘I know what I’ll do; I’ll send my son, surely they’ll respect my son’. And these wicked tenant farmers said, ‘here comes the heir, if we kill him, the vineyard is ours’. So, they killed the son of the owner. And God’s judgment falls on Israel for that, which obviously is a reference to their rejection of the Messiah. Now the question is, when this text begins to talk about pruning and cleansing, and some branches not bearing fruit and being burned, who in the world is it talking about? Is it talking about Israel? Real possibility it is. The thing about the analogy that hits me so firmly is, these Jewish people, you ask them, they would say, ‘certainly, I’m right with God. I’m a descendant of Abraham, I’m of the tribe…, I’m a Hebrew of the Hebrews. I follow the Mosaic Law, certainly, I’m right with God’. And they were not. Some say, this ‘pruning’ and ‘cleaning’ has a play on the word, here on verse 2. Basically, it’s the word ‘cleanse’, not the word ‘pruned’. You don’t use the word ‘cleanse’ for pruning grape vines. It’s obviously a word play here; He’s not talking about grape vines anymore. Some would say, because of the context, particularly verse 6, that He’s talking about Judas Iscariot. Remember John 1 3:10, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” It’s obviously a word play here, and He’s talking about Judas. It’s a way of encouraging them that only Judas s going to fall away. Earlier in chapter 15, which is the same context, and same discussion, Jesus talking Peter said, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you”. Maybe He’s talking to Christians about ‘continuing sin’ in their life (cf. 1 John 1:9). I’m not sure about that, but it’s possible. Or maybe it’s a warning to believers, and it’s scary. You know, I do believe in ‘assurance’, but ‘assurance’ was never meant to be a license for godless living, apathetic living, indifferent living, and lazy living on the part of blood-bought children of God. God’s mercy is meant to cause our lives to overflowing gratitude, and we use it so that we can live godless lives, and hope to get to heaven when we die, because we did some little something, somewhere, sometime.
1 John 2:19 says, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us;” ‘they were in there, but they went out, which really shows they were not of us.’ The Parable of the soils in Matthew 13, talks about seeds that fell on 4 kinds of soil; 3 of them germinated, only one of them bore fruit. And this passage seems to imply that even though those other 2 received the word with joy, that when problems and pressures of this world came, the plant died. That’s scary for us! It looks like that fruit-bearing is the evidence of salvation, and not germination. This text is exactly that same basic metaphor and motive expression, ‘fruit-bearing is the evidence, not profession’. You see, I think we have preached to people, “only believe, only believe, only pray this prayer, only do this little act”, in such a manner that we have neglected the concept of ‘abiding’ in Christ. I am not, in any way, depreciating the initial need of response, but for God’s sake, the need for initial response must be matched with an ongoing response of faith and repentance. It’s hard for me to come to grips with this text, as I’m not exactly sure who it’s talking to. I’m not exactly sure what ‘abiding’ is, but this is a serious text. And it cannot be blown away from our lives easily. It swirls around us in haunting melodies, that somehow, we’ve not just got it yet. What does ‘abiding’ do? You know, the word ‘abide’ is a major word of John. While the word is used 112 times in the whole New Testament, it’s used 40 times in John’s Gospel, and 26 times in John’s letters. He likes this word. He talks about Messiah abiding, he talks about all kinds of things abiding, and now, he comes that we must abide. “I Am the real vine…” – implication, Israel is not the real vine. I think this a strong text on the Church being the spiritual Israel (I am not in any way espousing Replacement theology). If we are spiritual Israel, we have an awesome responsibility of ministry (cf. Eph. 2:12-13; Gal. 3:7).
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” – Every cultivator of plants and trees will tell you about the necessity of trimming and pruning so that plants will blossom more, and trees will grow big, and bear more fruit. Of course, this whole idea of pruning and trimming looks like it’s hurting the plant. Oh my, does God do that to His children? Does God prune that we might bear more fruit? Was Jesus perfected by the things that He suffered (Heb. 5:8)? Why are we surprised when fiery ordeals come upon us, as though some strange thing s were happening to us (1 Pet. 4:12)? Those verses tell me that God does prune us, hence, we only enter the kingdom of God through suffering.