Live in me, and I will live in you. A branch cannot produce any fruit by itself. It has to stay attached to the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit unless you live in me. “I am the vine. You are the branches. Those who live in me while I live in them will produce a lot of fruit. But you can’t produce anything without me. Whoever doesn’t live in me is thrown away like a branch and dries up. Branches like this are gathered, thrown into a fire, and burned. (John 15:4-6 God’s Word For The Nations)
We are to go out into the world today and spread the good news to all we meet. We are the branches and we must bear fruit. If we are not bearing fruit are we rally branches of the True Vine?
It is amazing what people call a Christian today. It seems that all a person has do is claim to have a little religion or some association with a church of any sort or some form of morality, then he is called a Christian. He may know nothing of the truth of the gospel, understand nothing of the work of Christ on the cross, have no desire for holiness, no hunger for the Word of God, no delight in true fellowship with God’s people, yet still be called Christian. His life need not be changed! He need not be a new creature! He can just go on and live the way the world lives as long as he makes some claim to being a Christian.
Many people view the Christian life as nothing more than joining a religious organization. But the Bible’s description of it is totally different. The Christian life is organic, i.e., it is full of life with all of the signs of life. It is a distinctive life that overflows with the fruit of Christianity. Though 80% of Americans claim to be Christians, it is obvious that only a small portion of that number genuinely know Christ. Rather than being organic or living, they instead are inorganic, i.e., without evidence of life and vitality. No portion of Scripture speaks any more clearly about the distinction between true believers and false believers than our text.
Numerous professing Christians are inorganic, devoid of true spiritual life. They are destined to be exposed and cast into divine judgment. But the true believer derives his life from Christ and demonstrates this by his fruitfulness.
This is the essence of Jesus’ message to us in John 15. Let’s see how it is worked out in our text.
I. Essential conditions in abiding
We must recognize that our Lord speaks of abiding in Him as both a fact and a duty. It is a fact in that only those who are truly saved continue to abide in Him. But it is also a duty in that every true believer is commanded to abide in Christ as an act of perseverance. What is this abiding all about?
1. Abiding as foundational
The word “abide” is used some 112 times in various ways in the New Testament. John uses it more than any other NT writer, 40 times in his Gospel and 26 times in his letters. The word commonly implies, “to remain, to continue in, to dwell in, to stay, to endure.” It is used in Romans 9:11 to describe the immutability of God and that His purposes will “stand” forever. I Peter 1:23 uses this word to describe the Word of God that is both living and abiding, i.e., it lasts forever.
When the term is used to refer to Christians abiding in Christ, it carries with it this same idea of ‘remaining in, enduring firmly’. It is similar in usage to the many times Paul speaks of being “in Christ.” This is a word of perseverance.
In practical terms, what does it mean to abide in Christ? First, to abide in Christ implies that I have a continual sense of needing Him. The believer cannot get away from a deep, inner longing for Christ. Christ has become for him true bread and true drink, so that he is satisfied only in Christ. His sufficiency is not in the acts of religion or outward activities but in Christ alone. Eliza Hewitt, the hymn writer, has captured this sense of constantly needing Christ in these words:
More about Jesus would I know,
more of His grace to others show,
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me.
More about Jesus let me learn,
More of His holy will discern;
Spirit of God, my teacher be,
Showing the things of Christ to me.
Second, abiding in Christ implies a continuing perception of the all-sufficiency and wonder of Christ. That child of God, regardless of his maturity range, is conscious that Jesus Christ is all-sufficient in all things. He is thrilled by Christ! His affections run toward Christ so that his love for the Master grows step by step. He has those times in which he is overwhelmed at the thought of Jesus Christ in His radiant glory and that this same Christ has died for him, an undeserving sinner. Again, another hymn writer, Isaac Watts, expresses this vividly:
When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it Lord, that I should boast,
save in the death of Christ my God:
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down:
did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Third, abiding in Christ means that I live in dependency and trust in Him both for my salvation and my daily walk. Christianity differs from all other religions in many ways, but especially in the fact that ours is a religion of faith. Faith is a trust or dependence upon our Lord and a resting in His work and promises. The one who abides in Christ begins in faith and continues in faith. He understands that ‘we walk by faith, not by sight’ (II Cor. 5:7) and that ‘without faith it is impossible to please God’ (Heb. 11:6) and that ‘the just shall live by their faith’ (Rom. 1:17) We should not be trusting in ourselves or our accomplishments, but in Christ and His glorious sufficiency. In faith, we cling to Christ, we adhere to Him in obedience, we fellowship with Him in His truth, we trust Him in all His faithfulness to accomplish in us what He has promised and begun.
Notice that this abiding is mutual, rather than singular. We abide in Christ, but He also abides in us who are true believers. “Abide in Me, and I in you,” says our Lord. Paul put it, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1.27)
But how do we know that we are abiding in Christ and Christ in us? It will be evident by the fruitfulness in abiding.
2. Abiding for fruitfulness
The promise of verse 5 is not that a believer simply bears fruit, but that “he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit.” Our Lord’s redemptive work and continuing sanctifying work makes us abundantly fruitful. It is this fruitfulness that becomes the distinguishing mark between true and false branches.
What is this fruit? First, it is the evidence of divine life flowing from the Vine through the branches. This shows up in the grace of repentance operating in us, so that not only do we repent at conversion, but also we practice repentance throughout our lives. It can be seen in our desire for personal holiness, a longing to have the imprint of our Lord’s holy life radiating through us. The fruit of the Spirit, the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control increase and abound in our lives. These are things that we cannot manufacture or produce on our own.
There’s peace in the midst of trouble; joy while facing adversity; love toward those who have wronged us; patience while enduring trials; kindness without expecting return; goodness in terms of purity of life; faithfulness in going after God; gentleness in the exercise of our strengths; and self-control in the disciplines of life.
When John Patton, the missionary to cannibals of the New Hebrides islands of the South Pacific, saw these ruthless natives profess Christ, the thing he looked for was real fruit. It was not their professions that excited him, but it was the fruit of a true conversion that caused him to rejoice in the saving grace of God. Until a native rejected his old life, turned from his idolatry, turned away from his cannibalism, exercised kindness and gentleness toward others, grieved over sin, and hungered for holiness, Patton knew that divine life had not entered in. But once he saw these things, he knew that they were abiding in Christ and Christ abiding in them.
3. Abiding and salvation
We must understand that these verses do not teach that we abide in order to be saved, rather we abide because we have been saved. Abiding is an evidence of true salvation, it is the grace of perseverance…continuing on in the Christian life as a true believer. Jesus makes it quite clear in verses 4-5 that if a person does not abide in Him and He does not abide in that person, no matter how loudly that one claims to be a Christian, he is not!
This passage is one of the strongest in Scripture on the subject of perseverance in the faith. Dr. James P. Boyce’s Abstract of Principles reminds us clearly of what perseverance means.
Those whom God hath accepted in the Beloved, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere to the end; and though they may fall, through neglect and temptation, into sin,… yet they shall be renewed again unto repentance, and be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
If there is no desire in you to live in a relationship of abiding in Christ, depending upon Him, resting in Him, it is not because you have not gotten around to it, but because you do not really know Him. If you are a professing believer, but are casual about Christianity, unconcerned about living in faithfulness to Christ, unconscious of any real desires for Christ, then you have every reason to question the genuineness of your salvation. The one who abides in Christ will also have within him the evidence of being in union with Christ and all of the fruitfulness promised.
II. Distinct relationships in abiding
Christ has already identified Himself as the Vine, but has spoken only generally of the branches. Now with clarity He tells the disciples, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” He has not changed the symbolism of this passage, but only stresses it so that the life-changing truth held within it will stir their hearts to go on with Him.
1. The Vine
Our Lord uses the simple picture of the vine to express to us Who He is and what kind of relationship we have with Him as our Lord. A vine contains the life of the branches. It is through this stem that grapes are ultimately produced. The vine is not particularly attractive to onlookers, but to a branch, it is more lovely and magnificent that all else; for the vine is the branch’s life. The vine draws all the nourishment from the soil in which it is placed and sends it on to the branches that they might produce fruit. It is not the vine that produces the fruit, but the branches. But apart from the vine and its life-giving work, the branches are fruitless. The branches produce only as they receive the life of the vine.
Jesus Christ is the Vine. He is our life, our strength, the source of every spiritual nourishment, the provider of our every need. When we come to faith in Christ, we do not simply adopt a new religion. Instead, we come to the living Christ, the glorious Son of God, who has redeemed us by His own life and now dwells in us with His saving life. We come to Him who alone is our sufficiency in life. We find Him to be our all-in-all.
For Christ, Peter, Andrew, James, and John laid down their nets and followed Him as their Master and King. For Christ, Matthew left the lucrative tax-collecting business and gave his all to follow Christ. Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee of Pharisees, abandoned his strict, legalistic life, and found himself enraptured with knowing Jesus Christ. These disciples discovered that Jesus Christ is the Vine; they were merely branches through which the life of the Vine flowed.
When our Lord told us that He is the Vine, He was driving home the truth that He is our essential life. Without Him, we are nothing. Without Him, all of our works at religion are vain and fruitless. Everything in life for the believer revolves around Christ.
2. The branches
The distinction of this passage is quite clear. We are to remember Who Christ is and who we are, never confusing the two! A branch is quite useless apart from the vine. You cannot use it to make furniture. You cannot hang anything on a branch because it is too flimsy. You cannot use branches to build a house. The only good of a branch is found in its production of grapes and that only as it is connected to the vine. Separate it from the vine and the branch has neither life nor any use.
Do you see the simplicity of what our Lord was saying? Who are you, but a branch! You live in dependence upon the Vine. All of your life is found in the Vine. Your strength to go on, your joy, your power for obeying comes from abiding in the Vine.
It is only those branches that truly abide in the Vine that produce fruit and thus are considered genuine believers. There are those fruitless stems attached to the vine, which will be cut-off and cast into the fire to be burned. These are false branches; those who merely profess to know Christ, but do not actually have faith in Him. Then there are those genuine branches, those who have come to faith in Christ and demonstrate it by their fruitfulness.
How do you know if you are a true branch in Christ? We must not skip over this without questioning ourselves in light of God’s Word. There appears to be two distinctives about real branches in our text. First, true branches abide in Christ or continue on in dependence upon Him. Again, this is the truth of perseverance that those who are truly Christ’s will persist in following, obeying, and trusting Him. Does this describe you? Or are you a Christian-by-convenience, one that claims to be a believer but you do not live daily in dependence upon Christ as your life? Is there that real heart longing for Christ? Do you find yourself satisfied only with Christ and Christ alone?
Second, a true branch is recognized by its fruit. As a young boy I watched my grandmother’s trees in our back yard, year by year. Many of the branches produced beautiful fruit; lemons, figs and oranges. But the branches that were unfruitful, she cut away. I saw a simple lesson: the fruit will show up in true branches. Is there the fruit of Christ’s character evident in your life? Is there the fruit of repentance, holiness, joy, love of the brethren? Is there the fruit of a hunger and thirst for righteousness?
III. Fundamental truths in abiding
Every parable (of which this is one of many in the New Testament) has some basic, fundamental truths it seeks to drive home to those who listen. This verse leaves us with a couple of simple, yet serious truths which we must reflect upon.
First, our Lord states an impossibility. For something to be impossible, it means that it is not in any way possible of being done or accomplished. If there is capability, then we would use the term ‘near impossibility’, but refrain from using impossibility. Here our Lord states some impossibilities in which there are no exceptions.
“As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” Jesus uses an absurdity that each of the disciples would have understood. They knew that if you cut off a branch, separating it from the vine, it was impossible for it to bear fruit. Why? Because the life is in the vine. The source of fruitfulness is found in the vine. A branch separated from the vine quickly withers and rots.
Again, in verse 5, He adds, “…I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.” You will notice that He did not say, ‘Apart from Me you can only do a few things!’ Nothing means not-anything. Now let us note a few truths from this.
(1) You cannot make a contribution to your salvation. Some groups teach that salvation is a work of grace and human merit, that you can make a contribution to your salvation. But that is not what our Lord says. He is speaking in no uncertain terms: Apart from Him you can do nothing and that includes saving yourself or even helping to save yourself.
(2) You cannot manufacture Christian character and fruitfulness. You can adopt a Christian lingo or volunteer for Christian activities or participate in Christian worship, but you cannot make yourself fruitful. The fruit comes from the Vine alone. J.C. Ryle (p. 197, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels) comments: “Where there is no fruit of the Spirit to be seen, there is no vital religion in the heart. The Spirit of life in Christ Jesus will always make himself known in the daily conduct of those whom he dwells.”
(3) As a true believer, it is not your life, but Christ’s life that produces genuine fruit. Sometime we grow a little and begin to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. We begin to get the idea that we are so gifted, so capable, so strong that God really has a big advantage by having someone like us. Pop that balloon right now! It is not your great learning or your great living that produces fruit! It is the indwelling life of Christ…and don’t ever forget it!
Our text ends with one of the most ominous warnings of Scripture. Whoever doesn’t live in me is thrown away like a branch and dries up. Branches like this are gathered, thrown into a fire, and burned. (John 15:6)
This verse can be analyzed as follows.
(1) The essential condition of abiding is repeated. To abide is to remain in, to trust in, to live in dependence upon Jesus Christ. Those who do not have such a relationship of abiding in Christ and Christ abiding in them may appear for a while to be a Christian, but the truth about them will surely come out. They never knew Jesus Christ in His saving power!
(2) Such false professors will be clearly cut away from Christ. They cannot continue forever in their spiritual ruse. The Vine-dresser cuts them off and casts them away. Are they believers? Absolutely not! As John Calvin put it (Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 5, p. 96): “Not that any one of the elect is in fact ever cut off. But there are many hypocrites who apparently flourish and are green for a time, but who afterwords, when they should yield fruit, disappoint the Lord’s hope.” When there is no fruitfulness, their hypocrisy is exposed and they are thrown away as a useless branch.
(3) What appears to be life for a time will wither away. Are there hypocrites in the church? Indeed there are, but they will eventually dry up and wither because they have no true spiritual life. How plagued we are in our day by fakes who have deceived true Christians! But they cannot last forever. The day will come when their lifelessness will be exposed!
(4) False branches will eventually be gathered and cast into the fire of judgment. These are stern warnings! If you are hiding today behind your profession and your religious activities, there is a day of judgment fast approaching. And in that day, you will ultimately be cast into the fire. You can pretend to be a believer and perhaps fool all of us. But you cannot fool the living God who searches the heart and knows what is in you.
(5) The false branches burn forever and ever. Our Lord uses a present tense verb, “and they are burned,” to describe a judgment that goes on for eternity. When the Lord Jesus warned his hearers about the horrors of hell, He used vivid language. He describes it as a place of “the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 25:30); “the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41); and “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46).
Why this message to a group of Christians? We are to go out into the world today and spread the good news to all we meet. We are the branches and we must bear fruit. If we are not bearing fruit are we rally branches of the True Vine?