The Vine and the Branches

'I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.' (Joh 15:1–2)

Chosen to bear fruit

Our Lord's teaching on the vine and the branches (Joh 15:1–17) is very important to us because it deals with a subject that is vital for our salvation—fruit-bearing.

In v16 of the chapter Jesus said that we have not chosen him, but he has chosen us and appointed us to go and bear fruit. The Greek word translated appointed means to put something in its proper place. Jesus has chosen us and placed us in our position, as Christians, so we can bear fruit for God. God expects us to bear fruit for him.

The true vine

The New Testament was written in Greek, and we can deepen our understanding of it by examining the words the Holy Spirit inspired the writers to use. Let's look at this teaching from the beginning.

'I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.' (v1)

The Greek word translated true in that verse means real, true, actual, not counterfeit, genuine. Jesus said, 'I am the real, the true, the actual, the genuine vine.'

There are many counterfeit vines in this world we can attach ourselves to—religious leaders and gurus such as Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, whose teachings many cling to. But there is only one true vine who will enable us to bear fruit for God, and that vine is Jesus Christ.

The Greek word translated true in v1 is closely related to the word translated truth in Joh 14:6:

Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.'

Not only is Jesus the truth, but he is also the true vine, the real vine, the genuine vine; and our Father is the gardener.

Fruitless branches

'He [the Father] cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.' (v2)

The Greek word translated cuts off means to take away or remove. Jesus said that his Father will take away or remove every branch in him that does not bear fruit.

Please note that these are branches that are in Christ. Some Christians believe Jesus was referring to those who merely profess Christianity and are not true believers, but that was not what he said. He said: '…every branch in me…'.

The term in Christ is used in the New Testament to describe born-again believers (Rom 8:1; 2Co 5:17); the apostle Paul said he was in Christ (Rom 16:7). A person cannot be cut off from a vine they have never been attached to. These are people who are in Jesus Christ and know Jesus Christ. Christians must bear fruit for the Father.

Pruning

The Greek word translated bear in bear fruit is phero, and the word translated fruit is karpos. Both are used in the Parable of the Sower.

'It came up, grew and produced a crop [karpos fruit, crop, harvest], multiplying [phero bearing] thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.' (Mar 4:8)

By using the same Greek words in both teachings, the Holy Spirit is showing that producing a crop in the Parable of the Sower and bearing fruit in the Vine and the Branches are one and the same thing.

Jesus said that every branch in him that does bear fruit the Father prunes (Greek to make clean, purify, remove defilement or imperfections). So the pruning Jesus spoke about involves cleaning us up, purifying us, removing imperfections from our lives that defile us.

We sing the chorus: 'Purify my heart…', and that is where a lot of the Father's pruning and cleansing takes place—in our hearts. Jesus said:

'What comes out of a man is what makes him "unclean". For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man "unclean".' (Mar 7:20–3)

Sin has its origin in the human heart. We need to have our hearts cleansed so we can live godly lives and be even more fruitful for the Father.

Cleansing through the Word

'You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.' (v3)

Jesus had cleansed his disciples by the word he had spoken to them. God uses his Word to clean and purify our hearts as the following scripture shows:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Eph 5:25–8)

As Christians, it's important that we read and study the Word of God so the Lord can do this vital work of cleansing in our lives.

Remain in Jesus

'Remain in me, and I will remain in you.' (v4a)

Jesus wouldn't tell us to remain in him if it was impossible for us to do anything else. The literal translation of the verse is: 'Remain in me, and I in you.' Jesus is describing a reciprocal relationship.

The Greek word translated remain (meno) means to remain, abide or dwell. As we remain in Jesus (in a living relationship with him), he remains (abides and dwells) in us by his Spirit—the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9). However, the word describes a state that begins and continues, but may also end or stop (1).

The extent to which we experience God in our lives depends largely on the closeness of our walk with him. We are told to come near to him and he will come near to us (Jam 4:8). That is reciprocal: what we do towards God in this respect, he does towards us.

If that is so, then what will happen if we move away from God? He will move away from us. That is what happens to backsliders: not only do they move away from God, but he moves away from them and his presence and influence in their lives decreases. Is there a remedy for that? Yes. They should do what he tells them in Zec 1:3.

I used to believe that God would never take his Spirit from a believer no matter how they lived, but now I question that belief. After David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband he prayed:

'Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.' (Psa 51:11)

Psa 51 is the most detailed account of repentance in the Bible and I don't think David would have prayed about something that could never happen. Jesus said that from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded (Luk 12:48). David had walked closely with God for many years and better behaviour was expected from him because of that.

In the Old Testament God's glory (his presence) left the temple because of Israel's sin; it drove him from his sanctuary (Eze 8:6). But he left progressively, pausing as he went to give them time to repent (Eze 10:4,18–9).

In the New Testament our bodies (as well as churches) are the temples (sanctuaries) his glory (presence, Spirit) dwells in (1Co 6:19; 3:16). Has God's attitude to sin changed since the Old Testament? Is he more tolerant of it now? No, not at all. 1Co 10:1–12 uses examples from Israel's history to warn us not to sin. We must be careful how we live.

In the Old Testament the name Ichabod meant the glory has departed (lit no glory or where is the glory?). That happened to Israel because of the sin of its priests (1Sa 2:12–4:22). We are priests of the Lord (1Pe 2:9): let it not happen to us, or to our churches.

'No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.' (v4b)

It is only as we remain in Jesus and allow his life to flow through us that we can bear fruit for the Father. We cannot bear fruit by ourselves, we must remain in the vine.

'I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.' (v5)

The decision to remain in Jesus is ours to make. If we do remain, he will remain in us and we will bear much fruit; apart from him we can do nothing. We can do nothing that will bless our Father in heaven unless Jesus Christ lives his life in us.

Discarded branches

'If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.' (v6)

Why are the branches that have not remained in Jesus thrown into the fire and burned? Because they are not producing fruit and are therefore of no use to the Father.

Jesus said at the beginning that he is the true vine and his Father is the gardener. A gardener, or vine grower, grows a vine for one purpose only: to gather fruit from it, because the wood of a vine is useless for making anything with, it is only good for burning (Eze 15:1–5).

I believe Jesus compared us to the branches of a vine for that very reason because our main purpose, as Christians, is to bear fruit for God.

In Jesus' day a fruit grower wouldn't tolerate a barren fruit tree, he would cut it down, burn it, and plant another. This fact was referred to and given spiritual significance by Jesus in Luk 13:6–9, and by John the Baptist in Mat 3:7–10.

If we do not remain in Jesus we will not bear fruit and, like withered branches, will be picked up by the gardener and burned—a clear reference to hell (Mar 9:43–8).

A divine promise

'If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.' (v7)

Allowing our Lord's words to remain in us implies obedience to them. Jesus said that everyone who hears his words and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock (Mat 7:24).

If we remain in Jesus and obey his Word, allowing it to cleanse and refine us, we can ask for whatever we wish and it will be given us. Why is that? Because the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (Jam 5:16).

Every prayer of Jesus was answered apart from one: when he asked to be spared from crucifixion. That request was refused because it wasn't in his Father's will (Mat 26:39–44). But every other prayer was answered, not because he was the Son of God but, as the Son of Man, he fulfilled the conditions for answered prayer:

If we meet those conditions our prayers will be answered also.

Glorifying the Father

'This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.' (v8)

The Greek word translated glory in this verse means to honour (highly respect) someone; to recognize them as being great, important or excellent.

If we allow Jesus Christ to live his life in us we will bear much fruit. That will honour our Father in heaven. It will show that we recognize him as being great, important and excellent, and that we are true disciples of his Son.

Remain in his love

'As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.' (v9–11)

Jesus told his disciples that as the Father had loved him, so had he loved them (past tense). He then said that if they obeyed his commands they would remain in his love (future tense), just as he had obeyed his Father's commands and had remained in his Father's love. The promise was conditional: remaining in Jesus' love depended upon them obeying his commands.

Some Christians believe that Jesus will always love them no matter how they live or what they do. That is not what the Bible teaches. Jesus said that he had remained in his Father's love because he had obeyed his Father's commands. That means that if he had not obeyed his Father's commands he would not have remained in his love.

The words of our Lord must be studied carefully so that we do not deceive ourselves.

Jesus loved us before we were saved; he loved us so much he came to die for us (Gal 2:20). But now that we know him, his continued love for us depends upon our obedience to him. What was true for Jesus in his relationship with his Father is equally true for us in our relationship with him.

Jesus said that if we love him we will obey his teaching (Joh 14:23). We prove our love for Jesus by obeying his Word. If we do obey him, the Father will love us and Jesus will love us (Joh 14:21). Again, their love for us will depend upon our obedience.

The Lord has told us these things so that his joy may be in us and our joy may be complete. Jesus wants us to have his joy. That joy comes from the love of Christ, and the Father, that is poured into our hearts when we walk in obedience to him and his Word. There can be no substitute for such love and joy in our lives. As the old hymn puts it:

When we walk with the Lord in the light of his Word
What a glory he sheds on our way!
While we do his good will, he abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there's no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Fruit that will last

'You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.' (v16)

Jesus has chosen and appointed us to go and bear fruit for the Father—fruit that will last. The Greek word translated last can also mean remain or endure. The fruit we will bear as Christ's life flows through us will remain, it will last, it will endure for ever because it has been produced by God (Ecc 3:14).

Spiritual fruit

And now we come to the final point—the meaning of the word fruit (Greek karpos) which is used so often in this passage.

When I was a young Christian I believed that the Parable of the Sower was about bringing people to Jesus: some bring thirty, sixty or a hundred people to the Lord. As a seed, when planted, grows and produces other seeds, so Christians grow and reproduce themselves spiritually; and that, I thought, was bearing fruit (producing a crop) for the Father.

But if the measure of our fruitfulness in God's sight is based on the number of people we bring to Jesus then I, for one, have not been very fruitful in my life, because I certainly haven't brought thirty, sixty, or a hundred people to the Lord (as far as I know), and I don't suppose many other Christians have either.

To understand the biblical meaning of the word fruit we need to look at how it is used elsewhere in the New Testament, and its most important use is in Gal 5:

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit [karpos] of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:19–23)

When we remember that we cannot bear fruit for God unless we remain in Jesus, and that Jesus remains (dwells) in us by his Spirit; then the meaning of the word fruit, as used in Joh 15, becomes clear to us—it is the spiritual fruit produced in our lives by Christ's indwelling Spirit.

To the above list we can add the fruit (karpos) of righteousness that comes through (Greek by the means of) Jesus Christ (the righteous life he enables us to live, Phi 1:11), and the fruit (karpos) that we bear when we confess (publicly acknowledge) his name (Heb 13:15).

Christian maturity

Luke's account of the Parable of the Sower says that the seed that fell among thorns stands for those who are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and do not mature (Luk 8:14).

The Greek word translated mature means to bring to perfection or ripeness. Christian maturity (coming to perfection) is not measured by how many people we bring to Jesus, but by the quality (ripeness) of the fruit we bear for God.

Righteous living (doing what is right in the sight of God, 1Jo 3:7) together with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, is the fruit God wants us to bear for him. Such fruit takes time to grow and ripen in our lives, and we can only produce that fruit as we allow Jesus Christ to live his life in us.

…Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col 1:27)

Michael Graham
July 2001
Revised May 2017

(1) Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance. 1999. Zondervan. p1570. Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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