An amazing privilege and blessing the Lord grants all His people is union with His Son. This means that nothing in this world is able to separate us from Him. We are in Him and He is us. But if we are honest, our behavior doesn’t always reflect a life that is intimately connected with the Lord Jesus Christ. An important and necessary part of a believer’s spiritual growth is becoming closer to the Lord Jesus Christ. How can we do this? How can we commune with the Saviour? How can our lives be fruitful branches showing the joy of knowing Christ Jesus? The answer is by abiding in Him.
In the opening verse of this passage Jesus introduces His disciples to an allegory in which He describes Himself as “the true vine” and His Father as “the vinedresser” (15:1). It is possible that the institution of the Lord’s Supper or even the sight of the many vines on their way to Garden of Gethsemane could have been a backdrop to this teaching. The metaphor of the vine and branches was a familiar one to the people of Israel (Is. 5:1-11; 6:13; 11:1; 53:2). Because this is a metaphor, we should not become too focused on every detail within this passage as this can lead to a distorted interpretation. Instead, it is important to focus on the main lesson being provided in this passage.
On this vine are two kinds of branches – fruitful and fruitless. The gardener (who represents the Father) takes away the fruitless branches and He prunes the fruitful ones so that they may bear more fruit (15:2). Who do these branches represent? After carefully considering the context and the language of this passage, it is my conclusion that the fruitful branches represent genuine believers and the fruitless branches represent counterfeit believers. This will be explained as we examine each of the branches in the relevant verses. This brings us to the heart of this passage and that is a consideration of these two kinds of branches, but note that the emphasis is on the union that the fruitful braches share with the vine.
Sermon Summary: In this message we will consider two different kinds of branches with two different outcomes.
1. THE FRUITFUL BRANCHES
As we consider the fruitful branch, we discover three important characteristics.
They are Clean
After talking about the two different kinds of branches in verse 2, Jesus addresses His 11 disciples and says, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you” (15:3). The word “clean” here is the adjective form of the word “prune” in verse 2. What does Jesus mean by this? Jesus is reminding them that they are true believers – with the exception of Judas Iscariot. Back in John 13 as Jesus was washing His disciples feet (13:5), Peter reacted by saying, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” (13:6). After telling him that this is something he won’t come to grips with until after the resurrection, Peter emphatically said, “You shall never wash my feet” (13:8a) to which Jesus said, “if I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (13:8b). That is to say, if Jesus does not provide the cleansing of a sinner’s soul and the sinner rejects this, they will not inherit the kingdom of God. Peter then made a lavish request, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (13:9). Peter clearly missed the point, and desired to be lavished by what Christ was giving. Notice what Jesus says, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you” (13:10). Who wasn’t clean? Who wasn’t a true believer? Verse 11 tells us that it is the one about to betray Him, and that of course was Judas Iscariot. I remind you of this passage because the word “clean” in John 13 is the same word used in John 15.
My point is this, the branches that abide in the vine and bear fruit represent true believers. In this context they specifically refer to eleven of the twelve disciples and by implication refer to every true believer of all time. Jesus is saying in verse 3 that the reason why there are fruitful branches to begin with is because of the sovereign saving work of God. So the first thing to observe concerning these fruitful branches is that they are converted and clean.
They Abide in the Vine
Jesus continues by saying to the fruitful branches (genuine believers),
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (14:4-5).
The second important characteristic of this branch is that it abides in the vine. The word “abides” means, “continue” or “endure.” The idea is to have a permanent union with the vine. This abiding describes the importance of continual fellowship with the Lord. It is a fellowship that comes as a result of believing, loving and obeying Christ. It is important to think of this fellowship as a vital, necessary and privileged means in which we get to be fruitful believers.
Practically speaking, to abide means to trust in Him (14:1-4), to love Him (14:15, 21, 23) and obey Him (15:10). This is demonstrated as we draw close to Christ through prayer and the Word of God. When it comes to our prayer times and our Bible reading, we ought not to view them as a mere duty. Rather, we ought to view them as a means in which we are drawing closer to Christ. Pray because you love and need Christ. Read His Word because you want to know Christ more and hear His voice in His Word.
In verses 9-11 Jesus shows the connection between obedience to the Word of God and to abiding,
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
They Bear Fruit
The third important characteristic of this branch is that it bears fruit. The only reason why they bear fruit is because they are genuinely attached to the vine. Jesus said,
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (15:5)
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (15:7-8).
Those who are genuine believers will bear fruit in their Christian life. What does this mean? According to verse 8, this fruit is evidence or proof that you are a genuine disciple. I don’t think that the fruit in view here is limited to one particular action. I believe that it simply refers to all the spiritual qualities that flow from an obedient Christian life (cf. 14:27; 15:11, 12, 16; Gal. 5:22-23). There certainly will be times and seasons where a true believer will not walk in obedience and will be un-fruitful, but that will not be a permanent condition. Because the true believer is in union with Christ, fruit bearing will characterize their life. The life of Christ pulsates through the life of a believer and there will be fruit. This fruit both glorifies the Father in Heaven and authenticates our faith.
2. THE FRUITLESS BRANCHES
In verse 6 our Lord discusses the second kind of branch, and that is the fruitless branch. Jesus said,
“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” (15:6).
In this verse there are two important facts concerning these branches. What Jesus has to say here also works as a warning to all who claim to be in Christ but are not genuinely trusting in Him alone for salvation.
They don’t abide in the Vine
The first important fact to know is that they do not abide in Christ. These branches are associated with Christ, they at times look like they belong to Him, but in contrast to the fruitful branches they do not abide in Him. These are the kind of people who attach themselves to Christ and a church. They attend church functions – they might even get involved in various ministries. They make a profession of faith, but they are not real. They are not interested in knowing the Word of Christ so that they may trust, love and obey Christ. This of course should bring to our mind Judas Iscariot. He associated with Christ, He heard His teaching, witnessed His miracles yet we discover that he was never a child of God.
They are judged
The second important fact is that they will receive judgment. The result of the first branch is bearing fruit, however, the result of the second branch is burning. The image of burning here represents judgment and this is what is going to take place on the Day of Judgment after our Lord returns (Rev. 20:15). It is really upsetting and sobering to think that there are many people throughout history that have claimed to follow Christ, but in the end they will be removed and sentenced to an eternity in Hell. Jesus warned,
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’ (Matt. 7:21-23)
In this passage Jesus provided a picture for His disciples to consider carefully. It was a vine, a vinedresser and two kinds of branches. For all of you who love Christ, remember that the reason why this is possible is because of the Lord’s grace in saving you and placing you in union with Christ. Secondly, remember that the way in which you grow closer to Christ is by abiding in Him. Draw near to Him in prayer and the reading of His Word.
The joy and peace of abiding in Jesus Christ is available for His people. So by His help, let us strive to abide in Christ more and more each day.