Jesus, The True Vine
December 15, 2002 © 2002, J.W. Carter
www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV
True Christianity, to the Christian, first comes from an unabashed commitment to God in a manner that is consistent with His Word, a manner that acknowledges the Lordship of Jesus Christ and by so doing, motivates a lifestyle of obedience to Him. God has promised salvation to all who will do this. This fact is what separates Christianity from the world religions, and when practiced, empowers a lifestyle like no other, a lifestyle that by seeking obedience to Christ, and by submission to the guiding power of the Holy Spirit, bears fruit. What is the fruit that is borne in the life of a Christian? Some would argue that the fruit of a Christian is another Christian, partly in agreement with the metaphor that fruit bears another plant, and partly in agreement with Jesus' command to make disciples. When we look at the New Testament application of this word, fruit, we find a richer and broader context implied. For example, Paul writes to the Galatians,
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 24And they that are Christís have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. 25If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25).
It is clear that Paul sees the Christian lifestyle as one that demonstrates a spontaneity of love, joy, peace, etc. He sees the Christian having set aside the ungodly attitudes and actions that are natural to man, and taking up those attitudes and actions that are consistent with God's Word. To the Ephesians, he writes,
For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth; (Ephesians 5:9)
To the Romans he writes,
Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. (Romans 7:4)
There is a characteristic change that takes place in the life of a Christian when that necessary commitment to God is made. If there is no change, it is evident that there is no such commitment, and the salvation that may be assumed might have been unattained. It is certainly possible to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, and even have an intimate understanding of it, yet fail to make such a commitment.
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 5And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, 6If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
There are many who carry the name of "Christian" by label only, having attained the title by family or acquaintance. Some are active in Christian congregations, but because they have "falllen away" from the faith without making a commitment, they have not yet received the power of the Holy Spirit, that seal of salvation, and consequently, lack the resource to bear godly fruit.
The metaphor of bearing fruit is used throughout the scriptures. We are familiar with the fruit tree that bears in its appropriate season. An apple tree does not bear pears, nor does an orange tree bear lemons. The very nature of man is exposed in the fruit he bears, so in this same way, the fruit of a Christian exposes the integrity of his faith. What is the source, then, of that fruit? Where does one appropriate the power to produce it? One can tape apple trees to a grape vine and try to convince others that it is an apple tree, but sooner or later a grape will appear, and some of the tape will come loose and be exposed. In the same way, many who refer to themselves as Christians can do a very good job of imitating one, but sooner or later, their true nature will be revealed. Though it is only a game of charades in this life, the ultimate penalty for playing this game is to find ones self separated from God for eternity. Because of this, the integrity of the fruit borne by those who call themselves Christians is of incredible importance.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
Jesus makes very intense use of the fruit metaphor in His sermon to the disciples in the upper room, taught immediately prior to his being taken prisoner by the Romans. Though Paul tends to describe the true fruit that is borne by a Christian, Jesus describes the source of that fruit. First, fruit is produced on a vine or tree. Again, that fruit is consistent with the true nature of the vine. Jesus, as he begins teaching about the fruit that is borne by the Christian, refers to Himself as the vine, and God the Father as the vine keeper. The first-century culture was very knowledgeable concerning the production of vine-borne fruit. A good example of this process is realized in the production of grapes, the most important fruit in their society. Though wild grape vines do produce some fruit, a lot of work is involved in the production of fruit by the vintner (vine farmer.) The vintner must keep a watchful eye on the vines throughout the year, pruning them at the appropriate times, cultivating the soil, removing weeds that would choke the vines, etc. With this understood, we can see how Jesus teaches this metaphor.
First, Jesus is the True Vine. Jesus is the only source of true fruit of the Spirit. Any other source of the fruits (note the lists of Paul quoted above) may produce similar imitations, but lack the power of the True Vine. Jesus is the only source, the only way that any person can live a life that truly honors God, and produces godly fruit.
Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. 3Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
Second, the Father is the Vintner. The work of pruning and cultivating is done by God. Some have argued that the life of a Christian is characterized by peace and prosperity, but the truth is that the life of a Christian is not peaceful at all. There is always a war between the worldly nature and the godly call taking place in the heart of a Christian, a war that is probably more pronounced in the early years of Christian faith. If there is no such war, there is most likely no pruning or cultivating going on. God is not engaged in the person's life as the husbandman, as the vintner.
God is in the pruning business. When we examine the metaphor, we see that the vintner cuts off and removes those branches that do not bear fruit. Later we will see that Jesus explains quite literally that as the vine, Jesus provides life to the branches, and the branches are those who claim to carry His name. Just as an apple tree has no choice but to bear apples, the nature of a Christian produces fruit in him. If one claiming the name of Christ does not bear fruit, it is simply because Christ is not in him. What will be the ultimate condition of one who does not turn to Jesus in faith? They will be separated from God for eternity, cast into the "lake of fire" with Satan and his demons, as pictured in the Revelation of John. However, the vintner does not stop there. He examines the branches that did bear fruit. Consider the metaphor of branch pruning as applied to the life of a Christian. When a fruit tree has borne its fruit in its season, each branch will drop its leaves and go dormant. When spring comes, buds appear on the branches, and from these buds will grow new shoots and new fruit. However, at the end of each branch is a piece of fruitless branch. Left on its own, it will grow slow and strong, but will not produce any buds. The gardener will take a tool and trim off this fruitless branch, cutting it back to the first bud found. With the fruitless branch gone, the bud is freed to produce a longer, more fruitful branch. About 20 years ago I planted fruit trees in the back yard of my Memphis home. After the end of the first harvest I did no maintenance on the tree. The next year the tree grew a little and produced a little more fruit, in this case, peaches. At the end of that season, at the appropriate time, I carefully pruned the entire tree following instructions that I found in a gardening encyclopedia. It was the last time I did that, for sure. Each branch grew about three feet (one meter) and I had far too much fruit, having to throw away most of it. Had I continued to prune the tree it would have overwhelmed my house.
In the same way, God prunes Christians. Jesus had just demonstrated servanthood through the washing of the disciples feet, and in that illustration He was describing a form of pruning. He was demonstrating forgiveness for the small sins that "accumulate" as He washed their feet. It was not necessary to bathe them since they were already "clean." Likewise, Christians never completely shed themselves of natural desires that interfere with God's purpose in their lives. God has to prune the unfruitful attitudes and actions of our lives, cutting them back to the point where there is a bud with a potential for growth. If a tree felt pain, it could find the pruning process excruciating. People do feel pain, and the pruning process can be very painful. However, as both James and Peter repeatedly state in their letters, there is a purpose behind those trials and tribulations: that through them we would learn patience and wisdom ... in other words ... to bear fruit.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 5I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
Jesus has already clarified in this metaphor that He is the True Vine. Here Jesus further clarifies the application of this metaphor for any who did not understand its relationship to the life of a Christian. A branch, left to its own, cannot bear fruit. In order for the branch to bear fruit, it must be part of the vine, receiving from it all of the nourishment that it needs. As Jesus is the vine, the apostles, the disciples, and Christians, are the branches. As the branch gets all of its power for living from the vine, Christians get all of their power for living from Jesus. There is no other source. Without the vine the branch dies ... it is forever separated from the roots of sustenance. Without Christ, a person dies ... forever separated from fellowship with God. Jesus' remedy for this separation is for people to to "abide" in Him. Jesus uses many different approaches in communicating the gospel. In this instance of the vine and branches metaphor, to "abide" refers to the interaction of the lifeblood of the vine and the branch, a complete relationship that is uncompromised. Likewise, Jesus calls people to abide in Him in the same manner, receiving their lifeblood from Him, and from Him alone. It is only through the lifeblood of Christ, experienced through the work of the Holy Spirit, that a person can bear fruit, for without Christ, there is no power of God in an individual. One can mimic the actions of a Christian, but such mimicry will have no power, and no real fruit will be produced.
The key, then, is to abide in Christ. Yet another way to present the simplicity of the Gospel, Jesus states that the only way for people to receive the gift of eternal life is to turn their hearts and lives over to Him. Only God has the power to save, and it is only through obedience to God that salvation to God.
If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
Jesus repeats the consequences that are reserved for those who do not accept the gift of grace that He offers. If one does not abide in Him, like the branch cut from the vine, it will wither from lack of sustenance, and is good only to be gathered and cast into the fire. It is interesting to note that John uses the same metaphor of fire here as he does when applied to those who will be separated from God at the final judgment when those found without faith in Christ, signified by the lack of the Holy Spirit (or the "mark of the Spirit?", will be cast into the lake of fire. Such a clear teaching should cause all people who carry the name of Christ to examine whether or not they are truly connected to the vine. It is only through faith in Jesus Christ that a man can abide with Him, and it is only when one abides in Him is he part of the vine.
Take a moment and ask yourself if you have really turned your heart and life over to Jesus Christ, or are you still holding onto the throne of your life, and allowing Jesus to have those parts that you choose. If you are in the latter group, you have not accepted Jesus as your Lord, because a Lord is Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all.
If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. 8Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
Jesus then goes on to describe the nature of the relationship that we have with Him when we truly abide in Him. The connection of the branch to the vine is complete and unhindered by impurities. Likewise, a true and complete relationship with Jesus Christ is described as a mutual abiding. It is important to note that when one truly abides in Jesus, God's Word abides in the heart of the believer. This is an important component to what Jesus then states as He refers to the power of prayer in the life of a Christian. I have a choice in my life as to whether my decisions will be grounded in my own desires, or whether they will be grounded in God's Word. When we pray, we tend to pray about our own desires, usually limited to a desire for release from some anxiety such as the desire to see someone healed from sickness and/or infirmity. However, this is not the nature of the prayers that Jesus is describing. Instead of praying from the basis of our own desires, if we abide in Him, our prayers will come from the basis of His Word. When John uses the word, "word" in this context, he uses the Greek word, "logos." This word is understood to mean far more than simply printed words on a page. It is used to describe the authority and truth that stands behind those words. When we place God's Word in our hearts, it is not simply memorizing scripture. The most evil pagan can do that. It is only in appropriating a dependency upon that Word as the only source of truth, and acting upon that truth as the foundation of our lives, are we truly abiding in it. Oftentimes we find ourselves in our prayers stating, "Lord, if it is your will ..." When we do this we are firmly placing ourselves outside of the abode that Jesus describes. If we abide in Him, God's Word will be in us, and there is no need to search for it. It is when we fill our lives with our own selfish desires, and demand our own way that we fall out of that close relationship with God and fail to hear or understand His will for us.
Imagine what your life would be like if there was no impurity between you as the branch and Jesus as the vine. You would clearly understand God's will and purposes for your life, and as you pray, you can communicate with God concerning those issues. Then, and only then, is God's promise of fulfillment realized. We are not going to realize our own desires through prayer, though we might interpret circumstances to sometimes do so. It is when our desires are in tune with God's word that our desires are the same as God's desires for us, and our prayers will be answered in full and marvelous ways. Then we are in a position to grow closer to God as we see Him work in our lives, and our capacity to bear fruit is further enhanced. It is this relationship of the branch to the vine that defines the true disciple. As a servant is not greater than His master (stated by Jesus in his previous illustration of foot-washing), the branch has no authority over the vine. When the branch usurps such authority, the relationship is broken, and the sustenance necessary for the production of fruit withers.
As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. 10If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Fatherís commandments, and abide in his love. 11These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
The relationship between the vine and branches, when applied to the relationship between Jesus and His disciples is based upon the unconditional and full love of God. Love is the reason why God has chosen to offer us His grace. Love is the reason why the Messiah, the Christ came in the form of a baby to finally reveal to us the complete message of God's purpose of grace. Love is the reason why Jesus went to the cross so that the grace that God provides can be applied in the hearts and lives of those who turn to Him. It is in this love that the branch and the vine are connected.
Jesus then moves to a statement of commandments. We learn through the entire Old Testament that it is impossible to keep the Law. Therefore, how can we possibly keep Jesus commandments? The key is in Jesus' description of how He keeps the commandments. Jesus does not keep the commandments by learning them and then treating them as a law-book. One might recall that He broke many of the Jewish laws during His ministry, and by so doing, infuriated the religious establishment. Jesus' nature is truth, and because of that all that He does is consistent with God's Word. All that He does is keeping the commandments, and so it is impossible for Him to sin. This is certainly a big task for us whose nature is not that of Christ. However, in the same way, when God's Word abides in us, it becomes our nature to respond to the stimuli of our surroundings in a godly way. We may see that by our responses that illustrate the fruits of the Spirit in our lives, rather than those old responses that might have included anger and retribution. As we abide in Christ, our very nature starts to take on gentleness, kindness, goodness, etc. It is when our nature takes on this nature of Christ that we find true peace and joy in our lives.
We find in these few words some tremendous teaching on the true nature of the Christian life. In one of the most powerful messages of Jesus' ministry, we find that our only hope for salvation is through Him, but because of God's grace, that salvation can be found. We cannot successfully attain a relationship with God without abiding in Christ. We must turn our hearts and lives over to Him, and as the branch depends upon the vine for its lifeblood, it is to Jesus that the Christian turns for both physical and spiritual lifeblood. When we abide in Him, our nature changes from that of the self-centered world, to that of a God-centered heart. It is then that we find that nature characterized by new responses to old situations. Just as a fruit tree bears its appropriate fruit in season, a Christian will bear godly fruit rather than the fruits of flesh that were evident before the life in Christ was found.
As we consider these verses, look into the fruits of your own life. Are you truly connected to the vine? Do you receive your lifeblood from Christ, or does it come from your own sources? Are you seeking God's will in your life, or your own? Pray that there is no hindrance between you and God, and seek His wisdom as you grow closer and closer to Him, and in so doing, bear fruit.