1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 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. 5 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. 6 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. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 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. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another. – John 15:1-11,16-17 ESV
Yesterday, we looked at three different imperatives or commands found in the New Testament Scriptures that seem to provide Christ-followers with marching orders: Put on…, put off…, and grow up…. But we saw that these non-negotiable requirements were never intended to be a list of activities we pursue in order to make ourselves more righteous in God’s eyes. Each is meant to be a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. The commands to “put on Christ” and to “put on the new self” are not to be seen as actions we implement in our own strength, according to our own will power. They are actions that flow from an inner awareness of our need for divine help in our own sanctification or growth in Christlikeness. While the Scriptures are replete with calls that seem to indicate our need to put effort into our quest for spiritual maturity, we must never lose sight of the fact that our growth is never up to us alone.
In his letter to the Philippian believers, Paul told them to, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12 ESV). At first glance, that sounds a bit foreboding and overwhelming. It appears as if Paul is calling them to save themselves. But the key to understanding Paul’s meaning is found in the phrase, “work out,” which is actually one word in the Greek, and it literally means “to do that from which something results.” It is a picture of salvation, a work of God, lived out in daily life through tangible, visible expressions of change. In other words, God’s salvation of sinful men is to be trul life-changing and transformational. Not only does it have future ramifications, in terms of the promise of eternal life, but it also has immediate implications that show up in the form of abundant life, right here, right now.
And to make sure that the believers in Philippi understood that this working out of their salvation was not a call to increased effort at living a righteous life, Paul clarifies that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13 ESV). In other words, our salvation is actually worked out through us as God works in us. And one of the key ways He accomplishes this work in us is by the presence of His Spirit within us.
In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul makes several interesting observations about the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence. First of all, he describes the Spirit as being the Spirit of God. Then he designates Him as the Spirit of Christ. And, finally, Paul seems to suggest that the indwelling Spirit is Christ Himself.
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. – Romans 8:9-10 ESV
While all of this language may seem a bit contradictory or, at the least, confusing, it is simply a way of characterizing the total involvement of the Trinity in the sanctification of the believer. The entire Godhead, including the Father, Son, and Spirit, are unified in their work of transformating the believer into the likeness of Christ from “one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Notice how Paul easily exchanges and interchanges the names of Jesus and the Spirit as he discusses the divine transformation taking place in the life of the believer.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 ESV
For Paul, the Spirit’s work in sanctification could not and should not be divorced from that of God the Father of the Son. As the unified Godhead, their efforts are always symbiotic and synergistic. It is a collaborative relationship. So, in John 15, when we hear Jesus speaking of the one who abides in Him, we must understand that this is far more than a call to a relationship of dependence upon Himself. This call to abide in Him and to have Him abide in you includes the other two members of the Trinity.
The picture is one of communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is an interdependency involved, in which the believer enjoys a powerful and life-transformative union with the three members of the Holy Trinity. And, as if to stress the vital nature of this unity, Jesus discusses the topic of abiding 11 times in just 13 verses. Through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, God the Father and God the Son abide within the life of the believer, and this powerful union produces undeniable and unavoidable outcomes, which Paul describes as fruit bearing.
Eight separate times, Jesus ties abiding to fruit bearing, and He uses the imagery of a vine and branch to drive home His message. This aggrarian reference would have struck a chord with His audience, providing them with a clear and compelling metaphor that made His point easier to comprehend. As a branch must cling to or remain attached to the vine in order to produce fruit, so a believer must see himself as completely reliant upon his relationship with the Trinity in order to be fruitful. And the abiding of which Jesus speaks is not meant to conjure up thoughts of effort or expended energy. A branch doesn’t have to work at abiding. It’s role requires a degree of passivity and complete receptivity, that allows the vine to produce the preferred outcome. As Jesus makes clear, the branch, apart from the vine, is useless. And the believer, apart from his relationship with the Trinity, is powerless to produce fruit.
“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.” – John 15:4 ESV
And the goal is fruitfulness. In other words, fruitlessness is not an option. Someone who is united with Christ, restored to a right relationship with the Father, and indwelled by the Spirit of God, will produce fruit. And, as Jesus makes clear, not just a little fruit, but a lot. The lack of fruit in an individual’s life is not from a lack of effort, but from a lack of a relationship with Jesus.
While this passage has been used by some to promote the idea that a believer can lose their salvation, that is not what Jesus is teaching. And you won’t find support for that false doctrine anywhere in Scripture. While there will be those who claim to know Christ and who believe themselves to be in an abiding relationship with Him, the proof will be in the fruitfulness of their lives. The presence of God in the life of a man or woman will always produce fruit. The bearing of fruit is the God-ordained purpose for every believer, and our fruit-bearing brings glory to God, because it is the work of God, from start to finish. As Paul told the Philippian believers, “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13 ESV). And, as he told them earlier in the same letter, “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT).
Abiding is not something we do as much as it is something we embrace. It is not an effort we expend, but a lifestyle we express, through our humble reliance upon the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. From the moment we place our faith in Christ, we must constantly remind ourselves of our complete dependence upon Him for all that we need. He is the vine. We are the branches. The fruit is His work, not ours. The credit is His, not ours. Through our union with Him, we enjoy the blessing of being used by Him, for the good of others and the glory of His name.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.