As we approach our 4th Image of Christ, the True Vine, I’d like to begin by putting the lesson of the image into what I like to call a “pregnant sentence” – a sentence that contains the sermon in a nutshell. Then the rest of the sermon will be a matter of unpacking that pregnant sentence. So here it comes:
A life of abundant, eternal fruitfulness can only develop as we remain vitally connected to Jesus, the source of the Life-giving Holy Spirit, and receptive to the cleaning and pruning work of God the Father.
1. Abundant, eternal fruitfulness
When Jesus talks about fruit in this passage, what exactly does He mean? Of course, he is using an image. And to properly understand that image we have to have a sound Biblical background. The Bible uses the image of fruit to describe various things. As far as good and godly fruit goes, here are some of the Biblical meanings:
- Good fruit is a Christ-like character and lifestyle: Galatians 5:22-23 describes the “fruit of the Spirit” as being love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Ephesians 5:9 adds that the fruit of the Spirit is goodness, righteousness and truth. So firstly bearing good fruit as a disciple of Jesus amounts to developing the character and lifestyle of Jesus. That makes a lot of sense seeing as Jesus is the vine. You would expect grapes from the branches of a grape vine … so you would expect Jesus from the branches of a “Jesus-vine.”
- Titus 3:14 and 2 Corinthians 9:8 describe good fruit as being good works of every kind. So when we perform good deeds towards others, we are bearing good fruit. Scripture says that Jesus went around doing good (Acts 10:38) and so bearing fruit of the Jesus-vine means producing Jesus-like good deeds.
- Acts 10:38 also says that Jesus went around healing the sick … so praying for those in need and exposing them to the healing power is also one very important aspect of the fruit of the Jesus-vine.
- To these ideas of fruit, Colossians 1:16 and Romans 1:13 add that leading others to salvation through faith in Christ amounts to bearing fruit for the Kingdom. Jesus brought many people to new life in the Kingdom through them accepting Him as the Christ. We bear the fruit of the Jesus-vine when we lead others to Christ.
- Then in this very passage in John 15:9-13 and 17, it becomes clear to us that primarily Jesus describes a life of fruitfulness as one in which we live a life of love towards God and others. A person living a life of love is bearing the fruit of the Jesus-vine.
So, in a nutshell, what God wants from us as disciples of Jesus or “branches of the Jesus-vine” is that we would express the life of Jesus in the world we live in; i.e. live lives of love towards God and others.
Fruitful lives are characterised by living at peace with others; being patient with others; being kind towards others and always doing to them what we would like them to do to us; being godly in our choices; being faithful in our relationships; being gentle and doing no harm to anyone else; being self-controlled when emotions flare; being outspoken about the good news of Jesus Christ and thus leading many others to trust Him for salvation! He also declares that when we bear this fruit, it will be accompanied by much joy … abundant joy!!
This is the fruit that God our Father wants us to bear. And He doesn’t only want us to bear some of this … he wants us to bear MUCH fruit, says Jesus in John 15:8. He wants us to do MUCH good … to save MANY souls … to be radically holy and loving and joyful!
But to understand how, we have to turn to the image of Jesus as the Vine. Because this passage is clear: In order to bear this kind of fruit, we have to be like branches of a vine, where life flows into us from the Vine and out of us into fruit! We do not produce the fruit … we bear the fruit … which Jesus produces.
2. Jesus is the True Vine
Jesus states it clearly:
Jesus said to his disciples: I am the true vine … (John 15:1)
This is a very loaded statement for Jesus’ original listeners – the disciples. They were schooled in the Old Testament and so they knew that the “Vine” was an image for God’s people Israel. God describes Israel as His vine in Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:8-16; and Ezekiel 19:10. As God’s vine, Israel was called to be a source of God’s life to the world. They were called to reveal God to the world so that the world would come to God and receive true spiritual life.
God taught the Israelites how to do this. He gave them 10 commandments for living in such a way as to portray His character and nature to the world. Had they done so faithfully, not only would they have experienced fullness of life, but others around them would have been attracted to the God they were serving … and they would have come to this God and received life too.
But in Jeremiah 2:21, God graphically describes how His people had become a corrupt vine – a false vine. Instead of revealing God to the world, they had become just like the world … and they had died spiritually! At the time that Jeremiah was written, the people of Israel had tried to find spiritual life and well-being in worshiping fertility gods, committing idolatry, sexual immorality and trusting in political alliances rather than in God.
Israel in the time of Jesus was still a false vine … but now for a different reason. Now they were absolutely committed to obeying the Ten Commandments, but they were so committed that they had made up thousands upon thousands of rules and regulations which God had never given, to try to live perfectly. But when the world looked at this vine, all they saw was legalistic judgmentalism … and they were not attracted … because there is none of God’s true life in legalism.
Israel it was trying to give life to people through rules and regulations and religion. Romans 7:5 says:
“For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.”
Trying to bear fruit by obeying the law actually only leads us to sin more! Israel was being a false vine!
So, in saying that He is the true vine, it would have been very clear to the disciples that Jesus was claiming that He was the true source of God’s life for the world. Jesus came to give life to people not through rules and regulations and religion, but through connecting us to the life-giving Spirit of God.
Romans 7:6 says: “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”
Jesus the Vine does not bring us life and make us fruitful by giving us rules and regulations to follow … He gives us life and makes us fruitful by being the source of the Life-giving Holy Spirit
3. The Holy Spirit is the sap
This is not stated in John 15, but all of Jesus’ teaching points to this reality. Just as the sap is hidden inside the trunk and the branches of the physical vine, so the sap is hidden in the parable, and it is hidden in our lives as Christians. Jesus described this in John 7:37-39:
“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37-39)
John Wesley called the Holy Spirit the “life of God in the soul of man”.
The Holy Spirit was the life and power of God in Jesus’ life on earth … and He is the life of God in the branches of the Jesus-vine too. Just as the sap gives life to the branches of a grape-vine, so the Holy Spirit gives life to us as branches of the Jesus-vine.
Just as the sap causes the fruit to grow on the branches, so the Holy Spirit causes fruit to grow in us. That is why Galatians 5:22-23 talks about “the fruit of the Spirit”.
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God and His power at work in us is what will make us bear spiritual fruit. There can of course be no spiritual fruit with the Spirit!
4. We are the branches
The believer in Jesus, the follower of Jesus, is the branch in this image. In a different but very similar metaphor in Romans 11, Paul writes about how the Christian has been grafted into the vine.
When we committed our lives to Christ, God grafted us into Jesus! We are connected to Jesus and just as the vine expresses its nature through the branches, so Jesus expresses His character in the world through us.
The secret of being a healthy branch on a vine is, of course, in being vitally connected to the stem or trunk of that vine; i.e. to Jesus.
The health of our spiritual lives and the fruitfulness of our spiritual lives are not determined by our effort … but by the depth and strength and openness of our connection to Jesus!! If we are to be super-fruitful branches of the Jesus-vine then we need to be as closely connected to Jesus as possible. The connection needs to be clear and pure so that as much of the life-giving sap of the Holy Spirit can flow from Him to us. This is what Jesus called abiding in the vine.
5. Abiding in the Vine
Ten times in John 15, Jesus commands the disciples to “abide in Me”. He makes it clear that if they don’t then “apart from Me you can do nothing!” You cannot produce Jesus-fruit without abiding in the Jesus-vine … because if you’re not abiding in Jesus there is no Jesus-sap (the Holy Spirit) flowing into you.
He also makes it abundantly clear that if we do abide in Him then we will bear MUCH fruit. The more we abide the more fruit. It is not the branch that tries harder that produces much fruit … it is the branch that abides more that produces much fruit. Why? Because that branch has the greatest access to the life-giving, fruit-producing Holy Spirit. Simple.
Abiding in Jesus is all about relationship. Abiding more deeply and more fully is about having a deeper, richer relationship with Jesus. To “abide in” literally means to dwell in or live in. In John 14:23 Jesus promised: “If anyone loves me, they will obey me. Then my Father will love them, and we will come to them and live in them.”
To abide in Jesus is to live with Jesus. It is to seek, long for, thirst for, wait for Jesus … it is to see, know, love, hear and respond to Jesus. It is the heart of Psalm 42:1, “As the deer pants for water, so my soul longs for You oh Lord.” It is John 15:9: “Abide in my LOVE”.
Abiding is living in a love-relationship with Jesus. So in general terms I need to:
- Deepen the quality of my devoted time with Jesus (Psalm 27:4 says: “I ask only one thing, LORD: Let me live in your house every day of my life to see how wonderful you are and to pray in your temple.”) We are to set apart the best time of the day for Jesus. Savour His Word, the Bible, talk to Him and listen to Him. I would suggest keeping a journal of the Scriptures we read and the prayers we pray as a record of our relationship with Jesus
- Deepen my all-day attentiveness to Jesus. . Psalm 1 speaks of having our roots deep down into the Living Water by meditating on God’s Word day and night. That means that its not just during my quiet time that I listen and talk to Him, but all throughout the day as life goes on, I am to talk to and listen to Him.
We could also benefit from considering that Acts tells us that when Jesus had ascended the disciples abided in Him by the following:
- They spent their time learning from the apostles, and they were like family to each other. They also broke bread and prayed together. (Acts 2:42)
- Day after day they met together in the temple. They broke bread together in different homes and shared their food happily and freely, while praising God. Everyone liked them, and each day the Lord added to their group others who were being saved. (Act 2:46-47)