I am the “True Vine”
Perhaps one of the most liberating moments of my Christian experience came when I began to understand more thoroughly Christ’s teaching in John 15. As a young man going into ministry, I became allured with many things that capture the attention of your average Bible College or Seminary students. I dreamed of having a powerful, growing soul winning ministry where souls were being saved on a weekly basis. I can remember praying that God would save a certain number of people on college extension, and then purposing to make it happen. I can remember reading statements in books and publications like America’s biggest Sunday school, bus ministry, or number one soul winning church. Numbers in my mind were equivalent to God’s degree of favor. If I were right with God I would see numerical blessing. I expected results, and had a tendency to manipulate situations to accommodate those results. One week as a summer evangelist in college, began a renovation toward Biblical thinking in this area. I remember spending a week at a church where a board in the back listed the names of members and the number of professions of faith they had personally witnessed that year. I saw scores of people flood the aisles during the invitation for a message that was far from Biblical in content or manner of delivery. At the end of the week I saw a record of a child who “got saved” four times that week. I saw a man get baptized upon coercion and then refuse to stay for dinner on the grounds after the service. This is certainly an extreme situation, and I assume what I shared with you is rare, yet it made me radically question my mindset. I began to think about cities that rejected Christ. Was He not right with God? Obviously not! He is the perfect Son of God. I thought of Paul thrown out of some cities while others embraced the Gospel. I thought of Ezekiel and Jeremiah’s ministries. These men did not always see great numbers, yet they were faithful. While some men in Hebrew 11 trusted God and saw mighty miracles performed, others God gave the miraculous grace to face death with confidence in the Him. I realized that my perspective was woefully unbiblical, and prone to fleshly manipulation. While my evangelical zeal was good, my focus, methods, and motivation were unbiblical. John 15 forever changed my understanding of motive and enabling!
Jesus says in John 15:1-5 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. 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. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. 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. I 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.
I want to study the passage by studying Christ’s illustration, the nature of spiritual fruit, and the focus that flows from the process. First, think about Christ’s illustration. He used an illustration that vividly portrays the nature of the production of all Christian fruit. When I was a child, we moved to a house that was overgrown with vegetation. I remember finding some old pruning tools in our garage. The next day I “pruned” several bushes around the side of the house. Like most children my age, I knew how to make a mess, but not how to thoroughly clean it up. The day after “pruning” the bushes I was surprised to see the branches that I had cut off the day before. They wilted! Without the bush these branches were lifeless and powerless to produce fruit. This is exactly what Christ says in John 15. He says, “I am the true vine.” Christ said that He was the only source of fruit producing life. He emphasized this truth by saying, “without me you can do nothing!” It does not get any clearer that that. No Christian can produce fruit in his own life. Apart from the work of God in the believer’s life, no spiritual fruit will or can be produced. Jesus said that the Father is like a farmer caring for His vineyard. The purpose of planting a vineyard is to harvest fruit, not to go through the motions of gardening. The farmer, God the Father, desires every branch in Christ to bear abundant fruit, and those fruitless branches are not fulfilling their God-given purpose when they fail to bear fruit. Since the Father wants abundant fruit, He cares for the vine. He lifts up branches that are drooping down so they will produce fruit. He prunes branches so they will produce more fruit, and He removes branches that are dead weight and not bearing fruit in the vine. These actions all serve the purpose of productive fruit-bearing. God’s desire is abundant fruit, and He works to produce it in every believer’s life. The process of producing fruit is co-operative, however it is critical that we understand what aspects of this co-operation are the work of God, and what aspect is my responsibility. Balance in understanding this process is critical if we are going to see genuine spiritual fruit produced in our lives.