Growing up I wanted to be an artist. My dad was great at painting and drawing, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I majored art throughout high school with colorful ambitions and continue to doodle unto this day. I am no Vincent Van Gogh, Michelangelo, or Matisse, but I could draw more than stick figures. What did you want to be when growing up? Did you ever want to be a branch? I suppose not. Although, Jesus says that we need to be branches.
“I AM the True Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser…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.” [John 15:1-11]
In His last major sermon to His followers before his death, Jesus walks them through a common backdrop to make an important point. I could see Jesus walking with His disciples into a neighboring vineyard pointing to the vine and branches and picking off a bunch of luscious grapes. He then compares Himself to the Vine and His Father to the Gardener. He compares you and I to branches. From the context there are two different kinds of branches [15:2]. First, there are branches that do not bear fruit. God as the gardener takes these branches and cuts them off because they are useless.
Why doesn’t the first branch bear fruit? The unfruitful branch is not abiding in Christ—the Vine [cf. Those who do not let Jesus be King will not enter His kingdom]. This is a simple divine illustration of salvation. I cannot bear fruit unless I am abiding in Christ. If I do not abide in Christ I am useless and fruitless as a pile of dead kindling [15:6].
Second, there are branches that do bear fruit but He prunes so that they bear more fruit. This is common for gardeners because they desire to get the most out of their crops. If you abide in Christ you will bear fruit. We still have remnants of sucker branches that continue to need pruning to make room for bountiful fruit.
Jesus says He is the “True Vine.” He is no fake. He is not an impostor. He does not give less than He promises. He is the real deal. He is the life-giving Vine. Those who follow Christ look like Christ. Some look for other vines: drugs, alcohol, cutting, sex, porn, success, money, knowledge, friends or themselves. Whatever vine you seek is the fruit you will bear. Since all other vines are false vines these vines fail. Jesus is the only True Vine.
What does it mean to abide in Christ?
Abiding in Christ appears eleven times in this passage and it also appears throughout the Bible [cf. 1 John 2:6]. If a word appears like this as often as it does, it is probably important. The phrase abiding in Christ [μείνατε ἐν ἐμοί; 15:4] is an aorist active imperative. In other words, “You are to keep on being in Me.” Abiding is not something you get; it is something you are. I am an American: by birth, citizenship and passport. I didn’t just get to be an American I am one. As a follower of Christ we are already have a passport to the kingdom; adopted as citizens of heaven. Abiding is not only what you do it is what you become [BE*]. I abide in Christ because I know I will be with Him one day, and by abiding in Him I can be like Him today.
The better question to ask is: what does it mean to be in Christ? Remember Jesus refers to Himself as being the vine and you being the branches. Jesus then says that if His word abides in me then I am abiding in Him. Therefore, when I lovingly obeying Christ’s commands I am abiding in Christ as He obeyed His Father’s [the Gardener] commands and abides in His love [cf. 14:15, 23].
Be* has been marked with an asterisk not because it is on steroids, but because the work to abide in Christ and bear fruit is Christ’s work. Christ does both the saving and sanctifying work. In other words, my faith to come to Christ comes from Christ, and the fruit of become more like Christ comes from Christ. That is a mystifying work of God’s unconditional love. This love is demonstrated in Jesus words, “The branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in Me…whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” [15:4-5]
Growing up my grandfather had a red delicious apple tree. Let’s say the apple tree didn’t produce much fruit. It just produced dry, wrinkled, brown and mushy apples. Let’s say he decided to fix the tree. So he grabs the tree trimmers, a staple gun, stepladder, and a box of granny smith apples he bought from the store. He cuts off the bad apples and puts on the new store bought ones. Did he fix the tree? Stapling apples will not help because those apples will rot too. Cosmetic changes never satisfy. Are you stapling? Are you faking the fruit? Is Christ your True Vine?
Stapling false fruit is exhausting and tedious. Fruit bearing is not do this and you will be this; rather it is be in Christ and you will live [do things] like Christ. Being in Christ is what I am because I am grafted into the Vine. I am to be a branch that is abiding in the life-giving, fruit bearing doing of Christ. Christ’s doing [sacrificial death] comes before my being [saving faith], and my being [saving faith] comes before doing [sacrificial living].
We look like Christ—the Vine [cf. Galatians 5:22-23]. When we bear fruit we are glorifying God who has done the fruit bearing work within us through His Son Christ [15:8; cf. Mt.5:16; Phil. 1:11].
In summary, here is how Christ says to bear much fruit: You have to stop being the Vine. You need to let Jesus be the Vine. You need to BE the branch and allow God to bear the fruit as you become like Him. Are you willing to be a branch? As I grow up I want to be a branch that bears much fruit.