by Mike Ratliff
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27 ESV)
There are really only two groups of people in the world. There are those who are branches bearing fruit in the True Vine who is Christ and then there are those who either are totally separate from the vine in their rejection of Gospel or they are branches in in the True Vine who bear no fruit. Those branches which bear fruit have been cleansed by the washing of water with the word by Christ. Their sins are forgiven. The other group has not been cleansed so are in their sins whether they are in the True Vine or not.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 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. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” (John 15:1-3 ESV)
Who is the True Vine? This is Christ speaking of Himself. In John 15:1-17 Christ uses an extended metaphor of the vine and branches. He uses this teaching device as the basis for Christian living. As we have seen, the True Vine is Christ. Who is the vinedresser? This is the God the Father. Who is controlling the “sanctification” of the branches? It is the vinedresser. He closely examines and tests each branch through pruning. Why? This is done so that the branches will bear fruit. He prunes only the fruit bearing branches. This hurts. This is the removing of things that would hinder fruit-bearing. This is chastising. This is suffering. This is being in the valley. This hurts. This cutting away is His work of removing the branch from sin. That means that the branches dependence upon the things of the flesh for attempted fulfillment comes under attack. Why? The works of the flesh drain spiritual life from the branches.
What about the branches which bear no fruit? The vinedresser cuts them away. These branches are the dead wood. These represent apostate Christians. These became part of the visible Church, but never really believed. What cleanses those who do believe? In v3 we see that it is the Word of God spoken to them by Christ.
“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. 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. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:4-7 ESV)
The Greek word translated as ‘Abide’ means ‘to stay in a given place, state, relation or expectancy. It is translated as abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, or stand. Why do believers, the branches, need to remain in the True Vine? I hope you noticed that when believers remain or abide in Christ, He abides in them. This is very important. Believers are not on their own. They are being held and sustained by the True Vine. Just as a grapevine sends nourishment to the branches in order to keep them alive and fruitful, Christ gives the branches in Him the spiritual food that will not only keep them alive in Him, but also the necessary requirements to be fruitful for the glory of God.
Our Lord then repeats the statement that He is vine and believers are the branches. If you listen to enough bad preaching and encounter enough bad theology it appears that many today have this reversed. It is as if our Saviour is at our beck and call. He is our buddy, our pal, our bro, etc. No, He is our Saviour who went to the cross to purchase us by the shedding of His blood. We must never forget who is Lord and who is His servants, who is King and who are subjects of His Kingdom.
This last Fall I cut a branch from a Maple tree in our back yard. It was too low on the trunk and as the tree grew the branch made it difficult to mow around the tree. The branch was no longer attached to the tree. As the weather turned colder the wound on the trunk where the branch used to be leaked sap for several weeks. The tree was trying to feed the branch I had cut away. The branch died, but the tree recovered and is now growing branches higher up on the trunk. Jesus uses the analogy of a branch trying to bear fruit by itself. It cannot do it. Only those branches in the Vine who are not dead wood bear fruit. Those disingenuous branches that are cut away from the tree may try to be fruitful on their own, but their best is as filthy rags. When are the dead wood branches cut away? We find that answer in a parable spoken by our Lord dealing with Wheat and Weeds (Tares).
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'” (Matthew 13:24-30 ESV)
These dead wood branches will be cut away from the True Vine at the harvest at the Final Judgment.
Christ clearly tells us that believers can do no good at all without Him. What happens to those branches who are cut away, the dead wood, the apostate Christians? They are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. This will happen at the Final Judgment. Christ then tells us that those who truly abide in Him can ask whatever they wish and it will be done for them. Is this a blank check?
“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:8-11 ESV)
The asking of whatever believers wish and it will be done for them is in light of these believers bearing godly fruit proving that they are Christ’s disciples. They are well loved by the Lord and they abide in that love. They show it by keeping the Father’s commandments. In this obedience they also abide in His love. These believers do have their prayers answered like this because they ask both believing and according the will of God. Their desires are lined up with His. They ask for wisdom and discernment so they can obey Him. They ask for joy and peace so they can stand and not fall and they can be content even when the enemy is attacking from every side. Their joy is full and that joy comes from the Lord.
This abiding in the True Vine by believers reflects their dependence on Him, communion with Him, and obedience to Him. If they remain in these things it will result in their life becoming fruitful for Christ. For the believer, Christ alone can provide the grace and provision of all of his or needs in life. Therefore, believers must remain faithful in their service for the Lord and to the study of the Scriptures in order to bear fruit.