Welcome to the seventh and final post in the I AM series. I hope you have had as much fun reading these as I did putting them together. Sometimes I find myself over thinking what it means to be a Christian so it’s helpful to gain perspective in beholding Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. Who He says He is defines this faith we hold to, and shows how we are to live. If we allow ourselves to construct our identity around who He says He is, we can reap the assurance of His promises. So without further introduction, let us dive into scripture.
“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… 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 15:1-2,5
The first thing you’ll notice is that the Father receives more central treatment in this metaphor than in the others. In some of the other statements, we see Christ interacting with the church and the Father interacting with the Son: Jesus is the Bread of the World, and the Father is the giver of the Bread; Jesus is the Good Shepherd of the sheep are entrusted to Him by the Father. Here though, the Father is the Vinedresser, interacting directly with the branches: pruning some, cutting off others to be burned.
Jesus is the Son of God, and He is God. This is one of the central paradoxes of Christianity. Our God is three and yet is one. Three Persons; one God. The salvation, sanctification, and glorification of the church is implemented by the Trinity. No exploration of the relationship between Christ and the church is complete without acknowledging this. In this passage, we have a picture of how this works, though we must accept a degree of mystery.
The church (and its individual members) grow out from Christ, are tended by the Father, and empowered and multiplied by the Spirit. The result is a thriving vine flush with fruit. And our role as the branches? Simply abide.
That the Church grows out of Christ is taught frequently in the New Testament. Paul talks about Christ as the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22, Colossians 2:19), and church as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). Baptism into Christ’s death is the requirement to be raised with Him (Galatians 2:20, Philippians 3:8-11), and we are to remain rooted and grounded in Him (Colossians 2:6-7). That Christ is the Vine and we the branches affirms this truth. In growing out from Christ we find our vitality and identity in Him.
Fruit bearing branches are pruned by the Father; unfruitful branches are cut off, gathered, and burned. Now if fruit-bearing comes by abiding in the vine, then unfruitful branches are already disconnected from the vine. The Father’s shears only complete the process. The life of the Vine provides fruit. Our role is to remain connected.
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? – Galatians 3:2-3
So then, what is it to abide? It is, first, to recognize the initiative and impetus lies with Christ
Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you… 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. – John 15:3,16
We did not save ourselves. We did not seek Christ. We did nothing to earn our salvation. Paul describes even the best of us as enemies of God until the intervention of Christ (Romans 5:10). Even knowing this, we get seduced by sparks of goodness in our selves. “Christ saved me because of my…” is a deadly seed which constantly seeks root in the soul of the believer. And when it finds hold, we begin to resist the pruning of the Father.
Why are Christians so hard on themselves? Because the standards set by our God are so much higher than the average the world finds acceptable. If ever we become satisfied in our righteousness, we stop growing.
Abiding in Christ means also obeying the Jesus’ commands.
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… “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. – John 15:9-10,12
Upon hearing the word ‘commandments’, our minds unconsciously start stretching in anticipation of a gruelling marathon. So let’s get to it. WWJD: The Comprehensive Guide to Christian Behaviour in Every Situation. Page one- Love. The End.
Seriously, that’s what it all boils down to. Love God; love people. And the power to love is granted by the Spirit of God in us (Romans 5:5). Love is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), which makes this all somewhat circular. To bear fruit, we must abide; to abide is to love; love is a fruit of abiding. The glue to this circle of abiding is the Spirit of God.
The Spirit often works in our conscience, through the Word of God, and in the congregation of believers. Our conscience often reveals to us the confidence we have before God (2 Corinthians 1:12, Hebrews 13:18, 1 John 3:21), though it itself does is not the source of our confidence (1 Corinthians 4:4). We do not stand justified before God because our consciences are clear, but a clear conscience is a blessing of abiding.
He also empowers fruitfulness through His Word. The Word of God exposes our heart (Hebrews 4:12) and purifies it (Psalm 119:11). Finally, fellowship with other Christians enables us to abide faithfully in Christ. We are given spiritual gifts for common edification (1 Corinthians 12:7), bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:1-2), encourage each other (Hebrews 10:25), and worship God together (Ephesians 5:19-20).
Peter informs us that God has given us everything that pertains to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). We have in the Spirit everything we need to abide. And in abiding, we are promised fruitfulness. The True Vine therefore nurtures our salvation.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. – John 15:11