by Pastor Keith Graham
Please read the Scripture passage referenced above, then keep your Bible handy. Thank you!
Our Lord Jesus Christ said, "I am the light of the world. I am the true bread that came down from heaven. My flesh is true food and My blood is true drink. He who believes in Me, out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water." He is the shadow of a mighty rock in a weary land, our fortress and our eternal home. He is the door of sheep, and He is the way.
And so our Savior takes the basic necessities of this earthly life to show us that He Himself personally is vitally necessary for spiritual life in the kingdom of God. If we have the earthly light, food, drink, shelter, and so forth but don't have the true and eternal light, food, drink, and shelter, we don't have much, do we? In the Book of Acts, Paul even says that God gave those earthly things as a witness to Himself, that we might seek Him (compare Acts 14:17 with 17:24-27).
We only have the temporal things in order that we might seek the eternal realities. Now we live by faith, see through a glass darkly, and this present world seems so solid and lasting. In eternity, you will look back and see that THIS was in fact the shadowy world, and that all the solid, satisfying substance is in the Lord Jesus, Who continues forever.
So I plead with you to listen to what Christ says in our text, taking yet another basic aspect of life, that is a type of farming, to soundly teach us that He is the way, the truth and the life.
The picture before us is one you would see in a vineyard, a place where grapes are cultivated. This common grape plant has kind of a trunk, the main vine. The cultivator guides the vine by trellises, that is framework, to which it clings by small tendrils. Branches growing off of this main vine produce the clusters or bunches of grapes. Jesus is picturing Himself as that main vine, and each Christian disciple as one of the branches vitally connected to Him. That connection is by faith, and the one who abides - that is remains - in Christ is the one who lives by his faith. And even as the Father was with the Son throughout the course of His humiliation on earth, teaching Him and guiding Him, so the Father is the farmer who carefully tends the branches and makes them bring forth fruit.
As is so often the case, Jesus' teaching is firmly rooted in Old Testament concepts. In Isaiah 5, we read of the case of God's disappointing vineyard which did not produce good fruit. The vineyard, says the prophet in verse 7, is God's people...God looked for the fruits of justice and righteousness, but the vineyard produced oppression and weeping. As in the days before the Flood, when God grieved that He had created man, so it was then.
The Psalmist laments the Divine judgments against God's vineyard in Psalm 80, beginning at verse 8. But after beseeching God to look down and visit His vine, listen to what the Psalmist says -
"Let your hand be upon the man of Your right hand, upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself, then we will not turn back from You; revive us, and we will call upon Your name."
That is prophecy about the Lord Jesus! Left to themselves and their own works, Israel could not be the kind of vine God desired. But Jesus is the true Vine, the source from which all the branches get the spiritual nourishment they need to bring forth pleasing fruit for God!
To answer the question "How does one abide in Christ - that is, how does a branch stay vitally connected to the vine - we must first explain how a branch comes to be in the first place.
In verse three, Jesus tells the disciples that the relationship they already have with Him is by His Word. He is speaking to the eleven at the last supper, Judas having already gone out. It is by hearing My word and believing on Me, the Lord is saying, that you have new life. One who is a Christian is one who has been "born again not of corruptible seed, but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever" (1 Peter 1:23). "Of his own will", writes James under Holy Spirit inspiration, "He brought us forth by the word of truth..." (James 1:18).
Christ is saying that His eleven are men who have not merely turned over a new leaf, but by grace have become branches in the true vine. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature, old things have passed away, behold all things have become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Each of us needs to make sure that this is his or her testimony. Make sure that you are a branch in the vine! Have you heard and believed His word, and thus been cleansed? If you're not sure, you need to first become sure you are in Christ before we can go further to discuss what it means to abide or remain in Christ.
How can one be sure? As mentioned, Jesus not only called Himself the true Vine, but the bread from heaven. He came down from heaven to give His life as spiritual food. When He died on the cross, He was offering Himself through the eternal Spirit to God as a sacrifice for sins, that is to pay the penalty due to His people for all the rebellion against God and wicked things they have done. He rose from the dead to demonstrate that His sacrifice had fully satisfied Divine justice and taken away Divine wrath. He ascended to the Father's right hand and ever lives above, sending His Holy Spirit to bring this gospel message to hearts with Divine persuasion. If you have never heard or believed this message, you need to do so now. It is only by believing this good message that it could be said of you, "you are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you."
For those who have believed, we can go on to discuss abiding or remaining in Christ. Colossians 2:6 expresses the basic principle: "as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him." The same way you became vitally connected to Christ in the first place is how you abide in Christ - by faith.
Now let me introduce you to the Father's pruning shears. Perhaps you've seen this tool or something like it. It's like a giant pair of scissors, giving the user good leverage to cut off thick, stubborn shoots. Those unwanted shoots keep the branches from bearing the best possible fruit, and so the farmer cuts them away. The two blades of the Father's pruning shears are His Word and His Spirit.
Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 2:12,13: "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit Who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches..."
In Luke 11:13, the Lord Jesus says, "if you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" And in 2 John 9, we read that "whoever transgresses and does not ABIDE in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who ABIDES in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son."
Like the blades of the pruning shears, these two are inseparable. One can DISTINGUISH the deity of our Lord Jesus and His humanity, but not DIVIDE them. One can DISTINGUISH between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but not DIVIDE them. So it is here. God's Word and God's Spirit can be DISTINGUISHED, but not DIVIDED. They always work hand in hand.
And this indivisible union is seen in one who abides in Christ. The word of Christ dwells in him richly, and he is full of the Holy Spirit. You never have one without the other. Spiritual pruning takes place as the Spirit works by the word to continually show us the ugliness of sin and give us strong desires to put sin to death. As continually pruned branches, ever drawing sap from the vine by faith, we are stirred up, filled with the joy of our blessed hope, and rejoice to be further pruned. We long to bear fruit.
And that is the goal of the Father's pruning, that He might have a good harvest of fruit. In Hebrews 12:11 we read, "Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous, nevertheless, afterwards it yields the peacable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."
The Father is not laboring in vain in His vineyard. Vinedressing is a toilsome, sun up to sun down job. Even so, the Father's spiritual cultivation of His true vine is a serious work. The only evidence that you are a true branch is fruit: no fruit, no life. What we need to do then is examine our lives...to be fruit inspectors. What is the spiritual fruit for which we should look in our lives? What is the beautiful, ripe, sweet, juicy, firm, colorful, flavorful, wormless and seedless FRUIT we want to find on our branches?
I used nine adjectives describing desireable earthly fruit to introduce the one fruit of the Spirit to which Paul gives nine aspects in Galatians 5:22 -
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." Unequalled love for God, fervent love for the brethren, love for our neighbors as for ourselves. Joy unspeakable and full of glory. Peace that passes understanding. A longsuffering the world can't comprehend. A kindness that goes far beyond superficial niceness. A goodness that is without hypocrisy. A rock solid faithfulness, a gentleness that works because unlimited strength is behind it, a self-control powered by that same strength.
Well, each of these could be expounded at length. They can also be seen in perfection in the life of the Lord Jesus; every aspect fully developed in absolute purity. This is fruit that nature can not produce. It is supernatural, it is the fruit of the Spirit. If it doesn't exist in some measure in us, there is cause for great concern about whether we are in Christ. John writes that we will be able to have boldness in the day of judgment because "as He is, so are we in the world" (1 John 4:17). Those who bear this spiritual fruit have every reason to rejoice in their connection to the vine. Others can rejoice that now they have an opportunity to have a "mini-judgment day" of their own, and believe on the gospel that they may begin to bear this fruit.
Our text provides two more dimensions of spiritual fruit bearing. In verse two of our text, we see that as the Father, the vinedresser, does his work, the branch bears MORE fruit. In verse five, the Lord Jesus says that the one abiding in Him bears MUCH fruit. The true branches in the true vine bear more fruit as they continue in the vine; they bear much fruit. In another connection, that of the parable of the sower, Christ said that the good soil brings forth thirty, sixty, a hundred fold times what was sown. As the disciple continues to abide in Christ, his fruit increases. Are you the same Christian that you were last month, last year, five years ago? Have you grown in grace, are you bearing more fruit, even much fruit? If your fruit bearing is not continually increasing, you need to search your heart and allow the pruning process to have its desired effect. Maybe you are not truly in the Vine, and need to become clean through the word of the gospel.
There is an absolute necessity of abiding in Christ. In verse five, the Lord Jesus says "apart from Me, you can do NOTHING". We confess to confidence in an infallible, inerrant, fully inspired and fully authoritative Bible, and so it is. Do we believe it is infallible, inerrant, fully inspired and fully authoritative here at this passage when we read the word NOTHING? Apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, we can only have worthless, man-made religion. We can have only plastic fruit or rotten fruit, worthless for the Vinedresser's purposes.
There is an absolute necessity of abiding in Christ if we are to have confidence before God. In 1 John 2:28, the apostle writes, "And now, little children, ABIDE in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming." The bearing of fruit brings assurance, the absence of fruit rightfully brings shame and doubt.
In closing, let us consider the fearful prospects for branches that don't abide in the vine.
What is grand purpose in it all...Jesus Christ the Vine cultivated by His Father the Vinedresser by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God that fruit may be harvested? Looking ahead in the passage to verse 8, we read that it is by this whole spiritual cultivation industry that God is glorified. That is the reason we were created and redeemed, that is the reason all things exist, that the great, eternal, Almighty God might be glorified! If any person claiming a part in Christ is not bearing fruit, he or she is not really part of what God is doing through it all...that one is not part of God's program for all things! Jesus said in Matthew 12:30 that whoever is not with Him is against Him; and that whoever doesn't gather with Him scatters. To not be with God is to be in opposition to God. There is only one thing to be done for such a branch.
Jesus says in verse 2 that the Father Himself takes away the dead, useless branches. It is the GOD Who gives all things Who can and will take away as well. The Lord Christ spoke of hell more than anyone else in the Bible. The allusion to the eternal fires of hell is inescapable in this passage. The Son of God says that the dead, useless branches are gathered and thrown into the fire, and they are burned.
This message will close, however, on an encouraging note to the faithful disciple who is patiently seeking to bear more and more fruit and plenty of it. Such ones often feel that their fruit is small and barely worthy of the name fruit. To you, the message is that you will reap if you do not grow weary in well doing. If your fruit has grown by the working of the great Vinedresser, it is real fruit, however small. Our Lord will not break a bruised reed or put out a smoldering wick; He remembers our frame. Your desire to press on and bring great yield for the Father's glory is in itself a part of the fruit!
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