The Branches

Wednesday, April 1, 2015, 6:00 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “No Less.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read John 15:1-11 (ESV).

“In Me”

“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.

There are many different interpretations of Jesus’ words here, based upon one’s own theology and religious upbringing. So, who is right and who is wrong? I find so often people try too hard to explain away difficult passages, and they do so because the scriptures don’t fit in with their theology, rather than seeking God’s face to find out what they actually mean. I have also found that the more I have read the scriptures over the years the more my theology has changed, because I have found that some of what scripture teaches consistently is not what I was brought up believing. I have had my beliefs challenged many times over and have had to reject some previously held doctrines in favor of what I now believe scripture teaches. So, with that said, I am going to go through this passage and will ask the Lord to lead me into his truth, and to just look plainly at what Jesus is saying.

A vine is a plant. The plant has branches (offshoots). So, Jesus is the vine and we are his offshoots. Can a branch, then, be in the vine and not be a true branch? Some people say “Yes.” Others say “No.” So, what does the phrase “in me” mean? Does it mean one thing in v. 2 and another thing in vv. 3-11? “In me” in v. 2 is the same in the Greek as it is in v. 4 where Jesus says “abide in me.” Why is it we have no problems interpreting that, but we do have problems with the thought of him removing fruitless branches that are “in him”? Let me share with you what it says in Romans 11:22:

Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.

Paul was saying that, just as the Jews were broken off of the vine due to unbelief (because they did not believe in Jesus), we who were grafted into the vine through faith in Christ, can also be cut off if we do not continue in his kindness (in his grace). So we shouldn’t be arrogant but we should be afraid (have the fear of the Lord).

Lest we think that this scripture stands alone, though, let me share with you that there are many such scriptures (See: John 8:31-32; Romans 11:17-24; I Co 15:2; Col 1:21-23; II Tim 2:10-13; Hebrews 3:6, 14-15; 2 Pet. 1:5-11; I John 2:24-25). These verses state plainly that if we continue in His word, then we are truly his disciples; if we hold firmly to the word preached to us we are saved; if we continue in our faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope of the gospel, we are holy in his sight and free from accusation; if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first, we have come to share in Christ; if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast, we are his house (his temple); and if what we have heard from the beginning remains in us, then we will remain in the Son and in the Father. “And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.”

I believe the main reason evangelical Christians here in America struggle with these verses is because many of them have the wrong understanding of what it means to believe in Jesus Christ. For one thing, the Greek word for belief used in John 3:16 is literally “believing” and is an active and continuous action verb, which these “if” verses bear out. We don’t just believe (past) and then one day we go to heaven when we die. We must continue believing until the end. Also, true belief in Jesus Christ entails repentance (turning away from sin) and obedience to Christ and to his commands (See: Luke 9:23-25; Ac. 26:16-18; Ro. 6-8; 2 Co. 5:15; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 4:17-24; 1 Pet. 2:24-25; & 1 Jn. 1-5).

To state, as some do, that once we are “saved” we can never lose our salvation, suggests that we then lose our free will, and thus are stuck with God and heaven even if later we change our minds. Others will say then that we never truly believed, which is possible, and yet we have to reconcile all these “if” verses that suggest strongly that it is possible to be “in Christ” and then to be “cut off” and thrown into the fire. What is clear to me is that we cannot ever count on a prayer of decision made at an altar when we were young to secure heaven for us while we continue to live for sin and self. God’s grace that brings salvation to us is not a free ticket to do what we want and still go to heaven when we die. His grace teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives while we wait for his return (See: Tit. 2:11-14; cf. 2 Co. 5:15).

Jesus also said that the branches in him who are bearing fruit (outgrowth; a harvest) for God’s kingdom are pruned (trimmed) so that we may bear more fruit. I believe God prunes us in many ways via divine discipline, rebuke, correction, sanctification, etc. Basically this means that he is continually in the process of making us holy and so he speaks regularly to our hearts concerning sin in our lives or concerning areas where we need to mature and to grow in him. He chips away at those things in our lives which are displeasing to him and which hold us back from full commitment to him and to his service so that we can be transformed into his likeness more and more so that we can be used for his glory and for his kingdom in ways in which we were not previously prepared to do.

Abide In Him

Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 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. 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.

What does it mean to abide? It means “to remain or continue; to endure without yielding; to live somewhere” (M-W). So, this goes back to the “if” verses and the translation of the Greek word meaning “believing.” It also fits with all the scriptures which state that we are saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved (when Christ returns and our salvation is complete). We are in the process of being saved as we are continuing, remaining and living our lives in Christ and in his word. God promises eternal life to the one who “is believing.” And, belief involves this abiding, continuing and enduring, as well as it involves repentance and obedience. This “believing” involves forsaking our former lives of living for sin and self, being thus transformed in heart and mind of the Spirit of God, and resulting in new lives in Christ, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (See: Eph. 4:17-24).

We can’t do this on our own – in our own willpower or strength. We need to abide in Christ and in his word just for the strength to continue abiding, in addition to needing his empowerment, encouragement, strength and help to fight off Satan’s evil attacks against us and to follow our Lord Jesus in obedience to his will for our lives. We must continue in Christ to mature in Christ and to become more like him, living holy lives pleasing to him. And, we should want to remain in him, walking no longer according to the flesh, but now according to the Spirit, because of what he did for us in delivering us out of bondage to sin. We should also want to live in him because we love him and we want to be with him, and we desire to get to know him, and to enjoy sweet and abiding fellowship with him. When we continue in him, walking in his ways, and bearing much fruit, we prove ourselves to be his disciples.

No Less / An Original Work / March 19, 2012

I can do no less than praise You,
Lord, for all You’ve done for me.
You died for my sins to save me,
So I would be set free.
I adore You! Lord, I praise You!
Jesus, Savior, King of kings!
You provided my redemption.
Your grace has pardoned me.

I can do no less than serve You.
Lord, Your witness I would be,
Telling others of Your love,
And why You died on that tree.
Tell of how You gave of Your life,
So from sin we’d be set free,
So we could worship You forever,
And live eternally.

I can do no less than love You,
Lord, for You have first loved me.
You gave of Your life so willing,
Because You cared for me.
Turn from my sin! Obey freely!
Live for You each passing day.
Read Your word, and follow Your lead,
Lord, as I humbly pray.