In John 15:1 Christ gives his seventh and final great “I am”: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” To Christian believers this is wonderfully deep and mystic parable. Christ is the vine (the trunk), we are the branches, and God the Father is the Gardener. The picture taken together is that of a vineyard with true believers organically related to Christ (the sap that runs in his veins runs in ours) and of the Father walking among the vines lovingly caring for them so they will bring forth fruit.
The overriding emphasis of the passage is fruit bearing, as we see from verse 2, 4, 5, and 8:
Vs.2, “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.”
Vs.4, “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.”
Vs.5, “ 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.”
Vs.8, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”
Not only is fruit-bearing the main emphasis, but our Lord makes it the identifying mark of true believers. “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit” (v.2). Some claim to be in the Vine, but the absence of fruit disqualifies them. If there is no fruit in our life, we had better reconsider the authenticity of our Christianity.
We need to make a careful examination of our own lives as to fruit-bearing. Most of us immediately think about what we have done for the Lord— how many people we have won to Christ or what ministry achievements we have. The backdrop of Jesus thinking here is Isaiah 5:1-2, “Let me sing for my beloved
my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
2He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.”
The fruits Jesus was looking for were the qualities of justice and righteousness which are inner qualities.
In John 15 the fruit Jesus speaks of is not primarily evangelism but the reproduction of the life of the Vine in the branch. Jesus is looking for the fruit of His life in us. If the inward graces of the Holy Spirit are not present in our lives (“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” Gal. 5:22-23), if they qualities are not present (not perfected but present) in our lives, we must face the fact that we may not be true believers. There must be something of the life of the Vine in us if we belong to God. In other words there must be Christlikeness. This is a tougher test than outward fruit such as the number of souls saved, people influenced or money collected. It is possible to have the outward signs without having the life of Christ within. Furthermore, the inward graces of the Holy Spirit will in time bring forth the outward fruit. The fruit Christ looks for is His own life in us.
“Every branch that does not bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (v.2b). The branches that are doing well, those that best convey the life of the vine get the knife. What is involved in pruning? Pain, and pruning always hurts. David said in Psalm 119:67, “Before I was afflicted I went astray.” Psalm 119:71 says, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”
Sometimes the pain of pruning comes because of our sins. Other times it is simply because we are bearing abundant fruit and God wants us to bear more. Whatever the reason for pruning, our natural selves always want to escape it. No one naturally wants the knife. Nevertheless, the result of God’s pruning will be beneficial for us and for him.
Often Christians are subject to the “When syndrome.” “When I get spiritually mature these things won’t happen to me. ” “When I get married, I will not struggle this way anymore.” “When I retire my life will be easier.” Afflictions would only stop if they were useless, and that is why they never stop. Without pruning, a vineyard would never be in full bloom. John 15 clearly teaches that pruning is always good for us.
We would rather do the pruning ourselves, but we cannot, and if we could, we would not remove what really has to go. The truth is what is noble and attractive in us has come from the cutting we would have avoided. “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your words” (Psalm 119:67). “It was good for me to be afflicted, so that I might learn from your decrees” (Psalm 119:71). James experience taught this truth as well. James 1:2, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”
What else do we need to know about pruning? God’s hand is never closer than when He prunes the Vine. During those times of severest cutting when, to us, He may seem to have departed, He is the closest. His pruning may pain us, but it will never harm us. When the gardener does his pruning well, he leaves little more than the vine. Similarly, the more we are pruned, the more of Christ there is in our lives. Also, the branches does not bear fruit for itself but for others. The life that has been trimmed by the hand of God sustains others.
What does Jesus mean by abiding or remaining in Him in John 15:4-5? Remaining or abiding is parallel to being filled with the Holy Spirit. Abiding in Christ produces the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We must set aside everything from which we might derive our own strength and merit and draw all from Christ.
Jesus says that abiding in Him involves the belief that “apart from me you can do nothing” (v.5b). There are many things we can do without Christ. We can earn a living, raise a family, and practice generosity. It is possible to pastor a church without abiding in Christ. It is possible to counsel people without abiding in Christ. What does Christ mean here? He means that we cannot bear spiritual fruit without Him. We can tie fruit onto our lives like ornaments on a Christmas tree, but the real fruit of His character comes from the Vine itself. We can do nothing without Him. We cannot be loving or patient or faithful, or holy. That is why God does not shield us from the assaults of life, but rather exposes us to them so we will learn to hold him fast. Jesus taught, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Abiding in Christ involves a growing sense of weakness.
Along with this realization we are to consciously and deliberately depend upon Christ. Those who learn to abide stay put for the pruning. We must choose to abide by getting into the Word, associating with others who are remaining in Christ in order to keep growing in the grace of God.
What fruit was Jesus speaking about in John 15:6-11? “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (v.7). Jesus teaching His disciples about an empowered prayer life. As we pray, we abide. As we abide, we pray more, and more deeply. “This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (v.8). The Father is glorified. Verses 9-10 add, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his life.” Love will fill our lives! “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (v.11). The joy of Jesus in us is the gigantic secret of the Christian life. Peter called it “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). Joy to the max.
Jesus is the Vine, we are the branches, The Father is the Gardener. Everything the Father and Son do is geared to enhance our abiding and our fruitfulness. With each trimming in our Christian lives; may there be more of Christ in us, for God’s glory and blessing others.
Dave Jenkins is happily married to his wife, Sarah. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon. Dave is a lover of Christ, His people, the Church, and sound theology. He serves as the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, the Host and Producer of Equipping You in Grace Podcast, and is a contributor to and producer of Contending for the Word. He is the author of The Word Explored: The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy and What To Do About It (House to House, 2021), The Word Matters: Defending Biblical Authority Against the Spirit of the Age (G3 Press, 2022), and Contentment: The Journey of a Lifetime (Theology for Life, 2024). You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, or read his newsletter. Dave loves to spend time with his wife, going to movies, eating at a nice restaurant, or going out for a round of golf with a good friend. He is also a voracious reader, in particular of Reformed theology, and the Puritans. You will often find him when he’s not busy with ministry reading a pile of the latest books from a wide variety of Christian publishers. Dave received his M.A.R. and M.Div through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.