Jesus makes the startling, exclusive claim in John 15:1, “I am the true vine,” and goes on in verse 7 to say, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
Only One, True Vine
It is important to keep in mind that Jesus could have simply said, “I am the vine” . . . and then gone on with his analogy. But instead he specifically inserts the modifier “true”: I am the true, the genuine vine.
Jesus is the true vine, as opposed to every false promise of life-giving nourishment.
There are a billion different people, efforts, and things that humans plug into, hoping that something or someone will make our life meaningful, fruitful, successful, vibrant. Although we are made uniquely in the image of God and designed to find our life in God alone, we latch onto family, or career, or hobbies, or social acceptance, or even philanthropy. Whatever it is, we are hoping it will give life to our life. Yet every one of these options proves unworthy and unable to fill the needs of a soul made to live forever.
This is why Jesus says, “I am the true vine.” The soul who is abiding in Jesus Christ will not only live forever but will live the abundant and fruitful life in this life.
Jesus, because he is the full expression of God to us, is the only true “soul food.” Jesus is what every soul needs in order to be nourished, in order to live. So the all-important question becomes, “If Jesus is the true vine, how can I have him, be plugged into him, nourish my soul on him?”
Yet even here there are a thousand wrong answers. People often think that if they just do enough good stuff for Jesus, then they will be acceptable to Jesus. However, Jesus specifically says in John 15:4 that the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, and in John 15:5 Jesus reiterates, “I am the vine . . . apart from me you can do nothing.”
The problem with trying to impress Jesus with your good works is that you cannot do any until you are abiding in Jesus, to begin with.
Only One, True Word
Thankfully, however, Jesus tells us himself how it is that we abide in him: “if you abide in me, and my words abide in you” (John 15:7).
Martin Luther emphasized that we can never bypass or out-grow reception of, dependence on, and obedience to God’s Word. We will never know whether any feeling or impression that we have is from God unless we first know God’s Word and saturate our heart with God’s revealed will in it. Luther wrote:
“We must first hear the Word, and then afterwards the Holy Ghost works in our heart; he works in the hearts of whom he will, and how he will, but never without the Word.”
Jesus informed the Jewish leaders in John 5:38 that they did not have God’s Word abiding in them because they did not believe the one whom God had sent (Jesus). Conversely, then, Jesus is clearly implying that those who have faith in Christ, who are abiding in him, will have the Word of God abiding in them.
The Vine and the Word Are Inseparable
We cannot have Christ without his Word; we cannot live for Christ without submitting to Christ’s will as he has revealed in his Word. It is only as the words of Christ abide in us that we abide in him. The true Vine and the true Word are inseparable.
This, of course, means we need God’s Word in order to even be able to pray. Otherwise, we will be trying to form God in our own image through prayer, rather than being formed into the image of God through prayer. We cannot be certain that God is speaking to us except as he speaks to us in his Word, the Bible.
Even good, well-meaning Christians at times make the mistake of thinking of dialogue with God as merely involving subjective, internal feelings and impressions. However Jesus himself, and the rest of the Bible, clearly teaches that we primarily hear from God as the Spirit applies the truth and principles of his Word to our souls.
We are abiding in Christ when we have his words abiding in us. This is why the 18th century hymn-writer expressed:
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord with me abide;
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me!
Hold thou thy word before my closing eyes;
shine thru the gloom, and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord abide with me.