Pruned by the Word
We are told that an abundant and successful life is a fruitful life. But what would pass today as a fruitful life is that you have a big house, a nice new car, healthy living, and a booming business. If you can help the poor from the excess of your wealth much better. If you are not stepping on other people, even better. But this fruitful life is not what the Scripture calls us to have. I’m not saying that all the things I mentioned above are necessarily evil. But if you say to me, that is the meaning of a fruitful life, then I will tell you this: those fruits does not require you to abide in Christ in order to have them. I don’t need to be regenerated to like what the world wants. Yet, that is what the so called evangelical churches today preach about. Receive Jesus and he will give you health, wealth and prosperity. That is way different from what our Lord taught the disciples. In John 14, Jesus warned the disciples that life won’t be easy for them. Nevertheless, they can still be fruitful if they are to abide in him. For Jesus, fruitfulness has nothing to do with temporal health, wealth and prosperity. It is bearing the fruit of a life transformed by the Holy Spirit through the word of Christ. This is what we will see in John 15:1-7. So we will try to answer how to have such a life. What does it look like? What is God’s primary means of tending his vineyard in order for them to bear more fruit?
The True Vine(vv. 1)
As Jesus was about to face certain death, he gave what theologians called “The Farewell Discourse”. The discourse begins in John 14. This section answers Jesus’ departure by giving the disciples assurance of his second coming, and that he would not leave his disciples as orphans(14:18). Now in chapter 15 Jesus’ theme shifts from “coming” to the theme of “remaining”. Here Christ recalls a very popular imagery used in the Old Testament, the picture of a vine. The vine was used as a metaphor for Israel as a nation in the Old Testament times. God called the nation of Israel His vine and He expected it to bear fruit to all nations(see Ps. 80; Isa. 5; Jer. 2:21). However, time and time again they failed to produce fruits for the Lord, and the gospels tell us that they were cut off from the vine. But this time Christ is claiming to be the “True Vine” of the Lord. The fulfillment of all that was required of and promised to Israel. We can say then that Jesus is the true Israel of God, and all the people who remain united or attached to Him.
Bear Fruit or be Cut-off(vv. 2)
Now Jesus in verse 2 tells us that there are two kinds of branches. One branch that will be taken away because it yields no fruit, and another will be pruned in order for it to bear more. There’s a play on word here that is very hard to capture in our English translations. The greek word for “taken away” or “to cut-off” is αἴρω and the word “to prune” is καθαίρω. It is remarkable that these are both acts of God the Vinedresser, which are almost the same but they have different purpose and result. The unfruitful branch will be cut-off so that it will no longer get its nourishment from the vine and the soil, not so with those whom God prunes. The purpose of pruning is so that they may bear more fruit. However, this verse does not tell us the how of God’s cutting and pruning. Verse 3 gives us the answer.
Pruned by the Word(vv. 3)
Jesus says in verse 3 that “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” The word used for the adjective “clean” is καθαρος, that has the same root as the verb “to prune” (“καθαίρω”). So again Jesus was employing a wordplay to explain how God prunes the branches. Jesus says that they are already “clean”, or we can say “pruned”, because of His word. In other words the means by which God the Father prunes the fruit yielding branch is through Christ’s words, and the means by which the fruitless branches were cut off is also by their relationship to the words of Christ or the lack of it.
Remain in Jesus(vv. 4-5)
So the only natural conclusion from the preceding verses is to remain in Jesus. But the connection between our remaining in Christ and His remaining in us is not that clear. Do we remain in Him because He first remain in us, or the result of our remaining is that he will remain in us? My tendency is to say the former, but it seems to me that the emphasis here is our responsibility to remain in Him and that our decisions will really have an effect as to whether Christ will remain on us or not. This is not to undermine John’s teaching on eternal security and perseverance of the saints, instead it establishes secondary causes. That is, God works through means and at times through human means.
Jesus then grounds his command to remain in Him by expounding the metaphor of vine and branches. He says in verses 4-5: “Just as branches don’t 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 bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Christ is the source of fruit yielding sustenance. Notice that fruit is equated with our “doing”. Fruits then are all of the things that proceed from our union with Christ. It may refer both to the fruit of the Spirit(Galatians 5:20-21), and to good works(Colossians 1:10), but apart from Christ we can’t produce these fruits.
Remain in Christ’s Word (vv. 6-7)
So in verses 6-7 Christ concludes by contrasting those who abide in him and those who aren’t. First he describes what will happen to those who does not abide in him. They will be thrown away like a branch and withers. They will be gathered to be thrown into the fire and burned. The progression of thought is unmistakable. This has to do with eternal destiny. It is not about Christ’s Bema Judgement where every good works done by genuine believers will be tried through the fire. The idea here is that these branches will wither because they were cut off from Christ. True believers will not wither. They may have seasons of being unfruitful but they will not remain that way. They will be pruned by God so that they might yield more fruit in their season. Therefore this is not a picture of a genuine Christian who is abiding in Christ that occasionally fails in bearing fruit. This is an image of a professing Christian that in one sense is connected to Christ but not in a saving, fruit bearing way. They have access to Christ’s sustaining means of grace, they are inside the church, and very active in the ministry but they are consistently without fruit because they are but dead branches.
But those who abide in Christ will have a different destiny.They will yield more fruit. Then verse 7 tells us again how this abiding in Christ happens. Similar to how God prunes the branches, it is by abiding in his word. Many today are saying that all they need is Christ and what matters is that they are in him. However, they are at the same time indifferent to Christ’s word. But here Jesus is telling us that abiding in him and abiding in his word is virtually the same. We are connected to Christ in no other way but through Scriptures. We are pruned, cleansed, and sanctified in and through God’s word alone. But what does it mean to abide in Christ’s word? Or to have His words abide in us?
First, John 5:38 tells us that we do not have his word abiding in us if it will be shown that we don’t believe him. So abiding in Christ is an ever increasing faith in him. And the Scripture tells us that faith comes by hearing and hearing the word of God. Second, the word of Jesus is abiding in us means that his words find a home in us. In John 8:37, Jesus says, “I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you.” That’s the opposite of the word “abiding” in us. When the word abides in us, it finds a place, a home. It’s not foreign. It belongs. In other words, we cherish it, we welcome it. We are willing to change much of the stuff in the rooms of our being in order for it to rest in us. Lastly in 1 John 2:4, John tells us that those who say they know God but does not keep God’s commandments are liar and the truth is not in them. That’s the same way of saying that the word of Jesus is not abiding in them.
Now there’s a promise given to us when we abide in Christ and his word. We are told that if we indeed abide in Jesus, we can ask whatever we wish and it will be done for us(vv. 7). Many have interpreted this to mean that we can make a genie out of Jesus. But that is to miss the point of abiding in Christ which means we are no longer trying to find satisfaction and sustenance from the world. So even the things we will be asking from the Lord are no longer the same. A true abiding branch will ask in accordance to God’s will. This is what John says in 1 John 5:14. If we ask anything according to his will, he will hear us.
So let’s ask ourselves why is it that at times we’re not seeing any fruit in us? Perhaps we are just dead branches that seem to be attached to Christ but in reality we’re not grafted in Christ. We’re not rooted in him, and so not receiving his fruit yielding life. The word of God is still foreign to us. It is not yet welcome in our lives. Or perhaps we fail to make use of God’s primary means of pruning and cleansing, that is the God’s word, and as a result we’re not yielding more fruits. Don’t expect to be fruitful if God’s word is not being mined for all its life sustaining minerals. So brethren abide in Christ by abiding in his word!