The life of the Christian means that we are abiding in Christ as he abides with us. What does it mean though, to say that we are abiding with God? In this message in John 15, Matt Mason shows through the text how God’s people can live in community with God and how God molds and shapes his people in response. Through this process, God is glorified and the Christian is overjoyed in Christ.
- Jesus begins talking about fruitful Christian living not by pointing to something about the branches, but to something in the Vine and the Vinedresser.
- The abiding branch bears fruit precisely because it is vitally connected to the Vine.
- When Jesus thinks of the most thrilling gift he could give to his disciples and every Christian here, he prays, “Father, can we show them the glory I had with you before the world existed?
Good morning, church. It’s good to see all of you. If you’ve got a Bible, I ask you to turn open to John 15. We’re going to begin reading verse 1. God’s Word says,
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 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. (John 15:1–8)
This is God’s Word. Let’s ask for his help as we study it together.
Oh, Father, reveal the glory of Jesus to us this morning. We pray that you would open our eyes, Lord. It’s a familiar text. We pray that we would not be overly familiar with it in such a way that its impact is lost on us. Oh, Lord, open our ears afresh this morning to receive your self–revealing truth and the life-changing impacts that come through it by your Holy Spirit. We acknowledge our dependence upon you. Apart from you, Lord Jesus, we can do nothing—including understanding these words and applying them to our lives. So work wonders in our hearts and in our minds for your glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Well, it’s probably a familiar passage to many of us. If you grew up in a church like the one I grew up in, you heard a lot about vines and branches. You might have made vines with construction paper in children’s church, and you wrote the names of all your Christian friends on the branches, as well as your Christian family members. You might even have been subjected to singing the old Vacation Bible School standard, “He’s a peach of a Savior,” purportedly inspired by John 15. The lyrics go as follows:
He’s a peach of a Savior.
He’s the apple of my eye.
He prunes back the branches
When the branches get too high.
He bears fruit in season
And His love will never die.
And that’s why I’m bananas for the Lord.
You know, rich in content as that song may be, it doesn’t really serve as an effective or working background track for John 15 because of the context. When we back up and we get the larger sense of what’s going on here, this is often called Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse.” These are his last moments instructing, teaching and sharing with His disciples.
Moments from now, He’ll be in the Garden of Gethsemane, crying out, pleading before God His Father, sweating drops of blood, tripping over Himself in the Garden, calling out for help. He’ll be suffering on the cross. He’ll bear sins. He will be mocked and abandoned by his friends. Most significantly, He’ll stand beneath the weight of the full fury of the holy and just wrath of God against our sins. That’s moments from now.
John 15 1–8 Calls Us to Abide in Christ
When you factor that context in, “Abide in me” (John 15:4) has to be something more than just a promise from Jesus that we can have some really sweet quiet times. It’s got to be more than that. And sometimes it can be interpreted and taught that way. When you open up to John 15, maybe the image that comes to mind as you read it is almost like Jesus leading His disciples in a yoga routine. That’s not what’s going on here. There’s a note of conflict. There’s a tone of somberness and sobriety here.
You might summarize it this way. “Abiding” in John 15 has to do with deriving strength and life from Christ so that you bear fruit in a spiritual climate where the destruction of faith and the distraction of faith are everyday realities. That’s a mouthful, so let me read it one more time: “Abiding” in John 15 has to do with deriving strength and life from Christ so that you bear fruit in a spiritual climate where the destruction of faith and the distraction of faith are everyday realities. You can see this tension that’s building, this conflict that’s going on, this opposition happening in the text.
Look back up to chapter 14. Ignore the chapter breaks for a moment; they’re not inspired or infallible, by the way. They’re just there for utility purposes to help us find verses that we need. So when you back up and you see the end of chapter 14, and Jesus is saying in verse 30, “I will no longer talk much with you, for…” What’s about to happen? “…the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.” (John 14:30–31) In the original language, New Testament scholars tell us that this phrase, “Rise, let us go from here” is a call to arms. It has military connotations. It’s basically Jesus telling His disciples, “Let’s go meet the enemy on the field of battle.” So there’s conflict in this passage.
When we read further in chapter 15, which we won’t spend as much time doing this morning, but if you did continue to read in chapter 15, you’d come later on into this moment where Jesus says in verse 20, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” In other words, there’s this opposition. Jesus is saying, “It’s not just coming for me. You’re on deck. What you see happening to me hours from now, you’re going to be next.” This is an embattled context.
And the very next chapter, the very beginning of chapter 16, verse 1, we get really an interpretive key to the entire Farewell Discourse, which takes place from chapter 13 all the way to chapter 17. Do you see it right there? Jesus says in 16:1, “I have said all these things…” I love verses like this, so we don’t miss the point. “Here’s why I have said everything you’ve heard me say so far…” “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” Conflict. Opposition. Battle. These are the challenges of living the Christian life faithful to Jesus.
In other words, if that is the reason Jesus has said all these things, then we can read that almost as a refrain through everything we’ve been reading from John 13 and 14, 15, 16 and 17. In other words, Jesus is saying, “Don’t fall away and abandon the mission. Let not your heart be troubled. Don’t fall away and abandon the mission. Believe in God—believe also in me. Don’t fall away and abandon the mission. I’m sending the Spirit. He’s going to be in you, dwell with you. He’ll remind you of everything that I’ve said. And you will do great things in my name. Don’t fall away and abandon the mission. Abide in me, and let my words abide in you. Bear fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”
And then we come into John 17. Jesus stops talking to them, and He prays for them. And what does he pray? “Father, don’t let them fall away. I’ve kept them in your name. I’ve given them your word. I’m not asking that you take them out of the world. Here’s what I’m asking. Keep them from the evil one. Don’t let them fall away and abandon the mission.”
So as we read these words from John 13 all the way through John 17, we need to realize that, in a significant sense, the gospel mission passes to these disciples tomorrow. And so Jesus, in these last moments of His life here on earth in his incarnate mission, has mission-critical truths to share with them. And by extension, because it’s included in God’s Holy Word, His mission-critical truths are for every Christ-follower here this morning.
So that brings us to John 15:1. So we’ve got an organic metaphor going on here, so let’s fill in the blanks. Let’s do some role-casting, okay? The Vinedresser is God the Father. The Vine is Jesus. The fruitful branches are genuine followers of Jesus. The fruitless branches are those who appear to be joined to Jesus, but in reality only have a superficial attachment to Him.
The Proficiency of the Vine and Vinedresser
You know what I love? As we begin to read these first two verses, when Jesus is going to talk about the fruit-bearing Christian life, He actually doesn’t begin by talking about the branches, which are the lives of Christians. Jesus begins talking about fruitful Christian living, not by pointing to something about the branches, but to something in the Vine and the Vinedresser. That is, from the get-go, He directs our eyes away from ourselves to something about God. He points us to God’s proficiency, and His capacity as a Savior, as a Lord, as a Vine and as a Vinedresser.
Look at verses one and two. We’ll just read those again. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” We see right out of the gate here that Jesus is not just one vine among others. The contrast isn’t “good” versus “best”. It’s “true” versus “false”. “I am the true vine.” And all other sources that propose to give us life are false vines. It’s what our text is telling us right here at the outset. In our day-to-day lives, we can easily get this confused.
You know, one way to find out and to think about how this applies to our own lives, and to find out where we’re trying to tap into other vines for life is to track the places where you’re angry, and we’ll find places where we’re seeking to get life other than from Jesus. James says this in James 4:1–2. He writes, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” (James 4:1) He goes on to say, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” (James 4:2) In other words, James’ diagnosis of the conflicts that I generate in my relational world is embarrassingly simple. James is telling me under divine inspiration, “Matt, here’s the problem. You’re trying to pull joy from your kids. You’re trying to pull joy from your wife and from your friends that can only come from me.” Jesus is the true Vine, and we get life from him. We get it nowhere else.
This entire section really sounds hopelessly impractical in some ways when we read it through our, kind of, American pragmatic ears. So for example, in the broader context of the Farewell Discourse, in chapter 14, verse one, Jesus is going to give us a prescription for a troubled heart. Anybody have a troubled heart? Jesus, as the eternal Son of God, is going to tell us what to do with a troubled heart. “Let not your hearts be troubled.” Here comes the prescription. You ready for it? Jesus says, “Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2)
The pragmatist in me reads that and says, “Are you kidding me? That’s what to do with a troubled heart? You’re doing the house in heaven thing? Believing in God? I can’t really get my hands around that. It doesn’t feel very practical or helpful. What in the world does believing in God and believing also in me have to do with a major surgery next week? What does it have to do with a long battle with chronic depression?” Jesus would immediately respond to those questions, and He wouldn’t bat an eye, and He would say, “Everything. It has absolutely everything to do, Matt, with your troubled heart.” And with everything that vexes my heart, Jesus is the true Vine.
The proficiency of the Vine and the Vinedresser. We’ll talk about the Vinedresser more in just a moment. It leaves us with a couple of implications here. First, there can be no boasting. Any spiritual fruit, Christian friend, that is born in your life, any growth in Christ-like humility, any growth in boldness to share the gospel with those who have not received Jesus, any evidence of freedom from things that previously held you captive, whether you have patterns of lust or greed or laziness—any change in that area, and any progress toward Christ-likeness in those areas doesn’t amount to bringing boasting into our own lives. All that does is point to the power of the gospel, the power of Jesus, to genuinely change people who are grafted into Him. He really does change our lives.
You know, I was pastoring in New Orleans for several years, and we had a testimony night every year. For those of you who don’t speak “Christianese”, that’s basically a night where people tell their stories. People tell their personal stories of how God has worked in their lives. And someone got up and she shared how she had been freed from addiction to drugs many years earlier. I was talking with a man after that meeting, and he said, “You know, I don’t believe a word of that.” He said, “I’m a cop in the NOPD, and I’ve seen a few drug addicts in my day.” He said, “She might come off the drugs briefly, but she’ll be back.”
Now I imagine in a room this size there would be hundreds of people who would love to speak with that officer, and assure him that, not only can being joined to Jesus in a vibrant relationship with Christ free one from mastery to drugs, but it can free us from a thousand other things that have mastered us with equal and similar holding power. The gospel can change our lives. Jesus makes a difference. Knowing Him brings life. And all those areas of change that we might talk to that officer about, they don’t redound to our own praise. We can’t take credit for that. Why?
Because if you’re a believer in Christ, and you’ve been joined to the Vine that gives you life, your story is not a story of finally digging down deep enough and locating that seed of moral determination that just changed everything. That’s not your story. No, your story is this: To borrow from one of the great hymn writers, Charles Wesley,
He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free,
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.
That’s your story. It’s the story in which our boasting is in God and His saving power through Christ. It rules out boasting. There can be no boasting.
Not only that, but there can be no blame-shifting. I hope you won’t leave me hanging here, because I’m about to admit something I hope I’m not alone in, and that is that I’m proficient in making excuses. Proficient at making excuses, and I’ve required no training for this. That’s the saddest part about it. No training necessary. Look, I’ve taken all kinds of classes through iTunes university over the years, and I’ve read books on theology. I’m still better at making excuses. I’ve attended two Secret Churches. That’s like 21 hours of biblical teaching. I’ve filled in both of my 900-page listening guides. I’m still better at making excuses—no training necessary.
Well, when we look at the Christian life and maybe a lack of fruit-bearing in a particular year, we can’t make the excuse that the Vine is the problem. That simply won’t work. Why? Because of verse 5: The Vine is Jesus. “I am the vine,” He says. “You are the branches. Whoever [that is, anybody] abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” Now, granted there was a vine problem in the Old Testament. As a matter of fact, from one angle you could say the entire story of the Old Testament is the story of God and a vine. But this vine only yielded bad fruit over the course of the entire Old Testament. Throughout the Old Testament, God speaks of His covenant people as a vine, but the vine continually yielded bad fruit.
Let me read this to you from Isaiah 5. Isaiah writes, “Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard.” So this is God’s vineyard.
My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He 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.
And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel… (Isaiah 5:1–7).
The fruit was rotten on the tree of Israel because the root was rotten. The root was faulty. And repeatedly, God points that out throughout the Old Testament, and repeatedly, God points to a coming day when the vine would blossom and it would spread its fruit throughout the whole world.
Psalm 80 alludes to this. The psalmist writes, “You brought a vine out of Egypt.” (Psalm 80:8) There’s the vine language. “You drove out the nations and planted it….Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted…. Let your hand,” it goes on to say, “let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself! Then we shall not turn back from you.” (Psalm 80:8, 14–18) All right, does that sound like John 16:1? “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away”? (John 16:1) “Then we shall not turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name.” (Psalm 80:18)
In other words, the vine problem of the Old Testament wasn’t going to be solved because these Old Testament people finally got their act together. The vine problem would eventually be solved because Jesus comes–the true Vine comes. He springs out from the soil of our humanity and He gives life to His people so that we do not turn back to idols. And the Son of man, friends, is standing in John 15 before His disciples and He’s promising life to all who abide in Him.
Can I just say to those who are here who have not been joined to this life-giving Vine, you’ve never turned from yourself and from your sin and put your trust in Jesus, there is a sobering reality underneath this passage and underneath so much of what the Bible has to say about a relationship with God. And it is this: Every day that I sit on the throne of my own life is another day of rebellion against the one true Lord of the universe. And that doesn’t end well. Not only that, but every day that I sit on the throne of my own life, it is another day where life and joy slip through my fingers because I can’t get it outside of Christ.
The day that I came to Christ is the day I realized those two things. I realized, one, I’m rebelling against a gracious and loving Lord. He’s not a dictator; He’s a gracious and loving Lord. And I’m also failing to experience the joy and life that can only come from Christ. Friend, turn to this Savior, this Jesus. Have your sins forgiven. Experience eternal life, joy to the full. Get out of the lordship business. Get out of the personal joy-management business. Be attached by faith to this Vine that gives life eternal. This is where joy comes from.
John 15 1–8 Reminds Us that Life is Found in Christ
Life is found in knowing, in trusting, and obeying Jesus Christ, and nowhere else. And being joined to this Vine means we will bear fruit. There is an inevitable fruit-bearing that will happen when we are attached to this Vine. What kind of fruit? Well, look at the fruit in Galatians 5:22. That kind of fruit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Those kinds of things will be springing up in our lives, not as a result of our own doing, but as a result of the fact that we are in the Vine. We are united to Christ. He produces life. He’s a vintage Vine. He sends life into every branch that’s connected.
So a lack of spiritual fruit in my life is not the fault of the Vine. But then, we can turn and say, “Okay, all right. So the Vine’s not faulty—but it’s the Vinedresser. The Vinedresser’s the problem. The Father doesn’t water me enough. If my circumstances were different, under God’s providence, everything would be great. I mean, if God would just get me married, I promise, I would be the most godly person you ever met. You probably wouldn’t even recognize me I’d be so godly, right?”
Or we can look at other people on the other side of of the coin. You may have a “grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side” mentality. We can look into those people’s lives, and we say, “Of course they’re going to bear fruit and much fruit. Look at how easy their kids are.” Right? In other words, the subtext underneath all of that stuff is that God’s management of the details of my life has left me without what I need in order to bear fruit and become more like Christ.
And that’s simply not true. No, the Vinedresser is God the Father. Read the rest of the gospel to find out what He’s like. He loves to give good gifts to His children. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without Him being aware of it. He tracks with us. He’s aware of us. He lovingly leads His people. He provides everything we need. We don’t need to toil or spin. The flowers of the field are clothed by Him, and He will clothe you as well. Be anxious for nothing. God the Father is capable. This is the picture that we get throughout the Gospels. There is no problem with the Vinedresser. He knows how to maximize our fruit-bearing potential. He knows where to clip so that we grow.
The Properties of the Branches
Two Kinds of Branches
It’s not a problem with the Vine or the Vinedresser, so let’s talk about the branches and the properties of the branches. There are two kinds of branches in our passage. There are fruit-bearing branches. The abiding branch bears fruit precisely because it is vitally connected to the Vine. You see that in verse 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.” And then the Father does something. To every branch that is bearing fruit, every branch that’s connected to Jesus, here’s what the Father’s doing to every one of them. You can see that word “every” in verse 2. The Father wisely prunes every fruit-bearing branch.
That’s not the only kind of branch that we see in our passage. There are fruitless branches. The fruitless branch lacks fruit precisely because it is not vitally connected to the Vine. That’s why it’s not bearing fruit. It’s not vitally, genuinely connected to the Vine. And the Father’s doing something with every fruitless branch as well. The Father, in His timing, cuts off every fruitless branch and casts it into the fire.
Now, this is sobering. Clearly this is a reference to judgment that comes to those who pose as Christians but who are not genuinely submitted to Christ as Lord, who are not in a genuine relationship with Christ. And this is not hypothetical. It’s real. As a matter of fact, if you want to hear “snip” and a branch fall to the ground, go back and read John 13. It’s exactly what happened with Judas. This really happens. This is commentary on John 13 with Judas. In John 13:30, Judas is seen for what he really was all along. “So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he [Judas] immediately went out. And it was night.”
In other words, whatever it looked like on Sunday morning, however loudly Judas sang, however much he gave and served, he was not genuinely attached to the Vine. And Jesus says as much in chapter 13, verses 10 and 11. “Jesus said to him, ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.’” Now, all inquiring minds, when you read that verse you’re wondering, “Okay, which one is not clean?” Well, he’s going to tell you. “For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’”
New Testament commentary author D.A. Carson writes the following: “There’s a persistent strand of New Testament witness that depicts men and women with some degree of connection to Jesus or with the Christian church who nevertheless, by failing to display the grace of perseverance, finally testify that the transforming life of Christ has never pulsated within them.”
There will probably be many professing believers in this room. Can I remind us that there is a difference between participating in religious activities, even distinctively Christian religious activities, and union with Christ? Pastor David has frequently taken us to a critical text in Matthew 7, where Jesus is hearing this word of, “We did all these things in your name, and we prophesied and we cast out demons and did signs and wonders…” And Jesus says, “Wait. Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness. I never knew you.” How we need to hear that in the Bible Belt! That needs to be a verse that we know thoroughly. There’s a difference.
So as you read through the Gospels, there are a number of ways to go about this. I would encourage you, as you’re reading through the Gospels, to prayerfully ask the question, “Do I identify with true Christ-followers?” One of the reasons why I say that you can go about it that way is because Jesus’ intention in John 15 is not to rob genuine believers of assurance. Jesus does not want to put a question mark over every head of an authentic believer in this room. How do we know that? Because of verse 3 of chapter 15. “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” Right after Jesus tells us about the Father cutting off dead branches that were artificially connected to the Vine, He says, “Wait, wait. You’re not a dead branch. You’re clean.”
The Process of Pruning and Cleansing
Two Kinds of Cleansing
So what is this pruning? What is this cleansing process? There are two kinds of cleansings. It’s an interesting play on words here in verses 2 and 3, because the word for “prune” in verse 2 is the same root word in the original language that’s translated “clean” in verse 3. Now that’s an interesting wordplay, isn’t it? It’s an interesting wordplay, because in verse 2, Jesus says that God continually cleans every branch, and then in verse 3, Jesus is saying you’re already clean. So which is it? Are we clean already, or is God continually cleaning us, cleansing us? And the answer is yes. Yes.
Now many of you know this already, but it bears reviewing. The Bible speaks of two kinds of cleansing for genuine followers of Christ. It speaks of two ways, two kinds, two angles on the doctrine of sanctification, the cleansing of the believer. First Corinthians 6:11, for example, speaks of sanctification of the believer as something that has happened in the past. This is called “definitive sanctification”. It has occurred. He says in 6:11, “But you,” Corinthian believers, “were washed.” Not, “You are being washed”, or “you will yet be washed”. It’s “…you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Now does that mean that we never sin again? “I was washed. I haven’t sinned in 20 years.” Is that it? No, it doesn’t mean that. Does it mean that our practice of sin doesn’t have any impact on our fruit-bearing as followers of Christ? Well, it does have an effect on our fruit-bearing as followers of Christ. So, when it says, “You were washed”, does that mean that as we live our daily lives that we don’t practically get dirty? We do. So there is this ongoing ministry of cleansing that takes place throughout our lives, such that the same Bible that says, “You were washed,” and the same Bible that says, “Already you are clean,” also says in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us…”, to go on cleansing us from our unrighteousness.
I praise God for that verse. I need that verse on a daily basis. I need washing and cleansing. The humble, gracious God still washes our dirty feet, cleanses us from our sin. And speaking of the need for continual cleansing, it’s worth noting that all the disciples to whom Jesus just said, “You are already clean,” are going to be cowards tomorrow and they’re all going to abandon him. Isn’t that interesting? That Jesus is looking at Peter and saying, “Already you are clean.” The only one he excluded in chapter 13 is Judas.
“The rest of you are all clean.” The day the mission falls to these disciples, they fall away almost to a man, and yet Jesus, knowing that, said, “Strike the shepherd and the sheep are going to scatter.” (Mark 14:27) He knew that was going to happen, and yet He still said, “You are clean.” What grace! What mercy, what compassion! God knows His followers. He keeps us. And one of the chief ways God uses to keep us bearing fruit is this pruning process.
Two Pruning Instruments
Let’s talk about the pruning instruments that God employs. If we read the rest of the Scripture, we find all kinds of means by which God cleans and shaves off sin and the world—these kinds of things. I don’t know how many of you enjoy working in the yard. I like working in the yard. I like working in the garden. I’m safer in the yard than I am in the garden. Because in the yard, I can cut everything I see, right? I could just mow right over it. Everything can look completely even, and that’s actually the objective, right?
Not so in the garden. So I like to work in the garden, but I’m not safe in the garden. So you can say, “Hey, trim this bush,” and you can leave and you can come back and the bush is trimmed. It is a very neat looking bush. How long it survives is another matter altogether. Whether it’s aesthetically pleasing and symmetrical, that’s all secondary, right? But the bush is trimmed.
And you can thank God that the pruning shears aren’t in my hands for your spiritual growth. God the Father is a master Vinedresser. He’s not just going and clipping things. I mean, I can pull stuff that looks like weeds to me, and my wife can come home and say, “Why’d you pull that? I just bought that from Home Depot.” And then the two questions that immediately spring to mind are, “Why are they selling weeds at Home Depot?” and “What are you doing buying them?”
Not so with the Father. He knows what a weed is, and He pulls it. And He knows what needs to be clipped, and He clips it. He is a master Vinedresser. He knows how to increase our fruit-bearing. Now, that doesn’t though mean that it’s going to be comfortable. It’s a pruning knife. This is not going to be comfortable. And two of the means that God so often uses are Scripture and trials. He uses His Word to cleanse us. Jesus will pray in just a moment in John 17, “Sanctify them. Father, sanctify them in the truth. Cleanse them with the truth. Your Word is truth.” And then in Ephesians 5, we see this relationship Jesus has to His bride, in which He’s washing her continually with the water of the Word.
Anybody here ever felt, like when you open the Bible, personally that there are pruning shears that are cutting on you, cutting away wrong ideas, wrong responses, exposing sin, bringing light? Have you ever come to the gathering to hear the Word preached, and it feels like pruning shears are just shaving and cutting and clipping? If so, wonderful! That’s evidence that the Father is working in your life, that you are His child! He cleans every branch that abides in Christ. That’s evidence.
You know, Hebrews 12 tells us discipline is a left-handed way of knowing that you belong to God, because God doesn’t discipline any who are not His children. It’s His promise that He’s going to discipline and shape and form and mold us, and He does so so often through His Word. Conviction of sin, friends, is a gift of grace. It should be regularly experienced by each believer. And what is discipline for? It’s to wean us off of sin that we’re into, or it’s to prevent us or call us back from sin that we’re being tempted to go and follow. Because God the Father knows that sin kills joy, and it creates bondage and destructiveness in our life. And so He graciously clips, weans, cuts. It’s productive. It’s protective. It’s not punitive.
Another means that God uses to cleanse His people is trials. J.C. Ryle writes, “Trial, to speak plainly, is the instrument by which our Father in heaven makes Christians more holy. By trial, he weans them from the world, draws them to Christ, drives them to the Bible in prayer, shows them their own hearts, and makes them humble.” James 1:2 is a staggering verse. “Count it all joy when you face various trials, knowing that testing of your faith produces…” something.” It produces, James writes, patience. “And when patience has had its perfect work, you will be complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:4)
So often when I run to others for counsel, if you could see the motives in my heart, I am asking you, “Please, is there any way you can get these clippers out of God’s hands? Can you help me to avoid the perfect work of patience because it doesn’t feel perfect at all?” But God is using these trials. A.W. Tozer says, “It’s doubtful that God can use a man greatly until he has first hurt him deeply.” Some of you here may be walking through a very trying season right now. And it won’t make it easier by just my saying this, but no trial is wasted. No trial that we walk through is wasted. God is careful to manage the trials we face, so that instead of breaking us off from the Vine, His children cling more closely and bear more fruit.
The Prospect of Glory (and Joy)
But before we’re done, our text is actually going to give us motivation for all these things, right? Because none of this stuff sounds fun. I mean, this clipping away on our branches, these “Don’t fall away from me,” warnings, pruning shears—why go on? Why keep trusting and leaning on God and reading and abiding in the Vine? Enter eschatology, one of the most wonderful doctrines in the whole Bible. If you think of the whole Bible as telling a story, it has four chapters: 1 – Creation; 2 – Fall; 3 – Redemption (you are here); 4 – Consummation/restoration/glory.
And that, friends, is the motivation: The prospect of glory, the prospect of joy. Why endure the pruning shears? Why resist temptation? I have a friend who sends me an email at 7:00 every morning, and I got it at 7:00 this morning. And it simply says in the subject line, “Won by God’s grace.” But why does he send that? It’s a way of keeping short accounts with the sin that has owned him for years. And God is upholding this man. And every day I reply to that 7:00 email with one of three or four responses. “Yes!” “Excellent!” “Praise God!”
Why fight so hard, day after day, mental battles going on, reading the Word, praying, clinging to Christ, resisting temptation, maintaining regular fellowship with believers—what’s the motivation for all the things that we do as Christians that can so often just feel like busy-work, right? It feels like busy-work to keep us from bad things, like joining a gang or shopping our lives away. Why do we do these things?
God Gets Glory
The motivation, number one, is God gets glory. God gets glory! Verse eight, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:8) If you are in the true Vine, friends, this prospect thrills your soul. Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” There is no way to make the statement that God is great when we live in disobedience to Him. That’s impossible. Obedience is one of the proofs that we genuinely in our heart of hearts believe that God satisfies, that life and joy are found in Him alone.
So we abide in Him, we obey Him, we show/share/teach/serve, we pray/give/go—these are some of our favorite verbs here at Brook Hills. Why do we do all these things? We do them because God is great. We don’t do this to earn points with God. We’re not trying to scratch His back. He can scratch His own back. We do this because God is awesome, and we love it when He gets glory. True Christians love to be reminded that their obedience brings glory to God.
We Get Assurance
Second, we get assurance. Now, ask yourself the question, “Where is there some measure of fruit-bearing in my life? Where is there evidence of grace that God is at work in my heart bringing forth fruit?” Ask questions like, “Is God’s Word a delight to me? Am I more loving? Am I more forgiving? Do I enjoy fellowshipping with followers of Jesus? Am I engaged in His mission? Do I experience conviction?” If there are those things, if they’re present in my life and increasing, that’s assurance. Those are God’s means of saying to my soul, “You’re in the Vine and you’re growing.” You might not even see it progressively day by day, but you are growing, and you’re in the Vine and you’re growing in these ways, not because you’ve finally got your act together, but because you’re in vintage Vine who sends His life to course through your life.
We Get Joy
And third, we get joy. I love verse 11, “These things I have spoken to you,” so here’s another interpretive key. “Jesus, why are you saying all this stuff about abiding and fruit-bearing branches?” Jesus says, “I’ll tell you exactly why I’m saying it.” “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11) The primary motivation, Christian friend, for you to abide in Jesus is not, “You had better abide or else.” That’s not the primary motivation. The primary motivation for you to abide in Jesus is joy.
Someone somewhere famously said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” It brings God glory when we get joy through our relationship with Him. But Christians don’t manufacture their own joy; they get it from the Vine. We have His joy in us. It doesn’t mean we always feel joyful or feel happy. But there is a joy that circumstances and losses and crosses and trials can’t take away. There’s a peace, Paul says, that passes understanding. It doesn’t make sense. Given your trials, how do you have this peace? I’m in the Vine, joined to the Vine. I get joy from Him. I get peace from Him.
And yet there is a greater joy still to come. You know, in John 15, when we read through these verses, we find out exactly what happens to the fruitless branch that’s not abiding in Christ. It’s cut off and it’s thrown into the fire. But what becomes of the fruitful branch? Where’s that story going? One tradition that we’ve had in our house over the years is, in preparation for Mother’s Day, I’ll sneak off with the kids. I’ve done this since they were really young. They’re 15, 12 and 9 now, but we did it since they were really young.
So we’d go off somewhere, sneak out of the house, and I’d turn on the video camera (it was huge back then), and I’m trying to get the kids to talk. “Talk about your Mom. Say stuff you love about her. What do you appreciate about Mom?” Half the time it’s about food, so I’m over-rehearsing them, practically holding up cue cards behind the video. So we’re going through this, and I’ll video them, and then I’ll turn the camera around and then I’ll talk to Mom about stuff that we love about her, something I love about her.
And so I think it was maybe Ellie’s first year—she’s our youngest—and maybe the first year that I got her involved, she might have been three years old. So it’s Saturday morning, the day before Mother’s Day, and I say, “Let’s go off.” And we ran into the back yard, and we turn on the video camera and we made this video. What I didn’t factor in is that, in contrast to our older boys, Ellie’s love language—if you’ll allow me to say that—her love language is gift-giving.
Which means it’s so hard to sit on a gift from Saturday morning until Sunday after we gather at the church, and she tried so hard. At the beginning of the day, after we made the video, she’s coming up and she’s, like in private, whispering, “Can we show it to her now?” “No, baby.” And as the day goes on, my attitude’s getting worse. “No! No! We might not ever show it.” And so finally, as the day wore on and we wore on, she’s not even saying it in private. Paula’s right there in the kitchen, and she’s like, “Can we show Mom the video we made this morning?” And so, like the consistent and disciplined father that I am, I of course caved in and we watched the video on Saturday evening. And what a joy that was.
But Jesus, right here in the Farewell Discourse, is about to bid these men farewell. He’s about to go. He’s going to ascend. He says, “It’s going to be better, but I’m going to ascend to the Father.” And this is a moment when Jesus, right before He leaves for phase one of His hour of suffering, He prays to His Father, and we find out what He wants most for the fruit-bearing branches. He says this in John 17:24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” Jesus is saying, “Can we show it to them?”
To put this in perspective, these disciples followed a peasant. The disciples in John 15, they looked on the Man of Sorrows day after day. They didn’t sleep in five-star hotels; they slept out under the sun; they heard stories. Moments from now, these disciples will be situated in the Garden of Gethsemane, and they will literally see the eternal Son of God weeping, sweating and falling over repeatedly. Isaiah 52 said they came to Him when He had no outward form or beauty, that they should desire Him, but they came just the same. All the glory that caused angels to hide their faces and to sing, “Holy, holy, holy,” and to cover their feet, was buried under layer after layer of Jesus’ humanity. But they still followed Him.
So when Jesus thinks of the most thrilling gift that He could give to His disciples and every Christian here, He prays, “Father, can we show them? Can we show them the glory I had with you before the world existed?” Believer, there’s your motivation. There’s your motivation. Don’t fall away. Abide in the Vine. Bear fruit. Endure the pruning shears. Why? Because God is being glorified and because we get joy. We get it now in a measure. We get it then in fullness. Psalm 16:11 says, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Are you tired of trials? Are you weary from the constant reminders of the urgency of mission, that we need to work while it’s day? Are you tired of fighting all day so that you can send that email tomorrow morning that says, “I won by God’s grace”? Are you tired of all that? So am I. So am I. But we get strength from Jesus. Apart from Him, we can do nothing, but with Him, in Him, because of Him — what is it that the Apostle Paul says? “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)