In chapter 15 of John, the Lord Jesus Christ gives believers a powerful exhortation when he says, “Herein is my Father glorified that you bear much fruit; so shall you be my disciples” (John 15:8). We are told that we are to glorify the Father and bear much fruit if we are to be His disciples. As believers, we all want to glorify the Father and be true followers of Christ, but how do we bear much fruit? All believers will bear some fruit in their lives, and some believers will bear more fruit than others. But the Lord says that He wants all disciples to bear much fruit! How is this possible? We need a unique spiritual power that comes from God alone.
What Is Abiding in Christ?
This spiritual power and ability come from communion with Christ and not from our cleverness, education, or natural gifts. As the common saying among Bible teachers goes, “When we work, we work; when we abide, God works.” It is also by regular and continued communion with Christ that God imparts His spiritual strength to the believer — “morning by morning He awakens…” (Isa. 50:4). Blessing comes after communion: “He has given me the ear of the learned that I might know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary.” Notice that listening to Christ comes before speaking of Christ to others. Respected author C. H. Mackintosh (1820–1896) wisely counsels:
A man who is always doing is apt to do too much. Such a one would need to ponder over the deeply practical words of the perfect servant. “He wakens me morning by morning; He wakens Mine ear to hear as the learned” (Isaiah 50:4). This is an indispensable part of the servant’s business. The servant must frequently stand in His master’s presence, in order to know what he has to do.1
By abiding in Christ, the spiritual believer will have power, will see spiritual blessing, and will meet the needs of others.
The Vinedresser’s Care
A grapevine more than most plants needs a vinedresser. It cannot stand upright like other fruit trees and requires a skillful hand to guide its growth. In this case you and I can trust the divine Gardener to prune the “vines” of our lives skillfully, personally, lovingly, and effectively. Isaiah described the gentle skillfulness of His touch when he revealed, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Isa. 42:3, NIV). In other words, God will not cut you back so much that you are broken beyond the ability to grow, nor will He quench you to the point that you give up and quit. So, trust Him. He’s been skillfully pruning believers for years.
While cutting is drastic and encourages new growth, clipping is used mainly to control and shape the growth of the plant. This encourages fruitfulness by concentrating the energy of the vine into the fruitful areas of the branch. The Vinedresser clips even a fruitful branch, as Jesus described: “Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” As a gardener is needed in the production of grapes, and fruit of any kind, so too is the Father needed in our lives if we are to bear much fruit.
Can a Believer Lose Their Salvation?
If we do not abide in Christ and bear fruit then He, the Vinedresser, must come and deal with us: “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6). Some apply this warning to the “professed” believer, those who are not truly saved and therefore cannot bear fruit. But how would a professed believer become a branch of the vine?
When Jesus said, “You are the branches,” in John 15:5, He was speaking to saved people who had been cleansed through faith in Him (15:3). Judas, the counterfeit believer, had already left the gathering of Christ’s disciples when Jesus spoke these words (John 13:21–30). Is Jesus telling us that, if we do not bear fruit, we lose our salvation? No. Several aspects of the passage (15:1-16) point to the inaccuracy of this idea.
First, the emphasis in the passage is on service, not salvation. Jesus is not telling us about how to be saved but, rather, about how to live for him now that we are saved. The emphasis is on communion, not union; it is on fellowship and discipleship, not sonship. Christ addresses believers as servants and friends and instructs them in how to serve him (John 15:15).
Second, in this verse, the Father, not God the Son, “takes away” the branch that does not bear fruit (15:1–2). This is significant because we read in John 5:22: “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son.” Therefore, if this was a passage about judgment and eternal punishment, the Son would be doing the “taking away.” However, because the Father is doing the “taking away,” we can be confident that we will not lose our salvation as it is the Son who judges.
So, what then is the Father’s relationship to the branch? He is the Vinedresser. He seeks to make the branch more fruitful, even to the extent of pruning the branch and cutting away excess wood and leaves (15:2). Respected Bible teacher William MacDonald writes about the vinedresser’s care:
The same word may mean “lifts up” (as in John 8:59). Then it would be the positive ministry of encouraging the fruitless branch by making it easier to get light and air and, hopefully, to bear fruit.2
The Father may remove a branch that refuses to abide and bear fruit, or He may encourage the branch that is weak, depending on what type of care is needed. This is known as spiritual discipline, or chastening. This is not eternal judgment but fatherly care.
Even if we are bearing only a little, the fruit itself is evidence that we are abiding in Christ. The Father sees that fruit and rejoices in it. He then continues his work in us so that we will bear “much fruit” (John 15:2–5). After we have been abiding in Christ for a long time, we may be tempted to feel stronger than we really are. We must beware! If we feel this way, we are headed for certain failure and shame. The Lord said, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing” (15:5). Of ourselves, we are weak branches, good for nothing, but in Christ, we have all the strength we need to bear fruit and glorify God. Our weakness is our strength. God will remind us of our weakness even if He must bring us very low to do it.
1. C. H. Mackintosh, Notes on Exodus, (New York, NY: Loizeaux Brothers, 1975), p. 153.
2. William MacDonald, “John,” Believers Bible Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1995), p. 1549.