Bear Fruit!

Each day of the final week of our Lord’s public ministry, up until his arrest, had involved him being in the Temple, presumably with the disciples. Josephus, the historian, tells us that above the entrance to the Temple was an ornate vine, made of gold. Clusters of grapes on the vine were as long as a man is tall. Although there is no Biblical record of a command to make such a vine, its presence is understandable in view of the repeated imagery of God’s people, Israel, as a vine. In John 15:1–5, Jesus, uttering the last of his “I am” statements, claims to be the true, the genuine vine.

You are united with Christ. Remain in Christ. Our text is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse, but he is telling you to remain in him. The imagery of the vine was used in the Old Testament to refer to Israel, Psalm 80:8–16; Isaiah 5:1–7. Often the context speaks of Israel’s disobedience. Now Jesus applies it to you, the church in the New Testament. Just as it is essential for the branch to remain in the vine, so you must stay in fellowship with your Savior. Without that union you wither, dry up, and die.

“[Union with Christ] promotes sanctification, not only because all sanctifying grace is derived from Christ as the crucified and exalted Redeemer, but also because the recognition of fellowship with Christ and of the high privilege it entails incites to gratitude, obedience, and devotion. Union also means communion and communion constrains a humble, reverent, loving walk with him who died and rose again that he might be our Lord.”

John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 171

Contrary to popular views, you cannot do good works to make up for sin or to earn your way into God’s favor. Christ is calling you to continue to live in covenant fellowship with him. He calls you to trust him, to put him first in your life, to structure your life around him. To make your relationship with Christ a living one you need to make use of the means of grace which God has given you. Feed on the Word, both on the Lord’s Day, and in your daily life, turn to your Lord in prayer, take part in the sacraments. Your Lord’s invitation to his Table today is an invitation to sinners, sinners who trust him, sinners who need their union with him to continue to grow in grace and obedience.

Not only do you remain in Christ, Christ remains in you. Even the imagery of the vine is insufficient to describe the full reality of your salvation in Christ. Not only do you remain in Christ, but he remains in you. As he spoke these words, he was preparing to go to the cross for you. His suffering and death were not something that affected him alone, but rather, he suffered as the second Adam, as your representative. At the heart of the Christian faith and life is the reality of union with Christ. Christianity is not a matter of rewards earned or of works performed, but of the Lord of glory living in fellowship with you! The fellowship with God which had been broken by Adam’s sin and yours has now been restored. The penalty has been paid, propitiation has been made, and you are united with Christ. As is always true in a covenant arrangement, the relationship is a two-way one. Christ’s remaining in you is never isolated from his exhortation for you to remain in him. Along with the blessings of the covenant go the curses, or judgments threatened against disobedience. Christ remains in you. That means that he is the one who originates and continues to empower the relationship you have with him.

“Jesus’ metaphor of constituting the ‘true vine’ in John 15 echoes several Old Testament texts that depict Israel as a vine (e.g. Is 5:1–7; Jer 8:12–14). When Jesus claims to be the true vine, he identifies himself as the true Israel in contrast to unfaithful Israel…. Only those who believe in him, whether Jew or Gentile, are considered part of he true vine, namely, end-time Israel….”

(G. K. Beale & Benjamin L. Gladd, The Story Retold: A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament., pages 146–147

Because you remain in Christ, Bear fruit! The Father prunes you. We will look more at fruit in a moment, but notice that the purpose of the Father’s pruning is so that you “will be even more fruitful.” That is not a vindictive amputation, nor is it the judgment of cutting off and throwing away branches (verse 6), but a purposeful pruning. Just as an orchard owner prunes away branches that might seem green and healthy because their growth will detract from the fruitfulness of the tree, so the Father performs his cleansing (the same word is translated “cleanse” and “prune”) work on us, his branches, so that we will bear more fruit. The pruning includes all of the trials and difficulties which God allows into your life. They serve the purpose of molding, shaping you into the kind of person God wants you to be. Included is the hatred of the world and the persecution of which Christ speaks in the latter half of the chapter. Paul later refers to this as suffering in his letters, Philippians 1:29; Romans 8:17. The gospel is different from the “health and wealth” message proclaimed by some in the electronic church. The Christian life includes the difficult things the Father uses to make you fruitful.

“In a nutshell, abiding in Christ means allowing His Word to fill our minds, dir­ect our wills, and trans­form our affections. In other words, our relation­ship to Christ is intimately connected to what we do with our Bibles!”

“We are called, as part of the abiding process, to submit to the pruning knife of God in the provid­ences by which He cuts away all disloyalty and sometimes all that is un­important, in order that we might remain in Christ all the more whole­heartedly.”

(Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life, pages 113 &116, Kindle Edition

Why does this suffering come? So that you can bear fruit to the Father’s glory. What does it mean to be fruitful? Witnessing? Certainly one purpose of fruit is the production of more fruit, and Jesus does go on to speak of testifying about him, verse 27. Yet the immediately following context speaks of the love of the Father and Son, and commands you to love. Then Christ commands you to love with a love that patterns itself after his love, a love that lays down his life for his friends, verse 13. The command to love really includes all of God’s commands. Thus bearing fruit includes the entire matter of covenantal obedience, of living in covenant fellowship with God. Nothing that you do, say, or think is excluded from the requirement to bear fruit. There is no such thing as a merely formal commitment to Christ. There is no such thing as claiming Christ as Savior while refusing to serve him. If you persist in refusing to bear fruit, you are a branch that is cut off and burned. But if you do remain in Christ, he remains in you, and you bear much fruit to the Father’s glory, verse 8. As you meet today to worship our Lord, you celebrate your union with him. But, remember, as you go from God’s house, that your remain under the command to bear fruit, to reflect the love of the Lord Jesus Christ.

A withered branch is never going to bear grapes or any other fruit. But thank God that you are not rejected limbs prepared for the fire, but living branches, united to the vine, living to bear fruit for his glory.