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John 15:6-7

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— 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. 9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.
When the Lord Jesus Christ unfolded his parable of the vine and the branches he knew what he was talking about,
When the Lord Jesus Christ unfolded his parable of the vine and the branches he knew what he was talking about,
for he wished to stress that his disciples must be fruitful, and
it is a characteristic of the vine that it is good for nothing except fruit-bearing.
If it does not produce grapes, it is worthless.
The reason for this is that the wood of the vine is too soft for any other purpose.
A tree might be cut down, sawed into planks, and then used to construct furniture or build a house.
But the vine is always gnarled and twisted and cannot yield planks.
Besides, it is brittle.
Anything built of it would soon break in the user’s hands and be worthless.
It is not even good for burning.
I read that at certain times of the year it was stipulated by law that the people were to bring wood offerings to the temple to supply the fires for the sacrifices.
But it was also laid down that the wood of the vine must not be brought, because it was useless for that purpose. It burned too quickly.
The only thing that could be done with it, except letting it lie around, was to make a bonfire and destroy it quickly.
This, incidentally, is the basis of here the prophet is emphasizing the uselessness of Israel in her then, quite-unproductive state. He writes,
“Son of man, how is the wood of the vine better than any other wood, the vine branch which is among the trees of the forest? 3 Is wood taken from it to make any object? Or can men make a peg from it to hang any vessel on? 4 Instead, it is thrown into the fire for fuel; the fire devours both ends of it, and its middle is burned. Is it useful for any work?
This is the image that Jesus uses of those who are joined to him in saving faith.
So the question immediately arises:
Are we who are joined to Christ fruitful?
Are we useful to him?
Or are we merely a lot of leaves and dead wood, fit for nothing but to be gathered up and burned?
Now, the main idea of this passage is remaining or abiding in Christ.
The word “abide” occurs some 10 times from v4-10.
But then we come to this devastating phrase (in v6) used to describe all that fail to abide, “he is cast out as a branch”.
— 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.
Those who do not abide has to be understood by what it means to abide. Not abiding is bracketed in by the positive statements of abiding, “…He who abides in Me...” (v5).
And in 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.
7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.
So we won’t really understand failing to abide until we learn what it is to abide.
The key to growth in godliness is remaining in the True Vine, who is Christ Jesus.
Here, remaining in Christ and bearing fruit is nothing less than
the outcome of persevering dependence on the vine,
driven by faith,
embracing all of the believer’s life and
the product of his witness.
And this fruitfulness comes as the Word of the Lord remains in the disciple.
Words must so lodge in the disciple’s mind and heart that
conformity to Christ,
obedience to Christ,
is the most natural (supernatural?) thing in the world.
Abiding in Christ, remaining in His Word, is essential to proper Christian discipleship and growth.

USE THE ORDINARY MEANS OF GRACE

Many Christians seem to believe advancement in spiritual maturity must come through some extraordinary or “breakthrough” experience.
But in , it is the ordinary means of grace that ordinarily produces growth and maturity.
In fact, while the sensational and extraordinary can and often does lead people astray,
the Word properly taught and understood never will.
The “ordinary means of grace” include the
study of the Word of God,
participation in the ordinances of baptism and communion along with
the gathered church, and prayer.
These are the customary ways in which the grace of God is
proclaimed,
displayed, and
appropriated in the Christian life.
By the Word of God, we hear Christ revealed and glorified, and there
we “learn Christ” most clearly.
But in the ordinances of baptism and communion, we see Christ and the gospel
as we picture his death, burial, and resurrection for us and for our salvation.
A healthy Christian does not neglect these ordinances and means of grace but
rejoices in them,
prepares for them, and is
reminded through the senses
of the glories of Christ our Savior.
She or he remembers that grace
“teaches [or trains] us to deny ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” ().
A healthy Christian relies more and more on the grace of God as it is communicated through the Word and the ordinances.

PARTICIPATE IN THE LOCAL CHURCH

instructs us not to neglect the assembly of the saints.
Instead, we are to gather and encourage one another more and more as we await Jesus’ return.
The public assembly is meant for the edification, the building up, the growth of the Christian.
Neglecting to participate in the corporate life of the church or
failing to actively serve and be served is a sure-fire way to limit our growth.
offers a pretty strong argument that participation in the body of Christ
is the main way in which Christ strengthens and matures us.
When we serve others in the church,
bear with one another,
love one another,
correct one another, and
encourage one another,
we participate in a kind of “spiritual maturity co-op” where our stores and supplies are multiplied.
The end result is growth and discipleship.

LOOK TO JESUS’ COMING

Finally, we grow in holiness by meditating on and looking forward to the coming of Jesus.
Most of the New Testament references to Jesus’ return are connected with some exhortation to holiness and purity.
For example, in when Jesus finishes teaching the disciples about his second coming,
he concludes with the simple exhortation to “be ready,”
to look for his return, and to live a fitting life in the meantime.
follows with three parables, all exhorting his hearers to watch and to be faithful until he returns.
The Lord taught that His second coming is something for us to meditate upon consistently, and
that that meditation should lead us to guard our lives and to grow.
refers to the “blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”
with this explanation of Jesus’ mission:
“[He] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
In other words, we look to the cross and the second coming of Christ and remember
that Christ has done everything for our redemption, purity, and zeal—our holiness.
The apostle John includes a very similar statement in one of his letters. He writes:
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. ()
Our yearning to be with Jesus and to see Jesus is intended to make us more like Jesus in holiness.
Looking forward to Christ will produce growth in healthy church members.
Conclusion
The healthy church member is a growing church member.
Specifically, she or he is a church member that grows in Christlikeness, holiness, and maturity.
That maturity and holiness are developed in dependence upon Christ, his Word, and others in the local church.
And most wonderful of all, we will not stop growing until we reach the fullness of Christ!
But going back to this comparison of Jesus as the vine and us as the branches.
As we think of the ministry of the Holy Spirit isn’t to just convey Christ’s truth to us, but more intimately He conveys Jesus’ life to us.
We are united to Christ’s person, that is, with His life and death.
And in meditating on this union with Christ we don’t have any full complete way to describe it in our human experience.
calls it a great mystery. How exactly can we be joined to the life of another person and have his life conveyed to us?
Scripture provides at least four illustrations of this union that aid our understanding: the relation existing between
the stones of a building (; ); the
union between a husband and wife (); the
union between the head and the members of the body (; ); the
union of a vine and its branches ().
No single one of these comprehensively explains the union, but each contributes in a unique way to our overall understanding.
In particular we are interested in the analogies that explain our union with Christ as a sharing of his life.
Picking up on the marriage analogy we can illustrate the importance of a shared life.
There needs to be person-to-person contact.
There also needs to be a life lived together for the marriage to be called a ‘union’ in any complete and significant way.
The legal union is complemented by a living union of life together.
The same is true for Christ and his church.
There must be a coming together and sharing of life.
What benefit is a marriage union in which you do not enjoy a common life with your spouse?
Considering the relation of the head to the body we must observe that they do not live separate lives.
Arms, fingers, legs, and toes do not live is such a way that the life of the head merely benefits them, but rather they participate in the life of the head.
The life of the head comes down to them in a very real way.
Don’t pass too quickly over the realism of our participation in the very life of Jesus.
This is “organic” union.
As truly and as intimately as the head and members of the physical body are united,
so truly and intimately are Christ and believers united also.
So we are not merely living on the benefits of Christ, but on Christ Himself,
sustained by the connecting activity of the Holy Spirit.
Salvation is not coming to Christ as to a tree in order to pluck off the individual fruits of salvation.
We sometimes wrongly conceive of Christian living as simply taking the various benefits Christ gives out.
Paul does not only picture Christ as giving life, but also as being “our life” ().
This vital living oneness is also expressed in the familiar words of : “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Jesus assures us of this living union in when he says, “Because I live, you also will live.”
And in the union we are studying in
The picture of the vine and the branches also aids us in understanding our union to the very life of our Lord.
In Jesus tells us, “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.”
We are like branches grafted into Christ who is the vine or root.
Elsewhere Paul describes the Christian as “rooted” in Christ ().
An organic union with the vine sustains the life of the branch.
In fact, it is the life of the vine that is being pumped into the branch so that the branch shares in the one life with the vine.
If the vine thrives, the branch thrives.
If the vine is crushed the branch suffers with it.
The actual life of the vine is being reproduced in the branch.
So the actual life of Jesus is being reproduced in the Christian through living union.
Looking back to our context in — 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.
The branch’s purpose is to bear much fruit (v. 5),
but the next verses show that this fruit is the consequence of prayer in Jesus’ name,
and is to the Father’s glory (vv. 7, 8, 16).
This suggests that the ‘fruit’ in the vine imagery represents everything
that is the product of effective prayer in Jesus’ name, including
obedience to Jesus’ commands (v. 10),
experience of Jesus’ joy (v. 11–as earlier his peace, 14:27),
love for one another (v. 12), and
witness to the world (vv. 16, 27).
This fruit is nothing less than the outcome of persevering dependence on the vine,
driven by faith,
embracing all of the believer’s life and the product of his witness.
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