Pruning or Destruction
Two uncomfortable options. Have you ever had to decide between two uncomfortable options? In John 15, Jesus outlines two uncomfortable options. You will either be pruned, or you will be destroyed. Practically speaking, you are left with the decision to choose one. Either you will abide in Christ, bear fruit, and be pruned; or you will not abide in Christ, will not bear fruit, and will be eternally destroyed. No one has a third option. Therefore, this decision is extremely important, and neither choice is easy.
I intend, from the passage, to outline for you the position in which I hope each of you finds yourself.
Purpose statement. True believers, in Christ, experience correction from the Father but not eternal destruction.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me 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.
Participant #1. The Son has met the Father’s requirements.
Participant #1. The Son has met the Father’s requirements.
Jesus establishes two truths in the first phrase of chapter 15. Jesus says, “I am the true vine.” This “I Am” statement concludes the seven “I Am” statements in John’s gospel.
The Seven “I Am” Statements. (1) “I am the bread of life” (6:35). (2) “I am the light of the world” (8:12). (3) “I am the door for the sheep” (10:7; cf. v. 9). (4) “I am the good shepherd” (10:11, 14). (5) “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25). (6) “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6). (7) “I am the true vine” (15:1; cf. v. 5).
John includes these seven “I Am” statements as proofs to Jesus divinity. Jesus declares to be divine and then proves his divinity through the many signs spread throughout the gospel.
True vine. Not only does Jesus declare his divinity in this brief statement but as well declares his messiahship. Jesus was the true vine in that he was the perfect and enduring vine. Throughout the Old Testament, Israel had been considered “the vine,” (Hosea, Psalm) yet they failed in their role (Isaiah and Jeremiah).
Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars. (Hosea 10:1).
You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. (Ps 80:8–10).
Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his 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. (Isa 5:1–2).
I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine? (Jer 2:21).
God desired that his people act as a vine and bear fruit, fruit that consisted of them accurately, consistently, and perfectly reflecting His glory. Israel was given the opportunity but failed to do so, and we would have also. Christ came and fulfilled these expectations. Christ is the true vine.
Deffinbaugh. Jesus speaks of Himself not merely as a vine, or even as the vine, but as the true vine. He who created the light (and everything else), is called the true ―light in John 1:9. The ―bread God gave Israel in the wilderness sustained the lives of the Israelites for a time, but Jesus identifies Himself as the true ―bread that comes down from heaven, because He gives eternal life to all those who partake of Him by faith (John 6:30-35). In our text, Jesus identifies Himself as the true ―vine, the full and final revelation of all that the ―vine anticipated and foreshadowed in the Old Testament.
The potential backdrop to the conversation. This imagery was likely heightened by the place in which the conversation was held. At the end of John 14, Jesus says, “Rise, let us go from here.” Likely, Jesus and the disciples, on their way to Garden of Gethsemane continued their conversation. Possibly, Jesus and his disciples walked in sight of the great golden vine that decorated the door to the Holy Place in the Temple, or maybe they simply walked past the many vines that would have been spread throughout the city or climbed up the city’s great walls. Either way, the disciples understood the significance of Israel being symbolized by the vine.
Significance to present believers. If physical Israel remained the vine, we would remain separate from God. Instead, they failed. Christ succeeded in being the True Vine, resulting in our being grafted into Christ.
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh . . . were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility . . . For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Eph 2:11–19).
Participant #2. The Father prunes and takes away.
Participant #2. The Father prunes and takes away.
As the vinedresser within this word picture, God the Father performs two functions. He prunes fruit bearing branches or he takes to destruction those branches which bear no fruit. Let’s take these one at a time. Jesus says in 15:2, “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
The Father takes away branches that do not produce fruit.
The challenge with “in me” and “taken away.” What does Jesus mean by “in me”? Can a branch be connected to the vine or possess eternal life and then lose that life and be condemned? The verse clearly delineates that a branch is in some way connected to the vine and then is taken and destroyed. Can someone be born again and then lost (3:3-8)? Can someone be a child of God (1:12) and then taken and destroyed? Can someone be part of Jesus’ sheep fold and then be removed from his fold (10:14-16)?
If “in me” refers to a believer, “taken away” either infers that a believer can lose their salvation, or it means something other than eternal destruction. Verse 6 seems to indicate that “taken away” refers to eternal destruction, so then “in me” either means something different than a believer or it means a believer can lose their salvation. [We will take a prolonged look at this in a following week.]
John assists us in answering this confusion by means of a couple passages.
Two types of disciples in John. Three times, in this gospel, John uses words that would typically be associated with a believer but they are not actually believers. (1) In chapter 2, John informs the reader that “many believed in his name . . . but Jesus did not entrust himself to them” (2:23) because he truly knew what was in their hearts. People appeared to be believers, but never truly believed. (2) In chapter 6, John writes of how “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (6:66). John immediately contrasts these false disciples to the true disciples who remained with Jesus and truly believed that he was the Messiah. (3) Therefore, as we come to John 15, we apply this same paradigm to these various branches. Some people appear to be branches that are connected to the vine, but when they bear no fruit, they reveal they were never true disciples or believers.
Security of believers revealed in John. Additionally, John offers a few passages that underscore the security of true believers.
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. . . . And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. (Jn 6:37–39).
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (Jn 10:27–28).
I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. (Jn 17:6).
The fate of fruitless branches (15:6). In verse 2, Jesus states that the vinedresser “takes away” the branches that bear no fruit. However, he outlines in greater detail the horrible destruction of these branches. “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” (Jn 15:6).
In a following week, we will more thoroughly discuss verse 6. For now, let’s settle with acknowledging three potential interpretations.
1. Some are saved (actual Christians), eventually lost, and eternally destroyed in hell.
2. A nominal Christian who was never truly saved, produces no fruit revealing their lack of salvation, and are eternally destroyed in hell.
3. Both types of branches are believers and what is burned are their works, if their works are not of Christ. In this view, the emphasis is on Christians who bear fruit or don’t bear fruit instead of Christians and non-Christians.
The Father prunes the branches that bear fruit.
A couple of years ago, I started my DMin at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In my first class, I sat alongside nearly 20 other students. As long as I continue to turn in my expected assignments and pay my expected bills, they continue to consider me a student. If I were to quit turning in assignments or quit paying my bills, they would remove me from Southeastern and no longer consider me a student of the seminary. Sadly, this has happened to many in my cohort. For varied reasons, decisions were made to stop, and our cohort now consists of five students. Throughout this time, those 5 students have continued to produce the necessary fruit (ie. assignments and payments) to reflect that they still are true students of Southeastern.
Now then, for those students, seminary professors continue to prune them. We have been verbally critiqued in classes. We have all experienced the rather dramatic pruning of our writing abilities. One of our professors has spent, minimally 3-4 hours with each of us to assess and better hone our writing abilities. One evening for at least an hour over dinner, one professor walked me through one of my papers and corrected every error. It was painful. But! Extremely helpful.
My emotions and personal self-confidence would much prefer a professor that only validates and affirms my hard work. I struggle to process and respond to a professor that corrects everything wrong I do. But, if I want to produce better and more impactful fruit, I will welcome the criticism and pruning from a professor that I know only wants the best for me.
Believers in Christ experience the same dynamic. Believers who continue to cling to the vine bear fruit. We would love to just be affirmed for bearing fruit and clinging to the vine, yet the Father desires that our fruit be as beneficial and robust as possible. Therefore, he continues to prune us. He continues to correct us. He continues to perfect us. The Father, who desires our best, comes along side of us and with grace and compassion prunes us.
The Father prunes through both external experiences and the Word. Jesus emphasizes, in 15:3, the pruning that comes due his word. But we find in other passages that God often prunes us with external circumstances. The authors of Hebrews and James address this same topic.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? . . . For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Heb 12:6-7, 10-11).
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4).
Participant # 3. True believers are secure in Christ.
Participant # 3. True believers are secure in Christ.
Let me draw your attention to a simple but helpful reality. The word translated “prune” in verse 2 is the same Greek word translated “clean” in verse 3. Our security rests in the fact that we have already been cleaned. However, the Father will continue to do this cleaning or pruning in order to continue molding us into his image.
Jesus states in 15:3, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” We are cleansed through the word. What word? The Word consists of Christ’s teachings. John writes in 14:23 of how those who love the Lord, obey His words (His teachings). As you love and obey God, you are cleansed.
Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:23).
Additionally, John writes in chapter 13 of cleansing. Jesus had just washed Peter’s feet and Peter’s convinced that he needs his whole body cleansed. Jesus responds, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean” (Jn 13:10–11). We are thoroughly cleansed in Christ. Although we are clean, we will at times need to deal with the dirt on our feet (ie. sin in our life).
1. The Father as the gardener tends the vine. He’s going to prune and cleanse the life of believers. This is a work we should welcome.
2. The Word is a primary instrument which the Father employs to tend the vine. Therefore, desiring to be pruned, we should embrace the Word. The Father’s pruning includes other external experiences as well (2 Cor 1:8-9).
 Bob Deffinbaugh, “Abiding in Christ,” Bible.org (n.d.), Accessed May 13, 2020. https://bible.org/seriespage/34-abiding-christ-john-151-17
 Bob Deffinbaugh, in his message titled “Abiding in Christ,” offers four other NT sources to make the same point.
(1) Matthew 3:7-10. Many religious leaders were coming to John for baptism, yet John rebukes them because they assumed their lineage granted them access to the kingdom of God. John warns them of God’s coming wrath and refers to bad trees that bear bad fruit. “every tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (3:10).
(2) Matthew 7:15-23. Jesus reveals that not everyone who claims to be a spokesman for God is a true prophet. True and false prophets are distinguished by their fruit. And once again, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (7:19). Someone may claim to profess faith, but if they don’t produce fruit, they reveal their faith to be false and they are cast into eternal judgment.
(3) Mark 4:1-20. Deffinbaugh acknowledges that the relevance of this text to John 15 hinges upon the interpretation that the first three soils refer to unbelievers. If so, the first three soils fail to produce fruit revealing they are truly unbelievers, whereas the fourth soil produces lasting fruit and reveals a true believer.
(4) Romans 11:13024. Deffinbaugh argues the fourth to be the most compelling. “Jewish branches were removed from the olive tree because of their unbelief, even as Gentile branches are grafted into the tree by faith. Surely Paul refers here to the very thing that our Lord is speaking about in John 15.”