“As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” (John 15:4, NKJV)
Paul prods us, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3, ESV). The question is not to elicit an answer but to make a point. The Spirit who gave us life through faith in Jesus Christ is the same Spirit who matures us in Christ. Justification is the handiwork of God’s grace. So is sanctification, our spiritual growth wherein Christ is formed in us.
Just as we cannot give ourselves life, we cannot make ourselves grow. To use the analogy of a child, we can eat the right foods but only in conjunction with God’s design for our maturation will we develop as we should.
Our Lord Jesus brings another metaphor to bear when it comes to our spiritual development. He speaks of a vine and branches. Any of us who have tried to grow vegetables can relate to the image. When my wife and I bought our first home we ambitiously planted a garden. I say ambitiously because we had little idea of the amount of work involved or exactly what we were doing. For example, we planted several zucchini plants, little aware of how prolific they were.
One thing we did know was that if we plucked a growing zucchini off the plant it would no longer grow. Its life was bound up in the plant and its growth depended on its remaining on the plant.
That’s the gist of the metaphor Jesus uses for our spiritual life, growth, health, vitality, and fruitfulness. Life is bound up in Him. We have life only through union with Him. Our spiritual development comes only through remaining connected to Him.
Jesus spells it out. “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. 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” (John 15:4–5).
Our Lord’s analogy gives us promise and portent. His promise is that we will most certainly bear fruit of new life if we abide in Him. But if we do not abide in Him we will be barren, devoid of fruit, at least devoid of real fruit. Sure, we can look the part but such self-effort amounts to nothing.
We can only ripen on the Vine. We cannot grow and bear fruit apart from all it means to abide in Jesus Christ, the true Vine given by the Father. He is the true Vine as opposed to any foreshadow of Him and He is the true Vine as opposed to any other supposed source of life. Our life is bound up in Him. Our maturation is bound up in Him.
If it is the case that apart from Christ we can do nothing that means that disciples must be taught what it means to abide in Christ and how to abide in Christ. Otherwise, all the disciplines and rituals of Christian practice are just for show. Pastors, those equippers of the saints, must situate new believers in their union with Christ, and they must work to help them maintain those bearings throughout the duration of their Christian lives.
- How does the metaphor of vine and branches apply to the individual believer? To the church?
- What does it mean to ripen on the Vine?
Lord Jesus, the true vine, may I realize in my life all that means to be united to You as the way, the truth, and the life.
For study of the fruit of the Spirit through abiding in Christ see A Vine-Ripened Life (Stanley D. Gale, Reformation Heritage Books)
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.