“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2, NKJV)
Jesus describes Himself as the true vine. He is the unique means of life given by the Father. Christianity is inclusive. The offer of the gospel goes out indiscriminately. Whoever believes on Christ will be saved. But Christianity is also exclusive. There is no other way of salvation apart from Christ. Jesus is the true vine in that He alone is authentic and effective. Life is bound up in Him.
In describing Himself as the vine, our Lord also points us to the Father as the vinedresser. The Father plants the vine in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and promise (Psa. 80). But the Father also tends the vine.
Our Lord explains that the Father tends the vine in two ways (John 15:2). He “takes away” and He “prunes,” both activities in respect to fruitfulness. He takes away those who do not bear fruit. I have a dogwood tree in my yard. It flowers in beautiful, delicate blossoms. This year I took stock of all the branches that had neither blossoms nor leaves. They were dead, part of the tree’s silhouette but not part of its living being. There was no sign of life. These branches were unsightly and detracted from the tree’s glory.
Jesus says that every branch aligned with Him that does not bear fruit, His Father the vinedresser will remove. When Jesus says the Father takes away a branch, he is not speaking of someone losing salvation because they were slacking in their efforts at obedience. Rather, fruitlessness betrays lifelessness.
The vine and branches is a metaphor for the visible church. The visible church is those who profess faith in Christ, but not all professors of faith are possessors of faith. In another metaphor for the visible church, the church as we see it, our Lord speaks of wheat and weeds growing together, indistinguishable to our eye but not to the eye of God who knows the heart.
Jesus uses the image for taking away when He says: “And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:9). In pointing to Jesus, John the Baptist explained that he baptized with water but the One coming after him would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Of Jesus John says, “His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17). Our Lord uses similar language when He says: “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” (John 15:6).
Fire presents us with a double image. Fire will be a means of destruction for mere professors of faith and a means of purification for possessors of faith. In the same way, the Father will purge those who are not united to Christ by the Holy Spirit and will prune those who are united to Christ in their effectual calling. Those who evidence life in Christ through the fruits of faith, repentance, and new life will be pruned by the Father to bear more fruit. They will exhibit the fruit of perseverance.
It is a joy to know that the living God who began a good work in us will continue that work until the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. His workmanship of grace will not be unfinished. Christ will be formed in us in increasing measure until we are made perfect in glory. We will have no defect of sin, no deficiency of holiness, no deformity from Christlikeness.
But what does God’s sanctifying work look like now? What can we expect? What can we look for, knowing that sanctification involves our Spirit-enabled involvement? How does the Father prune us now so that we will demonstrate a more beautiful and bountiful life of grace? That we will explore in our next installment.
- What does it mean that our Father God is the vinedresser?
- What functions does God carry out as the vinedresser and what are their goal?
Father, by the Holy Spirit fill me with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of Your name.
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.