Like few other images, “the vine and branches” reveals powerfully how our life is only through Christ.
In ourselves, we are dead and unproductive of anything good, only fit for the burn pile. But we hear the gospel when Jesus announces in the last of his seven ‘I am’ declarations in John 15:5,
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Vines and vineyards were a familiar part of life in Israel. For that reason, the metaphor of a vineyard is found regularly in the Old Testament. Israel is like a vine, or even an entire vineyard, one lovingly tended by God.
One example is in Isaiah 5 where the prophet speaks about everything God has done for his people. The Lord was like a farmer who first removed all the rocks from a field, then planted good vines, cultivated them, protected and nurtured them. If ever a vineyard had a chance to succeed, it was Israel.
Yet God’s vineyard was sadly unproductive. The Lord looked for good fruit, but He found only injustice and unrighteousness (Isa 5:7). Israel failed as a vine, so God planted a new vine.
And that is Christ. Notice how He says in John 15:1, “I am the true vine.” Jesus is the one Israelite who will finally lead a righteous life before God. He will be the true Son who keeps the commands of the LORD in every way.
Christ is the true vine, but He doesn’t exist unto himself. See how Jesus immediately connects his life to our life, speaking of his close union with believers: “I am the vine, you are the branches.”
Try to appreciate the miracle of this saying. God previously had a vineyard, but his people failed to produce. Yet God didn’t quit the vineyard business. Instead, He sent his Son to be the true vine, then grafted us onto him so that we can share in his life. When we are joined to Christ, we are connected to his vitality, and personally share in all of Jesus’s saving merits.
But to have life through the vine, there is one crucial requirement. Scanning this first section of John 15, we can see clearly that the only way to live through Christ is to abide in him. That verb is used eleven times, leaving no doubt of its importance. For instance, we hear Jesus say in verse 5: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit.”
We must abide in Christ or remain with him. The word speaks of having an unbroken loyalty to Christ and fellowship with Christ. You abide in Christ by having true faith in him, by loving him, by knowing him. You abide in Christ by being indwelled by his Holy Spirit, who connects us to Jesus’s love and power and wisdom.
Are you abiding in Christ? Does it come with a special feeling? At times there might be, when He gives a sense of peace, a sure confidence in him. But Jesus says that more than anything else, this marks the person who is abiding in him: you bear fruit! Fruits are the good things that come from your new life in him. It’s your generous behaviour, your gracious words, and your godly attitudes.
If you believe in Christ, you will see its natural outworking in fruit. You can’t tell the branch of an apple tree to stop producing, because it won’t—not as long as it’s connected to the rest of the living tree. And you can’t tell a believer to stop producing, because she won’t. When we truly confess the Saviour, we always want to give our wholehearted service by bearing fruit for him.
And this fruit is produced for the benefit of other people. The branches of the vine don’t generate fruit for their own sake—the fruit is for the farmer and his happy customers. In the same way, believers don’t produce fruit to please ourselves. But fruit is for sharing. Christ wants us to bless others, to be the kind of people who feed others by our words and works.
So is your life in Christ blossoming with the kind of things that bless other people? Will someone benefit from being near you?
For instance, do you assist others by your financial giving? By your prayers for them? Do you bear the fruit of patience in your home, and the fruit of kindness toward your non-believing neighbour?
By depending on the true vine we begin to flourish, even seeing a progression in fruitfulness. Jesus mentions in verse 2 those who ‘do not bear fruit.’ Then He speaks of the branches that bear fruit, and how they will bear ‘more fruit.’ And then in verse 5, He says we will bear ‘much fruit.’ From being dead and unproductive, to bearing a greater harvest through Christ: an increase in fruitfulness!
It’s all possible because God is a patient farmer. He doesn’t give up on slow-growing branches but nurtures them. He prunes us in perfect wisdom. He sends people into our life who can help. And God gives his Word, like a seed always ready to germinate.
Not every branch will yield a bumper crop. In some seasons of our life, there is less fruit. But fruit is always present where there is a genuine life in Christ. You abound with fruit because you abide in Christ! As Jesus says in John 15:5,
Without me you can do nothing.
If you will bless other people and glorify God, then be connected to Christ. Remain in Christ, the true vine, and you will be a living and fruitful branch.
[The Seven “I Am” sayings in John - Part 7]