“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.” John 15.4
Through the metaphor of a vineyard, Jesus paints a vivid picture here of the intended relationship between believers and Christ. He had already anticipated the hope for this relationship in 14.23 when he said, “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.” Few promises in the Bible are more exciting than knowing this one by personal experience. Like the vineyard tended by a master gardener, the disciples need to stay vitally, intimately connected to the vine, in order, to bear fruit. In verses 1-8, Jesus gives the extended metaphor; he then reveals its meaning and application in verses 9-11.
The vineyard imagery was a familiar part of the cultural and religious symbolism of Judaism (Isaiah 5:1-7 and 27:2-6). Gary Burge notes that “the vine represented the covenant people of God, planted and tended by him so that Israel would produce fruit” (Ps. 80-10:1-2). But Jesus states here that he himself is the “true” vine – a defining contrast from the first covenant. God’s vineyard truly has one Vine, who is Jesus. Apart from him, there is no longer a connection to God based on the Old Covenant. God still desires fruitfulness, but it comes now through a vital relationship through his Son. As the vinedresser, the Father will cultivate this relationship toward that end. And he will cut away (prune) whatever competes with the life of the vine.
Waiting and Working
As a young boy of 9 or 10, I have a wonderful memory of planting a small vineyard with my father. Together, we tilled the soil, formed the rows, and planted. And once planted, we worked hard weeding, feeding, pruning, and watering what we planted. During the first season, the plants came up from the soil, but all we grew were grape vines. I remember my disappointment. The next year, we were able to support the growing vines on a wire trellis. At the end of the second season, again – we had no grapes. I was frustrated, considering all the hard work and the possibility that our efforts had been in vain. I was young and didn’t realize that growing grapes requires not only hard work but patience. Sometimes we, too, get impatient about where we think we should be in our own spiritual growth or in the spiritual seeds we have planted. “For everything, there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven … a time to plant and a time to harvest” (Eccl. 3:1-2). During the 3rd season, I went out one day to the garden and was amazed and excited to discover that we had grapes finally growing on the vine! Every year after, we had fruit. Bigger and better. That experience speaks volumes to me. Like growing grapes, the things of the Spirit are according to his timing but require my commitment. Likewise, I am not responsible for the speed of my spiritual growth. I am responsible for simply living in consistent and intimate relationship with Jesus. That’s all that matters.
Proving Our Relationship
How do we know as disciples, whether or not, we are really abiding in this relationship? As believers, we normally desire this connection. We typically long to make an impact with our lives for Christ. Jesus gives us the secret to fruit-bearing. Live (literally, ‘remain’) in him and allow him to live (remain) in you. Stay vitally connected to Jesus, and he will stay vitally connected to you. Without that relationship, there can be no fruit-bearing. None. When we are vitally connected to him in an ongoing relationship (abiding), we will see tangible results. Our prayers will naturally align with God’s heart and will be answered (v.7a,16). God will be glorified by an increase in fruitfulness (v.7b). And that fruitfulness will prove to us and to others that we are genuine followers of Christ. This is Jesus’ promise to every believer. What is the fruit he is referring to here? It is anything that glorifies God – anything that reveals more of who he is through us. It could be the fruit of our character, or the fruit of the Spirit, or the fruit of our “lips that confess his name,” or the fruitful effects of serving others using our gifts, or the fruit of leading someone else into a personal relationship with Christ. Godly fruit simply reveals that a vital relationship with Jesus is taking place.
When we neglect to connect with Christ, the result is that we wither and produce nothing eternal. That, too, doesn’t happen overnight. Slowly and gradually, over time, we may find ourselves with a diminished desire or care for spiritual things. We notice a lessened interest in reading the scriptures, or our prayer life wanes and God seems silent, we notice a shrinking focus on praising and thanking God, we choose not to serve the needs of others and use our gifts, and we disengage from fellowship with other believers in the body of Christ. Like a boat cut loose from its anchor, we drift farther and farther from real life in Christ. Without a vital, moment-by-moment connection with Jesus, our hearts thus become cold and callous. We become ineffective, unproductive, and then wonder what has happened and why. The problem is not a failure in the fruit. The problem is a failure in relationship. But thankfully, the Holy Spirit will not let a genuine Christ-follower remain there and be comfortable.
Jesus tells us that his love for us is the same as the Father’s love for him. It is unconditional. His love follows us, pursues us, and seeks us to reconnect. Abiding is simply about remaining in love with Jesus. Sometimes the emotions are there. Sometimes they are not. Jesus states that the proof of our love is not in how we feel – some kind emotional high that we are supposed to have as believers. No, the proof of our love is found in verse 10-11: “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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
If you lack joy today, look no further than the relationship you have with Jesus. Live in the sphere of his love. “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them” (1 John 4:16b NLT).
Jesus’ own joy comes out of his obedience to the Father. The way to remain in the sphere of his love is likewise through simple trust and obedience (John 2:5). What has Jesus said to you today that you need to do? Is there anything in which you are refusing him? Does the fruit of your life reflect a growing intimacy with him? This is the simple secret of discipleship.