The Baptist Beacon
ABIDING IN THE VINE
by Michael T. Adamson
Along the fence row in my back yard is a wild grape vine. I have watched it grow steadily over the years, from a relatively small plant to its present size, which covers several sections of fence. When the vine has recovered its leaves in the late spring, it virtually becomes a part of the fence. The foliage is so dense that it effectively provides a habitat for small birds to rest and build their nests. Later in the summer, each branch flowers and bears clusters of small grapes which attract still more birds to the safety of its branches.
I generally do not trim it back, preferring it to grow as it will, (which, admittedly, is rather wild and untrained) but periodically, I have to prune some of its branches to allow me to mow along side the fence.
Many of us are familiar with that chore, performing it when necessary in our own yards as part of our summer ritual of lawn maintenance. Yet, I am persuaded we too often fail to equate the mechanics of the task with the lesson taught by our Savior.
We know, just as soon as we prune a branch from the vine, it does not immediately appear to be in a life_threatening condition. Its leaves are still crisp and it has every other characteristic of good health. The only thing unnatural about its appearance is that it is no longer attached to the parent plant. However, after a period of time, the physical characteristics of the severed branch undergoes a rapid and likely unalterable change. The leaves begin to wilt and fade, and the vibrancy portrayed just a few hours before has rapidly decayed. This occurs for one simple reason; it has been cut off from its source of nourishment, the life_giving nurture of the vine. Unless immediate action is taken by an experienced gardener, it will undeniably die. Ultimately it will be tossed out in the trash or end up on the burn pile.
The branch is entirely dependent on the vine for its existence, for life, and to be of service to the vine. The service it performs for the vine is rendered by the bearing of fruit. By bearing the fruit, seeds are developed and eventually scattered, each with the potential to grow into a vine, identical to the parent plant. It is interesting to note three truths at this time:
1) The branch cannot survive without the vine.
2) The branch bears fruit. 3) The branch cannot produce fruit. I will have more to share concerning these three truths a little later on.
I have used this example to establish the basis for one of the deepest and most beautiful illustrations our Savior used to describe His relationship to His disciples. I marvel at the depth of our Lord's analogy as I study and reflect upon the timeless truth it portrays. What a love He had for lost humanity, to allow us to understand how we can abide in Him, the "true vine."
In John's Gospel, Christ, having just previously promised the Comforter to His disciples, continues to explain His relationship to all who believe in Him (John 15:1_11). Using an example equating Himself as the vine, and the Father as the husbandman, Christ methodically explains the reason and purpose and expectation of true believers. He also clearly describes what those who dwell in the vine can expect and what befalls those who do not.
All that believe in the Savior represent the branches on the vine. However, Christ also indicates there are some who claim to be in Him that are cut away by the Father (John 15:2). The reason they are cut away is clearly stated, they do not bear fruit! Those that truly believe in Him, abide in Him, just as a branch is attached to a natural vine.
The Lord further states, in the same verse, that those remaining in the vine, (representing true believers) are pruned by the Father. They are given special consideration and treatment by the Husbandman of the Vine! They are protected and cared for to encourage proper growth. When attacked by pestilence or disease, the Husbandman comes to the rescue, as any concerned gardener would do for the plants under his care. Why does the Father do this? The answer is stated with equal conviction, that they might be able to bear more fruit!
A branch cannot produce fruit; it can only bear fruit (John 15:4). If you find this concept a little challenging, please conduct a simple experiment. Go to your orchard, (unless you have a grape arbor) and cut a branch from a tree. Place the branch in a place where you can observe it. Leave it there as long as you like. Do you believe there is any possible way the branch you have just cut from the tree can ever produce any fruit? Of course it won't! The branch depends on the life_giving Substance of the tree, or vine. Without the tree, the branch is DEAD! Consequently, any fruit produced by the vine is made evident through the branch but the branch cannot produce it, only bear it.
A person truly abiding in Christ will bear fruit at some point in their life. That is an absolute!
How much fruit is born is dependant on an individual's willingness to be guided and led by God through His Spirit. The Apostle Paul specifically mentions what the fruit of the Spirit is (Gal. 5:22_23). One fruit evidenced by a true believer is faith. The work that attests to that fruit is their testimony and baptism.
We should not confuse bearing fruit with works. Works performed in the flesh are not of God, Although they may be God_honoring. The Apostle James wrote that faith is made visible by works (James 2:14_18). Clearly, we can see that works are the evidence of fruit which is, in this case, faith.
This raises another important issue. Can we see the fruits born by the believer? In a nutshell..no! What we are privy to see, and hopefully do see, is the evidence of any fruit born by the believer. We have somehow come to judge our fellow_laborers by what, and how much, we can see on the outside. But, that is not what the Lord said about the husbandman, vine, branch, and fruit relationship. Christ said: "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away." John 15:2 The Father has identified all those who are branches of the vine! If any are not, He will dispose of them.
The person who, outwardly doest not appear to be bearing any fruit may not necessarily be a branch detached from the vine. That person may represent a branch undergoing pruning by the Husbandman! We must be careful not to become a stumbling block before these brothers and sisters, or in line for chastisement from God for interfering in His work. He has identified what we are to do, no more and no less.
This truth, should strike hard at the hearts of all God's children. The Lord knows His own! We do not! We have enough to worry about to keep ourselves in line without trying to meddle in the Lord's arena. It is counter_productive to the work and hampers our own satisfaction. (What I am referring to in no way pertains directly to church discipline; however, evidence of the fruit would go along in that area also!)
I have said quite a bit about the branch's inability to survive without the vine. Can the vine survive without the branch? The answer to that is YES! All of us know that from trying to get rid of an unwanted vine in our own yards. You can cut off the branches and whittle the trunk down to the ground but the vine will not die unless the source of its life is destroyed. It will soon send out another shoot and, before long, be just as large as it was before, and with just as many branches.
Now, think about Christ. Does this example fit in our context? I believe it does. Jesus Christ, being despised of men was crucified. From all outward appearance, He was dead. But, on the third day, according to prophesy and true to His promise, He rose again, and lives today, seated at the right hand of the Father in Glory. We, who are left, have the earnest (guarantee) of the Spirit that we too, shall be conformed to His image and raised in His likeness at the last day. His resurrection is the assurance our hope is not in vain.
The last issue I will preface with this question;
"Why did the Lord go to all this trouble and detail to establish this relationship with us?"
The answer to that question is: These things have I spoken unto you that my joy might remain in you and that your joy might be full." John 15:11
The joy of Christ was the revelation of His gospel to a lost and dying world.The joy He felt was in the relationship He held with the Father, not as the Son, but as a man. That same relationship with God is possible for all mankind through Christ. The Father (the Husbandman) loves the Son (the Vine). The Son (the Vine) supports and nourishes the Branches (those that abide in the Vine). The Father (the Husbandman) loves and prunes the Branches (those that abide in the Vine) to bring forth the fruit of the Vine (faith, long_suffering, temperance, etc.) The Branches love the Vine and are willing to bear the fruit the Vine manifests through them. The fruit perpetuates the Vine and the hope (the Gospel) for the whole world.
It never ceases to amaze me how eleven short verses of scripture can contain so much. But, actually, I have only scratched the surface. Please read and study these for yourself. I am sure you will receive a blessing.