“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Perhaps there is hardly any Christian who has not heard these oft-repeated and quoted words from John 15:5. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches! A simple explanation that comes to mind when we hear these words is that, if we cling to Jesus through prayer and meditation of His Word, we shall be like Him more and more. How often these words have comforted a struggling Christian to rest on Christ as the support system on which his Christian life and growth rest.
But, if we dig deeper into these words in light of other scriptural truths, we shall find layers of truth unfold. The more deeply we understand, the more Christ shall be magnified in our minds and we shall be more enamoured at His glories. We shall be more encouraged to cling to Him, so that we may bear fruit. May we know our Lord and Saviour, ever more increasingly. May we not be content only paddling on the surfaces of His glories, but dive into the depths of His knowledge. So, let us unpack the statement, “I am the true vine” in John 15:1-5.
We who were dead in our trespasses and could not bear fruit, can have hope that in Christ we can bear fruit.
I AMAll the ‘I Am’ statements of Jesus, especially in the gospel of John, are like seals of His divine authority. When Jesus used the words, “I AM” He was using the divine name of YHWH, the only true and living God. Jesus is YHWH in the flesh. When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, He revealed His name as, “I Am Who I Am” (Ex. 3:14). This name of God revealed His absoluteness, His independence, His sovereignty and His eternity. God absolutely and eternally exists, he depends on nothing and no one. Everything is derived from and relies on Him. Jesus applied this name to Himself. The eternal and absolute God who revealed Himself in the burning bush was now walking in the midst of us. John said, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.” (1 Jn. 1:1-2)
All the other prophets in the Old Testament came to bear witness to the truth, proclaim the truth and point to the truth. But, it is Jesus who said that he was the truth‘ (John 14:6). Jesus did not point a flashlight to show us the truth, He came as the blazing sun of truth and dawned on us. There is no truth extraneous to Him. There is no God apart from Him and no salvation apart from His person and work. If we have Him, we have the truth. Truth is not simply a concept to be comprehended, passed down by some seer, as the philosophers of our country think. But, Truth is a person who has to be known and trusted. In John 15, Christ does not simply say, if you do these works you shall be like a branch bearing fruit. He says I am the vine, apart from me you can do nothing. Eternal life and fruit-bearing are contained in Him and are derived from Him. He is absolute. He is YHWH.
The True VineJesus identifies Himself as the ‘True’ vine. What does that mean? To understand that, we will have to turn back to the prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah 5, Israel is called God’s vineyard (Isa. 5:7). God planted Israel as a vine, so that it would grow by bearing fruit, thus bringing glory to Him. Israel was supposed to walk in righteousness and justice. Thus, reflecting God’s glory as His children and image-bearers. But, Israel did not bring forth fruit but wild grapes. Far from abiding in God’s statutes, Israel started walking in injustice, idolatry, immorality and bloodshed. What was the problem? Depravity. Israel, like the rest of mankind, had a heart set against God. They, like the rest of mankind, had sinned. As Romans 3:22-23 says, “There is no distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. Earlier in Romans 3, we are told, “They have turned away and have together become worthless” (Rom. 3:12). They, like all mankind, became worthless twigs which in spite of God’s care and nurturing (through the law, oracles, covenants, prophecies and temple ordinations) brought forth no fruit. Therefore Israel deserves nothing but the wrath and punishment of God. Now, this is catastrophic for all of humanity because God had promised to make Israel His heritage and through Israel bring the light of salvation to the Gentiles (Isa. 49:6). The salvation of the whole world depended on the salvation of Israel.
Despite Israel’s rebellion, God in His mercy kept His promise. God sent His Son Jesus as an Israelite, born under the law. He came as the true Israel (Gal. 3:16). He lived a perfectly righteous life. He fulfilled the law by obeying it and did not sin. He obeyed to the point of death on the cross, bearing the penalty of our sins, and rose again as the firstborn from the dead. He stood victorious over sin and death. Thus, He fulfilled the role of Israel as the Vine. Christ is living and has blossomed from the dead stump of Jesse, bearing the fruit of righteousness. (Isa. 11:1) In contrast, the nation of Israel was unable to produce lasting fruit. He is the ‘True’ Vine who fulfils the role of Israel.
If anyone is in Christ, he becomes a new creature, a living branch joined to the true vine.
You Are The BranchesAll those who believe in Christ and His works are spiritually united to Him. The true Israel consists of those Israelites who believed in Christ and the promises regarding Christ. Along with them, the Gentiles who believed in Christ have now been grafted in as God’s people. (Rom. 9:6-12, 11:11-31) The nation of Israel could not bear fruit through the law and became worthless. But by faith in the true Israel, that is Christ, they became new creatures (Rom. 8:3, 2 Cor. 5:17). So also, the Gentiles who were without God and without the law in this world were called through faith in Christ, along with Israelite believers, to become the one people of God (Eph. 2:11-18). Christ has paid the penalty on the cross for all those who believe in Him. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for them (Rom. 8:1). Christ rose again from the dead and all those who believe in Him have become spiritually alive with Him (Eph. 2:5-6). Moreover, all those who believe in Christ receive Christ’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, who enables them to bear fruit (Rom. 8:9, Gal. 5:22-23). Thus, we who were dead in our trespasses and could not bear fruit, can have hope that in Christ we can bear fruit. Christ is the true Israel, He is the mould for a new people of God. All those who are united to Him in faith become true Israelites that bear fruit for God. For the will of God is that we bear fruit. (Jn. 15:8)
Apart From Me, You Can Do NothingEvery branch that does not bear fruit, the Father, who is the perfect vinedresser, will remove and throw it into the fire (Jn. 15:2). Every able gardener removes lifeless and worthless twigs from his garden. They are good for nothing but to be collected and burnt. Anyone who is not bearing fruit and imaging God’s character will not be found in the kingdom of God. If anyone is not in Christ, then he cannot bear fruit. Therefore, no good can come apart from being united to Christ in faith. A dead twig cannot bear fruit by itself, there is no sap in it. If anyone is in Christ, he becomes a new creature, a living branch joined to the true vine. He draws the sap of life from Christ and has life abundantly (Jn. 10:10). Many have the appearance of being joined to the vine, but they are not, as there is no fruit. A dead twig can be superficially pasted on a trunk, but it will not bear fruit. Many are associated with ‘Christianity’, but their lives are continually in sin and there is no growth. This shows that they have not truly known Christ and are not relying on Him for their salvation. They are trying to bear fruit through their own works. Are you truly united to Christ in genuine repentance and faith? Are you bearing fruit for God? Are you growing in godliness? Repent and believe in Christ as your only Saviour.
Those who are truly in Christ and are united to Him will not have a passive attitude towards bearing fruit. But, they will cling to Christ in continual faith, prayer, and study of scripture. “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn.15:5) will continually fuel their desire to abide in Christ and His word. They, through prayer, will receive from Christ everything that they need to bear fruit (Jn. 15:7-8). They will abide in Christ’s love, love God, and keep His commandments (Jn. 15:9-10). They will work out their salvation with fear and trembling. Christian, are you abiding in Christ and His word?