Jesus once used an image of a gardener cultivating and pruning a grape vine to explain how God works in the lives of his people: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John15:1-2). The keeper of the vineyard has one goal – to see that every branch produces lots of grapes. He takes away, or probably more accurately, he takes up the vines that are lying on the ground and retrains them around the trellis. Lying on the ground the leaves get covered with mud and dust – not very conducive to producing grapes – so the vinedresser repositions the branches so they can produce. Grape vines create a lot of foliage but the gardener works hard to cut away the excess mass because if there is more room for the sunlight to come in, more grapes can be produced.
Jesus compares God to the vineyard owner. He compares himself to the grape vine, which is the trunk, the main part of the plant. Where do we Christians fit into this illustration? “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:5). We are compared to those long trailing limbs or branches that are attached to the trunk and spread out over the trellis. In our life we need to be lifted up and redirected from time to time so that we can bear fruit. Who does this? God does. In our life we need to be pruned from time to time to produce more fruit. Who does this? God does. The heavenly Vinedresser works in our lives to bring about his desired ends. He wants to see Christians bearing lots of fruit.
Which leads to the next question — what does it mean to bear fruit? What kind of fruit is he looking for in the lives of his people? As God works in us there are a variety of outcomes (fruitfulness) that he wants to see. God longs to see qualities of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23) in our lives. Fruitful Christians are those who abound in good works (acts of service and love towards others, which includes evangelism). Looked at from this perspective, what is the goal of the Christian life? Our goal as Christians is to bear fruit for God. Our goal is to glorify the Father, Son and Spirit. How are you doing? Are you bearing fruit that God wants to see? If not, what needs to change in your life? For under the right conditions, all who have received life from above can bear fruit.
How do we become fruitful Christians? On the one hand, bearing lots of fruit is a work of God, the “Vinedresser.” When we as branches fall into the mud (sin and idolatries of life) he disciplines us in love. When we bear some fruit he prepares us for greater fruitfulness (to have a greater impact in the world) by pruning us. This is good news! God is working in us! Without his labor in our lives we would be unfruitful.
But we also have a role to play in our ability to bear more and more fruit for God. Jesus emphasizes a way of living that is part of every Christian who bears much fruit. “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). As the vine sends its life into the branches so that they can bear fruit, we need to stay connected with Jesus to get the nourishment which he provides.
What does “abiding” mean in day to day living? A couple of quotes: “Abiding doesn’t measure how much you know about your faith or your Bible. In abiding, you seek, long for, thirst for, wait for, see, know, love, hear and respond to … a person” (Bruce Wilkinson). “This means that Christianity is not simply about believing the right things (though this is important). Nor is it simply a matter of living a Christ-like life (though this is important too). Christian experience must necessarily have a mystical, spiritual, non-quantifiable dimension” (Gary Burge).
When we are abiding in the vine, we are staying close to Jesus. Abiding in Christ means daily and regularly working on your relationship with the risen Lord Jesus. It means spending time with him and having his character rub off on you. It means feeling you are not only loved but liked, because of what the Spirit says to you in the Word and in prayer. It means getting your life in rhythm with his will, which can only come through quantities of relational time. Abiding in Christ is something that we must choose. It can’t be done for us. In order to be fruitful as disciples of Jesus, we have to make the decision to be devoted to spending time with the Lord and being with him so his life can flow through us. Are you in the vine or trying to minister out of your own resources? A branch not connected to the vine will bear no fruit.
Jeron Parkins is pastor of Living Water Bible Fellowship