The fruitful life (The Gospel of John, Chapter 15)
By Rev. Kevin Cauley, Pastor, Darlington Presbyterian Church
Lou Holtz once said, “In this world you’re either growing or you’re dying, so get in motion and grow.” Are you growing or dying? Jesus invites us to grow through intimacy with God. He tells of a bountiful vineyard cared for by a Gardener who carefully tends to a healthy vine and its branches. When Jesus says, “I am the vine, and you are the branches,” what does Jesus mean? The vine is the means by which branches bear fruit. The vine is the stalk that connects all the branches. The vine holds each branch close to the vine itself. Without this connection, the vine brings no life to the branch. Jesus is saying that He is the vital connection that holds us close to Him to give us life. This is why the vine is primary. Our role, as a branch, is to abide in Him by trusting Him to abide in us. Another primary role of the vine is to provide nourishment. The vine transports the vital nutrients so the branches will bear fruit. All that we need, as branches, to grow spiritually and to bear fruit is provided by Him. Have we ever considered that our frustration with our own spiritual growth is we are trying to provide our own nutrients? The well within us always comes up dry. Jesus is saying, as we remain vitally connected to Him, His life supplies to us all we need. As a mere branch, we each depend wholly upon Him to nourish us for growth. The most amazing truth about the vine’s role is He takes responsibility for the branches’ fruitfulness. In the past, I read Jesus’ words, as if a fruitful life was my primary responsibility. But when Jesus says, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (15:5), He teaches us our fruitfulness depends wholly on Him. So, the vine is primary, and the branch is secondary, which means He connects us to Himself, He gives us the nourishment for life, and He takes responsibility for my fruitfulness. If all this is true, and it is, what is our role? Our role is to abide in Him, and He abide in us. Do you remember when you first came to Christ and the joy of His pardoning your sin, and His placing your feet on a new path? Can you remember the freshness of that first moment when the Holy Spirit opened your life to trust Him to do this in you? At some point, we lose that freshness because beginning in faith in Christ, we seek by our effort to live the new life. At this point, we stopped abiding in Him and our joy in Him left us. Yes, “we are justified by faith”, which means God forgives our sins and brings us into new relationship with Him (Romans 3:28). But having been justified by faith, do we go on by trusting our own works? This is not what is meant by abiding. Abiding means having begun with faith in Christ, we continue to live by faith in Christ. “The just (those who are justified) shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17). Could this be why we are frustrated that we are not growing spiritually? So how do we once again abide in Christ, that He abide in us? We live by faith that Christ, the Vine, holds us close to Himself, gives the nourishment that feeds our growth, and trust Him to make us fruitful. Abiding in Him means continuing to live by faith in Him to do all that He says He will do for us. As you trusted Him to forgive you, will you continue to trust Him to bear fruit in you? Have you considered how essential to our fruitfulness are the tender hands of Jesus’ Father, the Gardner? How easy it is to pass over the Gardner to reflect on the joy of abiding in Jesus, as the True Vine? Yes, without our abiding in Jesus and His abiding in us, we can’t bear fruit. Yet, without our Heavenly Father as the Gardner, we can’t bear fruit either. As we think on this truth, we see how wonderfully the True Vine and the Gardner care for us. The Father’s chief concern is for the True Vine’s fruitfulness. He carefully tends to every part of the Vine, which includes close examination of each branch. His hands tenderly check each branch of the Vine, to take away the fruitless branches and to prune the fruit bearing branches. Can you imagine a more tender image of the Father’s love who carefully tends to every detail that our lives may be fruitful? Charles Spurgeon reminds us that twice in Isaiah 27:3 that “The Lord promises action, saying, I water, and I keep. . .. If He says He will do something, what room is there for doubt? With His Word, we can face the hosts of sin, death, and hell.” We know that our Heavenly Father will bear fruit in us and through us. As we think about His unending care for us, is there anything to keep us from abiding in Christ to bear fruit in Him? What about my busy schedules? The Father cares for the vine and the branches even in our busyness. We abide in Jesus by always remembering (no matter our schedule) to trust His Father is tending to the vine and the branches. Yes, but what about my struggle with sin? The Father’s loving care prunes all that doesn’t bear fruit. It’s not a pleasant experience to be pruned of the sin we love so much. As the branch is freshly cleaned, and fruit is produced, the unpleasant experience of pruning gives way to the joy of the Vine’s fruitfulness through the branches. We are either growing or dying. My prayer is for each of us to abide in Christ that may we grow as He bears much fruit in us.