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Lesson 80: Fulfilling Your Purpose in Life (John 15:1-6)

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January 25, 2015

A while back someone emailed me a link to a funny video that was in German; but you didn’t need to know German to get the point. A young woman asks her father how he likes the new iPad she gave him for his birthday. He says, “Good.” But then she watches him use his iPad as a cutting board for chopping his vegetables. She is horrified as he rinses it off in the sink and puts in the dishwasher! A caption in English informs us that no I-Pads were harmed in filming the episode.

In real life, it’s no laughing matter when you see something costly not being used to fulfill its intended purpose, or even worse, being used for something contrary to its purpose. In Buena Vista, Colorado, there is an old church building that is now being used as a visitor center and museum. How sad! A place that was built so that God’s people could gather to sing His praises and to hear His Word proclaimed is now being used for a far lesser purpose!

But the saddest of all is when people who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ fail to live for the purpose for which He saved them. They drift through life like the unredeemed people around them, living to accumulate more stuff that they think will make them happier before they die. But they never stop to consider what God wants them to do with the few precious years and the gifts that He gives them.

In our text, Jesus gives the disciples an extended allegory that reveals God’s purpose in saving them: He wants them to bear much fruit. Jesus pictures Himself as the true vine, the Father as the vinedresser, and the disciples as the branches. A man plants a vineyard for a different reason than he plants a flower garden. We plant flower gardens so that we can enjoy the beautiful flowers. But if you plant a vineyard, your purpose is to harvest a crop of grapes. Your goal is that your vineyard would bear a lot of fruit. If all it produces is flowers and leaves, your efforts in planting it have failed. So the Lord’s point in John 15:1-6 is:

Christ’s true followers abide in Him as branches in the true vine and so bear much fruit.

John 15 falls into three sections that reflect our priorities as a church and as individual believers. Our first priority is God-ward, and verses 1-11 focus on our relationship with Christ. Our second priority is to love one another, which is the point of verses 12-17. Our third priority is to proclaim the good news to the world, which is the focus of verses 18-27. But the point of the allegory of the vine and the branches is that we who follow Christ would abide in Him and bear much fruit. That’s our purpose as redeemed people. So we need to understand the parts of the analogy so that we can understand how to fulfill our God-given purpose.

1. Jesus Christ is the true vine and His Father is the vinedresser.

John 15:1: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.” This is the seventh and final “I am” claim of Jesus in John’s Gospel (John 6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 11; 11:25; 14:6). Why would Jesus use this analogy? What would the disciples have thought when they heard Jesus make this claim?

In the Old Testament, Israel is often referred to as God’s vine that He planted. It became a national symbol that was on some of their coins. There was a golden vine over the entrance to the temple. In Isaiah 5:1-7, the prophet paints a picture of the Lord planting a vineyard and expecting to find good grapes at the harvest, but it only produced worthless grapes. As a result, the Lord threatened to destroy the vineyard because it did not fulfill His intended purpose. Psalm 80 uses a similar analogy. God removed a vine from Egypt, planted it, and for a while it was prospering. But now the hedges that protected the vine are broken down and wild animals were ravaging the vineyard. So the psalmist cries out for God to turn again and take care of this vine that He planted so that it will again be fruitful. Other Old Testament prophets use the same analogy (Jer. 2:21; 6:8-9; Ezek. 17:6-10; 19:10-14; Hos. 10:1-2). In each case, Israel was God’s vine that He planted with the intention that it would bear fruit. But, they were disobedient and unfruitful.

But now Jesus claims to be the true vine. In John’s Gospel, we have already seen that Jesus is the true temple, the dwelling place of God with His people (John 2:13-22). Also, Jesus gives living water that Jacob’s well cannot give (John 4:1-42). Further, Jesus is the new Moses who supplies God’s people with true bread that comes down from heaven to give life to all that eat of it (John 6:32-58). In John 7, Jesus fulfills and supersedes the Feast of Tabernacles. John 8 & 9 picture what John 1:9 declared, that Jesus is the true light of the world. Thus when Jesus tells the disciples that He is the true vine, He means that unlike faithless Israel, Jesus is the ideal realization of all that God intended for His people. He is the epitome of what God wanted His people to be. Jesus brought forth the fruit that Israel failed to produce.

Then Jesus adds (John 15:1b), “My Father is the vinedresser.” He owns the vineyard and He takes care of the vines. He cuts off the dead branches and prunes the ones that bear fruit so that they will bear even more fruit. He is in control of the whole process and As the owner, He expects fruit from His vineyard and He does what is necessary for it to bear fruit.

2. Christ’s purpose for all branches in Him is that we bear much fruit.

Bearing fruit is a main theme in this analogy. We see it both negatively and positively in John 15:2: “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” The Lord also mentions bearing fruit in John 15:4 (2x), 5, 8, & 16 (2x). So, to understand this allegory, we need to know what Jesus means by fruit.

A. To bear fruit is to see God produce Christlikeness in you.

While the word is used widely in the New Testament, in this context it primarily refers to whatever the life of Christ produces in and through the believer who lives in close fellowship with Him. That includes obedience to Christ’s commandments, especially the command to love one another (John 15:10, 12). This extends to all godly behavior (Matt. 7:20; Rom. 6:21), such as repentance (Matt. 3:7) and conduct that is pleasing to the Lord (Eph. 5:9-10). It encompasses experiencing Jesus’ peace and joy (John 14:27; 15:11). Since love, joy, and peace are the first three fruits of the Spirit, we can extend the list to include the other fruits (Gal. 5:22-23): “patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” It also refers to seeing people come to Christ through your witness (John 4:36) and seeing them grow in Christ through your influence (Rom. 1:13). To sum it up, fruit is Christlike character, Christlike conduct, and Christlike converts.

Obviously, it takes time for fruit to grow. So don’t despair if you don’t see all of these qualities fully developed in your life yet. But if you are a Christian, you should see growth or progress in these things. You should be in the habit of obeying Christ. You should see the fruit of the Spirit increasing in your conduct. You should be hungering and thirsting after righteousness with increasing intensity. You should be looking for opportunities to tell others about the Savior. If you’re not seeing these fruits growing in your life, you need to figure out why not. Growth in Christlike fruit should be the normal experience of every Christian.

Also, the fruit that we produce will vary in amount and in kind according to our spiritual gifts. In the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:3-8), the good soil representing true believers bore fruit, but it varied: some bore a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. The soil that didn’t bear any fruit represents those who did not truly believe in Christ. Also, we’re all given different spiritual gifts and so our fruit will vary in kind. Determining your spiritual gift helps you to know where you should concentrate your efforts in serving the Lord. Those gifted in service will bear fruit that is different than those with speaking gifts. Both are vital. But we all should exercise our gifts to glorify God (1 Pet. 4:10-11).

So the overall point is both clear and important: God saved you to bear fruit for Jesus Christ. If you profess to be a Christian, but you aren’t bearing fruit, you need to examine yourself and make some course corrections before it’s too late. Here’s why:

B. The branches that do not bear fruit are cut off and thrown into the fire.

Two verses teach this: John 15:2a, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away….” And, John 15:6, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” But there is debate over the meaning of these verses, so we need to examine them more carefully.

Some understand verse 2 to teach that believers may lose their salvation. I hope that I don’t need to spend much time refuting that view, since it contradicts so many clear Scriptures. After all, eternal life is eternal, not temporary. In John 6:39-40, Jesus makes it clear that He will not lose any that the Father has given to Him, but will give them eternal life and raise them up on the last day. In John 10:28-29, Jesus said of His sheep, “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” Other Scriptures strongly affirm that God keeps all whom He saves unto eternal life (Rom. 8:28-36; Phil. 1:6, etc.).

Others interpret John 15:2 by emphasizing the phrase, “in Me.” They understand Jesus to be referring to true believers who are in Him. They interpret the verse in one of two ways. Some say that it refers to the sin unto death, where God disciplines sinning believers by removing them from this life (1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16). The problem is, Jesus says that the Father removes every branch in Him that doesn’t bear fruit, and that doesn’t seem to happen with sinning Christians. Others point out that the verb translated “takes away” also can mean, “lifts up.” They argue that it pictures a vinedresser propping up a branch that is drooping in the mud so that it gets light and air to help it begin to bear fruit. I used to hold that view, but now in light of verse 6, I don’t think it is what Jesus meant.

In the allegory, there are two types of branches: Some do not bear fruit and some bear fruit. Those that do not bear fruit are not fulfilling their purpose. They’re dead wood. They get cut off and thrown into the fire. They represent those who profess to believe in Jesus, but their lives give no evidence of saving faith. They don’t bear fruit. In the context, it would refer to Judas Iscariot, who professed to believe, followed Jesus for three years, and went out preaching in His name, but whose real god was greed.

In support of this, in verse 3 Jesus tells the eleven, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” That takes us back to John 13:10, where after the foot washing, Jesus said, “and you are clean, but not all of you.” John explains that He was referring to Judas as the unclean one. Judas was the unfruitful branch that was taken away and whose final end was to be cast into the fires of hell.

But then, what about the phrase “in Me”? That sounds like it describes someone who is a true believer. But this is an allegory or analogy, and you can’t press every point in such figures of speech. Also, in Matthew 3:7-10, John the Baptist reams out the Pharisees who thought that being children of Abraham would get them into God’s kingdom, even though their lives did not bear the fruit of repentance. He tells them (Matt. 3:10b), “Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Also, in Romans 11, the apostle Paul pictures Israel as an olive tree, where some branches were broken off because of unbelief, while the believing Gentiles were grafted in. The Jewish branches who thought that they had a sure place in God’s kingdom because of their Jewish religion, but who rejected Christ, would be cut off. Only those who truly believe in Him will be saved.

Since Jesus is the true vine, the fulfillment of how Israel is pictured in the Old Testament, the branches in Him that are taken away and cast into the fire do not represent true believers, but rather those who think that they’re Christians because they go to church. But they lack the genuine evidence that they are believers; they lack the fruit of Christlikeness in their lives. They are like those that James speaks about who say they have faith, but have no works. Their claim is bogus.

But, what about the branches that do bear fruit?

C. The branches that bear fruit are pruned so that they will bear more fruit and much fruit.

Note the progression: In verse 2, the Father prunes the branches that bear fruit so that they will bear more fruit. In verse 5, the branches that abide in Christ bear much fruit. This points to the process involved in bearing fruit, which takes time. At first, you will bear some fruit. But as time goes on, you should bear more fruit. Finally, the vinedresser wants you to bear much fruit.

To accomplish this, Jesus cleans you with His word and the vinedresser prunes you. Jesus says (John 15:3), “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” Clean is the noun in Greek related to the verb “prunes” in verse 2. As I understand it, Jesus is saying that the word He has spoken to them has already “cleaned” them in the sense of salvation. Their sins are forgiven. It’s comparable to the bath in John 13:10, which cleansed them all over. But the Father further “cleans” (or prunes) them repeatedly, so that they will become more fruitful. This is comparable to the repeated foot washing that is necessary to walk in fellowship with the Lord. The pruning is the essential discipline that all true children of God must experience if they are to grow “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11).

I’m not much of a gardener and apparently neither is Bruce Wilkinson. In his book, Secrets of the Vine ([Multnomah Publishers], pp. 55-57), he tells about moving to the country one spring. The fence that he shared with his neighbor had a large grape vine on it and he and his family were looking forward to enjoying some nice grapes that fall. But a few days moving in, he noticed the neighbor out there hacking away at the vine with some large shears. He was worried that his neighbor was going to kill the vine!

Trying to be diplomatic, he walked over and asked the neighbor, “You don’t like grapes, I guess?” “Love grapes,” he replied. Bruce tried to express his hopes that they could share some of the grapes, but his confusion and disappointment over what the neighbor was doing was obvious. After observing that he was a city boy and surmising that he didn’t know much about grapes, the neighbor explained, “Well, son, we can either grow ourselves a lot of beautiful leaves filling up this whole fence line. Or we can have the biggest, juiciest, sweetest grapes you and your family have ever seen. We just can’t have both.” He knew that to bear good fruit, that vine had to be pruned.

And you can’t bear fruit for the Lord unless the heavenly Gardener prunes your life. Pruning isn’t very pleasant when it happens, but it yields a bigger, better crop of fruit in the long run. The fact is, when we come into the Christian life, we all bring a lot of the flesh and the world with us. God is gracious not to hack it all away at once, or we’d bleed to death! But if you want to be like Christ, it’s got to go. If that sounds unpleasant, keep in mind that His aim is that His joy would be in us and our joy would be made full (John 15:11). But you’ve got to submit to the pruning process, trusting that the Father knows what He’s doing.

But there’s one other key concept in these verses that shows our responsibility if we want to bear fruit:

3. As branches in the true vine, we must abide in Christ.

The verb “abide” (or, “remain”) is used 11 times in John 15, 40 times in John’s Gospel, and 27 times in John’s epistles (Edwin Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. by John Walvoord and Roy Zuck [Victor Books], 2:325). The sense of Jesus’ words (John 15:4), “Abide in Me, and I in you,” is probably, “Abide in me, and see that I abide in you” (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 670). In other words, “Live in such a manner that you are at home in Me and that I am at home in you.” It’s much the same as in John 14:23, where Jesus said that both He and the Father would come to the one who keeps His word and make their home with him.

Inherent in that concept is that we are in a long-term, close, growing relationship with Jesus Christ (see James Rosscup, Abiding in Christ [Zondervan], pp. 108-109). Jesus is looking at the overall direction of our lives. To know Him as Savior and Lord means that we invite Him to move into our lives and live there as the permanent Lord of all we are and do (Eph. 3:17). As He lives there, we don’t do anything that would make Him uncomfortable to be there. We let Him clean out the garbage that offends Him. The longer He lives with us, the closer we grow to know and love Him. As we saw in John 14:21, Jesus promises to love and to disclose Himself to the one who has and obeys His commandments.

The abiding relationship also implies dependence on Christ, as His words (John 15:5) indicate, “For apart from Me, you can do nothing.” He means that apart from dependence on Him, we can’t bear good fruit that remains (John 15:16). But abiding is not an effortless, passive matter, as it sometimes is taught: “Just as the branch effortlessly lets the life of the vine flow through it, so you are to do nothing.” I’ve heard it said, “If you’re striving, you’re not abiding.” That kind of teaching is out of balance. The Bible talks about the need to strive against sin (Heb. 12:4). Paul said that he labored and strived for Christ, but added that he did so “according to His power, which mightily works within me” (Col. 1:29). He pictured the Christian life as a battle, a fight, and an athletic contest (Eph. 6:10-12, 1 Cor. 9:26-27; 2 Tim. 4:7).

The New Schofield Reference Bible ([Oxford University Press], p. 1148) helpfully explains what it means to abide:

To abide in Christ is, on the one hand, to have no known sin unjudged and unconfessed, no interest into which He is not brought, no life which He cannot share. On the other hand, the abiding one takes all burdens to Him, and draws all wisdom, life, and strength from Him. It is not unceasing consciousness of these things, and of Him, but that nothing is allowed in the life which separates from Him.

Conclusion

So our Lord’s words should cause us all to ask, “Am I bearing fruit for His kingdom? Am I joyfully submitting to His loving pruning in my life? Am I daily abiding in Christ, making Him at home in my heart?” That’s the purpose for which He saved you. Don’t live for anything less!

Application Questions

  1. Is bearing fruit for Christ your purpose in life? What fruit has Christ produced in your life since you trusted in Him?
  2. How can a Christian discover his spiritual gift? How important is it to determine what your gift is?
  3. What may be healthy and what is unhealthy about comparing your “fruit” with that of other believers?
  4. What ungodly activities, relationships, or priorities do you need to prune out of your life so that the Lord doesn’t have to do it? Prioritize them and work out a plan to get started.

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2015, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Discipleship

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