"I am the vine; you are the branches."
-- John 15:4, ESV
Jesus Christ came, the first time, to fulfill the Old Covenant and inaugurate the New Covenant. He came to embody Israel's role of suffering servant and fruit-bearing vine. By His own sacrifice as the servant, He becomes the vine that unites people with God from every race and nation. God is the vine, and the branches are His people, but only after a purging and pruning take place.
The vine is God in three persons
For the seventh of seven times recorded by John, Jesus proclaims, "I Am." It is a declaration of deity. The one vine is one God, in three persons. The vine precedes and produces the branches, just as the God comes before and creates the human race. The vine makes the branches in the vine's own image, some of which fall off the vine while others abide, or remain, or persevere.
The Father is a sovereign over the vine, choosing which branches will live (vs. 16; Ephesians 1:4), then pruning them by His providence so they will bear fruit. The other, unfruitful branches are purged and burned. The vine is His.
And, the vine is Him. The vinedresser and the vine are one, the eternal Father manifesting Himself in the begotten Son so that the vine can be seen, heard, touched, and connected to the branches. The branches come to the Father through the Son.
The Spirit of the vine is the Holy Spirit, who like the Father is invisible, but indispensable to the triunity of God and the propagation of living and healthy branches. The word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, inspired by the Spirit, runs through the vine, connecting branches with the Son, uniting them with the Father, the vine and the branches.
The branches are people in two groups
Jesus says less of one group than the other, for He clearly favors one over the other. Yes, God shows favoritism, like Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, and the elect over the reprobate. He does not favor based on rich over poor, nor black over white, nor even Jew over Gentile. He favors, or gives grace, to the saved over the lost.
There are two things that separate the lost and the saved. In this text, they are abiding faith (11 references to "abide" in the text) and abundant fruit (8 references). One produces the other in the good branches, while the bad branches wither and die due to the lack thereof.
Lost people bear no fruit because they have no faith. This includes people of no faith and people of bad faith. The faithless are obvious, while bad faith can be disguised in the clothing of religion, even the Christian religion, by nominals and hypocrites.
Little more is said of these branches except the obvious and terrible. They produce nothing of lasting value on earth and their eternal destiny is fire. Fire is symbolic, speaking of final judgment, a cessation to matter, an eternity apart from the life and love of God.
Much more is said about the living branches. They are gifted with the abiding faith that produces abundant fruit. God makes much of them in this text, for they exhibit lives that make much of God.
To the true branches God prunes, or convicts us deeply of our sins, which produces repentance and growth. God cleanses our hearts through regeneration, producing faith and trust. God abides in us through the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This enables true Christians to bear fruit and exhibit a growing relationship with Christ throughout life. They remain in Christ and in His church, persevering as saints. Their faith is in Christ, their love is for God and one another, and their obedience is a glad submissiveness to God's word. They remain with the God who remains with them, for them, in them, bringing them ultimately to the glory of Heaven.
If you want assurance that you are a Christian, you must be a fruit-bearing branch of Christ. You must take from the vine the nourishment of the word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. You must bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, and making disciples for Christ. You must profess faith and practice faith. "For apart from Me," Jesus said, "You can do nothing." But if you have Jesus Christ, the vine, you are a branch who is blessed beyond measure.
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected]