Pastor David B. Curtis

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Abiding in Christ

John 15:01-06 (as part of 1 John series)

Delivered 09/08/19

In our last study of 1 John we looked at verses 20 thru 25 of chapter 2. Notice again what John said in verse 24:

Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 1 John 2:24 ESV

What stands out to you in this verse? Do you notice that John uses the word “abide” three times? In chapter 2, John uses “abide” or “abides” ten times. This is a major theme for John. 1 John is all about fellowship, which is equivalent to abiding. So, what I want to do for our study this morning is to go back to the Gospel of John and look again at what Yeshua taught his disciples about the importance of abiding.

Chapters 13-17 of the Gospel of John form a division which we call the "Upper Room Discourse." The "Upper Room Discourse" is something that is not contained in the Synoptics. It represents four chapters of teaching from the Lord to His disciples in the final hours of His earthly life and is climaxed by the great high priestly prayer in chapter 17. This section is about the subject of love—the love of Yeshua for His own.

The first 17 verses of chapter 15 can be divided this way: verses 1-6 presenting the metaphor of the Vine and the branches and verses 7-17 making the application. The theme of this section is clearly fruit bearing. The word fruit occurs eight times in these seventeen verses.  It only occurs two other times in this Gospel.

Some think that the teaching on the Vine and branches is a parable, but I don't see it that way. I see this teaching as a metaphor and not a parable. A parable uses a story to convey a deeper message. Whereas metaphors refer to one subject, the actual subject is something else entirely. I think this distinction is important because in a parable all the details are not important. J.C. Ryle states, "The general lesson of each parable is the main thing to be noticed. The minor details must not be tortured and pressed to an excess in order to extract a meaning from them" [Expository Thoughts on John's Gospel, 195].

What we have in our text is didactic teaching using a metaphor, therefore, I think the details are important. To some degree, this Vine and Branches metaphor is similar to the Head-Body metaphor used by Paul with Christ as Head and believers as members of the Body. Both metaphors bring out the vital and necessary connection which exists between Christ and believers.

It is my understanding that this passage on fruit bearing deals with the subject of discipleship. Fruit bearing is a mark of discipleship:

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. John 15:8 ESV

The problem is that most people don't see any distinction between a Christian and a disciple. They incorrectly think that "believer" and "disciple" are synonymous. But these are two different terms describing two different groups of people in relation to Yeshua.

A person becomes a Christian when he understands and believes the Gospel of Yeshua, who is the Christ. At that moment, the believer is placed into the body of Christ, given Christ's righteousness, indwelt by God, and is as sure of heaven as if he were already there. He is "in Christ."

The Scriptures make it quite clear that salvation is a free gift of God's grace, but the Scriptures also teach that discipleship is costly. Salvation is our birth into the Christian life while discipleship is our education and maturity in the Christian life. Compare these two texts:

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 ESV

Eternal life is a gift of grace to all who believe. Do you see any cost involved here? Do you see any labor or agony? But now notice:

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:33 ESV

Discipleship is a call to forsake all and follow Christ. Can this be talking about the same thing as John 3:16? I don't see how.

Disciple is from the Greek, mathetes, which literally means "a learner or follower." In the Hebrew culture of John’s day, a disciple was someone who more than anything else in the world wanted to be like his teacher. A disciple remains a disciple as long as he or she continues to follow the instruction of his or her teacher. When a person stops following faithfully, he or she ceases to be a disciple. Mathetes is the most common designation in the Gospels for the followers of Yeshua. Outside the Gospels, it is found only in Acts.

I see discipleship (i.e. being a follower or learner of Christ), as a conditional relationship that can be interrupted or terminated after it has begun. All Christians are called to be disciples, learners, or followers, but many are not willing to pay the price. Discipleship is costly! A follower of Christ will be living like Christ lived.

In John 15, Yeshua is addressing His followers—His disciples. His words were not to the unsaved and not to a mixed audience of believers and unbelievers. John speaks here to believers and to believers alone. The central theme of chapter 15 is not about how salvation is obtained.  And it certainly does not support the false teaching that salvation can be lost. The theme is fruit-bearing, discipleship, and the conditions of fertility.

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. John 15:1 ESV

"I am the true vine"—what do these words initially say to you? If Yeshua says that He is the true vine, what does that tell us? He is proclaiming Himself as the “true vine” in contrast to a vine that was not true. The word "true" here is from the Greek, alethinos, which means "opposite to what is imperfect, defective, frail, uncertain." The word for althinos as used in John means "real" or "genuine." So, who or what is the vine that was not true? In the Old Covenant the vine is the symbol of Israel as Yahweh's Covenant People.

You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. Psalms 80:8-9 ESV

When talking about the "vine," we are dealing with language and imagery that had special significance for the Jew. What would the disciples have thought when they heard Yeshua make this claim? A vine was so much more than just a common sight for the Jews; it had been used as a word picture of God's people in the Tanakh.

Yeshua identifies Himself, not Judah/Israel, as the genuine "True Vine." Christ is now the "Vine," and those of Old Covenant Israel who believe in Him are now a part of the "True Vine" and members of the New Israel—the New Covenant Church. It is this faithful remnant of the old Israel who is now the new Israel of a new and everlasting covenant.

In claiming to be the "true vine,” Yeshua viewed Himself as the fulfillment of Israel. Yeshua was the true Israel and Yeshua's followers were the true Israelites. This claim is an exclusive claim. It prohibits and denies the existence of any valid and viable alternative.

Yeshua is, in effect, declaring that a person is no longer part of God's people simply by being joined to the nation of Israel.  To be one of God’s people, a person needs to be joined to Him—to the true vine, the true Israel.

Yeshua uses the vine metaphorically of Himself. We cannot escape the inference that Yeshua viewed Himself as the fulfillment of Israel. Yeshua supersedes Israel as the very locus of the people of God. He is the true "vine," the full and final revelation of all that the "vine" anticipated and foreshadowed in the Old Covenant.

The imagery of the vine underscores the importance of fruitfulness in the Christian life and the truth that this results not from human achievement but from one's relationship to Christ. The vine is the source of everything for the branch. And in order for the branch to produce fruit, all it has to do is to be attached to the vine.

"My Father is the vinedresser"—the word "vinedresser" here is from the Greek word, georgos, which means "earth worker, one who is a farmer or one who tills the soil." In this context, it refers to one who is a vinedresser or who is an expert at caring for the vines. As the owner, He expects fruit from His vineyard, and He does what is necessary for it to bear fruit.

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. John 15:2 ESV

Most of the disciples would have understood the basics of viticulture that Yeshua described here. Every year, the vine branches would be pruned back to allow for more growth, suckers and entangling weeds would be removed, and the farmer would also cut out the vine branches that had died and produced no fruit.

Yeshua is using a play on two similar-sounding Greek verbs which we translate as “takes away” from the Greek airo and “prunes” which is from the Greek kathairo.  In  the next verse He will use the adjective “clean” from the Greek katharos, which corresponds to the second verb and unites the idea of cutting with cleansing or purifying.

If God the Son is the True Vine, and God the Father is the Vinedresser who prunes and maintains the branches, what do the branches represent? The branches here are believers; they are those who have trusted Christ. I'll prove this in a minute, so hang on.

What is the fruit that the branches bear? In this metaphor it is a life of obedience to the teaching of Christ, especially the commandment to love one another as Christ has loved us.

"Every branch in me"—Yeshua is the vine; His disciples are the branches. The branches derive their life from the vine; the vine produces its fruit through the branches.

The phrase "in Me" is used 16 times in this Gospel and in each case, it refers to union with Christ. So far as I know, that expression is never used of a non-Christian. A person "in Me" is always a Christian. This is not a parable. The details matter.

Notice what happens to the branch that doesn't bear fruit. "Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away"—the Greek word translated here as "takes away" is airo, which can mean "to take away" or "to lift up." In Johannine usage, the word occurs in the sense of "lift up" in 8:59 and 5:8-12 but in the sense of "remove" in 11:39, 11:48, 16:22, and 17:15.

Those who interpret it here as meaning to "take away" (in judgment), believe that either the believer loses his salvation or the believer loses his reward—possibly even his life. Those who interpret airo to mean "to lift up," believe that these branches get special attention from the vinedresser, so they will bear fruit in the future. In viticulture, this involves lifting the branch off of the ground so that it will not send secondary roots down into the ground. This would prove to be unhealthful. Lifting the branch off of the ground onto a pole or trellis enables air to dry the branch and, thereby, prevents it from getting moldy and becoming diseased and unfruitful.

I believe airo is used here with the meaning of “lifting up” because such a rendering coincides with the common practice of vinedressers who in the spring of the year both "lifted up" unfruitful branches and "pruned" fruitful branches of grapevines.

"And every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit"—the Greek used for "prunes" is kathairo, which means "cleanses." The word kathairo is used both in agriculture for pruning and in religious contexts for purification or cleansing. The word was used by Philo for pruning grapevines (BDBD, 386). It is found only here in the New Testament. It is another word chosen by Yeshua for its dual connotations (i.e. pruning and cleansing, cf. John 15:3; 13:10).

The farmer would prune away fruitless branches so that the vine's strength would go into the fruitful branches. He pruned the weakest vines most thoroughly for the sake of bearing greater fruit in the long run. Most of the prunings during the year trimmed fruitful branches to strengthen them, but the severest annual pruning cut off the completely fruitless branches.

Grapevines are more plentiful if pruned. The Father prunes or cuts back the branches that bear fruit so that they will produce even more fruit. The pruning may refer to hardship that (eventually) produces faithfulness and closer relationship with God, such as the disciples are about to experience. No fruit-bearing branch is exempt. But the Father's purpose is loving—it is intended so that each branch will be even more fruitful.  But the procedure may be painful. The thought is similar to Hebrews 12:4-11.

Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. John 15:3 ESV

Who is the "you"? It is all the disciples that are in the upper room. What does He mean by "you are clean"? To understand exactly what He means by this, we need to look back at chapter 13.

Peter said to him, "You shall never wash my feet." Yeshua answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Yeshua said to him, "The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you." John 13:8-10 ESV

"Clean" here refers to salvation. Not all of them were clean because Judas was with them. One writer wrongly contends that "Judas was the unfruitful branch that was taken away and whose final end was to be cast into the fires of hell." But in reality, Judas was taken away because he was an unbeliever and not because he didn't bear fruit. In chapter 15, Yeshua simply tells them: "already you are clean." He is talking to His children; they were believers.

The term "prunes" (kathairo) in John 15:2 is the same Greek root as "clean" (katharos). This entire context contains the evidences of true discipleship. The term "already" is emphasized in the Greek text which gave the remaining disciples confidence of their secure position in Christ.

"Because of the word that I have spoken to you"—the "word" here is logos.  The word of the Living Word has purified them. Logos here means the entire sum of Yeshua's teaching.

Spurgeon explained it like this: "It is the Word that prunes the Christian. It is the truth that purges him. The Scripture made living and powerful by the Holy Spirit eventually and effectively cleanses the Christian." He goes on to say, "Affliction is the handle of the knife. Affliction is the grindstone that sharpens the knife. But the knife is the Word."

So Yeshua then tells His children—those who are clean, those who have believed in Him:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. John 15:4 ESV

Yeshua is telling believers to abide in Him. The verb "abide" is the Greek meno. It is used 11 times in John 15, 40 times in John's Gospel, and 27 times in John's Epistles. This is a major theological term for Yeshua.

"Abide in me"—that's a strong word in the original text. It's in a tense that expresses a decisive command. It is the active voice which indicates that it is something we are expected to do. We initiate that. Believers are commanded to abide in Christ. That's clear enough. But what exactly does it mean to abide? Well, the word “abide” is used with the meaning of “dwelling” in other parts in this Gospel. Yeshua is saying. "Keep close to me." In other places, it is the word, "Follow me," "do what I say," "obey my commands." Christians are exhorted to abide in Christ because this privilege and duty may be neglected, and very often is.

So, to abide in Christ is to dwell in Christ. We do this by spending time in His Word, by spending time in prayer, and by walking in obedience:

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. John 15:10 ESV

To be in Him (every branch "in Me") comes when we believe in the Lord Yeshua. Being in Him is union with Him. To abide in Him is communion with Him. Being in Him is the source of life. Abiding is the source of fruit. So, we come to be in Christ through faith, but through abiding in Him, dwelling in Him, fruit is produced. A.W. Pink wrote, "Now abiding always has reference to fellowship, and only those who have been born again are capable of having fellowship with the Father and His Son." [Pink, 2:394].

So many Christians believe they're saved by grace, but then they have to work in their own strength to please the Lord in the Christian life. But that is to deny the principle of grace. That is to deny the fact that without Him we can do nothing. So, we are saved by grace, by sovereign grace. We are also sanctified by His sovereign grace.

You may have heard it said, "If you're striving, you're not abiding." I don't think that that is necessarily true. I think at times we have to strive to abide because the flesh and the world are constantly pulling us away from fellowship in Christ. Paul told Timothy:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7 ESV

Abiding involves discipline and striving, but we do all this in dependence upon Him. The branches are to make a deliberate effort (indicated by the imperative verb "abide") to maintain a close personal relationship to the true vine.

If we think of abiding in terms of a good marriage, it may help us understand. Marriage is to be a lifelong relationship in which the husband and wife grow closer to each other over the years. But it doesn't often work that way. Those who have been married for a while know that it takes work to have a good marriage. If you don't constantly work at your marriage, you and your spouse will drift apart and eventually there will be no relationship at all.

I believe that same principle is true of abiding in Christ. There will be times when you feel really close to Christ while at other times you may feel very distant. The key is to make our home in Christ and to continually be spending time with Him. We have to always be working on our relationship with the Lord. You can't put it on autopilot.

In verse 4 He said:

Abide in me, and I in you… John 15:4 ESV

In verse 7 He says:

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you… John 15:7 ESV

So, in verse 7 the phrase, "My words abide in you," is substituted for the phrase in verse 4, "I in you." So we could say that for Christ to abide in us is for His Word to abide in us. That is why it is so important for us to spend time in the Word of God. You cannot abide in Christ if His Word does not abide in you.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. John 15:4 ESV

Our text says, "unless it abides. . .unless you abide.” These are both third-class conditional sentences which indicate potential action. Our spiritual effectiveness is linked to our continuing relationship with Yeshua:

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. John 15:5 ESV

So Yeshua tells these believers to abide in Him, and if they do, they will bear much fruit. Yeshua had spoken of no fruit (v. 2), some fruit (v. 2), more fruit (v. 2), and now He speaks of "much fruit" (v. 5). The more you abide, the more fruit you produce.

The branches will produce nothing unless they remain connected to the vine from which their life and sustenance flow. As far as the disciples are concerned, they will produce no fruit from themselves if they do not remain in a dependent relationship with Yeshua. He is the source of all life and productivity for the disciple.

"Apart from me you can do nothing"—this does not mean you are unable to function. You can do many things without a dependence on Christ. You can raise a family without Him. You can run a business without Him. You can be very active, even as a Christian. You can fill your days with tremendous activity and busyness, but without dependence on Him, you will not become Christ-like. You will have achieved, "nothing" in God's sight. Here is the balance of the Christian life. Without dependence, discipline is barren. Discipline is necessary, but so is dependence. You need to expect God to work. There must be a sense of His presence with you, a consciousness that He is willing to work through you, and the patience to let Him work in His own way.

It is not a question of your sufficiency, but is rather a matter of admitting your insufficiency. No figure could more forcefully express the complete dependence of the believer on Christ for all fruit bearing than this.

So those who are saved are called to abide. What happens if they don't abide?

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. John 15:6 ESV

"If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away"—this is a third-class conditional sentence. Maybe you will abide; maybe you won't. The "anyone" in the context would be any believer. Therefore, what He said applies to believers, not unbelievers. But some, in order to escape the severity of what is said, say that this is referring to unbelievers. They contend that these fruitless branches represent those who profess to believe in Yeshua, but their lives give no evidence of saving faith. They do not bear fruit. They claim that in the context, Jeshua was referring to Judas Iscariot who professed to believe, followed Yeshua for three years, went out preaching in His name, but who was never saved.

The Faithlife Study Bible says, "Jesus is referring to those who choose not to accept Him as Savior. The dead branches are people who are useless to God's work—people like Judas, who chose to reject Yeshua when faced with the truth (13:2)."

Hall Harris writes, "We conclude, therefore, that the branches who do not bear fruit and are taken away and burned are not genuine believers. They are those who profess some sort of allegiance to Jesus but who in reality do not belong to Him. In the Gospel of John, the primary example of this category is Judas."

Well first of all, to abide is to bear fruit. Judas couldn't bear fruit and neither can any other unbeliever. Yeshua is not telling unbelievers to abide in Him. They cannot! It is believers (you are clean) who are told to abide. So, this cannot be talking about unbelievers. No unbelievers are there with Yeshua and His disciples. No one is hearing this except believers.

Then you have some who understand this to teach that believers may lose their salvation. Let me say this—and I don't mean to be rude or insulting—but if you think you can lose your salvation, you do not understand what salvation is!

Look at what Yeshua has already taught in the Gospel:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. John 6:37 ESV

"All that the Father gives me will come to me"—the word "gives" is a word of destiny. It's divine sovereign election. The concept of the elect being a love gift from the Father to the Son is taught throughout Scripture. In this chapter that "coming to Christ" and "believing in Christ" are synonyms.

"Whoever comes to me I will never cast out"—this is speaking of eternal security—that salvation is secure. Just as I did nothing to get my salvation (I was given and drawn by the Father), I can do nothing to keep it or lose it. I am eternally secure in His electing love. If any part of my eternal salvation depends upon my power and ability and commitment and righteousness, I'm damned Because if I could lose my salvation, I would. And so would you.

And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." John 6:39-40 ESV

Yeshua 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. If one individual that the Father gave to the Son failed to reach heaven, it would be a disgrace for the Son because it would indicate His inability or unwillingness to fulfill the Father's will. If you are a believer, you are secure; you can never lose your salvation.

I give them eternal life, 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. John 10:28-29 ESV

Other Scriptures strongly affirm that God keeps all whom He saves unto eternal life. Romans 8 teaches us that salvation is an eternal matter in which nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate from the love of God in Christ Yeshua. 1 Peter 1 teaches us that we are kept by the power of God unto a salvation.

So, John 15:6 is not talking about the loss of salvation. Salvation cannot be lost. So, what is it talking about? I see this as talking to believers about the discipline that they will incur if they don't abide in Christ.

The single most serious failure in the interpretation of the New Testament has been the eviscerating of its warning passages. The word "eviscerate" comes from "e," meaning "out," and "viscera" meaning "bowels" thus "to rip the guts out, to deprive of an essential part." If you interpret these warnings as applying to unbelievers, you miss their force and salutary effect.

I see verse 6 as talking about believers who will not abide in Christ and would, therefore, be taken away for disciplinary action by the Lord God. In other words, if as believers we do not bear fruit and if our life is characterized by persistent rebellion against the Lord God, then discipline takes place in the family of God just as it did in Corinth when believers’ abused the Lord's Supper:

For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 1 Corinthians 11:29-30 ESV

In other words, discipline can ultimately end in physical death. Let us remember what our Lord said about the unforgiving brother?

And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. Matthew 18:34 ESV

"Jailers" here is a weak translation. The Greek tem is basanistes, meaning "torturers."

The debtor, formerly relieved by his master of his indebtedness, was made to pay what was due when he refused to forgive his own debtor. Until he forgave, he would be turned over to the torturers. The man was disciplined by the king. In the same way, when we fail to forgive, we should also expect torturous discipline.

What does Yeshua mean by, "handed him over to the torturers?" I believe that He is referring to the physical and mental pain that God brings upon His disobedient sinning children. You really cannot afford to withhold forgiveness because of the high cost of unforgiveness. There are physical consequences to not forgiving others.

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. John 15:6 ESV

Is Yeshua saying that if His disciples don't abide in Him, they will burn in hell? No, in the context of this verse, Yeshua is telling His disciples (Judas had already left)—whom He knows are saved—about bearing much fruit for Him. He is not talking to a group that includes the unsaved. If any of His disciples do not abide in Him, those disciples will be disciplined.

Then what does the "fire" represent? This is a figure remember. Yeshua is explaining what takes place through figurative language. Had He been speaking to a crowd that included the unsaved, this fire could have been the fire of AD 70 judgment. But the audience here is Yeshua's saved disciples.  The fire, then, is one that speaks of discipline. "Fire" is a common symbol that occurs throughout Scripture to describe the judgment of both believers and unbelievers. So, understanding it in that way, we see that our Lord is talking about disciplinary action made necessary because those who are in the vine are not producing fruit.

save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. Jude 1:23 ESV

They are seriously endangered; they are in the fire. Their fellow believers have to go actively, "snatching them away" from the fire before they get burned. The fire refers to divine discipline.

John MacArthur writes, "This then is about the nature of genuine salvation." No, it is not. The subject in John 15:6 is the bearing of fruit and not eternal life, and the burning is a judgment upon fruitlessness, not an abandonment to eternal destruction. The mention of "fire" is only incidental because vinedressers burned the branches they cut off in the fall pruning. Yeshua's point was that some Christians are as useless to God as these branches were to vine growers.

Many interpreters have taken verse 6 as an exposition of verse 2. However, the viticulture process that Yeshua described in verse 6 took place in the fall, whereas the process He mentioned in verse 2 happened in the spring.

Believers, we are all called to abide in Christ and to, therefore, bear fruit. If we fail to do this, it will cost us in this life. We need to abide or we will be disciplined.

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