Pastor David B. Curtis

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Abiding or Burning?

John 15:1-6

Delivered 04/01/18

We are continuing our verse by verse study of the Fourth Gospel. The last nine chapters of this Gospel are known as, "The Book of Glory": In these chapters Yeshua accomplishes His return to the Father (13:1-20:31). Unlike the Book of Signs, "The Book of Glory" is addressed only to those who have believed.

Chapters 13-17 form a division, which we call the "Upper Room Discourse." The "Upper Room Discourse" is something that is not contained in the Synoptics and represents four chapters of teaching from the Lord to His disciples, in the final hours of His earthly life, 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 second part of this Upper Room Discourse can be divided this way: John 15:1-17 dealing with the Vine and the Branches, John 15:18-16:4a describing the world's hatred for Yeshua and the disciples, John 16:4b-15 returning to the theme of Yeshua's departure and the Paraclete, and finally John 16:16-33 focusing on the joy and understanding that Yeshua's return will bring to the disciples.

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. And only occurs two other times in this Gospel.

Some think that the teaching on the Vine and branches is a parable, I don't see it that way. I see this teaching as a metaphor not a parable. A parable uses a story to convey a deeper message. Where as metaphors refer to one subject, while 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 where 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 a difference 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 they understand and believe the Gospel of Yeshua, who is the Christ. At that moment, they are placed into the body of Christ, given Christ's righteousness, indwelt by God, and are as sure of heaven as if they were already there. They are "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 in the Christian life, and 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 their day, a disciple was someone who more than anything else in the world wants to be just like their 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, 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 will not pay the price. Discipleship is costly! A follower of Christ will be living like Christ lived.

In our text Yeshua is addressing His followers, His disciples. It was not to unsaved people, not to a mixed audience, but to believers and believers alone, that He said this. The central theme of chapter 15 is not salvation, how it is to be obtained or the danger of losing it. 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

Yeshua says that He is the vine, the Father is the vine dresser and we are the branches. 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.

We saw in our last study that Yeshua used the vine metaphorically of Himself. In the Old Covenant national Israel was continually identified by the metaphor of a vine. One can hardly escape the inference that Yeshua viewed Himself as the fulfillment of Israel. It is clearly with unfruitful and guilty Israel that Yeshua contrasted Himself as the "true" vine.

So Yeshua comes along and says, in effect, that a person is no longer part of God's people simply by being joined to the nation of Israel; rather a person needs to be joined to Him. He is the true 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.

Yeshua is never portrayed as independent from His Father in the Gospel of John; they are always co-operating in every activity (5:19-23).

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 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.

Lazarus 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, those who have trusted Christ. I'll prove this in a minute, 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"this is another way of saying what Yeshua taught earlier about the mutually indwelling of believers within Himself:

In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. John 14:20 ESV

Here the same notion is portrayed in the vine imagery. 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 fellowship 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" it is found 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, and 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 the ground, so it will not send secondary roots down into the ground, which would prove unhealthful. Lifting the branch off the ground onto a pole, or trellis, also enables air to dry the branch, and prevent it from getting moldy and becoming diseased and unfruitful.

I see airo as used here of lifting up, since in the spring, vinedressers 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 Lazarus 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. They 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 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 Father's purpose is loving—it is 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 says here that, "Judas was the unfruitful branch that was taken away and whose final end was to be cast into the fires of hell." No, Judas was taken away because he was an unbeliever, not because he didn't bear fruit. In chapter 15, He simply says, "already you are clean." Yeshua 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 those who are clean, those who have believed in Him, His children to:

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" which is the Greek meno 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 Lazarus.

"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, that 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 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 ES

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 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, and then they've got to work in their own strength to please the Lord in the Christian life. But that is to deny the principle of grace. That's 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, 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 dependance 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.

Our text says, "unless it abides. . .unless you abide"—these are both third class conditional sentences, which means 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 spoke 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 flows. As far as the disciples are concerned, they will produce no fruit from themselves if they do not remain in a dependant relationship to 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 Christlike. 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 admitting your insufficiency. No figure could more forcibly express the complete dependance 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? They burn!

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, here say that this is referring to unbelievers. They would say that these fruitless branches represent those who profess to believe in Yeshua, but their lives give no evidence of saving faith. They don't bear fruit. They would say that Yeshua in the context, was referring to Judas Iscariot, who professed to believe, followed Yeshua for three years, and went out preaching in His name, but who was never saved.

The Faithlife Study Bible says, "Yeshua 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 Yeshua 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 can't! It is believers (you are clean) who are told to abide. So this can't 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 loose your salvation, you don't understand what salvation is!

Let me remind you of what Yeshua has already taught:

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. Remember that we saw 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 is 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, since 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 won't 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, if our life is characterized by persistent rebellion against the Lord God, then discipline takes place in the family of God as it did in Corinth for their abuses at 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. And 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 is basanistes, which means: "torturers."

He was to pay what was due for his sin of unforgiveness. 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'd better expect torturous discipline.

What does he 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 can't afford to not be forgiving 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, the context of this verse is Yeshua telling His disciples (Judas had already left) - whom He knows are saved - about bearing much fruit for Him; Yeshua isn't talking to a group that includes the unsaved. If any of His disciples don't abide in Him, that disciple will be disciplined.

Then what does the "fire" represent? This is a figure remember. He's trying to explain figuratively what takes place. Had Yeshua been speaking to a crowd that included the unsaved, this fire could have been the fire of AD 70 judgment. But given the context and the audience being Yeshua's saved disciples, this fire is the 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 then 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, and fellow believers have to go actively and snatch them out of the fire! This refers to "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, the burning is a judgment upon fruitlessness, not an abandonment to eternal destruction. The mention of "fire" is only incidental, since 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 burn.

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