"I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mind that doesn't produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more." – John 15:1-2 NLT
Not only does Jesus desire that His followers fully know Him, and understand the significance of His deity and sovereignty, but He wants them to comprehend their complete dependence upon Him. Here Jesus uses the metaphor of the vine and the branches to help the disciples understand both the intimacy and dependency of their relationship with Him. He illustrates that relationship with the image of a vine and its branches. He repeatedly encourages them to "remain" or "abide" in Him. He lets them know that, just as a branch cannot bear fruit apart from the vine, so they cannot bear fruit apart from Him. But fruitfulness requires abiding or remaining. The greater the degree of intimacy and dependency, the more fruitful the branch will be. The vine will produce fruit through the branch. The branch doesn't produce the fruit on its own – it simply bears the fruit.
Jesus warns His disciples that constant attachment is required for fruitfulness to occur. Those who choose to disconnect themselves from the life-giving power of Jesus will find themselves living fruitless lives. And eventually, God will prune them from the vine. This is not speaking of a loss of salvation, but sadly, a loss of usefulness. You can be in Christ, yet useless to Him. You can be saved, but refuse to be sanctified, remaining satisfied with the current state of your spiritual life, and neglecting to grow in Christ. But when we remain in Him, He produces His fruit through us. And God, the faithful gardener, prunes and cleanses us in order that we might produce even more fruit. It is when we refuse to remain in and depend on Christ that we lose our fruitfulness. We become severed, so to speak, from the vine and lose our ability to bear fruit. I branch that becomes separated from the vine will never bear fruit, because it has lost its connection with the source of fruitfulness. Jesus said, "Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5 NLT). And it is our fruitfulness that reveals or proves the reality of our relationship with Christ.
Jesus makes it clear that one of the greatest expressions of our fruitfulness is our love for one another. In other words, we can't love the way He requires unless that love is produced by Him through us. Which is why He tells the disciples to "remain in my love" (John 15:9 NLT). Remaining in His love requires remaining that we remain attached to Him, so that He can love through us. A big part of remaining or abiding in Christ is reflected in our obedience to Him. And obedience is a willing submission to His will for us. It is not so much about rule keeping as it is about trust that He knows what is best, and obeying what He tells us to do. Even the capacity to obey Him comes from Him. When Jesus said, "When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love" (John 15:10 NLT), He was not teaching that His love is contingent upon our obedience. In other words, Jesus' love for us is not conditional. No, our obedience is a reflection of His abiding love for us, flowing through us, creating in us a desire to obey. It also creates in us a desire to love others. "This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you" (John 15:12 NLT). When we abide in Him, His love flows through us and is to be shared with those around us. One of the interesting things about fruitfulness is that it is other-oriented, not self-centered. The fruit produced by a branch is not for the benefit of the branch, but is for others. My fruitfulness is not for me, but for the benefit of others. Think about the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – none of these things are self-directed. They are to be outwardly focused and exist for the good of others. Fruitfulness is about otherness. It is about loving others as we have been loved by Christ. Abiding in Him will result in our ability to love like Him. Even to the point of laying down our lives like He did for us. As branches, we exist for the vine and, ultimately for the gardener. It is God who prunes us in order that we might be increasingly more fruitful. Our job is to remain or abide. We don't produce the fruit, Jesus does. We simply have to be ready and willing for Him to flow through us. What we end up producing is His work and belongs to those He brings into our path. For the believer, fruitfulness is a non-negotiable. Fruitlessness results in uselessness. A fruitless branch is a useless branch. And we must understand that our fruitfulness is simply the result of our willful desire to remain intimately attached to Jesus so that He can do through us and in us what we could never do on our own.
Father, I want to be fruitful. But I don't want to try and produce that fruit in my own effort. I want it to be a natural outflow of my intimate relationship with Your Son. I want His love to flow through me. I want His fruit produced as a result of me abiding in Him. I want the fruit of my life to be proof of my relationship with Him. Help me abide. Help me remain completely dependent on Jesus each and every day of my life. Amen.