John 15 is known as the “God is the Vine, we are the branches” chapter.
This chapter seems to promote self-effort on steroids. Work hard, do your best and you will abide in Jesus and He in you.
However, if you fail to keep your end of the bargain, you run the risk of being cut off, pruned or even cast out and thrown into the fire.
The question we’ll discuss is: are you in danger of being thrown into the fire?
Here is the video in full glory and made directly in front of our house (unique for in crowded Amsterdam, but we have a big park as our front yard)
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” (John 15:5-6).
There are two possibilities presented by Jesus:
- You’re abiding in Him, and you’ll bear much fruit.
- You’re not abiding in Him, and you’re cast out, you wither and get thrown into the fire.
I used to read these words of Jesus through legalistic glasses thinking, “if I fail to abide, I will be cast out and burned. But if I do abide, I will bear much fruit, so I’d better start bearing fruit.” A legalist thinks in terms of conditions. “IF I do this and that, THEN God will reward me with this or that.
If I do my part, God must do His part. If I stick in enough prayer, Bible reading, fasting and church attendance into the Divine Slot Machine, then God must come over the bridge and give me what I ask or what I need.” God doesn’t reward your fleshly sweating and striving. He’s already rewarded you by giving you Jesus! Jesus is your everything.
To read the words “abide and bear fruit or don’t abide and be burned” with legalistic glasses will become law for you. You either need to produce fruit or you’ll perish. Wow, that’s pretty scary! If I don’t keep doing my utmost best to be a good Christian and bear fruit I run the risk of being cast out and burned! That’s what it sounds like, right?
If you don’t abide you’re cast out. That sounds as if Jesus is putting conditions on us. You have to do something otherwise you’re thrown way and burned. But what is the something we must do?
- Read the Bible?
- Attend church?
- Confess our sins?
Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with all of these activities in and of themself, but does your abiding or remaining in the Vine depend on doing these things? I hope not! God expects perfection: “be perfect as I am perfect” (Mt. 5:48). And in the weakness of my flesh I constantly fall short of His perfect standard. If abiding depends on me doing good and avoiding evil then there’s not one moment I’m abiding. Bad news indeed!
Let me ask you a question: how much good works, like praying and Bible reading did you do to get saved, to get ingrafted into the Vine? None!
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5)
In other words, you aren’t saved – ingrafted in the Vine – by your good works but by grace through faith. All you did to start to abiding in the Vine was to positively respond to what God already had provided in Jesus. Just as you’ve done nothing to start to abide in the Vine – except to receive Jesus with thanksgiving – so you can’t do anything to abide in the Vine.
Jesus’ abiding = your abiding
Well, what does it mean to abide in the Vine? The answer to this question will help you understand how you can know you’re not a branch that’s thrown into the fire.
Here’s the answer to what it means to abide in the Vine: “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (1 John 4:15). Have you confessed that Jesus is the Son of God? Then God abides in you and you in Him.
You are abiding in the Vine because you have confessed Him as Lord. To abide in Jesus talks about your new birth, not your behaviour. Are you born again? Then you’re abiding. How much can you add or subtract from the finished work of Jesus and your born again state? Nothing.
Just as a branch doesn’t try to abide in the vine but simply is part of the vine, so you don’t try to abide in the Vine because you are already abiding in the Vine due to your divine nature.
Furthermore, in Greek the word abide means not to depart and to remain as one. “He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (1 Cor. 6:17). You are one with Christ. Therefore, you do not depart from Him and you will always remain one with Him. Because you are identical to Him in spirit you have the same standing before the Father as Jesus.
Jesus’ abiding has become your abiding.
For you not to abide in the vine is for Jesus to stop abiding in His relationship with the Father. Because that will never happen, there is no danger for you of not abiding! Nothing depends on you and your effort. It’s all about Jesus and His finished work! The abiding issue is settled from His side.
Abiding means to be in permanent union with Jesus. You may not always feel you’re abiding, but you are.
When Jesus said, “anyone who does not abide in Me is cast out as a branch, withers, and is thrown into the fire,” He is not referring to fruitless Christians. We discussed in an earlier post that they’re lifted up from the dirt. He was describing people who refuse to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. He was describing those who are looking for life outside of the true vine.
Doing the impossible
Law preachers emphasize what you must do instead of what Jesus has done and say things like, “You need to abide to bear fruit or else…you’re in danger of being toast.” Law preaching always creates anxiety and insecurity. It has you focus on you and your performance instead of Jesus’ performance and leaves you wondering:
- Am I abiding today?
- Can I not abide tomorrow?
- Am I bearing enough fruit?
- Can I be cut off the Vine?
- Am I cast out to burn?
You can’t experience peace and confidence in your relationship with God if you’re asking yourself these type questions. Allow yourself to focus on Jesus Christ and what He’s done for you. Listen to His voice. He’s always affirming and encouraging you about your permanent place in His family and how much He adores you and likes you.
To listen to God’s voice is to live in freedom and security. “A slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:35-36).
This law-mentality is re-inforced due some of our English translations: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” (John 15:9, NIV). That sounds like a condition. If your abiding performance is up to par, then I will reward you by abiding as well. Instead of “remain in me, and I will remain in you” in Greek it reads “Remain in Me, and I in you.” It is not a condition to make us sweat; it is a promise to make us rest.
You either trust Jesus’ performance or your performance. Jesus expects you to do the impossible: to heal the sick, raise the dead and cast out devils, etc. (Matt. 10:8). You’re in big trouble if you rely on your performance to bear such fruit! Rather, we can do these impossible things because it’s God in us who performs these miracles through us. The command “abide” is to trust in Jesus and His performance and not trying to impress Him with yours.
Instead of reading the “if you do this, then God does that” statements through legalistic glasses and think you’re never good enough and you never do enough, we need to read these versus through a set of Grace glasses. Where the law demands you to abide, Grace provides the abiding for you. All you have to do is to labour to rest in the finished work of Jesus.
To sum up, abiding means to be united with Jesus Christ. You’re abiding in the vine if you’ve confessed Jesus as Lord. God Himself abides in you and you in Him. A branch that’ll be cast out and thrown into the fire does not talk about fruitless Christians but about rejecting Jesus and His sacrifice. Carnal religion says it’s all about you and your abiding, so you’d better perform, but the gospel of grace declares it’s about Him and His abiding, so rest!
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