Transforming a nation and world

“Therefore hear the parable of the sower.” Matthew 13:18

Jesus explains His parable of the sower (Matthew 13:2-9) to His disciples to prepare them for the different types of responses to the preaching of God’s Word (Matthew 13:18-23). Each soil in this parable represents a different response to God’s message. Some to whom we share the gospel are like “the wayside” soil (Matthew 13:4, 19) who will not receive or believe in Jesus (Matthew 13:19; Luke 8:12).

Others are like “the stony places” (Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21) who “believe [the gospel] for a while” (Luke 8:13) but never really make a commitment to follow Christ as His disciple and “fall away” because of adversity (Matthew 13:20-21; Luke 8:13). They are “hearers only” of the Word like James talks about (James 1:22). They deceive themselves into thinking they can grow spiritually simply by hearing God’s Word without doing what it says. They are not willing to follow Jesus regardless of the costs.

A third type of person we will discover is like the seed that “fell among thorns” (Matthew 13:7, 22). These are those who believe in Jesus and start to follow Him, but they never bear much fruit because they are so distracted by worldliness and wealth (Matthew 13:22; Luke 8:14).

So far this has been disappointing. If this is the kind of response we can expect to get from many people, why go on? Jesus tells us why! He tells us not to become discouraged because eventually we will come across the fourth kind of person, a person who bears much fruit after believing the gospel (Matthew 13:8, 23; Luke 8:15). Unless we are willing to endure those who reject His message, those who fall away, and those who are too distracted, we will never discover the pure joy of finding those who are fruitful!

And notice that Jesus tells us that some of these fruitful ones will bear fruit “a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:23). One of the blessings we will experience if we continue to faithfully sow the seed of God’s Word, is that we will begin discovering these amazingly productive believers. These fruitful believers are “super spreaders” because they are super at spreading the seed of God’s Word. These are the “doers of the word” (James 1:22). They will far exceed us in witnessing and planting new churches.

The way to discover these “good soil” believers, is to train everyone in discipleship who believes the gospel! The “good soil” believers will quickly emerge. They will immediately become doers of the Word of God. As these super spreaders emerge among us, we will begin to see a more significant movement take place in our country and world as well. But the whole process begins with those who are faithful to sow the seed – to preach the gospel and train in discipleship those who believe in Jesus (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19-20).

This is the key to a transformed life and nation, not the political process. I believe more than ever, that Jesus is calling His church to return to the discipleship process in order to see our nation and world change for His glory! Christ implores us, “Hear the parable of the sower.” (Matthew 13:18). Will we hear and obey our Lord and Master! Perhaps today is when some of us begin  to sow the seed of His Word!!! Please know that His Word will not return to Him void, but it shall accomplish what He pleases, and it shall prosper in the thing for which He sent it (Isaiah 55:11)!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, all authority has been given to You in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). Your one and only plan to reach the world for Your glory is the discipleship process whereby we preach Your gospel message to everyone in the world, and then call those who believe Your gospel to commit to follow You as a disciple through water baptism. Then we are to teach them to obey all Your commands (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19-20). Please enable us to be faithful to spread the seed of Your gospel message to this world which is perishing without You, Lord Jesus! Thank You for explaining the different types of responses we can expect from our audiences as we proclaim Your Word. By Your grace, enable us to endure those who reject Your message, those who fall away, and those who are too distracted, so we may discover the pure joy of finding those who are super at spreading the seed of Your Word to others!!! Your discipleship process is what transforms individuals, nations, and the world, not a political process. Please forgive us for looking in the wrong places for transformation. I beg You to bring us back to the basics of the Bible and the discipleship process, my Lord and my God. May Your Holy Spirit give us the boldness and vision to pursue You and Your discipleship process until all hear Your gospel message!!! Thank You for the assurance that You are always with us as we make disciples for Your glory (Matthew 28:20b). In Your matchless name I pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

How can we become more fruitful for the Lord? Part 6

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” John 15:7

Thus far in our study of John 15:1-8, we have learned that we can become more fruitful for the Lord when we …

– Realize that Jesus is our only source of life (John 15:1).

– Receive Jesus’ encouragement from His word (John 15:2a).

– Recognize the pruning process (John 15:2b-3).        

– Remain in Christ by obeying His word (John 15:4-5).

– Repent when we lose our discipleship relationship with Christ (John 15:6).

The sixth and final way to become more fruitful for the Lord is to RELY ON JESUS THROUGH PRAYER (John 15:7-8). Jesus said to His eleven believing disciples,If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7). What is the secret to answered prayer? “Abide in” Christ by keeping His commandments (cf. John 15:10; I John 3:24a). We cannot expect Jesus to answer our prayers if we are living in disobedience to Him.

A second condition for answered prayer is “My words abide in you.” For Jesus’ words to abide in us “requires more than merely reading or listening to them. You must internalize them. Another way to describe this is meditating on God’s Word, rolling it around in your mind to grasp what it means and how to apply it to your specific circumstances. We must chew and swallow Scripture, so to speak, so that it becomes part of us.” 1

It has been said that God has given us two ears and one mouth, so we will listen twice as much to Him as we talk to Him. The more we know and experience Jesus’ Word, the more we can pray the way Jesus would pray. Before spending time talking to God in prayer, take a few minutes to abide in His word. Read and reflect upon Scripture to align your thoughts with God’s. Then “you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” because your will has aligned with God’s (cf. I John 5:14-15).

How do you know that you are relying on Jesus? Look at your prayer life. The more you pray the more you are depending on the Lord. And a life of answered prayer will produce much fruit for Christ.

Christ then said, “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” (John 15:8). The main purpose of bearing fruit is to glorify God the Father. As we remain in vital contact with Christ, much fruit is produced so that God is glorified. Why? Not because of our human effort, but because of Jesus’ work in our lives. Jesus wants His disciples to bear much fruit and in this way be His disciples. Fruit-bearing is a sign of a believing disciple, not a Christian.

When a person does not bear any visible fruit, do not assume they are not a believer in Jesus. Assume that they are not a disciple or committed follower of Christ’s. John 15 is dealing with discipleship, not salvation. Let’s stop playing God and judging who is saved and who is not saved based on how much fruit we can see in their lives. You may not see an outward transformation in a believer’s life, but God sees the inward transformation that has taken place.

God wants all Christians to produce fruit – to lead others to Christ and develop Christ-like character. How?

REALIZE that Jesus Is our Only Source of Life (John 15:1).

– RECEIVE Jesus’ Encouragement From His Word (John 15:2a).

– RECOGNIZE Jesus’ Pruning Process (John 15:2b-3).

– REMAIN In Christ By Obeying His Word (John 15:4-5).

– REPENT When We lose our Discipleship Relationship with Christ (John 15:6).

– RELY on Jesus Through Prayer (John 15:7-8).

What stage of fruit bearing are you at now? Are you at the level of “No fruit”(15:2a) because of discouragement? Your need is to be lifted up or encouraged through Christ’s promises?  Or are you at the level of bearing some “fruit”(15:2b) because of wrong priorities? Your need at this level is for pruning. Or are you at the “more fruit”(15:2c) level because of self-reliance? Your need is to trust and obey Christ. Or are you at the “No fruit” (15:6) level because of disobedience? Your need is for repentance. Or are you at the “much fruit”(15:5, 7-8) level of fruit bearing? The need at this level is for deeper intimacy with Christ through prayer and obedience.

In Revelation 7:9-10 we are given a glimpse of heaven during the future Tribulation period. “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:9-10). What part of that innumerable crowd in heaven will be there because of you? Because you stayed connected to Jesus Christ so He could bear much fruit through you.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, sometimes it is difficult for me to pray because I am so preoccupied with trying to control situations and people. But the moment I surrender to You in prayer, there is a sudden release of the weight I am carrying. Thank You for inviting me to grow deeper in my relationship with You through prayer. You are the God Who hears my prayers. At times I can feel that no one listens to me. I can feel all alone with the weight of worry or loneliness. But You hear me when I pray according to Your will instead of my own. You are the God Who changes lives through prayer, including my own. Thank You so much for being such a good God Who answers prayer. May all the glory be to You, my Lord and my God. Please use me to help populate heaven by preaching the gospel to the lost and discipling those who believe in You. In Your matchless name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1807.

How can we become more fruitful for the Lord? Part 4

“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.” John 15:5

We are learning from Jesus in John 15:1-8, how to become more fruitful for the Lord. We can become more fruitful for the Lord when we….

– Realize that Jesus is our only source of life (John 15:1).

– Receive Jesus’ encouragement from His word (John 15:2a).

– Recognize the pruning process (John 15:2b-3).          

The fourth way to become more fruitful for the Lord is to REMAIN IN CHRIST BY OBEYING HIS WORD (John 15:4-5). Christ said to His eleven believing disciples,2b Every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit… 5 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.” (John 15:2, 5). Jesus wants us to go from bearing “more fruit” (15:2b) to bearing “much fruit” (15:5). How? By abiding in Him.

Jesus said, 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 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.” (John 15:4-5). The word “abide” (menō) means “to remain, continue, make one’s home at.” 1  Jesus defines abiding as obeying His commandments. “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). John also defines abiding in this way, “Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him.” (I John 3:24a).

A branch on a grapevine has no life in itself because it draws life from the vine. As long as there is an uninterrupted flow of life from the vine into the branch, the branch is capable of bearing fruit. But the moment the branch is severed from the life of the vine, it cannot bear fruit. What is true in the natural realm is also true in the spiritual realm (cf. John 15:4-5). Jesus is our vine or source of life and fruit. The moment we believed in Christ for eternal life, He placed us in Himself as branches so we may bear fruit. As long as we “abide in Him” we can “bear much fruit.”

It is our responsibility to “abide” in Jesus by obeying His commandments (John 15:4-5, 10; I John 3:24a). Jesus promises that He will abide in us when we abide in Him (“Abide in Me and I in you… He who abides in Me, and I in him.). When we abide in Jesus by keeping His commandments, we can enjoy close fellowship or intimacy with Him. We cannot experience Jesus’ abiding presence in our lives if we are living in disobedience to Him. We must stay connected to the Vine so Christ’s life in us can produce fruit that honors the Father. If we stop abiding in Christ, we “cannot bear fruit” because branches can only bear fruit when they are connected to the vine. 2

When Jesus says, “For without Me you can do nothing,” He means that believers cannot do anything that glorifies the Lord when they are living in disobedience to Him. Every day Christians have a choice to obey the Lord or disobey Him. When we choose to live in obedience to the Lord, He can produce “much fruit” in our lives that glorifies God the Father. Since Jesus  is the only One Who can provide the spiritual sustenance and vitality we need to be useful believers, we must spend time with Him. “You can’t avoid Jesus all week and then show up on Sunday morning expecting growth. We only produce much fruit when we remain in Him (15:5).” 3

I have discovered in my own Christian life that as I grow older in the Lord, I may have a tendency to rely on my own abilities and competency. It is common for us to struggle with self-reliance in areas of our greatest strengths. For example, in February/March 2017 on a couple of mission trips in the Philippines, I began to experience more difficulties in areas of my greatest strengths which were evangelism and teaching. God used that painful time in my life to show me how much I was relying upon my own abilities and wisdom instead of His.

Jesus Christ has commanded us to preach the gospel to everyone (Mark 16:15) and to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). These commands are not content for our minds, they are commands for our will. When Jesus says to do something, do it! He is more interested in our obedience than our opinions.

In February 2018 before I went on a mission trip to the southern Philippines, I thought I was losing my zeal for evangelism. I thought if I led thousands of people to Christ on that trip, it would increase my enthusiasm for evangelism. But God had other plans. At our very first evangelistic film showing, only one person came forward to indicate she was trusting Christ for His gift of salvation. At first, I was so disappointed. “Only one person?” I thought to myself. “What am I doing wrong?”

The Lord convicted me by reminding me that it is not how many people that come to Christ that determines my fulfillment and enthusiasm in evangelism. It is not the fruit! My enthusiasm and fulfillment come from staying connected to Jesus Christ – the only Source of Life! We can be just as fulfilled leading one person to Christ as a thousand – if we stay connected to the True Vine – the Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I cannot do anything that glorifies and pleases God the Father apart from You. When I try to honor the Father in my own strength, life takes a turn for the worse and I have no sense of joy or fulfillment. Forgive me for focusing more on the fruit than on the Fruit Producer. Please show me how to abide in You and You in me so Your life can flow through mine and produce much fruit for the glory of the Father. In Your life-giving name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp. 503-504.

2. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 534.

3. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1806.

How can we become more fruitful for the Lord? Part 3

“And every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” John 15:2b

The third way to becoming more fruitful for the Lord is to RECOGNIZE THE PRUNING PROCESS (John 15:2b-3). Jesus said to eleven believing disciples, And every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2b). Pruning grape vines is necessary during the growing season. So picture this: You are in fellowship and producing fruit, but God wants to produce more fruit in your life so He prunes you. The word “prunes”(kathairō), means “to make clean, purge.” 1  The natural tendency of a grapevine is to grow so vigorously that the leaves and branches block out the sun where the fruit should form. The vinedresser must cut away the excess growth so that more grapes will be produced.

In a similar way, God will cut away excessive commitments or lesser priorities in our lives (which are not necessarily wrong) in order for us to produce even more fruit for His glory. This involves the removal of self from our lives. God prunes us to encourage us to let go of that which might prevent us from accomplishing even more for His glory. God may use pain in our lives to remove excessive commitments.

Ask yourself, “Where do I hurt?” God may be pruning you in that area. He may be calling you to go where the lost people are but your excessive commitments are preventing you from going. He may want you to create more space in your life to meet alone with Him, but your priorities have become imbalanced making it difficult for you to do this. Even though we are in fellowship with the Lord, we are not perfect by any means. So the Lord must prune us.

One of the ways God may prune us is seen in the next verse. Jesus says to them, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3). The word “clean” (katharoi) is the adjective form of the verb “prunes” (kathairō) in verse 2. God prunes us through His Word (cf. Ephesians 5:26).

Constable notes, “‘Cleansing’ the branches involved washing off deposits of insects, moss, and other parasites that tend to infest the plant. Jesus gave this teaching in the spring when farmers did what He described in this verse.” 2

Jesus assumed His disciples had already been pruned (“You are already clean”) by His recent words at the Lord’s Supper (John 13:1-14:31). They had already been cleansed positionally by believing in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life (John 1:35-51; 2:11; 3:16; 11:25-26; 13:10a), except Judas who refused to believe in Christ (John 13:10b-11; cf. 6:64, 70-71; 17:12). At that moment of faith in Christ alone for salvation, these eleven disciples were cleansed of all their sins by the blood of Jesus Christ (cf. John 2:11; Acts 15:7-9; Revelation 1:5b). But these believing disciples (and us) needed daily cleansing through the pruning of God’s Word in their lives. Jesus’ teaching was and is a cleansing agent that would make it possible for them (and us) to bear more fruit for Him and the Father’s glory.

While we are in fellowship with Jesus, God’s Word exposes our sin, our misplaced priorities and commitments, to promote growth in our Christian lives so we can become more fruitful for the Lord. Take time today to ask the Lord where He wants to do His pruning in your life. You will be glad you did.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for loving me enough to prune or cleanse me of things in my life that hinder me from bearing more fruit for Your glory. Now I understand why I have been hurting so much in certain areas of my life. You have been trying to remove the excessive commitments and misplaced priorities in my life so I can spend more time with You, doing the things You created me to do – loving You and listening to You speak truth into my heart and mind. Forgive me, O Lord, for thinking far more of myself than You. Thank You for the pain You have allowed in my life to nudge me closer to You. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp. 386-387.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 282.

How can we become more fruitful for the Lord? Part 2

“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away.” John 15:2a

We are learning the secrets of becoming fruitful for our Lord. The first way is to realize that Jesus is our only source of life (John 15:1). The second way for us to become more fruitful for the Lord is to RECEIVE JESUS’ ENCOURAGEMENT FROM HIS WORD (John 15:2a). Jesus said to His eleven believing disciples, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away.” (John 15:2a). The phrase “every branch in Me”refers to Christians connected to Christ in fellowship. “Every branch” refers to Christians because they are in Jesus (“in Me”). “The Vine (the Son) feeds the branches, and the Gardener (the Father) tends the branches. God’s goal for every Christian is to increase in fruit bearing. We are to pro-gress from producing no fruit (15:2) to some fruit (15:2) to more fruit (15:2) to much fruit (15:5) to remaining fruit (15:16). Fruitfulness is a life of spiritual usefulness and productivity for the good of others and the glory of God. It’s the proof of true discipleship (15:8). 1

Dillow writes, “The phrase ‘in Me’ is used 16 times in John’s Gospel (6:56; 10:38; 14:10 [twice], 11, 20, 30; 15:2, 4 [twice], 5-7; 16:33; 17:21, 23). In each case it refers to fellowship with Christ. It is inconsistent then to say the phrase in 15:2 refers to a person who merely professes to be saved but is not. A person ‘in Me’ is always a true Christian.” 2  

This interpretation also finds support in the analogy of the vine and branches. “Branch(es)” (klēma, lit. tendrils) of a vine share the life of the vine. Jesus taught that some believers in Him do not bear fruit (cf. Luke 8:14). Fruit-bearing is the normal but not the inevitable consequence of having divine life. This is true of grapevines too. Grapevines have branches that bear fruit, but they must also have some branches that presently bear no fruit, but are growing stronger so they will bear fruit in the future. There can be genuine life without fruit in a vine, and there can be in a Christian as well.

“No plant produces fruit instantaneously; it takes time for a plant to grow strong enough to bear fruit. The New Testament teaches that God effects many changes in the life of every person who trusts in Jesus for salvation. Lewis Sperry Chafer noted 33 things that happen to a person the moment he or she trusts Jesus Christ as Savior. However, these are all invisible changes.” 3

How does God respond to believers who do not bear fruit? Jesus says that He “takes away” that branch. The word for “takes away” (airō) can also mean “to lift up.” 4 This was the common practice among ancient vineyard growers during this time of the year. 5 Vineyard growers would lift up fruitless vines which were on the ground in order for them to become fruit-bearing again. Lifting the branch off the ground prevents unhealthful secondary roots from growing into the ground and also allows air to dry the branch and keep it from becoming moldy and diseased. 

This understanding of airō fits the context very well. Jesus is speaking to His believing disciples and they may have been like branches on the ground (discouraged) when Jesus told them He would be leaving them, and that Peter would deny Him (John 13:33, 38). God the Father, the Vinedresser, “takes them away” from the ground by lifting them up or encouraging them through Jesus’ promises about heaven (John 14:1-6) and the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-18, 25-27) so they can become fruitful for Him.

When we become discouraged, and all of us do, we need to receive Christ’s Word so God can lift us up through the promises of His Word or through another believer who shares those promises with us.

Do you feel that God is against you during the COVID pandemic? Refocus on Romans 8:31-32 [GNT]: “In view of all this, what can we say? If God is for us, who can be against us? Certainly not God, Who did not even keep back His own Son, but offered Him for us all! He gave us His Son—will He not also freely give us all things?”

Do you feel separated from God’s love during this difficult season? Embrace God’s promise in Romans 8:38-39: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Do you feel “less than” or lacking? Meditate on Colossians 2:10: “And you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.”

Do you feel all alone? Listen to Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

Do you feel abandoned or rejected? Receive this encouragement from Hebrews 13:5: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ ”

Are you feeling defeated by shame? Listen to Romans 10:11 [NLV]: “The Holy Writings say, ‘No one who puts his trust in Christ will ever be put to shame.’ ”

Do you feel overwhelmed with anxiety? Open your heart to I Peter 5:6-7 [GNT]: “Humble yourselves, then, under God’s mighty hand, so that He will lift you up in His own good time. Leave all your worries with Him, because He cares for you.”  

The more we receive Jesus’ encouragement, the more loving we can become toward others (and ourselves), and then reach the lost with the life-giving gospel of Christ!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, during these difficult times I can become like a fruitless grapevine on the ground that needs to be lifted up or encouraged by Your promises. Please use Your Word to breathe new life into my soul today. I need You, my Lord and my God, to help me see myself and my circumstances from Your perspective so I may love others, including myself, with Your love. Then I will be more motivated to share Your gospel message with those who are perishing without You in their lives. Thank You in advance for hearing my prayers. In Your life-giving name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1805.  

2. Joseph C. Dillow, “Abiding Is Remaining in Fellowship: Another Look at John 15:1-6,” Bibliotheca Sacra 147:585 (January-March 1990), pp. 44-53.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pp. 281-282; cf. L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol III (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1947- 48), pp. 234-65.

4. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pg. 24; The Nelson Study Bible, edited by Earl D. Radmacher (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997), pg. 1794; J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 441.

5. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 282; see Gary W. Derickson, “Viticulture and John 15:1-6,” Bibliotheca Sacra 153:609 (January-March 1996):34-52; and John A Tucker, “The Inevitability of Fruitbearing: An Exegesis of John 15:6 — Part II,” Journal of Dispensational Theology 15:45 (August 2011), pg. 52.

How can we become more fruitful for the Lord? Part 1

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.” John 15:1

In the state of Iowa in the USA where I grew up, there are an increasing number of vineyards and wineries. All of these vineyards make this part of the country similar to the land of Israel in Jesus’ day. Back then, growing grapes was a very important industry – it was vital to Israel’s economy. Everyone knew about growing grapes, and so Jesus used this as a picture to describe a very important condition for discipleship in John 15.

The beautiful and profound analogy of the vine and the branches in John 15:1-8 has encouraged Christians for centuries. Unfortunately, it has also become a controversial passage regarding the eternal security of believers.

There are three popular approaches to this passage. Some say the person who “does not bear fruit” (John 15:2a) cannot be a Christian because all true Christians bear fruit. 1 This position says it is impossible to be genuinely saved and not manifest any fruit or good works in one’s life as a result of regeneration. Others say the branches “in Me” that are taken away refer to Christians who lose their salvation. 2  In this view, when a believer stops producing fruit, he forfeits salvation. So if a believer experiences prolonged failure in his or her Christian life, he or she loses eternal life according to this view. Others say that verses 2a and 6 refer to Christians who do not produce fruit and who will therefore experience divine judgment in time and the loss of reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ. 3

In this chapter we will look deeper into this passage and discover secrets to being more fruitful for our Lord Jesus. In the context of this passage, Jesus is preparing His disciples for His departure (John 13:33-14:30). John 14:31 suggests that the Lord’s final supper with His disciples has come to an end. John 18:1 says that Jesus had crossed the Kidron Brook or Valley to enter the Garden of Gethsemane. It is possible that after John 14:31, Jesus and His disciples left the Upper Room and made their way toward Gethsemane. Perhaps Jesus is overlooking the Kidron Valley that would be covered with vineyards on the way to the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. As they look at the landscape decorated with grapevines, Jesus spoke the words of John 15:1-8.

Bear in mind that Jesus is talking to the Eleven believing disciples. Judas has already left to betray Christ (John 13:30). He is not talking about how to get to heaven or how to know you are going to heaven. To get to heaven, we must simply believe in Christ alone for everlasting life (John 3:15-16, 36). In John 15:1-8, Jesus is talking about discipleship or growing in the Christian life. “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciple.” (John 15:8). Jesus is talking about bearing fruit as a condition for discipleship, not salvation.

You may ask, “What is the fruit?” In this passage, Jesus identifies Himself to be the “Vine” and His Father is the “Vinedresser” (John 15:1). “The branches”refer to Christians in fellowship with Christ. Since Jesus is the Vine and believers are the branches, the fruit is the result of the life of the vine flowing through the branches. Hence, the fruit in this context refers to 1. CHRIST-LIKE CHARACTER. We see in the verses following this passage that the fruit Jesus wants His disciples to produce is connected to loving one another as He has loved them:

 “12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you…16 You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. 17 These things I command you, that you love one another.” (John 15:12-14, 16-17). So the fruit refers to Christ-like character, especially as it relates to loving one another.

The word “fruit” (karpos), is also used in John 4:35-36 to refer to 2. THE FRUIT OF EVANGELISM or winning people to Christ: 35 Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! 36 And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together” (John 4:35-36). The “fruit” refers to people who receive eternal life as a result of the believers sowing or sharing the gospel with them. In summary, “the fruit” that Jesus speaks of in John 15:1-8 refers to Christ-like character and the people who come to faith in Christ as a result of sharing the gospel with them. How can we become more fruitful for the Lord so that He gets more glory?

The first way is to REALIZE THAT JESUS IS OUR ONLY SOURCE OF LIFE (John 15:1). Christ said to His eleven believing disciples, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.” (John 15:1). No fruit can be better than the vine that produces it. Jesus calls Himself the “true Vine”(ampelos hē alēthinē). This is the last of His seven “I AM” statements in the gospel of John whereby Jesus claims to be God (cf. John 6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6). Jesus is the “true” (alēthinē = authentic, real, or genuine) God (cf. I John 5:20).

In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel is referred to figuratively as a vine (Psalm 80:8; Ezekiel 15:1-8). 4 Christ often referred to Israel metaphorically as a vine as well (cf. Matthew 20:1-16; 21:23-41; Mark 12:1-9; Luke 13:6-9; 20:9-16). 5 The nation was intended to be like a productive vine that bears much fruit. Instead it was like an unproductive, fruitless vine. In contrast to Israel, Jesus fulfilled what God intended in that He was “the True Vine” Who perfectly obeyed His Father and revealed His will to the people. 6

All other gods are counterfeit or fake including Buddha, Allah, the Hindu gods, Confucius, Mother Mary, the god of Iglesia Ni Cristo, Quiboloy, Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, etc. None of these so-called “gods” can give our lives fulfillment. They leave us empty and without purpose.

For some people, their god is not in the form of a religion. Their god can be anything that replaces the true God, Jesus Christ, in their lives. We call these things an idol. How do we know it is an idol? When you are in pain, you go to your idol. When you are in need, you go to your idol. When you are hurt, you go to your idol. When you want to celebrate, you go to your idol. Some people have replaced Jesus with achievements, alcohol, drugs, food, politics, pornography, possessions, power, shopping, video games, or their work. They are turning to these things when they are in pain or in need or simply want to celebrate, instead of turning to the Lord Jesus Christ. But these things cannot meet their deepest needs.

Only a relationship with the true God, Jesus Christ, can give us life and fulfillment. Just as a vine is the only source of life and productiveness for its branches, so Jesus Christ is the only source of life and productiveness for His disciples. Other religions or things cannot supply this fruitfulness. Only Jesus can do this for us.

To become fruitful for the Lord Jesus we must begin a relationship with Him. The Bible tells us we must recognize our need for a Savior. Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We all have disobeyed God with our thoughts, words, and actions. The penalty for our sin is “death”or separation from God (Romans 6:23). We all deserve to be separated from God forever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). But God does not want us to die forever in Hell, so He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, the True Vine, to earth to die for all our sins and rise from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). Only Jesus can save us because only Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins in full when He died and rose from the dead. Only God can give life that never ends. Therefore, Jesus must be God because He gives everlasting life to all who believe in Him (John 10:28).

God now invites you to believe or trust in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36). Look at the eternal contrast here. The one who believes in Jesus “has”everlasting life. The one who does not believe in Jesus has God’s “wrath” that “abides” on him forever (cf. Revelation 20:10, 15)! The decision is yours: Believe or not believe in Jesus? Heaven or Hell? The moment we believe in Jesus we are saved forever from hell and we have eternal life which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). Christ guarantees that no one can snatch a believer out of His and the Father’s hands. We are secure forever the moment we believe in Jesus.

Christ also identifies His “Father” as “the vinedresser” (John 15:1b). A vineyard had a “vinedresser” or farmer who was an expert at growing grapes. The success of raising grapes depended largely on the competence of the vinedresser who was to care for and protect the grapes to that they will produce the maximum fruitfulness. So too, God the Father would provide the necessary care and protection to produce the maximum fruitfulness in believers.

If we are going to produce fruit for the glory of the Father, we must be rightly related to “the true vine,” Jesus Christ. Once we believe in Christ for His gift of everlasting life, we can get to know Him more intimately as we spend time with Him in prayer and in the study of His Word, the Bible. We will learn more from Jesus about how to do this in the next few verses.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You so much for coming to earth and revealing Yourself as the True Vine Who gives life and fulfillment to those who believe in You. Before I came to know You as the Giver of eternal life, I was seeking fulfillment in man-made religions which left me feeling empty and dissatisfied on the inside. Having You in my life now gives me fulfillment and purpose every day which I do not deserve. But because of Your grace, I can experience the best life connected to You. Please show me how to let Your life flow through mine. In Your life-giving name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, “Abiding is Believing: The Analogy of the Vine in John 15:1-6,” Bibliotheca Sacra 146:581 (January-March 1989): pp. 55- 66; and John F. MacArthur Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, Academie Books, 1988), pp. 166, 170-71.

2. C.K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text. 2nd ed., (Philadelphia: Westminster Press” 1978), pp. 470-477.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pp. 280-289; Joseph C. Dillow, “Abiding Is Remaining in Fellowship: Another Look at John 15:1-6,” Bibliotheca Sacra 147:585 (January-March 1990), pp. 44-53.

4. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 533.

5. Constable, Notes on John, pg. 280.

6. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1805.