“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 15:6
The Bible makes a distinction between salvation and discipleship. Salvation is a free gift based on the finished work of Christ that we receive by believing in Christ alone (John 3:15-16; 19:30; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). But discipleship is based on our good works and it is costly (John 8:31-32; 13:34-35; 15:1-8). In John 15:1-8, Jesus is not talking about how to get to heaven. He is talking about how to bring heaven down to earth through the bearing of fruit in a discipleship relationship with Christ. 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).
– Remain in Christ by obeying His word (John 15:4-5).
Jesus instructed His disciples, “Abide in Me.” (John 15:4a). This command to “abide” implies the alternative – it was possible not to abide in Christ or obey Him. What happens if a believer continues to disobey Christ? This leads to the sixth way we can produce more fruit for the Lord and it comes in the form of a warning: REPENT WHEN YOU LOSE YOUR DISCIPLESHIP RELATIONSHIP (John 15:6).
Jesus said to His eleven believing disciples, “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 15:6). This cannot refer to the loss of a believer’s salvation because that would contradict what Jesus has already taught about the eternal security of a believer in the gospel of John. Christ promised that everyone who comes to Him in faith will never be “cast out” (John 6:37). A believer in Jesus can “never perish” (John 10:27) nor is anyone able to “snatch” him or her out of the hands of God the Son and God the Father (John 10:28-29). If a believer could lose eternal life, then it was not eternal to begin with and Jesus would have failed to do His Father’s will (John 6:35-40). Also, it would contradict the context which addresses discipleship (not salvation) with Jesus’ believing disciples (John 13:30-15:8).
Some Bible students interpret verse 6 as an explanation of verse 2. “The viticulture process that Jesus described in verse 6 took place in the fall, whereas the process He mentioned in verse 2 happened in the spring. In the fall, the vinedresser would prune (Gr. kathairo) the vines for the winter by cutting off the dead wood. He would not cut off the unfruitful branches that could produce grapes the next season, but only the branches that did not have a healthy connection to the vine. The point of the verse is that branches with other serious problems, not just non-fruit-bearing branches (v. 2), also experience pruning.” 1
When we knowingly disobey the Lord (“If anyone does not abide in Me”), look what happens to our relationship with the Him. First, we break contact or fellowship with Him – “he is cast out [of fellowship] as a branch.” We cannot be close to Christ if we are living in disobedience to Him.
If we continue in disobedience to Christ, we lose our spiritual vitality and freshness –“is withered.” The process of withering suggests a lapse of time prior to the experience of “fire.” As we continue in disobedience to the Lord, we want little to do with Christ or with other believers. We may dread being around God’s Word or other Christians.
If we continue to disobey the Lord, Jesus says we will experience being “burned.” The word for “burned” (kaiō) is used twelve times in the New Testament. Two times it refers to burning in hell (Revelation 19:20; 21:8) and ten times it refers to temporal judgment or discipline on earth (Matthew 5:15; Luke 12:35; 24:32; John 5:35; 15:6; I Corinthians 13:3; Hebrews 12:18; Revelation 4:5; 8:8, 10) which is the way it is used here in verse 6.
Wilkin observes, “Since the Lord did not use the verb to be burned up, but rather the less intense verb to be burned, He is holding open the possibility that the unproductive believer may respond to the burning and return to fruitfulness. The grace of God is not a license to sin. Believers who play with sin will experience fiery judgment that may well culminate in death.” 2
The “fire”(pyr) in this passage is not literal just as the vine, branches, and fruit are not literal. The word “fire” often symbolizes God’s discipline or temporal judgment of His people in the Bible. Some examples:
“Take heed to yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of anything which the Lord your God has forbidden you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” Deuteronomy 4:23-24
“Therefore, as the fire devours the stubble, and the flame consumes the chaff, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom will ascend like dust; because they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore the anger of the Lord is aroused against His people; He has stretched out His hand against them and stricken them, and the hills trembled. Their carcasses were as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still.” Isaiah 5:24-25
“For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: ‘Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.’ ” Jeremiah 4:3-4
“For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.” Hebrews 10:26-27
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.For our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29
Since Jesus is talking to His believing disciples about discipleship in this passage John 15:1-8), it is best to understand this “fire” as a reference to the trial of God’s discipline in a disobedient believer’s life (cf. I Peter 1:6-7; 4:12-13; Hebrews 10:27; 12:28-29). God uses discipline in the disobedient believer’s life to remove sin. This discipline may take the form of difficulties with work, family, finances, guilt, and health, etc.
If the believer does not repent, his disobedience could lead to physical death (cf. I Corinthians 11:29-30). Although the analogy of the vine and branches does not deal with restoration, what is not possible with nature is possible with God. He can restore a wayward disciple back to fellowship with Himself.
It is also possible that the reference to “fire” could refer to the loss of rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. I Corinthians 3:11-15; 9:24-27). Believers who continue in disobedience to Christ will suffer the loss of more rewards, but they themselves will be saved from an eternity separated from God in hell. “If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (I Corinthians 3:15). The more disobedience characterizes our lives, the more painful the Judgment Seat of Christ will be for us in the future.
Another way to view verse 6 is to see the burning not as judgment, but as uselessness resulting from failure to abide in Christ. 3 At the beginning of the dormant season in a vineyard, anything not attached to the vine is useless and discarded. A part of the discarding process at the end of the productive season is the burning of dry materials.
If we disconnect from the vine for too long, we may find ourselves experiencing God’s discipline, getting burned, and seeing our spiritual life withering. Such a believer is useless to himself, God, and others. So, if we find such things happening to ourselves, repent, so our fellowship or discipleship relationship with the Lord can be restored! “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8). 4
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You that I am guaranteed a place in Your house because Jesus freely gave me eternal life the moment I believed in Him. Thank You for placing me in the Lord Jesus Christ so I may bear fruit for Your glory as I learn to abide in Him. I appreciate the warning given in today’s verse that speaks of the consequences of continued disobedience to Jesus. I do not want to lose my closeness to You. Nor do I want to be useless to You or to others. I need You in my life for without You I can do nothing that honors Your name. Please help me to abide in the True Vine so much fruit is produced in my life to the praise of Your glory. In the beautiful name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.
1. Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pp. 286-287; see also Gary W. Derickson, “Viticulture and John 15:1-6,” Bibliotheca Sacra 153:609 (January-March 1996), pp. 50-51.
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. 535.
3. Bruce Wilkinson, Secrets of the Vine: Breaking Through to Abundance (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2001), pp. 97-98.
4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1806.