“Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 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. 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. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are thrown into the fire.” (John 15:3-6)
Bill Hull, author of The Disciple Making Pastor, writes, “The non-negotiable for the fruitful Christian is remaining in Christ. But Christ does not emphasize fruit bearing, but remaining in him. By remaining in Christ, as a branch depends on the vine, the believer will bear fruit; indeed, he cannot avoid bearing fruit” (60).
Remain or abide is our English way of saying the Greek word mena, meaning “to abide or maintain contact for a sustained time” (61). It’s also an imperative/command in 15:4, but a subjunctive in verse 6–implying that you may or may not abide/remain (i.e. If anyone does not abide in me).
Hull has a good point here . . . “the fruit-bearing believer pleases God . . . [and] is a disciple” (60). If we emphasize fruit-bearing over abiding in Christ, then we are placing both our discipleship and our assurance more on works than on the vine (Christ). When we want to lovingly correct and discipline someone that needs it, we should be ready to ask them if they are “remaining in Christ.” If they are, then they must bear fruit, but if they are not, they are not getting nourishment from the vine, because they are not abiding in the vine. Jesus says, “apart from me, you can do nothing.” We can do no good apart from Christ, so our concern should be more on remaining in Christ than trying to discern fruit-bearing. It’s not that a non-believer bears bad fruit; it’s that he doesn’t bear fruit at all. The disciple that is abiding in Christ cannot help but bear fruit that pleases and glorifies the Father. And it’s by his grace that we bear fruit before we could ever call it our own good works.
Like Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, he is also called the Good Shepherd and we the sheep of his flock–and Jesus the potter and we the clay. Shane Barnard writes about it like this: “He taught the clay; he molded it. Behold he called the sheep, that’s why they came. Sheep, who by grace get a peep and make it cheap by calling it, by calling it mine” (‘Fringes’, Clean by Shane Barnard, 2004). Don’t make his grace cheap by calling it your own. “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.”
(Paying Back Grace?, part 2 . . . Disciplined By Grace next).