Stay Open and Obedient

 

The Fruit of the Vine

John 15:1-17

 

Tom J. Nettles

 

I.                    Vital Union with the Vine

A.     The Father’s determination of fruitfulness for His Son  verse 1 –

 

1.  Jesus identified Himself as the “true vine” in distinction from Israel as an unruly and unproductive vine.(Hosea 1:1, 2;  Isaiah 5:1-7). Psalm 80:8-19 shows the destruction of Israel as the vine in preference for the “son of man whom you have made strong for yourself.” Jesus is this Son of Man that is the true vine—true in perfect righteousness and internal holiness, true in perfecting the purpose for which he was sent, true in loving God with all his heart mind, soul and strength.

¨      His claim to be the “true” vine, shows Jesus’ self-consciousness that he alone fulfills all the prophecies and embodies all the meaning of all the ceremonies given to Israel to make them a distinct people. He is priest and altar, and sacrifice; he is prophet, and word, and the mouth of the Lord; he is the king and in him the kingdom resides.

¨      All, therefore, that remains in the pretensions of the people that claimed to be the protectors of the Old Covenant, will be stripped away and the fabricators of unwarranted tradition soon will find themselves separated from him. They will be pruned because “they do not know Him who sent me.” [21].

 

2.  If Jesus is the vine, His Father is the vinedresser, assuring that nothing superfluous or unproductive remains attached to the pure work of the Messiah. As we see so often in John, Jesus does not perceive of his person and work without an immediate statement of his relation to the Father. In their unity of essence, in the distinctness of their persons, in the unity of their will in the effecting of all the provisions of the eternal covenant, and in the appropriately particular functions of Father, Son (and Spirit!), the singularity of the goal to show the glory of the triune God in the redeeming of a “given’ people.

 

B.     Two Options for relation to the Vine

 

1.      Those in Him that do not bear fruit – The “in Me” refers to a visible union but not a vital union. As indicated above, Jesus originally has in mind the transition from the Old Covenant people to the New Covenant people. He had already been rejected by many with whom he had been popular for a brief time (John 6:66) was at that moment being plotted against by the most revered religious authorities of the day (John 13:18; 18:3) Indeed, he was “a sign to be opposed [or spoken against]” (Luke 2:34).

v     Those that did not bear the fruit of belief were to be purged, no longer considered the people of God, no longer the messianic people. Simeon prophesied, when he saw the baby Messiah in the temple, “This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel.” Jesus had taught Nicodemus that every one must be born again, and that all that believe would not perish (John 3:3, 16). He told the leaders of the Jews, “You do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. . . . If you believed Moses you would believe me; for he wrote of me.” (5:38, 46) Jesus as the true vine does not have any abiding in him that do not believe the truth. Those that do not will be purged. We can see this being fulfilled, at least as part of the pattern of fulfillment, when Paul said, “Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has bee sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts 28:28).

v     Judas is a paradigm for this cf. 13:10, 11. for the sake of money, he tied himself to the enemies of Jesus and gave them the opportunity to arrest him without the public fanfare. To all outward appearances Judas was a partaker of the spiritual blessings of Christ. His union with him, however, was merely external. He was a part of a visible community without embracing the spiritually transforming reality of redemptive truth.

v     Ultimate destruction  (6)  cf. 2 Peter 2:9-22. The final end of these who have only apparent connection with Christ is destruction. “He is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

2.      Those in Him that bear fruit

v     They are clean – “Already you are clean” verse 3 -   cf. 13:10  Though they do not understand much about the depth of the transaction that has occurred in their lives, they “were washed, they were sanctified, they were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11). This truth they will grasp with great clarity.

v     They will be pruned (2).  This parallels the washing of feet in 13:10. God acts for his people that they might be productive. Leon Morris comments, “The fruit of Christian service is never the result of allowing the natural energies and inclinations to run riot.” Rather, there must be a constant infusion of grace from the Spirit of God or those active operations of indwelling sin will press out all desire and energy for holiness. Though regeneration occurs at a particular moment and gives life to one that is dead and incites spiritual activity in one that is passive, nay hostile, spiritually, it can never stand alone but immediately brings about the active participation of the human soul. The soul of man, that is his understanding and affections, must have the constant energy of the Spirit or faith will be dead.  Regeneration without the abiding indwelling presence of the Spirit is a moral impossibility; the saving operation of the Spirit is a work of effectual invasion and immanent manifestation of holiness resulting in a continuum of moral advance, a gradual conforming to the character of the Spirit and destruction of the corruption of the flesh. None, either in the Old Testament or in the New or in the ongoing post-apostolic age, has ever been saved without this work of pruning.

v     They are utterly dependent on the vine (4, 5) so claim no glory for themselves. Salvation necessarily engages the human will and brings it into line with the word and will of God. If a person does not strive after holiness, there is no salvation (Hebrews 12:14). This does not, nevertheless, diminish our absolute dependence on Christ and his completed work and his giving us his Spirit for salvation. Paul states in 1 Corinthians, “He [God the Father] is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” His work is necessary outside of us for forgiveness and justification and his work is necessary in us for sanctification and perseverance.

v     Their fruitfulness arises from union of purpose with the Vine (7) Vital union [“abide in me”] plus knowledge of His words. When Paul spoke of justification he used the image “that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” Union with Christ is by faith, that is, a joyful consent of the heart to the excellence of Christ, his sufficiency, his exclusivity in righteousness and a desire to be found in Him before the Father. In response to the irresistible call of the Holy Spirit the whole soul actively seeks Christ and rests in him for everything. When we abide in him according to his word and in joyful submission to his will, we will find nothing superior for which to ask than that his name might be magnified in every arena of life. “Ask whatever you wish” when you abide in him and his words abide in you.

 

C.     The Father Glorified in the Son’s Success  8-11

1.      Bearing fruit in a way that shows the transforming power of Christ’s redemptive work 8

¨      As Jesus has emphasized on numerous occasions, he was sent by the Father, to do the Father’s will, and for the Father’s glory. When his undertaking to rescue a people from the power of darkness succeeds, and they become reflections of his light and imitators of his holiness, then the power of his saving work is manifest.

¨      That life-style of Christ glorification demonstrates true discipleship.

 

2.      That we value the Son’s love in the way He valued the Father’s love 9, 10 cf. 14:31

¨      The introduction to this analogy of love and obedience is far more than we can comprehend. “Just as” the Father has loved the Son, “also I myself have loved you.” This must reference the pre-mundane love of foreknowledge (1 Peter 1:2, 20) that the Father had, and has, for the Son as having taken on the task of anointed Redeemer. As eternal Son of God, the Son is the natural object of the Father’s eternal love of complacence. As Messiah, he would come to be in time, uniting the eternal with the temporal, loved in the eternal electing purpose of the Father as the God/man because of the end of redemption. Even so has the Son loved us, his elect, in the eternal covenant of redemption. To reiterate, there are two loves with which the Father loves the Son—that intrinsic Trinitarian love constituting the eternal relationship of Father and Son, and, two, that love of good pleasure that elected the specific humanity of Jesus as that nature to be united unchangeably with the person of his Son. With that kind of purposive electing love Jesus loves his people.

¨      “Abide in my love.” - Those that see and affirm the pure gratuity of the love of Jesus for them will never resort to any other ground of confidence before God. They will remain in his love, not in their worth or their works, but solely in his love for them manifest by his giving his life for them.

¨      The simple truth of salvation is that it begins in a transformation of soul by the work of the Spirit of God. This work changes us from disobedience and unbelief to obedience and belief. Obedience always is implied in the kind of faith that presses on to union with Christ. Paul wrote of the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5, 16:26) What the writers of Hebrews refers to in term of “faith” in 4:2, 3 (rather the failure to receive the message by faith) he refers to in terms of “obedience” in verses 6 and 7. Peter uses the phrase, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth” (1 Peter 1:22) in reference to their salvation and then speaks of the same by saying “the honor is for you who believe” (2:7). The fact is that one obeys the gospel when he accepts its verdict of the utter vanity of our works and  races to rely on Christ alone. Such a reliance on Christ alone in turn moves that believing person to acts of obedience to their master that redeemed them by his atoning blood.

 

3.      Joy comes from seeing the eternal goodness of this relationship verse 11 (cf. 1 John 1:4; Phil 2:1-3)  All things that make for joy are contained in the complete redemption Christ gives his sheep. Forgiveness, righteousness, holiness, eternity in the presence of that Being that is greater than anything that can be thought.

 

II.                 Bond Between Believers 12-17

 

A.     The character of Jesus’ love seals the relationship between believers 12, 13

1.      Jesus assumes that his affection for his people should be a rule for ours. Since Jesus is the highest in excellence and has loved those who are fit only for hell, How is it rational to think that we who are no better than others and yet are common recipients of his love, should not love one another?

 

2.      Jesus in laying down his life has shown that redemption comes only in the context of the perfect fulfillment of the Law. His life and death fulfilled the Law in its exact justice; our acceptance of such a redemption implies that we already have embraced the goodness and rightness of loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves. If we had not done so, that is, confessed that the law contains the entire content of righteousness and that it is good, we would never consent to be justified in the way of a substitutionary atonement and an imputed righteousness. In addition to this evaluation of the Law, our understanding of the compelling character of grace points to such love of the brethren.  Those that God has loved in particular should also be the particular objects of our love.  cf. Galatians 5:13-15

 

B.     The status of His people now changes

1.      His reconciling work changes us from slaves to friends. It is certainly true that, in the end, God uses all things in his creation to his own glory and makes even the wrath of man to praise him, (Read 2 Kings 19 esp. 25-28). So even those moral beings that do not submit to the will of God will in the end serve the purpose of his glory in a passive way. The redeemed, however, will find joy in giving glory to God in an active way, purposing in their hearts to do all to the glory of God. The beginning point of this is a cordial obedience to the will of God as revealed in the commands of Christ. Uppermost in these commands under consideration in this text is the command to love one another.

 

2.      To his friends he reveals his plans and shows them the eternal benefits they derive from his gracious intervention.. Compare also 13:16-20.  Is slave used in the same sense? If Christ suffered at the hands of the world as the one sent by the Father then so will his followers. When he gives his message by the subsequent revelation given by the Spirit, his messengers will be occupied in giving that message without seeking to subtract from its power or add any personal preferences to its content. How does this relate to Romans 8:26-39 and other such texts [Eph 3:8-13] These passages give a clear and full, even breathtaking, view of God’s revealed purpose for the people that Jesus here calls his friends. In light of such revealed truth, how should we respond to the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Are there any truly “bad things” for the redeemed, and can any in this world perceive themselves in any legitimate sense as “good people?” We must live and think in accordance with revelation for Jesus has made known all that he heard from the Father.

 

C.     Election results

1.      Fruitfulness according to the appointment of Christ. Within the great chain of means by which God brings to pass his eternal purpose is that faithful proclamation of the word concerning the gospel by his chosen servants. In the same way that he appointed these servants to faithfulness and fruitfulness so he has appointed all his redeemed one to the same.

 

2.      The persevering quality of this fruit [Look at 1 Thess 2:1-13; 3:5-10; Col 1:6] Paul could recognize that the Spirit, in accord with the promise of Jesus, had blessed the preaching of the gospel to save his elect in the world. Their faith would be manifest in spite of opposition.

 

3.      The Father’s favor because of union with Christ [Eph. 1:3 ff] Again Jesus promised that the Father would grant that which is asked in the name of Jesus. See comments on verse 7 for the doctrinal basis of this promise.

 

D.     Summarizing the work of Christ in a horizontal command 17

1.      The horizontal provides the surest test that we perceive the nature of God’s love cf. 1 John 3:23, 24; 4:7-12

 

2.      The horizontal command is the clearest indication of the regenerating and sealing work of the Spirit  1 John 3:24 and 4:13

 

III.               Application

A.     How important is it for His word to abide in us?  What sorts of other experiences or substitutes do people, sometimes Christians, seek for assurance of well-being?

B.     Is the Father’s process of “pruning” sometimes painful?  In how many aspects of life can we expect such pruning that we might bear fruit?

C.     In light of this passage, should apparent apostasy, even at the highest level of Christian notoriety disturb our confidence in God’s preserving of his people, or the truly transforming power of the Gospel?

D.     What are some specific ways in which we can meditate on the Trinity and redemptive love in order to transform our objects of love as we walk in the faith?