************ Sermon on John 15:5 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 2, 2001
"Remaining in Christ"
I Christ is the Vine
A Imagine that you are a Jew living at the time of Jesus. You go to the Temple for worship. Do you know what you see as you enter the Temple area? You see a hand-made vine made of gold with grape clusters as tall as a man. Imagine, too, that you go to a shop to buy something. As you hand the shop-keeper a coin you admire the outline of a vine and branches engraved on the face of the coin. Why is there a vine by the Temple, and why is a vine engraved upon the currency? Both of these are reminders to you that Israel is the vine of the Lord.
But Israel as the vine of the Lord was a bitter disappointment. In Jeremiah 2 we hear Jehovah making a lament about Israel:
(Jer 2:21) I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?The LORD God – Whom Jesus compares to a gardener – would look for fruit, good fruit, in His vineyard Israel, and was disappointed time after time.
We come across the same sort of thing in Isaiah 5. Isaiah sings "The Song of the Vineyard," a song the Lord put in his heart. I invite you to turn with me to this passage:
(Is 5:1-6) I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. (2) He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. (3) "Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. (4) What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? (5) Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. (6) I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it."Just in case his audience does not get the point, Isaiah drives home the message in the next verse:
(Is 5:7) The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
Israel was an imperfect vine. When the Lord, the divine Gardener, walked through His vineyard, He found only bad fruit. That's why Israel was sent into exile, that's why Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70, that's why Israel was replaced by the New Testament church.
B In contrast to Israel is Jesus; He succeeds where Israel fails. In our text Jesus says, "I am the vine." And, in verse 1 He says, "I am the true vine." In other words, Jesus took Israel's place as the vine of the Lord. And, as the true vine Jesus bears the fruit Israel never did or could. As the true vine Jesus fulfills the Father's expectations so that the Father is never disappointed when He looks for fruit on the vine of His Son.
C How do we fit into this? In our text for this evening Jesus says, "I am the vine; you are the branches." Let's make sure we properly understand this. Often we have the wrong idea here and think of Jesus as the stock or the trunk and of ourselves as the branches that grow on and get their nourishment from and through the stock or trunk. But Christ does not say, "I am the stock, I am the trunk." Rather, He says "I am the vine."
What is the vine? The vine is the whole plant – stock, roots, branches, leaves, and all. "I am the vine; you are the branches." Do you realize what Jesus is saying about us here? We can highlight three things:
First, He is saying we are part of Him. The vine/branch imagery means that we are "in Christ," "with Christ," "united to Christ," "one with Christ." Between the Savior and His people there is a unity, a bond of fellowship and love and life.
Second, the vine/branch imagery also means that we, in and with and through Christ, replace Israel as the vineyard of the Lord.
Third, the vine/branch imagery means that when Christ, the vine, produces the fruit Israel never did, Christ produces fruit through us. This is a very important point: when Christ, the vine, produces the fruit Israel never did, Christ produces the fruit through us. In other words, when we bear fruit, it is Christ's fruit we are bearing and it is Christ Who is bearing fruit in us. So, when the divine Gardener walks through His vine-yard looking for fruit, He looks for it in your life and my life and in the lives of all those who are part of Christ.
"I am the vine; you are the branches." Being in Christ, ours is the joy and responsibility of bearing fruit.
II Bear Fruit by Remaining in Christ
A In our text Jesus tells us very plainly how we are to bear fruit, more fruit, much fruit: we are to remain in Christ and He in us.
(Jn 15:5) "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.We are to "remain" in Christ: we are to live in Him; we are to find our life, our source, our nourishment in Him; we are to open our hearts to Him; we are to keep fellowship with Him. With the Apostle Paul we are to say, "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2:20).
Jesus tells us that apart from Him we can do nothing. Listen to what He says in verse 4:
(Jn 15:4) Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.A branch by itself cannot bear fruit; it needs to be part of the vine. In the same way, we the branches cannot bear fruit unless we remain in Christ, unless we remain part of the vine, unless we continue in fellowship with the Lord.
B Christ is the vine. We are the branches. We are to bear fruit by remaining in Christ, by keeping fellowship with the Lord. How do we remain in Christ? How do we keep in fellowship with Him? Our passage gives us a number of answers.
Remaining in Christ, keeping in fellowship with Him involves spending time with the Word of the Lord, it means a time of meditation and study. Verse 7 says, "If you remain in me and my words remain in you ..." Prayer is also a part of remaining in Christ.
(Jn 15:7) If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.Confession is a third factor in remaining in Christ. It is sin which breaks our fellowship and communion with Christ. In his first letter John says,
(1Jn 1:6) If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.A fourth factor in remaining in Christ is obedience. Jesus says,
(Jn 15:10) If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.
To remain in Christ, to keep in fellowship with Him, we must meditate on the Word, remain steadfast in prayer, confess our sins, and strive for obedience. We must actively seek the Lord and a life of fellowship with Him.
Yet, we know from elsewhere in Scripture that this is not the whole answer. We know that life with Christ involves God's electing love. As Jesus put it in our Bible reading,
(Jn 15:16) You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit ...All that we can do is yield to Christ and let Him have His way with us.
It is Paul who joins the two ideas together – God's pursuit of us and our pursuit of God – in his letter to the church in Philippi:
(Phil 2:12-13) ... continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (13) for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.God works in, we work out. As we surrender, God works in; as we obey, God works out.
III Evidences of Remaining in Christ
A We never have to ask, "Am I remaining in Christ?" because when we are in communion with the Lord there will be proofs or evidences in our lives.
The first evidence, and the most obvious, is fruit. Listen again to the words of our text:
(Jn 15:5) "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.If we have a close relationship with the Lord, then the result is fruit in and through our lives. Let me list some of the fruits: one fruit is winning others to Christ and helping them to grow in the Lord; another fruit is holiness or the sanctified life in which we put off sin and put on the true spiritual virtues – especially love (cf vs 9,12), but also joy (cf vs 11), peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; generosity, a sharing of what we possess, is another fruit; another fruit is good works; and, a last fruit we can mention is the praise and worship of God.
Fruit is evidence that you are remaining in Christ. The Father sees that fruit and rejoices in it. He then works in you with His Spirit so that you not only produce fruit but also "more fruit" and "much fruit" (John 15:2,5). For, as we learn from verse 8, it is to the Father's glory that we produce fruit, much fruit.
B A second evidence that you are remaining in Christ is the Father's pruning. Jesus says,
(Jn 15:2) He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.What is this pruning process? It is the Father cutting out of our lives the things that hinder us from being more fruitful. God always wants us to reach our fullest potential. This explains why Christians who remain in Christ are often suffering Christians. This explains why some believers seem to experience so much suffering and loss. They experience the Father's pruning, and it hurts. The author of Hebrews speaks to this:
(Heb 12:5-7,11) "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, (6) because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." (7) Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? ... (11) No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
What does the Father cut away from our lives? He cuts away anything that keeps the life of the Vine from producing more fruit, much fruit. If the life goes to leaf, He cuts away the excess leaves. Of themselves, leaves are not bad; but if they rob us of fruit, they must be cut away. Think of Abraham. God told him to leave his home and family, but Abraham took his father along. The father had to die before God could continue His work in Abraham's life. Then Abraham had to cut ties with Lot. Then it was his son Ishmael, who he fathered through Hagar. And then it was his beloved son Isaac. Expect to be pruned if you remain in Christ.
The Father's knife is ready to cut away anything in our lives that is keeping us from bearing more fruit for His glory. Often we pray, "Why, Lord?" when we endure suffering and loss. And His answer is clear: "I want you to bear more fruit." The Father may hurt you, but He will never harm you. His pruning is for your good and His glory, and that is all that really counts.
C There is a third evidence of remaining in Christ; it is a growing sense of weakness. Jesus says,
(Jn 15:5) "I am the vine; you are the branches ... apart from me you can do nothing.
Have you ever noticed that God often tests His children in their strongest points? Satan tempts us in our weakest points to bring out the worst in us, but God tests us in our strongest points to bring out the best in us.
Abraham's strongest point was his faith, and that is exactly where the Lord tested him. One time God permitted a famine to come to the land and Abraham went down to Egypt to save himself; Abraham failed the test when he lied about Sarah and pretended she was his sister rather than his wife (Gen 12:10ff). Another time God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the child of the promise; this time Abraham passed the test and believed God would bring Isaac back to life so that the promises would still be fulfilled (Gen 22; cf Heb 11:17ff). Moses' strongest point was his meekness before God; yet one day he lost his temper and failed to glorify God when he struck the rock twice (Num 20:1ff). Peter's greatest strength was his courage; yet, he became a coward when confronted by a little maid who asked him about Jesus (Mt 26:69ff). Peter had boasted that he would even die for the Lord. He found out how weak he was and that, apart from Christ, he could do nothing.
It is always tempting for a Christian to think he is stronger than he really is; that on his own he can handle sin, evil, and temptation; that on his own he can handle the lures and lusts of the world; that he has the wisdom and power to handle life. Beware! You are heading for certain failure and shame. Jesus said, "Apart from me, you can do nothing." Nothing! Of yourself, on your own, you are a weak branch, capable of nothing. But, as Paul puts it, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Phil 4:13). Remember, it is only in Christ that you have all the strength you need to bear fruit and glorify God.
D A fourth evidence of remaining in Christ is answered prayer. Jesus says,
(Jn 15:7) If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.Our Father wants to answer prayer. But, He answers only those prayers that are prayed according to His will; He answers prayer only when our prayer's desires are what He desires. Those who abide or remain in Christ, those who enjoy fellowship and communion with Christ, pray in His will and He answers.
Prayer is not only an evidence of remaining in Christ, it is also a cause. As we pray, we remain; and as we remain, we pray.
E These, then are some of the evidences that we are remaining in Christ: we bear fruit for God's glory; we experience the Father's pruning; we have a sense of weakness; we have our prayers answered. To be sure, not every believer who remains in Christ will have all of these blessings to the same degree and at the same time. But they will be present in some measure.
Jesus is the vine; we are the branches. It is our job to bear Christ's fruit. But, we can bear fruit only if we remain in Christ.
It is good for us as branches to examine ourselves regularly to see if we are remaining in Christ. So I ask you, do you actively seek a closer walk with Christ? Do you see in your life the signs of remaining in Christ?
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