I want to delve a bit into the passage below to give us yet another way to look at what it means to be in Christ and for Christ to be in us. Bear in mind that a metaphor is a message and we need to only get from it what the Lord has put into it. All metaphors break down at some point if we move beyond the message. Branches cannot move in an out of a vine, yet there is a sense in which while if we are born again we are in Jesus, we can choose whether or not to abide. The message of the metaphor below is fruitfulness, not conversion.
1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 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. 6 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. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” John 15:1-8 (NKJV)
In this metaphor to be fruitful we must be abiding. So what images does the word abiding evoke? We can think of living somewhere, however living and abiding may be two different things. We can live somewhere and not ‘abide’ because abiding carries the idea of being settled or being at home where we live. When Jesus says ‘abide in me’ He is asking us to settle down and be comfortable with Him, like a branch well connected to a vine. While Jesus desires that we abide in Him, He also desires to be comfortable in us. This pattern of us in Him and Him in us is replayed for us earlier in John 14. Things are sometimes lost in translation. The verses below are a good example.
2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. John 14:2 (NKJV)
23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” John 14:23 (NKJV)
These verses are part of a longer teaching by Jesus and what is lost is that in verse 2 the word ‘mansions’ and the word ‘home’ in verse 23 are the same word in Greek. These are the only two occurrences of the word in the New Testament and the meaning of the word is place, dwelling, stay or abide (the first version of the NKJV had ‘dwelling places’ in it, as the NASB does now) Jesus wasn’t telling the apostles that by going to the cross He was going to go to heaven and take up home building. His sacrifice, death and resurrection were creating a dwelling place for them in heaven in Him and if the apostles (and by extension us) kept His word He would abide in them.
So in Jesus use of the vine metaphor we see that a grape branch produces fruit by dwelling or abiding, by being connected to and drawing life from the vine, the source. As we learn to abide, to live in Jesus (us in Christ) we draw on Him and His life flows through us (Christ in us) and fruit is produced. We abide in Him by learning to be at rest in Him and His word and the fruit flows forth brings glory to our Father.
Another important part Jesus addresses is pruning. Yes, it involves cutting. Have you ever looked at a branch on a tree or vine that has a lot of leaves but no fruit? It may look good but not only is it of no real value to the gardener, it is in fact drawing life from the vine that is being consumed on itself but producing nothing. These branches are useless and need to be removed so that the life that is going into them can be redirected to fruitful branches.
The other thing Jesus addressed in verse 2 was the ‘taking away’ of branches that have no fruit. This may seem to refer to pruning but Jesus clearly addressed pruning later. The alternate rendering in my bible is ‘lift up.’ This seems to better capture what Jesus is communicating. If you look at vineyards you see the vines are all staked so that the branches are raised up off the ground to fruit. Jesus seems to be saying is that if a branch is laying in the dirt (think carnality or sin) it is unfruitful and needs to be raised up from the dirt to produce fruit. If we are seeking to abide in Him but see no fruit in our lives it may be that we need to come to Him in repentance so that we are lifted up from the dirt and fruit is produced through our life in Him.
My prayer is that we as branches will be woven into a beautiful living tapestry that produces much fruit while shining in the Son!