Thirty Days in John 15, Day 8: Unfruitful Branches

We’ve seen that the vinedresser had much more to do than just prune the vine, although the pruning is probably the most important factor in its fruitfulness. The vineyard of the sluggard in Proverbs 24 reminds us that vines need constant attention and upkeep. Walls needed to be kept in repair, and weeds needed to be removed. The fruit needed protection from hungry and destructive animals. If the vines failed to be pruned, they would become overgrown, tangled, and bear very little fruit of poor quality.

The vinedresser prunes the vine so that its energy will be focused on the production of fruit. Let’s take a closer look at the vinedresser’s approach to the unfruitful branches.

Assignment: Pray, for yourself, and for others who are studying this passage along with you.

  • Then read John 15:1-11, recalling all that you have learned up to this point in your study.
  • Now let’s zero in on verse 2.

The first half of this verse is difficult for many reasons. Due to our limited time and scope, we will not delve deeply into its varied interpretations. Instead, we’re going to focus primarily on what it clearly does not mean.

Some have taken the phrase, “every branch in me that does not bear fruit is taken away,” to say that true believers in Christ can lose their eternal salvation.

This is not true and can’t be true because of the witness of the rest of Scripture.

  • Open Blue Letter Bible online or in your app and search for John 6:37.
  • Read the verse carefully. Do these words leave any room for a true believer to lose His eternal salvation?
  • Let’s look at more verses. Hover over that blue “Tools” button to the left of the verse and click on the purple “Cross-Refs” button. (App users, click the verse text. Then select “Cross References [TSK]”.) This will open a collection of verses that relate to John 6:37. Cross-references allow us to use the rest of Scripture to help us interpret a passage.
  • Scroll down the page until you see the fully quoted verses, and then continue scrolling until you reach the heading shall. These are verses related to the phrase “shall come to me” in John 6:37.
  • Skim the verses in just this section (stop when you reach the heading I will), slowing down to take notes on verses that relate to our subject — the security of the believer in Christ. Not every verse will relate directly to that topic, but several do, and need to be noted.
  • These verses remove any doubts we might have about our salvation. If God has chosen us, if we’ve responded in trust and obedience, and placed our faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross, no one and no thing can take us out of His hands. “Already [we] are clean because of the word [Jesus] has spoken to [us].” God looks at us and sees His perfect, sinless Son. Our earthly lives will be largely devoted to “becoming who we already are,” but our failings, our sins, our insecurities will never negate our eternal standing with God.

Optional:

For those who are interested, let me briefly summarize two common interpretations of the unfruitful vine’s apparent removal from the vine:

  • First, many interpret these unfruitful branches in verse 2 to be those who may be part of the church, part of the community of believers, speaking the language of believers, participating in the activities of believers, and even appearing from outward appearances to be believers, but who in the end are not true, committed, fruitful followers of Christ.

Eventually they fall away, or come under discipline, or even die, and are removed from the church, just as the unfruitful branches are removed from the vine.

We should remember that Jesus, in Chapter 15, is speaking to only eleven disciples at this point in His discourse. That is because Judas has already left the room. After three years of eating with Jesus, traveling with Jesus, listening to Him teach, watching Him perform miracles, and even acting as the group’s treasurer, but he is not a true disciple. Jesus knew this when He chose Judas as one of His disciples. He knew he would betray Him. He knew he would never be a true follower of Him.

But he was an integral part of Jesus’ inner circle, one of the twelve who were called out to follow Him. In the end, his actions prove his heart. He is cut off and taken away, just like the unfruitful branches of the vine, and just like the many others in history who have claimed to be part of the community of believers, only to turn away in the end.

  • A second interpretation is based on another viable translation of the Greek word that appears as “take away” in most versions of the Bible. The original Greek word is often used in Scripture to actually mean “lift up.”

In this interpretation, the vinedresser is lifting up those branches that are lying on the ground. He lifts them up to keep them from trailing in the dirt and to place them on supports where they will grow better and receive more sunlight. Applied to those who are “in Christ,” God is caring, in this analogy, for immature believers, drawing them to Himself, and helping remove those habits and priorities that are detrimental to their growth as believers.

Whichever way we choose to interpret the phrase, In either case, these unfruitful branches are not true believers who lose their salvation. We can rest in the assurance that we are in Christ and always will be. Nothing can snatch us away from the love of Christ.

For your children:

Our children need to know that, in spite of their immaturity and struggles against sin, if they have placed their faith in Jesus and love and desire to obey Him, no one is ever going to take them away from Jesus, who gave His life for them.

  • Gather all your children together and discuss the verses you read about our secure standing in Christ.
  • Then pray together, thanking God for giving His Son, for calling you His own, and for His promise that you are eternally His.
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10 Comments

  1. Thank you for the commentary on “take away” possibly meaning to “lift up”. I have never heard that before, but it makes sense here.
    I am thankful to God for you and your ministry. It has been a constant source of good Bible study that has given me more love for spending time in the Word and a greater love for Jesus. I am ever grateful for you and your dillegence to lead us to a more abundant life through Christ.

  2. In the paragraph right above the section “Optional” in this sentence:
    Our earthly lives will be largely devoted to “becoming who we already are,” …
    Where is the phrase “becoming who we already are” quoted from? This is a very interesting concept to me that I would like to study more. Thank you!

    • Melody, I’m sure Pam could answer this better, but my understanding is this: We are already “clean” or considered righteous because of Jesus’ work. In reality, though we are still sinning. The process of sanctification helps us to slowly become more and more Christlike in our actions (less sin), while justification happened all at once (being declared righteous).

      I hope that helps!

      Pam, feel free to correct or clarify what I’ve said here. 🙂

  3. Very interesting study today! Thank you so much for doing this! It got me curious, and I looked up in a Bible Commentary that I had here at home. This is what it said about verse 2:
    “God has purchased us through Christ, that he might be a propitiation for our sins. We are within the bounds of his mercy, for in mercy his arm encircles the whole human race. Since Christ has paid the price for all the service that we should give him, we are his servants by purchase. Although we are in Christ Jesus by his covenant of promise, yet if we stand in a position of perfect indifference, without acknowledging him as our Savior, we bear no fruit. If by failing to be a partaker of his divine nature we bear no fruit, we are taken away. Worldly influences take us away from Christ, and our portion is the same as that of the unfruitful branch. ‘Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away.’ “

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  5. I wonder whether there might be a connection to the parable of the wheat and tares (found in Mathew 13) here? There seems to be a similar message.

    It reads:
    24Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:
    25but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.
    26But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.
    27So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?
    28He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?
    29But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.
    30Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

  6. The parable is explained later in the same passage by Jesus himself:

    36Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.
    37He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;
    38the field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;
    39the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
    40As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.
    41The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
    42and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
    43Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

  7. Since Jesus was talking to the 11 disciples, I was wondering if the unfruitful branches could be the Jews who followed the teachings of the Pharisees? Jesus did talk a lot about not being like the Pharisees in the Sermon on the Mount. At that time most Jews thought that if anybody was righteous, it was the Pharisees. That would be the “near” aspect. The “far” aspect could concern the Church of which Pam explained in the ‘First Interpretation’ of people who follow wrong teachings concerning Christ Jesus in the Church.

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  9. It is a great blessing to be apart of Christ. Knowing that our life is hid in Him and we can not be taken away from Him under any circumstances.
    It is God who draws us to Jesus, and Jesus receives us freely the moment we place our faith and trust in Him