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.
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.