Today’s passage is John 15:1-17. This morning, I want to attempt to unpack this awesome package and help us to understand a little bit more how we can “Abide in Christ”.
So according to John 15:1 Jesus is the true, genuine, life-giving Vine. The Father is the Vinedresser so He is the Farmer. So in this section Jesus gives us an ‘I Am’ statement. This is the last of the seven ‘I Am’ statements that Jesus gives us. I want to give you the seven metaphorical ‘I Am’ statements as a refresher. Jesus said ‘I Am the Bread of Life.’ He said ‘I Am the Light of the World.’ ‘I Am the Door.’ ‘I Am the Good Shepherd.’ ‘I Am the Resurrection and the Life.’ ‘I Am the Way, the Truth and the Life.’ Lastly, here He tells us ‘I Am the Vine.’
Before this Jesus uses ‘I Am’ one other time in John 8:58. Here He is using the ‘I Am’ to absolutely announce His Deity. This is also when they accuse Jesus of having a demon. They ask Him if He has ever seen Abraham and this is what He says to them in John 8:58, Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So Jesus is pronouncing His Deity and hence in these other ‘I Am’ statements He is doing the same thing.
The image of a vine takes us back to many references in the Old Testament. There, God often referred to his chosen people, the people of Israel, as a vine, a vine that God himself planted—like a vinedresser, or in other words, a farmer. And God expected that vine, his people, the ones who represented him to everyone else on earth, to produce good fruit. Now, we’re not talking about the big, fat, juicy grapes kind of fruit, but the fruit of loving God and loving others. But did they produce good fruit? God’s words in Isaiah 5:7 tell us the answer:
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel
And the men of Judah are his pleasant planting;
And he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed;
For righteousness, but behold, an outcry!. Isaiah 5:7
Were they loving God? No way! Even after all he had done to rescue them from foreign powers, they were running back to foreign powers or gods for protection. Were they loving one another? Once again, not even close! Even though he had given them peace and unity as a people, they had divided themselves into two big gangs who fought against each other. They were a rotten people sprouting rotten, maggot-filled fruit. This is why it’s hard to get into the Old Testament. It’s page after page of a failed people. But it’s the majority of our Bible. It’s the history of our world. And yet it points to the hope of which we arrive at today.
The Principle of Abiding (What it Means to Abide in Christ)
Jesus comes along and says, “I AM the true vine” (v. 1). All that was intended from God’s people, all the fruit of loving God and loving others they were supposed to produce, all the pride and joy of God the Father—Jesus is that vine. So when we look to God and say, “What do you want from me?!” he responds, “Be exactly like my Son.” Want to be a fruitful vine? Want to make God proud and be welcomed home? Be Jesus.
But what’s the problem with that? You can’t be Jesus. And yet we try! When I was newly born again I thought I am not going to sin again and live a righteous life and start working for God and his kingdom ; and that was great...but I couldn’t even get to control myself for a week! Many people think Christianity is just about making the world a better place by doing the things that Jesus did. But the essence of Christianity is all about recognizing you are not the vine and being vitally connected to the true vine, Jesus Christ. Thus Jesus says this:
Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. John 15:3
This emphasis is on what Jesus has done, not us. In light of the many famous phrases in John 15, this little sentence is easily overlooked, which is really unfortunate because of how much we need its truth. For some of us, we feel the need to clean ourselves up before we dare approach God. For others, even though we know that only God can clean us, we feel like we need to keep ourselves cleaned up to stay in his good graces.
But Jesus said to his disciples, “Already you are clean”. The disciples hadn’t received some magical words that cleaned them up—they had received Jesus, “the word made flesh” (John 1:14), and he himself was the word that breathed new life into them, much like he did to Adam in the very beginning. After clarifying who does the cleaning, Jesus continued,
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. John 15:4-5
Here, Jesus began to use the word ‘abide’ here eleven times, which is a word we really don’t say that much. So what does it mean to abide? In the Greek the word for abide is menó. ‘Abide’ basically means ‘to remain’ or ‘continue’. I would say that abiding in Christ means to have a permanent, continual and steadfast relationship with Him. It is trusting in Him to be Lord and sovereign over your life. When Jesus says “Abide in me, and I in you,” it gives a clear sense of deep connection. A vine makes grapes by growing little branches, or shoots. There are no branches that exist on their own—they all grow out of and are completely dependent on the life-giving nutrients of the vine. In using this picture, a couple of things become really clear.
First, Jesus has determined that he will produce his fruit through you. In other words, all that he wants to accomplish to reconcile the world to himself and to one another, he is going to accomplish through those who are vitally connected to him. This is not optional, just for pastors and missionaries. If you are in a real relationship with Jesus himself, you cannot keep fruit from growing in your life. You can’t explain it! And if fruit isn’t growing, then it’s a sign you aren’t connected to Jesus the vine. And pay attention because Jesus says of you,
If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. John 15:6
A second thing that becomes clear from the picture of the vine and the branches is that the fruit that Jesus wants to produce through you cannot be produced without him. He says in verse 5, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
Nothing?! Really, Jesus—nothing?! As a young man in ministry among other young men and women in ministry, I have found that we can do a lot apart from Jesus. One of my most frightening thoughts is how much we are able to accomplish in our own strength. There have been some churches planted and missionaries sent and books written and poor fed and children raised and checks written in the name of Jesus, and yet done primarily by the sheer determination of “good Christians”. But Jesus warns us,
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-23
Anything we do that fails to come from a vitally connected relationship with Jesus Christ, even many mighty works done in the name of Jesus, ultimately they count for nothing. There may be applause and admiration from others. It doesn’t count. There may be a sense of personal accomplishment and satisfaction and duty fulfilled. It doesn’t count. There may even be the ability to lay your head on your pillow at night and trust you’ve proven you really are a Christian. Still, it doesn’t count! So the questions lingers, “Then what does count?” Paul tells us in Galatians:
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Galatians 5:6
The only thing that counts to God is faith—a deep, abiding trust in his Son Jesus, and as you depend on him over and over, day by day, moment by moment, opportunity by opportunity, failure by failure, he produces, in you and through you, love. Love for him and love for others.
Abiding in Christ means staying connected to our Source of power. The phones nowadays are pretty amazing. With mine I can make calls, text people, take pictures, use it as my map to get around town, as a calculator, a flashlight and I can even do my banking on it, but it’s useless when the power runs out. In the same manner if I am not abiding in Christ, my Source of power, then as the end of John 15:5 says ‘apart from Me I can do nothing.’ Christian, we must not forget this truth for when we aren’t abiding with Christ we are able to do nothing. If you’re like me I try to do it apart from Christ many times and it gets me nowhere. We bear fruit when we are abiding in Christ and not trusting in our own efforts.
The Process of Abiding (How do we Abide in Christ?)
So, practically speaking what are some things we can do to abide in Christ and with Christ? What did our Lord do? What does He command us to do? Jesus spent time with the Father. The only way we grow close with someone is by spending time with them. Jesus was always stealing away to spend time with the Father. In fact, there is recorded 15 times in the Gospel where Jesus withdrew to a quiet place to meet with the Father. We have to spend time with Him, in His Word, reading His Word and through prayer.
This is something we can easily model for others. When I had just become a Christian after a youth camp in my church and I had a great opportunity to go to a Bible College in Visakhapatnam, AP. I remember, one of my classmates, getting up each morning and he would already be up and reading the Word and praying on the terrace of our hostel. That was just a great witness to me as a new believer and that was something that I needed to do in my life, a pattern that I needed to develop. We also need to encourage one another in the Lord to do this and not just model it for others.
We need to take in God’s Word. Joshua 1:8 says “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success”.
Our obedience causes us to abide in Christ, in God’s love. John 15:10 says If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.
Jesus told us earlier in John 14:21, Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. What a great promise! If we keep His commands He loves us.
Sinclair Ferguson put it this way; ‘In a nutshell, abiding in Christ means allowing His Word to fill our minds, direct our wills, and transform our affections. In other words, our relationship to Christ is intimately connected to what we do with our Bibles!’ I thought that was so good!
John 15:6 says  If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
So when someone doesn’t belong to Christ they stand condemned and it’s because of their works of disobedience and there is a hell to pay. We cannot neglect teaching and speaking about hell. That would be the cruelest, meanest thing we could do to those who don’t know Christ.
If I was standing at the edge of a bridge and there was a massive hole in it and people would perish if they drove across, how cruel would it be of me to say ‘come on through and enjoy your ride’? We can’t do that. We wouldn’t do that. So we have to tell people about the tragic and terrible hell that awaits them apart from Christ. And that they too can have a relationship with Christ and forgiveness of their sins. We have to warn them.
Romans 6:23 says For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. We need to offer them that free gift of eternal life.
The Product of Abiding (What Comes from Abiding in Christ)
And yet he still laid down his life so that he could call you friend. There is no greater love than that! And that is the love he intends to pour into your heart so that it overflows into your life. Though love is the first and most important fruit that is produced when you have a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus, it isn’t the only fruit. In fact, Jesus told his disciples that
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. John 15:8
The proof of true disciple isn't just fruit, but “much fruit”. And here is where this passage has been used sometimes to place a heavy burden on Christians rather than set them free. If we misunderstand or downplay that only Jesus can produce the fruit he wants in us, then not only do we feel required to make things happen on our own, we carry the weight of trying to make a lot of things happen on our own. That’s exhausting! And it’s especially exhausting when you consider that our particular tribe of Christians define this fruit primarily as evangelism, leading people to Christ; or, on a church-wide scale, the number of baptisms. No wonder we are often guilt-driven tribe, seeing so little “fruit” according to this formula that we wonder if we’re even Christians!
Though Jesus’ words in John 15 hint at the apostles bearing much fruit in being witnesses, there are other kinds of fruit he is very clear about. One of them is discipline. Jesus says in verse 2:
Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. John 15:2
Pruning means cutting off older branches so that new branches can grow and bear more fruit. It’s’ necessary and painful work, and it’s the kind of work God is committed to in your life. Every sleepless night, every body ache, every poopy diaper, every moment of drama at school—for the Christian this isn’t just life, it’s God’s intimate work in your life to prune you, to take away the things you cling to, and to give you the only thing that is necessary for a fruitful life: Jesus himself.
Contrary to what the health, wealth and prosperity gospel preachers teach, we need that often painful pruning by God in order to bear more fruit. Pruning isn’t an easy thing. God’s fruit is produced for His glory so we need that pruning in our lives.
James 1:2–4 says  Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,  for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. How can we expect to abide in Christ and move through life without pain and trials when even our Lord Himself suffered through trials. Matthew 4:1 says  Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Then Hebrews 4:15 says  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. So even our Lord went through trials.
Ryle explains the pruning this way; “Trial, to speak plainly, is the instrument by which our Father in heaven makes Christians more holy. By trial He calls out their passive graces, and proves whether they can suffer His will as well as do it. By trial He weans them from the world, draws them to Christ, drives them to the Bible and prayer, shows them their own hearts, and makes them humble. This is the process by which He "prunes" them, and makes them more fruitful”. So that pruning in our lives, though very painful, is very necessary to conform us more and more into the image of Christ. It’s hard to embrace it but like James has told us we need to work at it to consider it all joy.
Another kind of fruit is joy. Jesus says in verse 11:
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:11
In light of all the pruning that is guaranteed in the Christian’s life, it would be easy to walk away from today discouraged. But Jesus tells us that all this will also produce joy— and not just any joy—but the joy of Jesus himself, a supernatural kind of sustaining joy so real that it delighted Jesus to anything God asked him, even dying on the cross.
R.C. Sproul says this about Christ’s joy; “Jesus expresses the desire that our joy should be full and that your joy may be full, isn’t that what we want? We do not want a partial cup of the fruit of the Spirit. We do not want just a little bit of joy. We want all the joy that the Father has stored up for His people. That fullness of joy comes from Christ. It is first His joy that He gives to us and as we are plugged into Him this joy that comes from Him grows, increases and become full. There is a fullness that awaits us as the fruit of the Spirit is nurtured by the True Vine.”
The final kind of fruit I want to highlight from this passage is prayer. Twice Jesus emphasizes this:
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. John 15:7
This isn’t just prayer, but answered prayer. Not like a genie bottle, but more like if you are remaining in a deep relationship with Jesus, your heart will line up more and more with his, and so you’ll ask for things that he would want you to ask for. And he will faithfully give us those things, to our amazement and delight.
So what happens when we abide in Christ? John 15:7 says If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. J.C. Ryle says ‘This is a distinct promise of power and success in prayer.’ So let’s clarify here. When we abide in Christ God’s will becomes our deepest desire and whatever we ask, which will be what He desires that will be done. So when we abide in Him our desires become His desires and that will, will be done.
In conclusion, abide in Christ as we have been called to do. Spend time in His Word, with Him and in prayer. Spend time listening to the Word preached, hearing it taught, memorizing it, meditating on it because it is so rich and valuable to us. God helps us to understand what a blessing it is in our lives.