John 15:1-8 contains Jesus’ well-known teaching about the vine and its branches. He states:
‘1 I am the true vine and My Father is the gardener. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He cuts off, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, so that it might bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, so 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, he is the one who bears much fruit, because without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown out like and branch and dries up. 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, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, in your bearing much fruit and being My disciples.’
In this passage the Lord portrays Himself as a vine and His followers as the branches of that vine.
Actually, strictly speaking He must mean that He is the trunk of the vine and His followers are the branches. He surely doesn’t mean that He is the whole vine, both trunk and branches, and that we are also the branches. That would hardly make sense of verse 2, where He says that God prunes the branches that bear fruit. Pruning here symbolises God’s discipline, and the perfect Jesus clearly needed no disciplining. So the metaphor, strictly speaking, must involve Jesus being the trunk of the vine.
The importance of abiding in Jesus
In verses 4-7 Jesus instructs His followers to abide in Him as the branches of the vine abide in the vine, i.e., in the trunk of the vine. And in verses 4-5 He tells us that our abiding in Him is accompanied by His abiding in us. The picture here is one of great intimacy between the Lord and His followers, one in which He and each Christian are bonded to each other very closely.
In verse 4 Jesus tells us too that unless we abide in Him we cannot bear fruit. And in verse 5 He says that those who abide in Him will bear much fruit. The fruit that He refers to in these verses should be interpreted broadly as symbolising everything we do that is profitable in God’s sight. Abiding in Jesus is therefore obviously extremely important.
Degrees of abiding
Although the passage speaks only of abiding, and says nothing about greater or lesser degrees of abiding, it makes sense to think that Christians can actually grow in their ability to abide in the Lord.
It is true that a literal branch cannot grow in its ability to abide in the literal trunk of a vine. So someone might want to argue that we should not understand a symbolic branch, i.e., a Christian, to be able to grow in his or her ability to abide in the symbolic trunk of the vine, i.e., Jesus.
This, however, would be to read more detail out of the symbolism than is appropriate. Most biblical symbols don’t correspond precisely to reality in every respect.
It is reasonable to think, then, that Christians can grow in their ability to abide in the Lord. And because abiding in Him leads to bearing fruit, this means that the better we abide in Him the more fruit we will bear. In other words, the better we abide in Him the more we will please God.
So, how do we achieve this goal of abiding in Jesus more and more deeply?
Well, firstly, there should be no doubt that the better we obey Him, the better we will abide in Him. We should therefore be asking Him to show us all in our lives that displeases Him. And as He reveals this and we aim to put it right, we will be able to abide more deeply in Him.
Doing everything with Jesus
As well as aiming to obey Jesus better, there is something else that can help us to abide in Him more deeply. This is quite simply for us to make it our goal to do everything we do with Him.
In fact, in this passage the Lord Himself points us in this direction. In verse 5, after saying that our abiding in Him will lead us to bear much fruit, He actually says, ‘Without Me you can do nothing’.
Every day numerous little problems, and some big ones, usually crop up in our lives. I don’t know if you are anything like me, but I find that my reaction to a problem I face is often something like the following. First, I worry a little about it. Then I try in my own strength to solve it. And if that doesn’t work, only then do I start praying about it. I think this is probably a bad habit that most Christians, if they are honest, often fall into.
However, it is surely true that the more we can get into the habit of doing everything with Jesus, the more easily we will avoid worrying and trying to do things by ourselves. Instead, we will move quicker to treating a problem as something that Jesus and we will overcome together.
Nor should we aim only to overcome problems with the Lord and in His strength. His words about not being able to do anything without Him in verse 5 suggest that we should be aiming to do all that we do with Him, whether or not there is anything difficult about it. Basically, our goal should be to treat everything we do as a joint venture with Jesus.
That is not to say that we should try to be constantly conscious in our minds of doing everything with the Lord. I think that would be unrealistic and would probably be exhausting. I just mean that deeper down, in our spirits, we should attempt to rest constantly in Him and do everything we do with Him.
It has to be true that the more we learn how to do everything with Jesus, the more deeply we will abide in Him. And as we have seen in verses 4-5, there is a connection between abiding and fruit-bearing. This means that the more we get into the habit of doing everything with Jesus, the more we will be able to please God.