John 15:1-6 deals with the productivity achieved in our lives after conversion begins. This teaching begins to make abundantly clear how much we need Him. Interestingly, what Jesus teaches in John 6 about being the bread of life—which also shows how much we need Him—occurred fairly early in His ministry. The exhortation here occurs at the end of His ministry, speaking to His disciples following His final Passover observance. He confirms that what the Father desires to be produced in our relationship cannot be produced apart from Christ. This passage is a final admonition for us to make every effort to remain "in" Him, not allowing what just happened with Judas to happen to us. By betraying His Savior, Judas abandoned the responsibility imposed by the New Covenant.
For the moment, consider the beginning of the relationship. We can overlook the arresting fact that, without Jesus paying the penalty for our sins, there would be no future except for death. Without it, there would be no looking forward to a joyous and productive life in the Kingdom of God. In fact, there would be no relationship at all. Without Him providing this for us, there would be no hope at all. Could we pay the penalty for sin and continue living?
Understanding the symbolism Jesus used is helpful in grasping how much we need what Christ did and does. To glean as much as we can from this, we need to tie it to its wider context, Jesus' final Passover with His disciples. Certain references to bread are made as part of Jesus' change of the Passover symbols, which helps to tie the symbolism together with His crucifixion for our forgiveness. Paul writes in I Corinthians 11:23-24:
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me."
In John 6, bread plays an important role. It is frequently used as a metaphor for Christ Himself. I Corinthians 11 clearly ties bread, also named in John 13:18, to the giving of His body in the crucifixion. I Corinthians 11:25-26 adds:
In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying. "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes.
This second symbol is important to grasping what Christ teaches in John 15:1-6 correctly. The vine He speaks of is obviously the grape vine. He clearly states that He is the vine and that we are the branches attached to Him. Just as grapes can be produced only by a shoot that remains attached to the vine, we can produce spiritual fruit that pleases the Father and thus be in the Kingdom of God only if we remain attached to Jesus Christ. In this illustration, all nourishment that results in fruit must come from the vine. He not only pays the penalty of our sins, but He also supplies the spiritual nourishment to produce fruit that glorifies the Father and prepares us for life in God's Kingdom.
John 8:31-32 reminds us that continuing in His Word is the key to knowing the truth and becoming free. This greatly enhances the production of fruit. Thus, if we fulfill our responsibility, we are in that sense in partnership with Him in performing our duties under the New Covenant. A wonderful additional benefit of remaining in Christ is that those who faithfully fulfill their roles are not gathered up and cast into the fire, as John 15:6 warns.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part Four)
Grafting is the process of joining two plants together so tightly that they grow together into one. The upper branch, called a scion, is tightly bound to the trunk of another plant, the rootstock. The bark is peeled where the two plants join to expose and align the cambium, the thin ribbon of actively dividing cells that produce conductive tissue for the actively growing plant. The two plants' tightly compressed cambiums develop finger-like tissues that grow together into a grafted union.
The practice of grafting has been used to accelerate fruitfulness, improve growth rates, and increase hardiness. Three key factors will result in successful grafting:
The first factor is compatibility. The closer the two plants are alike, the higher the success rate. One cannot take a palm tree and successfully graft it to a grapevine.
The second factor is alignment and pressure. The two plants must remain tightly bound, and their cambiums must line up as closely as possible.
The third factor is proper care of the graft site. The grafter must keep the joint alive, hydrated, and free of disease while the two plants grow together.
These three key success factors of a physical graft are the same elements required for a successful spiritual graft. The first, compatibility and likeness: Paul tells us, as the root is holy, so too must the branches be holy. God has called us to become holy, and if we desire holiness, we must plant holiness! Growing holiness is expensive because it costs us our complete devotion. We must learn to love—as God so loves us—sacrificing and holding nothing back! We must lay down our lives for each other (John 15:13).
The second success factor, alignment and pressure: The more tightly pressed together we are to Christ—the more we love Him and strive to emulate Him—the more aligned we are with Him and His way of life and the tighter our grafted union grows.
The third success factor, keep the joint alive, hydrated, and free of disease: It takes daily care—prayer, meditation, study, and occasional fasting—to ensure our grafted union remains active, nourished, and healthy through the Spirit of God and His living Word. These things, along with putting the things of God into practice as we learn them, help us develop and maintain the right attitude to bear much fruit. Through our strengthening grafted union to Jesus Christ, we receive the nourishment to produce the daily fruit of self-sacrificial love. This is how we become holy and pleasing to God.
We were the wild, unfruitful branches with no potential. But God the Father, the Vinedresser, called us and peeled back our thick, carnal, and sinful bark. Through the sacrificial death of our Savior and the New Covenant, He bound us tightly together in a grafted union to the holy Root. Through Him, we receive the spiritual nourishment and water of life (see Revelation 22:1) required to grow together and produce fruit.
The apostle James uses a similar metaphor of implanting or engrafting, this time in reference to God's Word: “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted [engrafted, KJV] word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).
We must work harder to remain aligned with Him in all things. As mentioned, the cost of holiness is complete, self-sacrificial love. If we hold back love or forgiveness, we cannot be in Him. If we put anything in this world over our relationship with Him, we cannot be in Him. As James urges, we must repent of everything in us that is not like Christ.
We must reach out to Him with all our might and literally cling to Him! He is our everything, and without Him, we can do nothing! As we abide in Him, He abides in us. As we draw near to God, He draws near to us (James 4:8). In this way, our grafted union will grow strong as we produce the righteous fruit that pleases Him.
We are the branch of God's planting, grafted into His Family. As we humble ourselves and embrace His engrafted Word of life, we grow in union with Him, transformed into righteous, holy branches that produce the self-sacrificial fruit of love. One day soon, the branches of God's planting will inherit the land forever and glorify our great God and Father!
The Branch of God's Planting
Once regenerated by the Holy Spirit from the Father, we must continually be led by it, bearing spiritual fruit throughout our lives. If we are producing the fruit of the Spirit, which exhibit a sound mind, we know it is working in us. The Spirit is the mind and essence of the divine nature, and through it God carries out His will. It empowers the mind to comprehend spiritual matters, producing conversion. It gives us the strength, will and faith to overcome our sins.
Martin G. Collins
The Holy Spirit
Christ came to this earth as THE BRANCH and fulfilled all righteousness, qualifying to replace Satan and rule as King over all the earth. He proved His worthiness by remaining in full accord with His heavenly Father, and bearing the spiritual fruit that makes redemption and salvation possible.
Likewise, we - whether natural or grafted in (Romans 11:17-24) - are also branches attached to the solid trunk of the tree, Christ. It is only by our abiding in Him - our attachment to Him - our close relationship with Him - that we produce any growth or godly works. As Paul writes in Romans 11:16, "If the root is holy, so are the branches." Our righteousness, works, and holiness come to us only because of our connection to Him.
Jesus says that God, in love, prunes us, chastens us, tries us, so that we become more profitable (see also Hebrews 12:3-11). He will do what He must to make us yield. But if we resist and eventually sever our connection with Him, we are fit only to be burned. God has no use for dead wood.
God wants us to use this connection to His Son to "bear much fruit," just as Jesus Christ did. Doing so proves to Him, to ourselves, and to everyone else that we are true Christians, disciples of His Son, the Branch. By this, we will glorify God and secure our place in His Kingdom.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Does it not follow that, if Christ is really living in us, we will produce fruit? Sanctification is something that can be seen. It is not difficult to figure out whether a person has been sanctified or not—whether they are becoming holy. One can see the fruit being produced.
A tree does not hide its peaches, apples, or pears. They are clearly visible to those who look for them. Christ used this metaphor to teach us that we ought to be able to see the effects of Him living in us, of God's Holy Spirit in us. We should be able to recognize the results of using the Word of God and living by faith.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Eight)
Jesus Christ is our Mediator (I Timothy 2:5), the connection, the bridge, between God and us. Spiritual enablement flows from God through Him to us. God's power and God's faithfulness are the issues that are of supreme importance to us in these critical times. Are we constantly cognizant of the fact that our salvation lies in His hands? He has the power to save.
Notice how David expressed this in a psalm written during a time of serious trouble for him: "For look, they lie in wait for my life; the mighty gather against me, not for my transgression nor for my sin, O LORD" (Psalm 59:3). David feared the threat of murder in a situation in which he was innocent. Verses 9-10 carry his thoughts further: "I will wait for You, O You his Strength; for God is my defense. My God of mercy shall come to meet me; God shall let me see my desire on my enemies." Here, David's confidence rises because he believes in God's awareness and strength - which is strong enough to put down nations, let alone a small band of enemies. He also recalls God's mercy toward those who serve Him.
Verses 16-17 show that his thoughts extend one step further: "But I will sing of Your power; yes, I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning; for You have been my defense and refuge in the day of my trouble. To You, O my Strength, I will sing praises; for God is my defense, the God of my mercy." These final two verses summarize why he trusts God, and conclude in a strong affirmation of David's faith. He trusts God because of the combination of God's strengths, His power, combined with His mercy and His will to use them in behalf of those who trust Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Power Belongs to God (Part One)
He speaks directly to us, stating a principle we must learn to live with. The power to do spiritual works, to overcome, to produce the fruit of God's Spirit, to be used by God in any righteous manner comes from above. Israel's journey through the wilderness illustrates this. Every step of the way was physically empowered by the manna and water God provided.
Understanding God's hand in our preparation for the Kingdom of God is also advanced by remembering that we are the clay sculpture our Creator is molding and shaping (Isaiah 64:8). Does any work of art—any painting, carving, drawing, tapestry, work of literature, or fine meal for that matter—have inherent power to shape itself?
The natural man, even apart from God's purpose, is a magnificent work of art. David writes in Psalm 139:14, "I am fearfully and wonderfully made." Yet, when we have put on incorruption and immortality, and have inherited the Kingdom of God, we will be the most magnificent masterpieces there are, far superior to what we are now. To mold and shape us into God's image requires love, wisdom, and multiple other powers far beyond anything any person—even Jesus as a human being—has.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Power Belongs to God (Part Two)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing John 15:5:
1 Corinthians 1:26-29
1 Timothy 2:3-4
1 John 2:24