“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:1-5
Jesus is telling his disciples, the ones He chose, that they are to recognize the source of their lives as followers of Christ. Just as a light bulb cannot give light unless it is screwed into a socket and plugged into an out let that is wired to an electric grid, so is the Christian life. Jesus uses the metaphor of a grape vine. The vine is what supplies nourishment to the branches which are the ones that produce the grapes.
Notice the words Jesus uses. He tells us that it is God the Father that cuts away dead branches. In agriculture, pruning is a necessary task performed regularly to keep plants healthy and productive. Cutting away dead branches allows nourishment to flow to productive branches which produces a stronger, healthier plant. The fact is that God is the one who makes the ultimate decision as to whether a branch is healthy or not. His point of view is not impaired by selfishness. The branch cannot look at itself and make the decision to either prune itself or cut itself off. Similarly, the health and growth of a believer is sourced in God alone. The person is never the decision maker in whether or not he is part of the body of Christ. God chose that position prior to the person choosing to be a follower of Christ or not.
Jesus tells his followers that they “are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” It is the word of Christ, the gospel that cleans and not the decision that is made by an individual. The decision to follow or not to follow Christ is a decision that was made long ago and comes into fruition in the present. As a believer and follower of Christ, you may think that you made the decision to follow Jesus but it was Jesus that chose you to be a follower before you made the decision to follow.
Here is also a remarkable statement. Jesus tells the disciples “Remain in me, as I also remain in you.” Now he transfers the responsibility to the believer. He reiterates that He is the vine. Jesus is the source to which the believer must be plugged into. It is the believer that needs to recognize that his spiritual growth is dependent on Christ and not his own actions. The source of nourishment is Jesus and the believer needs to be entirely dependent on God’s grace and not on his acts in order to be in Christ. We are called to be God reliant, not self-reliant.
Here are the really deep words: “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit”. “If” is a conditional word. “If” is also a word that is used when making logic statements. “If this happens, then that is the outcome.” Jesus is giving us a logic-filled statement when he says that bearing much fruit is conditional upon remaining in Him and He remaining in you. Is remaining in Jesus based on a conscious decision by the believer? It appears that a Christ follower makes the decision to remain in Christ and be dependent upon Him for his salvation and spiritual growth but there is a second component to the equation. Jesus adds the next condition for bearing much fruit when he says “and I in you”. This condition is not dependent on any decision made by the individual but on Christ himself.
What if a person decided to remain in Christ but was never chosen to be a follower in the first place? This is the case with what is referred to as a false conversion. It is when a person listens to a sermon and is caught up is some emotional whirlwind at that particular moment that may be based on some traumatic event that he is going through or struggling with. Jail house conversions come to mind. When a person is put in jail for some crime committed, professes faith in Christ, then when he leaves prison, goes back to his life of crime, that is a false conversion. There are similar examples outside of prison. A person is struggling through a health or financial crisis, listens to a powerful sermon and decides to get his act together and follow Jesus. Some time passes and the crisis is either averted or not and the person then ceases his supposed walk with Christ and resumes his former life. Although one may think that the conditional “if” is dependent on the person, it is God the Father who ultimately decides the attachment of that branch to the vine.
Jesus concludes his thought on the matter by stating that “apart from me you can do nothing”. This is the foundation of grace. You can do nothing without Christ. You cannot go to the Father without going through Christ. You are not saved unless it is Christ who saves you. You cannot have faith without Christ. Jesus Christ is the source of all things. This includes your faith and salvation. You cannot do it at all. You are powerless without the power that is supplied by Christ. Let’s go back to the analogy of the light bulb. Unless the bulb is in the socket that is wired with a plug that is connected to an outlet that has electricity flowing through it, the bulb is nothing but glass and metal filament with no ability to generate light on its own.
Are you plugged into the outlet that is connected to the power grid of Christ? Or are you a light bulb in the packaging on the store shelf?