Read: John 15.1-8
I’m not going to lie to you, this passage is very difficult for me. I have a hard time it, and the last thing I desire is to misinterpret God’s Word and then post it on the inter webs for all the world to see. At the same time, I think it would be an injustice to skip over it completely. It is okay for you to see me struggle, just as it is okay to not have the answers to everything. So I am going to put what is in my heart about it, and I hope that you look at it, pray about it, study it out for yourself, and let me know what you think about it!
There is such beautiful imagery here. I think of swirling and intricate vines spreading out and taking over. These vines all come from one source... Jesus. God is the husbandman, tending to the branches and the fruit that [should] come with. Where it gets a bit “choppy” for me is verse 2. I know, I didn’t have to go far to be confused! Verse 2 states, “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he take the away...” and this sentiment is repeated again in verse 6, “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”
I’m sorry...what? Now, I have heard these verses explain in two primary ways. The first being wrong, wrong, wrong. There are people who use this verse to support the heretical idea that you can lose your salvation. Let me state where I Biblically and firmly stand on that heresy: you CANNOT LOSE YOUR SALVATION. Listen, dears, you can’t save yourself so when did anyone become powerful enough to pluck themselves out of God’s hand. Anywhom, that isn’t the dead horse I want to beat today. Main point being I clearly don’t give any thought towards that interpretation of this passage.
The second way I’ve heard it explained is that the branches that are taken off of the Vine represent people who have made a profession of faith but aren’t really saved; people who are “playing” Christian. This is probably the most common way that I have heard it interpreted, and since I don’t agree with the alternative view concerning these verses (see above so I don’t hop back on that soapbox), I just went with this view. But upon closer examination, specifically while trying to write this post the first time what feels like a year ago, I had to halt because the explanation was giving me fits and some things just weren’t clicking for me. For this passage, the idea that gave me pause was the concept of “false” Christians being a part of the Vine that is Christ. So bear with me while I try to explain how I came to this conclusion.
Verse 4a says, “Abide in me (Jesus), and I in you.” That tells me that the branches on the Vine are abiding in Christ, pretty self explanatory at this point. Here is my question, how can someone who is NOT a Christian abide in Christ, or be on the Vine in the first place? I know that God is not deceived by people who claim to be Christian but are not, so how did they manage to get on the Vine? But then I thought about passages like Romans 11.11-24. (I urge you to go read the passage for yourself, this will be waiting here for you to return.) The passage talks about how through the failure of Israel to recognise Jesus as the Messiah, salvation is come to the Gentiles to provoke Israel to jealousy and ultimately to repentance. Continuing on, it talks about some of the branches of that root/tree being broken off and us (Gentiles) as a wild olive tree, being graffed among the other branches of this tree.
I think it is important to remember that at the time Christ was speaking in John 15, he hadn’t died and resurrected yet, and His ministry was still to Israel. Everyone there during this conversation was an Old Testament Jew. Could it be then, that Jesus was talking about the branches being Israel? Because they have, since God ordained them as His chosen people long ago, abode in Christ. And if that is the case, then would it not make more sense for the branches that are broken off to represent Jewish people who rejected Jesus as the Messiah? For me, this makes more sense contextually, Biblically, and chronologically in the context of Christ’s conversation to not be aimed at Gentile Christians since that focus didn’t come until after His resurrection (think Paul, missionary to the Gentiles).
At at the end of the day, God meant what he meant no matter what any of us perceive it to be. And I do believe that we can look for practical applications of this passage as Gentile Christians, such as:
1. One of the marks of a Christian is that they bear fruit. If a person who claims to be Christian isn’t bearing fruit, maybe a good hard look at their faith is in order.
2. We may (as Christians) be purged or trimmed up to rid us of things that are distracting us or getting in the way of us bearing fruit.
3. Yes, being purged (which is not the same as a branch being taken away) will hurt, but we know that God has our best at heart.
I may may be right, I may be wrong, but I trust that God knows what it going on in the Word that He wrote. I am interested to read what you think these verses mean, leave a comment below!!!