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Abide in the Vine: A Relationship of Submissive Dependence

June 2, 2024 Preacher: Jeff Griffis Series: Communion in Christ's Love

Scripture: John 15:1–8

Abide in the Vine: A Relationship of Submissive Dependence – John 15:1–8

PRAY & INTRO: Why does Jesus sometimes teach using metaphors?

Because they help us “get it” at a deeper level of experiential comprehension that we might not otherwise. (If you’re lazy with a metaphor (or a parable), you won’t get it, or get it wrong. But that’s precisely the point, to cause you to relate, to think, to dwell, to meditate on it in a different light that helps it really sink in.)

If I tell you that prayer works for us in two ways—it is both the phone call with the apple of your eye, and it is the wartime walkie-talkie—the goal is to cause you think more about the meaning of prayer and how you ought to think of it and participate in it. 

Prayer is the frequent, long phone calls with the girl you are head over heels for and desperately want to know, to have her tell you all about herself and to just hear her voice and be in her “presence” in the conversation. You also want to tell her about yourself, your life, your day. Especially for some of us, because you don’t normally want to talk on the phone, this helps you understand a desire you have for this relationship with God, to know and be known.

And prayer is also the wartime walkie talkie, the constant communication from the trenches with the Commander, asking for guidance and reinforcement. We know we need the direction, and we know we need the help, so we call upon God.

My point is that when Jesus says,

“I am the true vine… You are the branches… Abide in me.”

He wants us to think, to meditate on the meaning of this message in a way that will help us apply it to our posture and daily living in relationship to him.

Also remember that this lesson from Jesus is right at the heart of the farewell discourse in John. (running from chs 13 through 16… and then Jesus prays for his apostles, ch. 17, and for all who will be his disciples) The discourse occurs on the very night of the last supper, and the very night of his betrayal and arrest (to be crucified the following day… and to rise again on Sunday). So whatever Jesus is telling his disciples in this context here, we know is of vital importance to them continuing what he intends for them after his death and resurrection, and after his departure.

And in John’s Gospel, this is the last of seven I am statements. Each metaphor, each I am statement, connects Christ’s deity & purpose for coming from God to the way mankind must to relate to him. —> I am the bread of life (Jn 6:35), I am the light of the world (Jn 8:12), I am the door of the sheep (Jn 10:7), I am the good shepherd (Jn 10:11, 14), I am the resurrection and the life (Jn 11:25), I am the way, the truth and the life (Jn 14:6)… and I am the true vine (Jn 15:1).

These statements from Christ, and all the signs he did which confirm these statements as true, and especially the final and greatest sign, that of his atoning death and resurrection, are intended in John’s Gospel to lead to this: John 20:31 …these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

But again, what unique purpose does this metaphor serve? - I am the true vine. You are the branches. Abide in me.

Let’s ask a series of questions to make us think deeply about why Jesus says this, to help us meditate on the meaning such that it has its intended effect on us.

What is the basic meaning of the metaphor?

While verse one introduces the metaphor: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser [gardener],” you have to keep reading to find the basic summary of the metaphor, an encapsulation of it, found in v. 5 [read].

Don Carson rightly summarizes the metaphor this way: “The branches derive their life from the vine; the vine produces its fruit through the branches.” -D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 514.

We derive our spiritual life from Jesus; Jesus produces his fruit through us.

This has two parts, so let’s talk first for a moment about being in the vine, the beginning of abiding in Jesus. We derive our spiritual life from him.

Jesus tells these disciples in this very passage (v. 3), “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” What was the word Jesus had spoken to them that could give such clarity as to confirm their relationship to God? What teaching did Jesus give them which encapsulates all that he teaches and all that he came to do? 

Jn 14:1b “Believe in God; believe also in me.” This is a description of faith, of complete trust in God through Jesus. Acceptance or rejection of Jesus, who he is and what he came to do, is what makes them clean or unclean. Such faith in Jesus is the means by which God grafts them into the true vine, if you will, gives them a right relationships to himself. (And this abiding we’re talking about today is a description of that right relationship to him.)

Like the other “I am” statements, I am the true vine means that there is no other way to be a part of God’s vineyard, whether Jew or non-Jew. All must come to God through faith in Jesus—Jn 14:6. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Though these listening disciples are themselves Hebrews, it is not being descendants of Abraham that makes them clean, makes them God’s true children, but only being in the true vine, which is Jesus. There is no other, even for the uniquely chosen people of God, the Hebrews. “I am the true vine” means that Jesus is the only way to relate rightly to God.

So it is also quite possible, even probable, that in this “true vine” imagery, Jesus shows that he fulfills what Israel did not faithfully accomplish (and we know could not fully accomplish) as God’s vine or vineyard (both images used of Israel in the OT). This is not to say that no one had a right heart of faith toward God and was used by him, but that as a unit, Israel was unfaithful to her calling. Jesus, by contrast, fulfills all that Israel could not in representing God and providing access to his presence.

We derive our spiritual life from Jesus; Jesus produces his fruit through us.

It necessarily follows that if we are in the life-giving vine, that God’s life flowing to us and through us willproduce spiritual fruit. If you’re wondering how it is possible for God to do this in such vessels as ourselves, Jesus has told them in this very discourse that he would give them another Helper of the same kind as himself, even the Holy Spirit, to be with them and in them.

What kind of fruit does Jesus produce? At least these things: Internal change of character, faithful testifying to who he is, and sacrificial love that mirrors his love. — The character of Christ (we growing in showing forth God’s own holiness), the proclamation of Christ (v. 27), and the sacrificial love of Christ (v.12).

So Jesus is where we get spiritual life, and he produces God’s purposes in us and through us. In the extended metaphor, the Father is the Gardener, and his role if of critical importance to the would-be branches. 

What is the associated warning in the metaphor?

Fruitless branches don’t have Christ’s life in them.

If there is no fruit production, there is obviously no spiritual life flowing through, because such a “branch” does not really abide in Jesus.

God the Father, being the gardener of his vineyard, is not mocked. He is not duped by the falsehood of superficial worship or self-trust. Everyone must be all or nothing in on Jesus. Otherwise: v. 2a! (takes away, cuts away)

The Gardener is not mocked; he takes away useless branches.
  1. 6 - Notice the additional emphasis about their destiny, which undoubtedly these listeners would understand as God’s judgment.

The warning is that God will not allow useless (or fake) branches: ones that merely attach themselves to Him only for what they think they can get out of him. Their faith in him through Jesus must be complete, genuine. And it will show itself in living for him and like him.

Even if it proves difficult for other branches to tell the difference, there is no confusion on the part of the perfect Gardener whether we are producing genuine fruit through belonging to Christ.

Imagine a hockey “player” who is dressed up as a player, and hanging out with the team, and even getting on the ice with the other players at a substitution and skating a bit, but never actually going after the puck, and avoiding all the hard-hitting. Not only might it become evident to the other players, but the good coach spots this imposter quickly and promptly removes him.

How much more the God of the vineyard if we are merely parasites on the Vine!

Now to clarify that there is another type of discipline, of correction, Jesus adds that pruning is another matter.

Why is “pruning” different?

Although God the gardener is pleased with the living branches, He is not content to leave the productive vines without tending to them—v. 2b.

The Gardener wisely and faithfully prunes the productive branches to bear still more fruit.

We are in Christ, but we are in Christ for God’s purposes, and God keeps working on us such that we become more productive, that we bear more fruit. What great news that God tends to his own to make us more pleasing, more useful, to his perfect purposes.

And speaking of which ones are cut away versus those who only need pruning for greater fruitfulness, as we said Jesus tells these ones he is speaking to that they are clean, which would be the 11 Apostles after Judas has departed their presence (in betrayal of Jesus).

When Jesus was washing their feet to teach them to behave as humble servants like he came to do for us, he clarified the spiritual issue about their acceptance or rejection of him being what make them clean: Jn 13:10b-11, “And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

In the context that follows in ch. 13, consider the contrast of Judas’s betrayal with Peter’s failure as a way to apply the difference between those cut away for their falsehood and those pruned to learn faithfulness and fruitfulness.

While evidently you can fake being a branch (outward efforts to conform without genuine faith only in Christ), genuine abiding will produce genuine fruit.

And it’s this concept of abiding that is at the heart of the metaphor for his disciples.

What emphasis is Jesus pressing on his disciples with the command to “abide”?

Just as you began, so you must continue.

We naturally tend to think of branches growing from a vine playing a passive role, and that’s an intentional part of this metaphor in the sense that we are not meant to think of having any life or usefulness apart of the life and work of Christ in us.

But as we are not literally vines, there’s an emphasis here from Jesus that commands activity from the listeners: abide. Abide in me and let me abide in you. Although we don’t have ultimate say in the specific outcomes of the fruit (the effective ministry), we evidently bear great responsibility in our relational closeness and dependence on Jesus.

What does Jesus seem to mean by “abide”?

Abide emphasizes a relationship of faith that dwells in submissive dependence.

This Gk word means to remain, to stay, to continue in the sense of dwelling there. This is where you continually dwell—in Jesus.

And we mustn’t cut short the meaning here. The kind of dwelling we are talking about is an ongoing relationship of faith that obeys Jesus. Yes, the image is absolutely one of relying on Jesus, but it is submissively depending on Jesus. When Jesus goes on to explain a primary way to understand and apply the vine imagery, he says that we will know for sure the security of God’s love when we obeying Jesus the same way he obeyed the Father (v. 10).

You must be very careful not to decide that it’s ok to obey Jesus in some things but not in all things.

Again, one can hardly exaggerate how central this abiding is to the Christian life.

Some of us are far too nonchalant about our relationship with Jesus! This vital relationship with Jesus is the ONLY way to relate rightly to God, and it is a relationship in which we continually depend on and submit to Jesus and learn from him. Stop being so self-confident and lazy about your relationship to God, to Jesus.

But by contrast, if we will strive to be submissively dependent on Jesus with our whole lives…

What are the magnificent results of abiding in Jesus?

[seen especially in vv. 5,7,&8… and 9,10,&11… which we’ll revisit the next time we’re in John 15]

The more submissively dependent we are on Jesus, the more we will bear his fruit for his kingdom.

If you really belong to Jesus, you want nothing more than this, because you know he is Lord and you know he deserves nothing less.

God has used, and continues to use, suffering and stress in my life to drill this into my head and my heart.

The more submissively dependent we are on Jesus, the more we can be sure of answered prayer because we will be praying according to his will (his words dwelling in us).
v. 7

I know that some mock us as lacking faith because we pray that God do his will. But such is the only right way to understand faith, and to understand prayer. ***

The more submissively dependent we are on Jesus, the more God is glorified.

When we realize who God is, and what God has done for us, our greatest desire is his highest glory. In order to glorify God as he deserves, we must stay submissive and dependent upon Jesus.

Much fruit is relative, and that’s intentional: some 30, some 60, some 100 fold (Mt 13:8, 23) . But the point is producing a crop. If the so-called fruit is not what Jesus wants—his way, his work—then it’s wax fruit. It’s not building the kingdom, and it’s not glorifying God.

The more submissively dependent we are on Jesus, the more confident and secure we are of right relationship with God.

-bear much fruit and be my disciples (prove, show)

[As I said, you can look at vv. 9-11 in a similar light.]

The more submissively dependent we are on Jesus, the more we taste the assurance of God’s love. (9)

The more submissively dependent we are on Jesus, the more we love as Jesus loves. (10)

The more submissively dependent we are on Jesus, the more we experience the fullness of joy that God has for us. (11)

Conclusion: Do we get the picture that we are to dwell in a relationship of submissive dependence on Jesus in order to bear the fruit of Jesus Christ in our lives and so glorify God?

You cannot escape this: Those who claim to be in Christ will be obeying Christ. And if we are in Christ, then we must be deliberate to abide in him so that he can do his work in us and through us.

There is only one way to relate rightly to Jesus, and that is through trusting in him to be your life, and continuing to depend and him and submit to him to please God and be used for his purposes! Every day, every moment, for every decision: abide in Jesus. Jesus, I need more of you. Jesus, how am I doing, really? Jesus, clean out my sin. Jesus, teach me to have your heart for people. Jesus, what do you desire of me in this situation? Jesus, thank you. Do your work, for your glory.

PRAY

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