On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus shared a final meal with His disciples. During this meal and afterwards, Jesus gave his disciples a farewell address. The events of the last supper and Jesus’ farewell address are found in the Gospel of John, Chapters 13 through 17. The entire Gospel of John consists of only 21 chapters, and yet, the recounting of the last supper and the farewell address occupies five of those chapters. This emphasis speaks volumes as to the importance of Jesus’ final words to His disciples. In this final address, Jesus provided His disciples with an invaluable description of the New Covenant Spiritual Life.
As discussed in previous blogposts and in my book Eyes to See the Revelation, Jesus most often taught using figurative language. Jesus’ lesson regarding the Vine and Branches (John, Chapter 15) is a classic example of how Jesus used every day circumstances, events, and things to teach His disciples higher spiritual realities. The people of Palestine have produced wine for thousands of years. All of Jesus’ disciples would have been very familiar with vineyards, along with the appearance and characteristics of grapevines.
In His final address, Jesus taught his disciples that He was the true vine and that His Father was the vinedresser (John 15:1). Jesus also explained that we believers are the branches. It is very important to note that the branches are representative of believers, not unbelievers. Jesus warned that if the branches (believers) do not bear fruit, His Father, the vinedresser, will remove the non-fruit bearing branches (John 15:2). Why? It is God’s will that we bear fruit. The reader might recall that the Apostle Paul provided some examples of the fruit of the Spirit to include: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). In other words, God expects us to mature and produce fruit. And yes, our capacity or ability to bear fruit is all grace. He provides the Spirit, the teaching, and the Providential circumstances. It is incumbent upon us to be willing recipients and servants.
Jesus also explained that every branch (a believer) that bears fruit is pruned by the Father so that it might bear more fruit (John 15:2). The Father is always working on us so that we will be more fruitful. It is never-ending. He will always be teaching us, disciplining us, and training us to be more productive. In this process, it is absolutely necessary for us to maintain our humility. We should not be hard of heart. If we are humble, we are teachable. We must also have perseverance. We must never quit in our advance in the spiritual life.
As disciples (students) of Christ, we must accept the teaching of the Word of God. If we reject His teaching, we begin an immediate downward trajectory. Soon, we will become spiritually dead or insensitive to His warnings and guidance. However, if we remain positive and receptive to His teaching, we remain in a position to advance in the spiritual life. Be mindful that advancement will never equal sinless perfection in this life. If we experience some momentary failures or sins, we need only acknowledge our sins to God, and we are immediately restored to fellowship (1 John 1:9). If our ears are open to the Spirit, He brings to our attention the need to confess (or acknowledge) our sins and/or change our behavior. However, again, if we are not receptive and responsive to His teaching, it is impossible for us to advance in the spiritual life.
Jesus further explained that we must remain in Him and He in us (John 15:4). This means that we must remain in fellowship with Him. Jesus said, “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself but must remain in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me” (John 15:4). Many Christians wrongly believe that the spiritual life is like creating some type of resumé for God. After believing, many charge off to build their resumé of good works. Unfortunately, if outside the will of God, they are pursuing “dead works.” The works that we pursue must be the works that God gives us to pursue. As servants (or slaves) of God, we must seek His will in the entirety of our existence. We must seek God’s will as to what we say and do. We must seek His will even as to the meditations of our heart. In fact, our new way of being is seeking constant, never-ending fellowship with God. Despite what some might think, the spiritual life is not unduly burdensome (1 John 5:3). Actually, the New Covenant Spiritual life does not have many rules, while, allegedly, the Old Covenant had 613 rules. In fact, Paul referred to the New Covenant Spiritual life as the glorious freedom of the children of God (Rom 8:21). If we remain in Christ, we will bear much fruit (John 15:5). If we do not remain in Him, we can accomplish nothing (John 15:5). The NASB interpreted Jesus as saying, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). We might construct a resumé of “dead works,” but we cannot do God’s will apart from His guidance, instruction, provision, and power.
Continuing with the Vine and Branch analogy, Jesus explained that if we believers do not remain connected to Him, we are thrown away like a useless branch severed from the vine (John 15:6). In fact, a branch cut off from the vine immediately starts to dry up, then is swept up and thrown into the fire where it is burned (John 15:6). This is a potent Biblical image of what happens to disobedient believers. This image is equivalent to the image of Gehenna or the Lake of Fire. All three images describe the wrath of God. As I have explained before, the wrath of God (pictured as Gehenna or the Lake of Fire) can be directed at both believers and unbelievers. In the analogy of the Vine and Branches, the objects of God’s wrath are disobedient believers who did not remain connected to the vine.
Jesus taught that we must remain in Him, and His Word must remain in us (John 15:7). In this world, we are under incessant pressure to cave to the zeitgeist (the spirit of the age). The zeitgeist is a product of both diabolical and demonic forces. It threatens, intimidates, distracts, and deceives. The zeitgeist encourages humans to live by lust, arrogance, and fear. It encourages hatred and tribalism. It divides and conquers. If we lived in Nazi Germany or the former Soviet Union, we would have had to pick and choose our words very carefully. So it is, more and more, even in places like the United States. As the numbers of practicing Christians wane, so ever-increasing is our loss of freedom.
However, if we abide in Christ, and His Word remains in us, we can become a powerful agent of prayer. We can change the world through prayer. The prayers of the faithful have great efficacy (John 15:7). Chief among our prayers should be the petition for Christ’s return, which is the ultimate answer to our problems (Matt. 6:10). Every Christian should pray, but it is incorrect to believe that all believers’ prayers are of equal efficacy. God’s Word explains that the prayers of the righteous have special efficacy and “availeth much” (James 5:16, KJV).
Jesus taught, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8). Every believer should be a full-time student in the school of Christ. It is God’s will that we bear much spiritual fruit. However, we cannot bear much fruit unless we function in near constant fellowship with Him. His guidance and direction flow to us when we listen to the Spirit and meditate upon His Word. Our momentum in the Word and Spirit must be significant in order to overcome the pressure of the zeitgeist.
Our God has provided us with all that we need to overcome the zeitgeist. We can have confidence in God’s plan. Jesus taught, “Just as My Father has loved Me, I also have loved you; remain in My love” (John 15:9). God’s plan for us centers on loving God and our neighbor by means of His Spirit and Word. However, God’s definition of love cannot be separated from being obedient to God. Jesus explained, “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in My love; just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in His love” (John 15:10). God’s commandments are based on the principles found in both the New and Old Testament. There is a Divine design and order to human existence. However, the zeitgeist seeks to attack God’s design and order for humanity. We will not share God’s righteousness, peace, and joy (Rom. 14:17) unless we live according to His design and order. We are called to constantly live under His authority by means of His Spirit and Word. By doing so, we will discover a fantastic happiness and hope for our future existence with God. He wants to share His joy with us (John 15:11). It is God’s will that our joy be made full (John 15:11).