I was pondering John 15 this morning.
In John 15:1-2, Jesus states, “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.” Two things stand out for me in these verses. First, God is the gardener. He knows exactly what to do in order to cultivate my life to bear fruit. Second, he’s intent on finding the right kind of fruit.
In this familiar statement, Jesus is using imagery from Isaiah 5:1-8, where Israel is called God’s vineyard. Yet, in Isaiah, God’s people failed to produce the appropriate fruit. What was God looking for? Verse 7 states, ” And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.” Ironically, God’s people were gathered to be a blessing to the nations (Gen 12:2) by embodying God’s justice, righteousness and love. Yet they have become like the surrounding nations, destroying one another and creation in destructive selfishness and sin.
By stating he is the true vine in John 15, Jesus is calling himself the true “Israel.” He is God’s people refocused and embodied in a single person. He is the fulfillment of God’s will for humanity and creation. He is the fulfillment of Abraham’s and Israel’s covenant to be a blessing to the nations. Those who are “in Christ” are now part of God’s people not by nationality, but by faith.
As the gardener in John 15, the Father still does not put up with fruitlessness. He is still looking for justice, righteousness and love in his people. And those who do not bear this fruit are cut off while those who do bear this fruit are cut back (pruned) in order to bear greater fruit.
This pruning process allows us to remain or abide deeper in Christ, which in turn bears greater fruit of justice, righteousness and love (John 15:5). Ultimately this fruit is the litmus test of whether we are truly Jesus’ disciples or not. He states in John 15:8, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” Notice two things. First, God finally finds the fruit he has been anticipating from his vineyard for ages. He finds it not just in his son, but in those who claim to be his son’s students.
And second, by bearing this fruit, we are in sync with Jesus, who is the true Israel. Thus, we truly are members of God’s people by faith. This is what John meant later in 1 John 2:5-6 when he wrote, “This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” Jesus’ students demonstrate they are truly “in him” and therefore God’s people by bearing fruit of justice, righteousness and love.
Father, may the circumstances of my life result in the pruning of my life. I trust you as my gardener, the one who truly knows how to cultivate my life to bear the greatest fruit and to bring you the greatest glory. Continue to cut me back so that I may learn how to remain in Jesus as his student and friend. And as I abide in Christ, may I truly become by grace what he is by nature — part of your true people who glorify you and bless the nations through justice, righteousness and love. Amen.