“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:1-4).
When my family and I lived in West Michigan for nine years, our home was surrounded by fruit orchards and farms. Apples, peaches, strawberries, cherries and a number of other fruit trees and vines adorned the landscape for miles. We often went strawberry, blueberry and apple picking for example during their respective harvests. These are precious memories which I will always cherish.
I remember one particularly cold, winter’s day when I left my house to travel 30 miles to Grand Rapids. I always passed by the home of my neighbor. He owned one of the fruit farms I just spoke of. His property bordered my own.
What I noticed that day intrigued me. Here was my neighbor in the middle of his apple grove on a winter’s day pruning his apple trees. As he did so, he also began burning a pile of dead branches he had previously pruned and gathered. He knew what branches to prune, even when there was no fruit on the trees, because he knew the trees he was pruning. He not only owned them but he spent nearly every day of every season of the year in the midst of that orchard.
This pruning was not for the purpose of hurting the trees, but rather to make the trees more productive. The winter pruning was so that the trees would bear more fruit and yield a greater harvest the following autumn.
What I observed that day in a grove of pruned apple trees is the truth Jesus illustrated in John 15:1-4. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:1-4).
As believers are joined to Christ, who is the vine, God the Father, the gardener, accomplishes a two-fold work. First, branches which do not produce fruit He takes away. What does this mean? The phrase “takes away” (αἴρω; airo) is a forceful and strong term. It means to destroy, to execute and to remove. Do true believers then, who do not produce spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22-23), lose their salvation?
Dr. John MacArthur explains that, “The branches that do not bear fruit are those who profess to believe, but their lack of fruit indicates genuine salvation has never taken place and they have no life from the vine. Especially in the immediate context, Judas was in view, but the imagery extends from him to all those who make a profession of faith in Christ but do not actually possess salvation. The image of non-fruit-bearing branches being burned pictures eschatological judgment and eternal rejection (see Ezek. 15:6–8).The picture is of the vinedresser (i.e., the Father) getting rid of dead wood while preserving the living, fruit-bearing branches. The dead branches picture apostate Christians who never genuinely believed and will be taken away in judgment (v. 6; Matt. 7:16; Eph. 2:10). They have never truly experienced the life of Christ within them (John 8:31–32; cf. Matt. 13:18–23; 24:12; Heb. 3:14–19; 6:4–8; 10:27–31; 1 John 2:19; 2 John 9).”
Secondly, those branches which do bear fruit, illustrative of genuine believers joined to Christ, God the Father prunes in order for them to bear more spiritual fruit. Dr. MacArthur continues by saying, “God removes all things in the believer’s life that would hinder fruit bearing, i.e., he chastises to cut away sin and hindrances that would drain spiritual life just as the farmer removes anything on the branches that keep them from bearing maximum fruit (Heb. 12:3–11).
This is what my neighbor was doing on that cold winter’s day. He was removing dead branches and pruning the live branches. God does the same thing in the life of the believer.
John Calvin writes, “He (God) speaks of pruning, or cleansing, because our flesh abounds in superfluities and destructive vices, and is too fertile in producing them, and because they grow and multiply without end if we are not cleansed or pruned by the hand of God. When He says that vines are pruned, that they may yield more abound fruit, He shows what ought to be the progress of believers in the course of true religion.”
Take time to thank God for His pruning in your life.
Soli deo Gloria!