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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:To bear maximum fruit, abide in the Vine
Text:John 15:1-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 96:1-4

Psalm 19:5 (after the Law of God)

Psalm 80:1,3,4

Hymn 76

Hymn 44

Scripture reading: Hebrews 12:1-11

Text: John 15:1-11

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

What defines a Christian?  Some would say it’s going to church.  If you go to church, you’re a Christian.  But as someone once pointed out, standing in the garage doesn’t mean you’re a car, and being in church doesn’t mean you’re a Christian.  Christians do go to church, but not everyone who goes to church is a Christian. 

Our Bible passage from John this morning tells us one important feature of a Christian.  A Christian is someone truly united to Jesus Christ.  There is a vital spiritual unity between Christ and Christians.  That’s the whole point behind this picture of the vine and the branches.  Just like the vine and the branches are one, so also Jesus and believers are one. 

What creates this organic unity is faith worked by the Holy Spirit.  Through resting and trusting in Jesus Christ as the only Saviour, we are joined to him spiritually.  Faith is what binds us to the vine.  In other words, you can’t be a Christian without a personal relationship with Jesus through genuine faith.

If you are such a Christian, your priorities in life reflect it.  Jesus speaks in our passage about bearing fruit to the glory of God.  If you have a personal relationship with Christ through faith, you care about that.  You want to bear fruit.  You want to see God worshipped and praised more and more.  But how do you do that?  Jesus tells you in this passage from John 15:  abide in the Vine.  So that’s the theme of the sermon this morning:  To bear maximum fruit, abide in the Vine. 

We’ll consider what Jesus says about the:

  1. Vinedresser
  2. Vine
  3. Branches

Christ says in verse 1 that his Father is the vinedresser.  What is a vinedresser?  That’s the person who takes care of the vines in a vineyard.  He wants to see the vineyard be as productive as possible.  The vinedresser is all about the grapes, about the fruit.  When harvest time comes, he wants to see maximum fruit. 

And Christ says his Father is like the vinedresser in a vineyard.  Jesus is the Son of God and he’s referring to his heavenly Father.  This idea of a divine vinedresser comes from the Old Testament.  We just sang from Psalm 80 and there we find God referred to in this way.

According to Jesus, the Vinedresser does two things to bring about maximum fruit in his vineyard.   There can be branches that don’t bear fruit.  They’re somehow near the vine, but they’re not truly connected to it.  So the Vinedresser takes them away, according to verse 2.  According to verse 6, such branches are thrown away, they wither, they’re gathered into bundles and then thrown into the fire and burned. 

Our Lord Jesus is speaking here about the judgment of God on unbelief.  But it’s specifically the unbeliever who has had some contact with Christ and with the gospel.  In the context of John’s Gospel, you can’t help but think of Judas Iscariot.  He was one of the twelve disciples making up Christ’s inner circle.  Judas travelled around with Jesus and listened to him for three years.  Yet he bore no fruit and actually ended up betraying Jesus.  He was going to be cast into the fire.  He had been close to Jesus, but he had no union with him through faith.

His example is a warning for us.  You can be close to Jesus in the sense that you go to church and hear the preaching of his Name.  You can be close to Jesus in the sense that you’ve been under gospel ministry like Judas was.   You can be close to Jesus in the sense that you’ve been baptized or even made profession of faith.  But if you bear no fruit, so if you’re not united to Christ by faith, you remain under God’s judgment and condemnation.  The Vinedresser will not have branches that don’t bear fruit in his vineyard – they take up time and space.  These fruitless dead branches will be burned in the eternal fire.    

But with the branches that do bear fruit, he prunes them so they bear even more fruit.  Vines and fruit trees bear even more fruit when people prune them, clipping off some of the branches without buds.  That ensures the maximum amount of nutrition goes to the branches that will be producing fruit. 

The point of this image is that the Father, as the Vinedresser, he is at work in the lives of Christians to prune them.  Pruning involves cutting and cutting can be painful.  Sometimes the way the Father prunes us is painful.  Hebrews 12 speaks of the same thing, but describes it as a father disciplining his children.  Discipline is painful, but it has a good end and it’s motivated by love (at least it should be).  The author of Hebrews says our Father “disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”  That’s what Jesus is saying here in John 15 as well.  We get pruned by the Father so we’ll bear more fruit for him.

Loved ones, this teaches us that our suffering is never pointless.  We may not be able to see the point, but God does.  And sometimes the point is pruning.  God wants us to go through whatever we’re going through, so we’ll learn some lesson or another, and at the end of it we’ll be more fruitful Christians.  That could look all kinds of different ways.  But here’s just one way:  imagine you fell on hard times financially.  During those hard times, God was pruning you, bringing you to your knees in prayer.  In due time, things turned around.  Maybe someone was generous and helped you out – it was an answer to prayer.  And now you’ve gone from adversity to prosperity.  God pruned you – with the intent that you’d be more fruitful.  So now you look to the ways you can help others who are struggling.  You’d never have done that before, because it never crossed your mind and you never thought about those struggling.  But having been through it yourself, you now know how hard it can be and out of love you want to help as many people as you can.  That’s just one way you could imagine this pruning taking place.  Whatever form it takes, it’s always out of love and it’s always for our good and it’s always for his glory.

Now let’s look at the Vine.  Jesus said in verse 1, “I am the true vine…”  We shouldn’t skim over that.  It’s a weighty statement.  It’s weighty because of the Old Testament background.  Just like God is referred to as the Vinedresser in the Old Testament, the people of Israel are referred to as the vine.  Again you can see an example of that in what we sang from Psalm 80.  So now when Christ says that he is the true vine, he’s saying something about the people of Israel.  They weren’t able to be the vine God wanted them to be.  They didn’t produce fruit.  But Jesus is the true vine.  He is the fulfillment of everything Israel was supposed to be.  Jesus is the true Jew. 

As such, he in himself is fruitful.  You can see that in verses 9 and 10.  Please look with me there.  Notice how Jesus says two important things he has done.  First, in verse 9, he has loved his disciples.  He’s about to prove that love by going to the cross for them to pay for their sins.  Second, in verse 10, he speaks of how he has kept his Father’s commandments.  That’s referring to Christ’s obedience to the law of God.  We call that his active obedience.  He obeyed the law in our place.  We’re failed law-keepers in ourselves, but when we’re in Christ, God sees people who have perfectly kept the law.  He doesn’t see a branch all by itself, but he sees the branch connected to the obedient Vine.

Not only that, but when we’re connected to the Vine, he is the ultimate source of our fruitfulness.  Notice what he says in verse 4, the branch cannot bear fruit by itself.  And then at the end of verse 5 he drives home the point even more strongly, “…apart from me you can do nothing.”  By that he means, we can do nothing good, nothing fruitful to the glory of God.  We need the Vine.  We need Jesus in order to be fruitful at all, let alone to bear maximum fruit. 

Why is this?  It’s because if we’re left to ourselves, we’re sinners.  We have hearts constantly inclined to rebel against God and his good will for our lives.  Scripture says that when we haven’t been born again, we’re dead in sins and trespasses.  The reality is that without Jesus and a vital faith connection to him, we’re just dead branches that can’t possibly bear any fruit.

But having been born again by the Holy Spirit, having received the gift of faith in Jesus Christ, we’re then connected to him.  Now things are radically different.  Before it was “apart from me you can do nothing,” now it’s “in me you can do something – you can go and bear fruit for the glory of God.”  Our union with Christ changes everything.  We live because he lives.  We bear fruit because he bears fruit.            

The way for the branches to bear maximum fruit is to abide in the Vine.  What does that mean exactly?  I appreciate what Sinclair Ferguson says about that.  He writes that to abide in Christ in John 15 means “to live with a sense that the Son of God loves us and gave himself for us, that he dwells within us by his Holy Spirit, and that we know that our life is now his and no longer our own.”  That’s well-said.  Abiding in the vine basically means living with a constant awareness that he is the vine and we are the branches.  It’s to always live with our union with Christ foremost in our minds.  It’s to let that define who we are and how we live.

I’d venture to say that many of us aren’t used to thinking like this.  In my pastoral experience, I’ve had occasions where I’ve had people sitting in front of me with this problem or that problem.  Oftentimes it’s some kind of issue related to difficult relationships.  And in some instances I’d ask, “What difference does it make that you’re united to Christ in this situation?”  Every time I’ve asked that question, I’ve gotten a blank stare back.  So I explain further how Christ is the vine and we’re the branches and so on.  Then they get the concept, but usually they admit they’ve never thought about how this union with Christ would matter in their lives.  They’ve never really thought about their union with Christ.  But Jesus says here in John 15 that we’re to abide in him, which means we have to be thinking regularly and often about our vital spiritual connection to him and the difference it makes for our lives.  Doing this is the only way forward to bearing as much fruit as we can for the glory of God.

There’s a necessary connection here to keeping Christ’s commandments.  No one can be a Christian and not care about how Jesus teaches us to live.  Take the Sermon on the Mount for example.  You can find it in Matthew 5-7.  The Sermon on the Mount is the most famous collection of the commandments of Jesus.  You can’t say you’re a Christian and then ignore the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus says that it’s not enough to not murder, you’re also not to be angry and hateful.  Jesus says it’s not enough to not commit adultery, you’re also not to even look at someone with lust in your heart.  Jesus says we’re to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  We’re to be honest and let our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ be ‘no.’  And so on.  Christians care about these teachings and aim to follow them.  Jesus says that’s how we abide in his love.  He doesn’t mean to say that we’re going to earn his love by keeping his commandments.  This isn’t talking about works-righteousness.  Rather, it’s that we’ll be showing how we’re aware of his love and our union with him.  Abiding in the Vine leads us to bear the maximum fruit of obedience to the commands of Christ.  Because if Christ was obedient, those united to him should also be obedient.

There are three outcomes that Christ mentions in relation to our bearing much fruit in this way.  The first is prayer.  This is in verse 7.  Please look there with me.    Context is crucial here.  You have to read the second part of the verse in the light of the first part.  Jesus says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you…”  In other words, if you’re aware of your union with Christ and you’ve been paying attention to all of his teaching, you won’t be praying for things that fall outside of his will.  Instead, here in this context, you will be praying to bear much fruit, and it will be done for you.  If you’re conscientious about your union with Christ, and you pray for more obedience to his Word, it will be done for you.  That’s a prayer which pleases God and he’ll answer it.  He may not answer it right away.  It may be answered over a period of some time, but he will answer it.  You can trust him on that.

The second outcome has to do with discipleship.  As we bear much fruit, we show that we’re disciples of Christ.  He’s our Master, and we’re his followers.  We’re not just listening to his teaching, we’re doing it.  We’re doing it like he did it.  Disciples aim to imitate their Master and that’s what we’re called to do with Jesus.  As we do that, people around us will see we’re disciples of Christ.  That glorifies the Father.  That leads other people to make much of him, especially as others are also drawn to Christ, but also from those who are already disciples of Christ.  When I see you bearing much fruit as a disciple of Christ, I say, “Praise God, that’s beautiful!”  God is glorified through your life as a fruitful follower of Jesus.  

The last outcome mentioned by Christ is joy.  This is in verse 11.  Our Lord Jesus wants his disciples to have his joy and have it to the max.  What is it that gives Christ joy?  To answer that, we could turn to one of the Messianic psalms, Psalm 40.  Hebrews 10 says this psalm is speaking of Jesus.  So when we hear these words, we hear Jesus, “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”  Christ’s joy and delight was to do God’s will.  He wants his joy to be in us to the max.  He wants us to know the joy and delight of pleasing God with our obedience to his will.

Loved ones, the world tries to sell us a false joy.  The world tries to tell us that we’ll have joy if we ignore God and do what we want to do.  And it’s true, there may be some kind of joy for a time.  But eventually it comes back to bite you -- hard.  What you thought was joy ends up being a nightmare, whether in this life or the next.  But Jesus promises that there’s true joy in our union with him, a union that bears fruit to the glory of God.  This is because when we’re seeking to live in God’s ways, we’re living in ways designed for our flourishing.  We’re living in ways that are for our good, and according to God’s original design.  When you move away from that, you move away from real joy.  Christ doesn’t want that for you.  His purpose in what he teaches in John 15 is to move you towards real joy in life.  It comes through abiding in him, being mindful of our union with him, bearing much fruit to the glory of God.

Loved ones, this is one of the most important sections of the Bible to understand what it means to be a Christian.  If you understand these verses, you’ll know that just saying you’re a Christian isn’t enough to be one.  If you understand these verses, you’ll know the great need for you to be grafted into Christ through faith in him.  If you understand these verses, you’ll know you’re grafted into him in order to go and bear fruit for him with your life.  Do you understand?  Then by God’s grace live like it.  AMEN. 


Our Lord Jesus Christ,

You are the true vine and we are the branches.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit to bear maximum fruit to the glory of the Father.  We thank you for your life given for us and your life in us.  We thank you for your obedience for us.   Help us all to rest and trust in what you have done for us in your perfect life and your great sacrifice on the cross.  We want to live in union with you, abiding in you each day.  We want to have your joy in us, that our joy may be full.  We want to experience your joy in an obedient life.  Let us do that, we pray, in the power of your Holy Spirit.  As we’re pruned by the Father, we ask for help in seeing this as a loving and good thing for us.  Please give all of us strength both in adversity and prosperity, so we would not ever lose hope.              

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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