Does the idea of abiding in Christ seem like an abstract or elusive concept to you? Are you overwhelmed by the weight of good works in your Christian walk? I shared a bit about some of these struggles in my own life with my email subscribers and that my focus in this season is simply to abide in Jesus. So I began to wonder, what does it really mean to abide in Christ? What should that look like in our daily lives? In this post, we will dive into John 15:1-11 and explore the answer to this question.
Just before this passage, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet and exposed Judas as the one who would betray Him. This ultimately led to Christ’s crucifixion (John 13). After that, Jesus went on to affirm that He alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life. And, He promised the Holy Spirit would be the disciples’ Helper (John 14). Jesus knew that He would soon face crucifixion. And, our passage includes some of the last words He spoke to His disciples before that took place. In John 15:1-11, Jesus is speaking to His disciples (minus Judas)—preparing them for the trials and sorrow ahead. With that in mind, let’s read our passage.
John 15:1-11 ESV
“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. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” — John 15:1-11 ESV (divided in two paragraphs for easier reading)
The Word “Abide”
Given that Jesus’s primary command in this passage is “abide in me” it’s important that we understand the meaning of the word abide. The original Greek word is menō (pronounced men’-o), which simply means to remain. But, it can be used in several contexts, which adds depth to the meaning of the word. Some of the more nuanced definitions are: to be held or kept continually, not to perish, to last, endure, live, and to remain as one. 
The Meaning of This Passage
In this passage, Jesus is telling His disciples to remain in Him. Ultimately, explaining the nature of genuine salvation by using a word picture.  He explains that He is the Vine. God the Father is the Vinedresser (or Farmer) and there are two types of disciples who are the branches. The first kind of branch (or disciple) is like Judas—one that does not bear fruit and is cut off from the Vine and thrown into the fire (hell). The second kind of branch is one that’s firmly attached to the Vine. It’s nourished by the Vine, bearing fruit. And, the Vinedresser prunes it so that it can bear more fruit.
To be clear, Jesus is not implying that someone can lose their salvation. There are many verses throughout Scripture that confirm once a person is born again, they are saved once and for all. There are no “take backs” when God gives the gift of salvation. Instead, Jesus is explaining that “disciples” like Judas who ultimately reject Him were never true disciples in the first place. Those who are truly saved bear fruit.
But, it’s not up to us to produce our own fruit. We must be attached to the Vine for life and pruned by the Vinedresser. As I reflect on this, I am looking at the maple tree growing outside my window. It doesn’t bear fruit, but if I were to cut off a branch, the leaves would wilt and the branch itself would get brittle and die. A branch cannot hope to survive, or turn vibrant red in the fall, or grow leaves again in the spring without the life of the tree. We need to have a similar mindset about life and works.
What fruit looks like
If bearing fruit in the Christian life is as important as Jesus says it is, we must understand what fruit looks like. Thankfully, God explains this to us through the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22-23. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” All other good works flow from this fruit.
The world today is filled with messages to love your neighbor, be kind, and do good. But if these are fruits of the Spirit, can they truly be accomplished apart from Christ as many attempt to do? A branch cannot will itself to bear fruit. Only the Vine and the Vinedresser have any real control over whether or not a branch bears fruit.
So how do we abide in Christ? Thankfully, Jesus makes this clear to us if we listen carefully.
Abiding in Christ means having faith in Him alone.
Again, the primary message Jesus is communicating is that salvation is found in Him alone. To abide in Him is to repent and believe in the gospel. The gospel is the good news that while we were guilty and dead in our sins, God the Father lovingly sent His Son to die on a cross and rise from the dead for the forgiveness of sin so that we could be declared righteous in God’s sight, receive the gift of eternal life, and not fear judgment and wrath on the day Christ returns. (Mark 1:15, Romans 5:6-11) (Read this post for more details on the gospel.)
Jesus forgives us out of His abundant grace when we put our faith in Him. Faith isn’t an abstract concept. Jesus is very clear throughout Scripture that to believe in Him is to trust in Him alone as God, Savior, and Lord of our lives. It also means we repent, which is to confess our sins, turn from them and towards Christ. It’s to surrender to His will for our lives. I’ve heard it said that faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. (To learn more, read this post.)
Have you repented of your sins and trusted in Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life? If so, what fruit has receiving the gift of salvation produced in your life? If you’re struggling to see fruit in your life, why might that be? I encourage you to prayerfully ask the Lord to reveal the fruit in your life if there is fruit. And if there’s not, ask Him to show you why that is. If you have not yet put your faith in Christ, will you do so today? All God requires is repentant faith. He wants a relationship with you and you can start pursuing Him today!
Abiding in Christ means we abide in His Word.
John 15:3 reveals we are saved by hearing the Word. And, verse 7 indicates that abiding in Christ and abiding in His Word go hand-in-hand. One commentator I listened to likened the Word of God to the knife the Vinedresser (the Father) is holding. This passage, along with Hebrews 4:12 supports this analogy. His Word is “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Likewise, Spurgeon said that “It is the Word that prunes the Christian.” The more we know the Word, the more we love the Word, and the more we allow the knife to do its work. 
Do you believe that the Bible is God’s written Word to us? Do you believe all of it is perfect and without error? If so, how has that belief impacted your life? If not, what do you struggle to believe and why? Ask God to help you understand His Word rightly.
And, are you regularly reading the Bible? Are you studying it? Do you seek to know and love God more deeply through His Word? Consider the impact His Word is having or could be having on your life by abiding in His Word daily.
Abiding in Christ means we obey Him.
As God produces fruit in us scripturally, He develops the fruit of obedience within us. And, He uses our obedience to produce more fruit. Oftentimes, we jump straight to obedience by doing good works. But, when this isn’t a result of faith in Christ and faithfulness to His Word, it doesn’t bear good fruit. Instead it leads to striving and spiritual burnout. And at worst, it even leads some to have false assurance of salvation. The question we must ask ourselves is: Do I have more faith in my works or in Jesus to save me? Only Jesus saves. Or perhaps you’re like me and you know Christ alone saved you, but you still fall into doing and striving that leads to burnout. If that’s you, consider: Am I trusting that I already have God’s favor because of Christ’s righteousness given to me?
And finally, do you pray for the Holy Spirit to help you walk in obedience? If we aren’t living Spirit-led lives, we will attempt to do far too much in our own strength. Our passage comes right after Jesus promises the Holy Spirit in John 14:15-31. Jesus was communicating that relying on the Holy Spirit is critical to abiding in Him.
Abiding in Christ means we have joy.
The disciples didn’t understand it yet, but Christ was preparing them for His death and resurrection as He spoke the words in John 15:1-11. In verse 11, Jesus communicates that He revealed all of this so “that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
Considering this passage, what does it mean to be filled with Christ’s joy? Examine your own heart and life. Are you a joy-filled Christian? How might reflecting more on the gospel increase your joy? What might it look like for you to be filled with joy, even in the midst of hardships and grief? If joy is lacking in your life, how might this passage be speaking into the reason why?
When we abide in Christ, He bears fruit in our lives. This glorifies Him and blesses us and those around us.
So, as I consider what it means to live my own life abiding in Christ as a born again believer, I know that it means I must continue pursuing Jesus faithfully through His Word and obedience by the power of the Spirit. In doing so, I can joyfully trust Jesus and the Father to prune and bring forth fruit in my life.
Before you close this window, consider: How is God prompting you to abide in Him?
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