Last weekend, our six-year-old and I helped with some yard work. My husband was trimming trees and bushes, and he needed us to clear out the branches and leaves he cut away. Yard work is truly not my gift – especially in 90-degree heat – but I felt it was important to help, set an example, and teach our son that we work together as a family.
Then, as I was reading John 15 – a chapter that I’ve chosen to focus on all year long – the parallels struck me. God can even use yard work to teach this air-conditioning-as-a-necessity girl about Himself.
Connecting to the True Vine
In the natural area next to our driveway, we have an overgrowth of ivy, vines, and weeds interspersed with actual bushes and trees. Now, I love ivy – to me, it’s pretty green coverage that takes no work whatsoever (unless you need to contain it, that is). But several unidentifiable vines were starting to take over, so my hardworking husband cleared some of it out.
Two days later, I settled in to read John 15 for the upteenth time this year:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. John 15:1
For the first time, the word “true” really struck me. The Greek word is alethinos, meaning true, real, or genuine.
Jesus was speaking here, referring to Himself as the true vine. He is our only real, genuine connection to our loving caretaker, the Father. He is the source of life for believers, whom he calls the branches. There are many other “weeds” out there trying to vie for our attention, stifle our growth, and inhibit our fruitfulness. But if we stay connected to the genuine vine, we will flourish.
As I read, I felt convicted by all the things I’ve let stifle my growth and compete for my precious time. It seems easier for me to focus on God in a crisis (and we’ve had many), but when things are going well, my abiding wanes. I forget the “real or genuine,” instead distracted by the temporal and fruitless.
In addition to cutting back unruly vines, Steve trimmed the landscape bushes and trees. We gathered up the pruned branches into a large pile – putting some in waste bins for the city to pick up, but collecting most of it for the fire pit in our backyard. We made an impressive bonfire in the midday heat.
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. John 15:6
Now, verse six has caused some confusion for me. Wait, what?!? So if we don’t abide in Christ, we’re disconnected forever? One misstep and I’m gone? This goes against everything I’ve learned about eternal security in Christ!
But that’s not what this verse is saying. I’ve studied it, read commentaries, and learned from those with much more Bible knowledge than myself. Without getting too theological, these verses refer to those who don’t abide in Christ or bear fruit – they were never truly connected to him in the first place. These are not conditions of believing; as John Piper explains, “Abiding in the vine, does not make you a true disciple. It proves you are one.”
God, the vinedresser, will handle the fruitless branches – those not connected to the true source. But in John 15:3, Christ reassures true believers that they are already made clean. Piper’s observations continue, “You are already on the other side of judgment. You will never be cut off from the vine and burned.” (Watch or read John Piper’s message on John 15 here – it’s really good.)
Thankfully, if you are believers in the true vine, you can be assured of eternity with Him. But that doesn’t keep us from the necessary, and often painful, pruning. Just like the bushes in our yard, we must endure the cutting away of that which inhibits our growth and clouds His glory. Becoming more like Christ isn’t easy.
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. John 15:2
Our fruit doesn’t earn us a place in the garden; it proves that we are a plant that’s meant to be there and thrive. If I trust in the goodness of the Gardener (God the Father) and abide in the True Vine (Jesus Christ), then I can withstand the pruning. For me, the key is abiding in Christ when life is good, so I can trust the wisdom and goodness of the Vinedresser when life is hard.
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. John 15:5
Abiding in Christ results in two things – bearing fruit and giving God glory. I cannot let crisis-mode be the only time of spiritual growth in my life. Pruning brings beautiful growth, but abiding in the true vine is necessary every single day. Apart from Christ, our overgrowth will get out of control and our fruit stifled. I’m challenging myself and cheering you on, dear reader, as you seek to abide and flourish.