“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” [John 15: 5].
There are several scriptures about how “fruit” grows in the Bible but the beginning understanding of how that can happen occurs in John 15: 5.
I am the vine says Jesus as He is trying to explain His relationship with His Disciples and in essence, He calls them to be faithful loyal followers [if you remain in me and I in you] you will bear fruit. Fruit is the behavior that a person can exhibit if they believe in Jesus and His Father God [love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodwill etc.*].
Apart from me you can do nothing are key words because Jesus says in those words that the source of your fruit is Him [belief in Him and His Father] and despite all your best efforts, trying to produce fruit on your own power just does not work.
Pastor Billy Graham, like Jesus, likes to use illustrations to drive home a clear understanding. He writes about a conversation a person could have with a grapevine. One might ask a branch of a grapevine “How do you grow such luscious fruit?”. The branch might reply “I don’t know. I don’t grow any of it; I just bear it. Cut me off from this vine and I will wither away and become useless.” In other words, without the vine the branch can do nothing. Graham writes “So it is with our lives. As long as I strain and work to produce the fruit of the Spirit from within myself, I will end up fruitless and frustrated.” We depend on the vine which is Jesus Christ.
We have to abide in Him.
What is this word abide? It appears in John 15 when Jesus says “Abide in Me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit.”
Christians need firm foundations, like that tree planted by the river in Psalm 1. That tree yields much fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither. Where do we get that foundation? We get it from the Christian disciplines of prayer, Bible study, and fellowship with other believers.
What do we get from these disciplines? A close relationship with God through prayer, knowledge of God through Bible study and support and love from fellow Christians through fellowship. We cannot display the fruit of the spirit if we have a weak fellowship with God, if our lives have been disrupted by acts of sin.
One part of abiding resides in our efforts to know God and be close to God.
The other part of abiding resides in obedience. If we study God’s word and pray to God and have fellowship with other believers, we begin to know what Jesus Christ expects of us. As we come to know Christ, we should begin to take on characteristics of Christ and our behaviors should change. Like the sap that flows from the vine to the branch, the sap nourishes the branch and produces fruit. That fruit is our Christ-like behavior.
In our instant success world, some may think that this process can happen quickly; just grab a Bible, get a few pointers about how to pray and start hanging around church. Well it does not work that way. It takes time to incorporate new disciplines into life and it takes time to learn new ideas and new behaviors. The fruit on the fruit tree takes time to mature, and that is where pruning comes into play.
Novice gardeners know that the best way to produce strong plants, bushes and trees is to prune them. As you cut back weak branches on a tree for instance, you force energy back down into the tree, into the root system and a new stronger tree will grow over time. There is no such thing as instant maturity; many pruning’s over many years are needed to produce strong plants and good abundant fruit.
Again, using the power of a story, Graham tells of pruning grapevines. Some years he picked small crops of substandard grapes for personal use, but he did not cut all his grapevines down. He removed the weak branches; he pruned them carefully. The next year the vines produced better fruit. That same idea applies to us as Christians. As we grow and mature in our beliefs, we hopefully will produce better fruit over time.
Our gardener is God. When we have sinful behaviors that inhibit our ability to produce fruit, God prunes them away, leaving the Christ-like behaviors.
God our Father, tells us where we have fallen short and gone astray, all the time encouraging us, hoping we will grow stronger, hoping we will abide in Him and produce more fruit.
*We will elaborate on the fruit in later posts.