“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. 2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. 3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. 6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. 8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples” (John 15:1-8).
“Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (John 15:15).
I have heard of a man who wanted to attend the National Procrastinators Convention, but he kept putting it off. I know of religious people who have every intention of getting serious about living the Christian life, they just keep putting it off. The Bible teaches that procrastination in spiritual matters is never an option.
Jesus said that He is the true vine, and His Father is the husbandman. Every branch in Christ that does not bear spiritual fruit, God the Father taketh away. The lesson becomes clear. Every man, woman, boy, and girl who would abide in Christ must bear spiritual fruit.
It is essential that the truth of both concepts, resting in Christ, and bearing spiritual fruit, be understood in a balance. Theological controversies, and social unrest results when there is misunderstanding. I was reminded of this afresh when I received my mail one day and read about a controversy between two gifted Christian men.
Curtis Hutson was the editor of a popular Christian newspaper called The Sword of the Lord, first established on September 28, 1934, and edited by Evangelist John R. Rice. The newspaper is very conservative, and the editor felt a need to defend the faith, against a fellow believer. A running feud was initiated by Dr. Hudson against Dr. John MacArthur, a prominent Christian leader in California who has authored numerous books.
To summarize the debate, John MacArthur teaches what has come to be called Lordship Salvation. He believes that a person who would be a true Christian must fully embrace Jesus Christ as both Lord and Savior. An appeal is made to Acts 2:36.“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Curtis Hutson violently disagreed, and implied that MacArthur is a heretic in this doctrinal position. Hutson contends that salvation is solely a matter of believing in Jesus Christ as Savior. It is that simple and that crystal clear. Several passages and arguments are cited by Dr. Hudson stressing salvation by faith alone, while contending that MacArthur teaches a works salvation.
Personally, I am always grieved when Christian brothers turn on each other for it is the nature of controversy to devour the opposition so that one’s own position reigns supreme. The unbelieving world sees this happening, and is revolted by it.
It is true, as Dr. Hutson so strongly contended, that salvation is based upon faith, alone. But it is equally true, as Dr. MacArthur contended, and the Reformed position maintains, that man is saved by faith alone, but not by the faith which is alone. Saving faith is always accompanied by good works.
James wrote, “Show me your faith by your works.”
Jesus said, “If a man abides not in me, he is cast forth as a branch and is withered and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”
There is a healthy tension between salvation by grace through faith alone, and that of self-examination to see if there is evidence of true salvation. The soul which knows nothing of forgiveness, confession, good works, fruits of the Spirit, and holy living is still dead in trespasses and sin. Lot is set up as an exception not the rule to follow. Jesus will have His branches bear spiritual fruit.
Taken as a whole, salvation is a process as well as an act in a moment of time. Some theology divides salvation from sanctification, the birth from the life, the faith from the works, the belief from the behavior. It is wrong to do that. John MacArthur is correct. Jesus is both Lord and Savior with equal emphasis to be understood by the soul that would be saved. Looking at the passage in John’s gospel, there are several thoughts that should be considered.
First, the whole text deals with fruit bearing, along with Ephesians 5:9, tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth. Galatians 5:22 declares that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.
Second, fruit bearing is the proof of a vial relationship to Jesus Christ “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purges it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (John 15:2). “If a man abides not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6).
It is impossible to bear spiritual fruit that is God honoring in a detached way. That is why the cults are not honoring to God. That is why the nominal professing Christian is in danger of eternal destruction. There is no vital life in time, or in eternity, apart from Christ.
Third, fruit bearing is produced by our union with Jesus. As branches, we as Christians do not produce the fruit in and of ourselves, but bear it. The vital life flowing through the branches in a marvelous and mysterious way produces the fruit.
I once spoke with a person who was struggling in many areas of the Christian life. Like so many others, this person read books, listened to religious sermons, found the latest techniques, and then tried to do the work of the Holy Spirit. There will be constant failure and frustration until the concept of learning to abide in Christ is understood.
The truth must be learned that the vine produces the fruit. As Ron Dunn has observed, “Branches produce only another branch and that is why we have so much dead wood in our churches.”
The practical side of this point is that we can relax to a certain extent. It is true that we must be busy about our Father’s business, it is true that we must redeem the time because the days are evil. It is equally true that God has not assigned the weight of the world to us. God has not surrendered His sovereignty, nor told us to create our own sufficiency.
To abide in Christ so that the Vine can produce fruit is not idleness, but it is restful. To rest means to release the tension. A bowstring is normally taunt, but the strings can be loosened. When the tension is gone, there is rest.
It is instructive to notice that Jesus lived His life, not in the sufficiency of Himself, but in the power of His Father (John 14:10, Matthew 4). To be like Christ you and I must reject our own human resources and believe John 15:4 which teaches that apart from Christ we cannot bear spiritual fruit, to be productive in fruit bearing the branches need to be healthy and the healthiest branches are those that are pruned so that there is much life flowing to them.
Sometimes Christians want to know how to be more productive and the answer is usually, “get involved in more programs. Go soul winning. Attend all the services. Teach Sunday School. Sing in the choir. Work on the house committee. Drive a bus. Work! Work! Work!”
In the frenzy of activity, a program is built but, when the fruits of the Spirit are looked for they are not to be found. Why? Because the vital life was not flowing to the branches. There was no abiding in Christ though there was much activity for Christ.
My counsel for all Christians is this. Keep the lines of communication open. Let there be prayer, both private and corporate. Let there be meditation and personal Bible study. Stay close to Jesus. Learn to love Him and before long there will be fruit, more fruit, and much fruit produced, not manufactured.
Any local congregation can be a great church in the community but it cannot be a great church merely because of an active program. It cannot be a great church merely because of its special emphasis on soul winning, evangelism, Bible study groups or doctrinal distinctives. It can only be a great and healthy church with a vital ministry in as far as the individual branches are abiding in Christ.
To abide in Christ is not an option, it is essential. Understand that Jesus is not seeking companionship. Rather He is saying, “Live in me.” As a fish must live in the water to survive, as the branch must live in the vine, so the Christian must live in the Lord. God blesses life not programs. The life that God blesses is the life that has its source in Him.
Let us read this passage with understanding, and let us read it with fear. The fear is found in verse 6. Dr. Ryrie has a footnote in his study Bible that says this verse refers to Christian works. In the Day of Judgment, teaches Dr. Ryrie, the person who has not abided in Christ will see His works consumed though he himself is saved.
However, “What if Dr. Ryrie is wrong with his interpretation?”
“What if Jesus had in mind a person like Judas Iscariot, or Alexander the Coppersmith, or Adolf Hitler, who sang in the Catholic boys’ choir, or Joseph Stalin, who studied to be a priest at a Seminary, or that person you know so well, who started out as a professing Christian, but has not kept or abided in Christ?”
“What if Charles Ryrie and Curtis Hutson are wrong as they teach a belief that does not behave, a faith that does not bear fruit, a salvation that does not save from sin?”
“What if Jesus really meant that we must abide in Him in order to bear fruit and not be cast forth as a withered branch and burned in hell?”
Let God the Holy Spirit, and the clear teaching of Scripture, convict our hearts. Let us be Christ-taught, because we are Christ bought.
My prayer, my exhortation, is to abide in Christ. Stay close to the Lord. Stay close to the Vine. Allow the fruit of the life of God to be produced. Prune away what ever sin is hindering the life flow, but abide in Christ.
God will not have mercy on those who embrace an “easy Believism” theology. Do not talk about Lot. His filthy works are not to be a pattern of how to live.
Talk about those people who are listed in faith’s hall of fame in Hebrews 11. By faith, they were moved to perform righteous deeds. By abiding in Christ, they conquered, and won spiritual victories. That is what we must do.