Why Does Jesus Say He Is the “True Vine”?
In the gospel of John, Jesus makes seven “I am” statements. These statements are declarations made by Jesus helping to define who he is and proclaim his divine nature. If you go back to the opening verses in John’s gospel, he makes it clear that Jesus is the Word that was God. As you continue this theme of the divine nature of Jesus, you see that it is woven throughout the entire gospel; it is the lens that you should read John’s gospel through. By the time we get to the fifteenth chapter Jesus makes his final “I am” statement.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener” (John 15:1).
Instead of just saying he is the vine, why does Jesus say he is the true vine? What is interesting and emphatic about this statement is that Jesus makes a definitive distinction between himself and anyone else, because there can only be one true vine. For this reason, it is important to know about the characteristics of vines which will help us understand why Jesus says he is the true vine.
What Does Jesus Mean When He Says He is the True Vine?
The vine is what gives life to the branches, making them capable of producing fruit. When a branch is cut off from the vine, it loses its ability to produce fruit; the branch is unable to produce any fruit outside of the connection to the vine. When you think about yourself and your Christian life, your ability to produce fruit is a direct result of being connected to Jesus, who is the true vine. Jesus gives further credence to this by saying just a few verses later:
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (John 15:4).
In the Bible, one of the things fruit represents is character. What you see produced on the outside is a reflection or representation of what is happening on the inside. In fact, one of the ways we recognize who a person really is, is by their fruit or their character. These are not my words, let me remind you of what Jesus said in talking about false prophets.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:15-20).
Jesus is emphasizing that we will recognize these false prophets, not simply by what they do, but more importantly by who they are, which is their fruit. Since the fruit is the evidence of what is inside, to bear fruit that will cause you to look or act like Christ, you must be connected to Christ. You cannot produce godly results or have godly transformation without connection to the vine. That’s why Jesus says he is the true vine, because he is the source of those results. It’s also why God works to first change the heart or the inside of a man, because then the outside will eventually change and reflect what is in the heart.
Like the old song says: “Jesus on the inside, working on the outside, Oh what a change in my life.” For you to become more like Jesus, it will require you to allow his life to flow through you. This means you seek to do nothing in your own strength, but that everything you do flows from him. Jesus being the true vine is the lifeline that makes that happen.
What Is the Context of This Verse in Scripture?
These chapters, starting with John 13:31 through John 17, are part of what is known as the farewell discourse. After the Last Supper, Jesus prepares his disciples because the time of his crucifixion and departure was drawing near. Since this was taking place the night before he was crucified, these are some of the last words Jesus said to his disciples.
Imagine for a moment you knew you only had one day to live and you could have a sincere conversation with someone you really love and care deeply about. What would you tell them? For one, you would probably not mince words and you would give them the truth as straight as you can about the realities of life.
This is exactly what Jesus does with his disciples during these four chapters. He is giving them some final instructions, final warnings, final promises, and final encouragements before he leaves.
If Jesus Is the Vine, Why Is God the Gardener?
We have now established why Jesus says he is the true vine, but there is another participant in this process and that is the gardener. Jesus says the Father is the gardener, and his role is to make the branches more fruitful.
“He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:2).
God the gardener desires to have more and more of the character of Christ flowing in our lives. To accomplish this, God may have to do some pruning in your life. The result of pruning can be good, however the process of pruning can sometimes be painful. In this process God is cutting away or removing things that make you less fruitful. His desire is to get rid of the things that make you less like Christ.
For some of us, these things have taken deep roots in our lives so the separation from these things can cause pain. However, if you are going to be fruitful, this is a necessary process. When you allow God the gardener to do the work he desires, it may hurt a little, but you will come out better for it.
How Can We Be Branches of the True Vine?
If you want to know what godly fruit looks like, let me point you to the book of Galatians. In the fifth chapter Paul makes a distinction between the acts of the sinful nature and the Spirit. Though he doesn’t use the term, you could call it the fruit of the sinful nature. Notice the difference between the fruit that flows from the sinful nature and the fruit of the Spirit.
“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like” (Galatians 5:19-21).
Compare that to the fruit of the Spirit.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
You can see the big difference between the fruit that comes from your own nature and the fruit that comes from the Spirit of God. Those who belong to Jesus, who is the true vine, will have the Spirit of Christ in them (Rom. 8:9) because if you don’t then you don’t belong to him. It is this connection that allows you to produce this type of fruit, because without him you will never be able to do it on your own.
When the gardener is pruning, he is removing things like immorality, impurity, discord and all the different types of fruit connected to your flesh. He does this because he wants more love, joy, peace, and all the fruit of the Spirit flowing in your life. This type of fruit allows you to shine brightly and allows people to truly see the character of Christ in your life.
If there is one thing to take away from this, it is to stay connected to the true vine and embrace the pruning process. Being connected to the true vine will produce fruit in your life, and pruning will help you produce more fruit. But as Jesus stated, none of this can happen if you don’t remain connected to him. That’s why Jesus says he is the true vine.
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Photo credit: Unsplash/Christian Lue
Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.