Main Idea: True disciples of Jesus have a permanent, life-giving, fruit-producing union with Jesus.
- True Disciples Bear Spiritual Fruit (15:1-6).
- Identifying Spiritual Fruit in the Life of a Disciple (15:7-17)
- Answered prayer
- Obedient love
- Inexhaustible joy
- Sacrificial love
In John 15 Jesus is preparing his disciples for his upcoming death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven. His final instructions primarily relate to what it means to be his disciple. What does it look like to follow Jesus? How can a person be his disciple after the cross? He uses an illustration based on the fact that we each do what’s in our nature. True disciples of Jesus have a permanent, life-giving, fruit-producing union with Jesus. Disciples will bear fruit. It’s part of their new nature.
This passage breaks down into two parts. The first part is verses 1-6, the illustration of the vine and the branches. The point of the illustration is simple: being united with Jesus brings life, and life is revealed by fruit. In verses 7-17 we discover what the fruit looks like: answered prayer, obedient love, inexhaustible joy, and sacrificial love.
True Disciples Bear Spiritual Fruit
Jesus begins with his seventh and final “I Am” statement in the Gospel of John.
- “I am the bread of life” (6:35).
- “I am the light of the world” (8:12).
- “I am the gate” (10:9).
- “I am the good shepherd” (10:11).
- “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25).
- “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (14:7).
In each case Jesus is not a light, or a gate, or a truth; he is the way, the truth, and the life. He is unique. The same is true in verse 1. He is the vine, the only vine, and the only true vine. Imagine a rich man dies and leaves a fortune to his heir. News leaks out they’re having trouble identifying the person who’s the rightful heir. Hundreds come forward claiming to be the heir. The day comes when the judge is going to decide who receives the inheritance. Before he makes his judgment, a solitary figure enters the quiet courtroom and says, “I am the true heir.” The word true means something. It means there are false heirs.
When Jesus calls himself the true vine, he’s indicating the existence of a false vine. It’s similar to when he said he was the true bread that came from heaven. There was other bread that came from heaven, called manna, but it wasn’t the true bread. Only Jesus was. Can we identify the “false” vine? Multiple times in the Old Testament Israel is called God’s vine. In Isaiah 5 a story is told about a vineyard planted with love and tended with care. Instead of growing good grapes, the vineyard grew wild, inedible grapes. In verse 7 the vineyard is identified as the nation of Israel (cf. Ps 80). When Jesus calls himself the true vine, he’s making a contrast with the nation of Israel. Here’s the point: The path to God doesn’t go through the nation of Israel; it goes through Jesus. You don’t need to become a citizen of Israel to be right with God. You need to become a disciple of Jesus. Don’t worry about being in Israel. Instead, focus on being in Jesus. Let’s say a person came to the religious leaders in Israel with serious inquiries about how to be made right with God. He would have been instructed to become part of Israel: get circumcised, bring sacrifices to the altar, and celebrate the Jewish festivals and holy days. Jesus essentially says instead, “Becoming an Israelite is unnecessary and ineffective. You need to follow me.” Union with Jesus—connection to the true vine—is the only way to please the gardener.
In this illustration the branches are disciples. Jesus mentions two types of disciples—living disciples and dead disciples (v. 2). Jesus came to bring life, and all true disciples are alive. Anyone who’s dead is not a true disciple and has never exercised faith. At best such people are like Judas Iscariot. They hang around Jesus without a genuine, life-giving relationship with him. Jesus is divisive. His presence divides true disciples from false disciples. He didn’t come to coddle false disciples. He says, “False disciples will be cut away by my Father” (v. 2; my paraphrase). If you don’t bear fruit, then you’re not connected to Jesus. If your life shows no evidence of Jesus, then you don’t belong to him.
If you are connected to the vine, God is going to do whatever it takes to cause you to bear fruit. God will cut you and prune you and trim you and chop you. He is not content to let you stay on the vine bearing little fruit. God is ruthlessly determined to shape you into something much better and more beautiful than you are right now. He is determined to make you more like his Son Jesus. The only way that will happen is through cutting away the parts that are dying so you can grow more and more healthy. God’s commitment to your fruit bearing is greater than your commitment to comfort. God will do whatever it takes for you to bear fruit. John Newton, the great eighteenth-century English pastor and songwriter, began a letter this way:
At length, and without further apology for my silence, I sit down to ask you how you fare. Afflictions I hear have been your lot; and if I had not heard so, I should have taken it for granted: for I believe the Lord loves you, and as many as He loves He chastens. I think you can say, afflictions have been good for you, and I doubt not but you have found strength according to your day; so that, though you may have been sharply tried, you have not been overpowered. (Newton, Amazing Works, 156–57; emphasis added)
The difficulty you’re going through right now may well be an act of kindness on God’s part. He loves you, and he is shaping you into something more than you are now. Shaping takes a sharp blade and produces pain, but it’s a reminder of God’s love and commitment to you. Disciples bear fruit because God will not stop until they do.
The wordremain or abide can confuse us (vv. 4-5). We have a tendency to turn it into an emotion or an experience. Jesus is talking about a fixed reality. He’s saying, “True disciples are connected to me. We are united together. Now abide in me. Remain connected to me. Get your life from me. Live your life out of your connection with me.” The illustration of the branch helps us understand what it looks like to abide. A branch is only alive if the sap flows from the trunk through the branch. Without sap the branch dies. When people trust Jesus as Lord and Savior, the life of Jesus begins to flow through them like sap through a branch. Jesus has made them alive. His Spirit now indwells them, and he gives them power to serve him and trust him and tell of him and live for him. He promises never to leave them and to sustain them at all times.
The life of Jesus flows through every Christian. Apart from his life, we can accomplish nothing for God; we can do nothing to please God. But because of his life, we now have the ability to deny sin and live for him. The key to the Christian life is Christ’s life in the Christian. Because of our connection with him—we are united to him by faith—we have the power to live in a way that pleases him. We need to understand our inability to please God apart from Jesus’s power in us. We can do nothing apart from him (v. 5). Oh, we can sing in the choir, give an offering, answer questions at small group, hand out bulletins, or go Christmas caroling, but apart from him those things are in our strength and therefore are not pleasing to God. They are the “fruit” of our own effort, the “fruit” of self-righteousness. Our self-righteous fruit does not honor God, does not please God, and does nothing to further the gospel of God.
People who claim to be Christians but do not show evidence of his life flowing through them will be cut off, gathered up, and burned (v. 6). Unless there is fruit of Jesus in you, then you will be cast into the fire. This warning is meant to be taken seriously. Is there clear, unmistakable evidence that the living God resides in you? If he lives in you, he makes his presence known. God does not hide inside his children. I had a conversation with a friend who said he was saved at a young age and then lost that salvation for years as a teenager, college student, and young adult. After years without salvation he was saved again. No. No. I love him but no. God doesn’t come and go, and he doesn’t hide. If there’s no fruit, then God is not present. And if God is not present, then you’re not his child, and the fire is waiting for you. Does God live in you? That’s what it means to be a Christian.
Your fruit proves you’re a disciple, and your lack of fruit also proves something (v. 8). This verse gives the world the right to inspect our fruit. Jesus essentially tells the watching world, “If someone claims to be mine, look at his or her fruit. Fruit will expose the frauds.” If you claim to be a Christian, people are always inspecting your fruit, and they have that right. Jesus gave the right to them. Why? Because his followers have nothing to hide. Our fruit testifies to the truth of the gospel. Jesus who died must have risen again because he clearly lives inside us. Because disciples are connected to Jesus like branches to the vine, they will bear fruit. A fruitless disciple is no disciple at all. It does not mean believers won’t suffer periods of drought or barren years, but over the course of life, they will see evidence of Jesus’s life at work in them.
Identifying Spiritual Fruit in the Life of a Disciple
If our connection with Jesus is like a branch’s connection to the vine, then prayer is like the nutrients flowing back and forth between the branch and the vine. It’s natural, due to the connection. We are united with Christ, and that union produces a relationship. Relationships are maintained and strengthened through communication. Jesus communicates with us primarily through his Word (“my words remain in you”), and we respond in prayer (v. 7).
The life of Jesus flows through his followers, and that life blossoms into a vibrant relationship. We receive the Word and respond in prayer. In our illustration of the vine and branches, the gardener (God) wields his word in order to prune and prepare the branches (v. 3). Clean branches sprout fruit, and one type of fruit is prayer. Where there is prayer, there will be answers. God listens to his people. Think about this circle. We receive the words of God (his words inform us, instruct us, and command us). In response to the Word, Scripture, we pray to God (our requests are guided and shaped by the truth of the Word and are therefore in line with God’s will). God hears our prayers and joyfully responds to our requests because they were offered up in obedience to his Word. As the Word shapes our desires and the Spirit forms us from the inside out, we will begin to pray for those things that God cares about. God will hear and answer those prayers (cf. 14:13-14). If you aren’t seeing answered prayer, are you praying? Is your praying shaped by Scripture, the Word of God? Is your praying a ritual or the overflow of God’s life flowing through you?
What does the latter look like? It looks like breathing. You breathe without thinking because blood is pulsing through your veins. When the Holy Spirit is pulsing through you, you pray without thinking. You just talk to God. An e-mail chimes, mention it to God. Someone steps into your office, mention it to God. You can’t find your keys, mention it to God. Prayer is as important to the soul as breathing is to the body.
God loves Jesus, and Jesus in turn loves us with the same type of love (v. 9). In response we love him and demonstrate our love through obedience (v. 10). The way we abide in Jesus is to remain in his love, and the way we remain in his love is through obedience. Jesus isn’t saying, “If you want me to love you, you have to obey.” He’s saying, “If you love me, you demonstrate it through obedience.” Obedience doesn’t earn love. Obedience is the evidence of love.
How does this text speak to the person who claims to be a Christian but is living in willful, persistent disobedience to Jesus? It says, “You don’t love Jesus. You don’t bear the fruit of love. Therefore, the life of Jesus is not in you, and you will be cast into the fire and burned.” True Christians obey Jesus. Across our country and around the world are people who claim to follow Jesus but don’t. It’s spiritual insanity to say, “I’m a follower of Jesus, but I don’t follow what Jesus says.” “I love Jesus, but I don’t listen to him.” No, you don’t. Faith without works is dead! A disciple who doesn’t obey is not a disciple; he’s a fraud. If Jesus lives in you, you cannot help but produce the fruit of loving obedience. His life in you will cause you to love what he loves, to treasure his words, and to obey, not out of duty but out of joy. You will delight in doing what Jesus wants you to do because he lives in you and is shaping your heart to be like his.
Jesus is the King, and he has the authority to demand our obedience (vv. 14-15), but he doesn’t treat us like slaves. Slaves are given commands but no explanations. Jesus invites us into his inner circle as his friends. He doesn’t just give us commands; he shares his friendship with us. His friendship makes obedience a delight.
Joy is an unmistakable mark of a genuine disciple (v. 11). Christians claim to have the spirit or essence of Jesus taking up residence inside them. Jesus created joy. If you claim the Creator of joy is inside you and you’re miserable, then something is wrong. It makes no sense. It’s completely illogical. If someone is finding joy in Jesus, then he or she is a disciple of Jesus. Every step we take to help someone find joy in Jesus is a step of obedience to his words. Joy in Jesus is inseparable from knowing and following him. You can’t know him and lack joy. You can’t follow him and lack joy. You can’t be united with him and lack joy. It’s a biblical, logical, and theological impossibility. It does not mean every day is easy and filled with laughter, but it does mean your life is ultimately marked by a confidence that Jesus is greater and more satisfying than anything this world has to offer.
Jesus promises joy will flow through him to us like sap through the branches. He says his joy will be in us (v. 11). Joy is not a transaction. Jesus doesn’t send a box of joy to be delivered to your doorstep by FedEx. Joy is a relationship. Jesus invites us to his party where we can feast and make merry with him. His joy becomes our joy. He brings us into his joy, and as a result, our joy is filled up to the brim. Jesus takes his Big Gulp of Joy and places our little Dixie Cup right inside. We are not only full of joy, but we are engulfed by joy. Joy above. Joy below. Joy around. Joy under. Joy over. Joy everywhere. Does Jesus have enough joy to weather your circumstances? His storehouse of joy is infinite. His resources are immeasurable. His joy gauge never reaches empty. So if his joy becomes your joy, then your joy can always be full.
The verse about joy (v. 11) follows the verses about obedience (vv. 9-10). We tend to think joy and obedience are mutually exclusive: we have to choose misery and obedience or freedom and joy. That’s a lie told from the beginning. Joy comes through obedience.
If the life of Jesus flows through us, then our understanding of this world and our purpose begins to change. Our affections and allegiance change. We start to desire what God made us for. We start to wish and dream for what matters. Our goals start to align with Jesus’s calling on our lives. At this point we begin to feel our weakness. Then we cry out for God to help us. As he empowers us to do what he’s called us to do, he’s empowering us to do what we’re beginning to want to do. God’s commands and our wants come into line, and for the first time what we want and what we need completely align. Wanting what we need and then accomplishing what we want brings joy. Jesus wants you to live in joy, and if he lives in you, then a steady harvest of joy will appear.
Jesus commands us to love others as he has loved us (v. 12). What an impossible standard for love! I can’t do that. How can I possibly obey? The only way I could love like Jesus is if he lived inside me and empowered me to love like that. This is the second time in two chapters Jesus has made love the defining characteristic of his followers. How is this love demonstrated? Through sacrifice (v. 13). Jesus sacrificed for us, and he says the ultimate act of friendship is laying down your life for somebody else. The greatest love is not romantic or erotic; it’s sacrificial. Are you laying down your life for others? That’s sacrifice—going without something for the good of someone else.
True disciples bear fruit. No fruit, no disciple. If Jesus has taken up residence inside you, you will be different, you will act differently, you will love differently, and you will live differently. The difference is not due to your strength, your effort, or your zeal. The difference is due to the persistent work of Jesus in you. Jesus is alive, powerful, and actively at work in his disciples. An apple tree bears apples, a peach tree bears peaches, and a follower of Jesus Christ loves, prays, and obeys Jesus.
Reflect and Discuss
- Why does Jesus call himself the vine and his followers branches?
- What forms do spiritual fruit take in the life of a believer? What fruit is evident in your life?
- If Jesus is the true vine, what are false vines?
- How is Jesus divisive?
- What should followers of Jesus expect if God’s commitment to our fruit bearing is greater than our commitment to comfort?
- How might God’s commitment to your fruit bearing change how you respond to different events in your life?
- How do you “remain” in Jesus?
- What does your prayer life look like today? Are you praying in confidence of answered prayer? Why or why not?
- How is prayer a fruit of the Spirit?
- Describe the difference between obedience to earn love and obedience as evidence of love.