Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Through the Grapevine

Today I thought I'd take a well-known passage of Scripture, a passage which has been misinterpreted and warped into a club to keep people in line, and debunk the fear-based myth surrounding it. I am using the NASB which most scholars agree is the closest readable translation of the original Greek. 

John 15 || 1I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 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, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

The very first thing that must be clear is that there is a divine order in this analogy. We are branches. We have NO life in ourselves. He is the Vine; He has life in Himself and we have grown out of Him. He has begotten us (birthed us). We are (in this analogy) grape branches. If separated from the Vine, we do not become apple branches. Or weeds. We only become useless. Our life source is Him. We are part of Him.

Second, He says that the vinedresser (gardener, husbandman) is God the Father (remember this for later), and that "every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away." Hmmm. Every branch IN ME, He says, that doesn't bear fruit... so it IS possible to be IN HIM and not "bear fruit." (More about what that fruit is later.) And if that is the case, "He takes it away." God removes people who are born-again and who are not producing any fruit in their lives. The meaning is clear. He moves them to a place where they will abide in Him and bear fruit - or He takes them to Heaven. 

If our lives produce any of His fruit at all, He prunes us (the Greek word - and you can see this because it's used interchangeably - is one of "cleaning.") And He tells the eleven that "you are already cleaned (pruned) by the Word i have spoken to you." (vs 3) The pruning is hardly comfortable. God removes things from our lives that are hampering our growth in Him. He looks after us, and His desire is that we receive life from Him unhindered. Not so He can punish us for our sin (He has already redeemed us from that curse!) Not even so He can keep score of how much fruit we produce, but simply this: because He knows that this kind of life will bring joy to us (vs 11). 

That is abiding. That resting in His life, that utter and total dependence on Him ... that is life, that is living. That's why He said "Abide in Me, and I in you." It's a total intimacy, one that cannot escape the fact that He is the life source and we are His well-beloved offspring, continually dependent on Him. It isn't a conditional statement. It's a love-statement: a mutual resting, a mutual staying. We are one with Him: us in Him,  He in us. We have been forever changed because of having been born into His family through Him rescuing us. 

Here is where the misconceptions start. We read, "Abide in Me ... As the branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in Me." And we think - foolish humans stuck in religious thinking - that it is up to us to stay connected to Him. We are already connected to Him!! He has given birth to us! We are His!! What Jesus is warning us about is thinking that we have to "stay saved" in order to maintain that life-connection to Him. Nothing could be further from the truth

Here's where the error creeps in: we think that once He saves us, we need to "keep ourselves in Him" so (not wanting to "fall away") we "do" things to ensure that we don't find ourselves in the fire: we pray, we read the Word, we go to church, we tell others about Him (whether that is a co-worker or someone in another land). I'm not saying that those things are wrong in themselves. I AM saying that if we are operating out of fear (a fear of being separated from Him) then we are trying to do these things in our own strength in order to stay in the position that He has bought and paid for us to be in!! Can we not see the futility of this? He has said, in concluding this thought, "...because without Me you can do nothing." (vs 5b) 

Photo "Ripening Grape Clusters On The Vine"
courtesy of satit_srihin at
We need Him to abide in Him and to produce fruit (vs 5). WE don't do it. HE does through us! Does the branch TRY to produce fruit? Does it TRY to stay in the Vine ... or does it just rest and draw life and strength from the Vine and the fruit just grows naturally, automatically?

Okay so what IS this fruit anyway? When I was a child, I was taught in Sunday School (and later in church) that the fruit was new Christians. "Producing baby believers" was the work I and every believer was called to do. (What about "No one comes to the Father except by Me"? (Jn 14:6) What about "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (Jn 6:44)?) I later came to understand that the fruit that He was talking about here in John 15 was the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus was providing a final teaching for His loved ones. In chapter 14, He tells them He's going away and not to be sad because He was going to come back. In chapter 15, He tells them that remaining connected to Him in the meantime, would help them to lead a fully joyous life (leading to the question, "HOW?") and in chapter 16, He tells them (and by association, us) how: by His Spirit. By HIS SPIRIT. NOT by our own efforts! ("Without Me, you can do nothing."vs 5b)

Think about this: it does absolutely no good to "go into all the world and preach the gospel" (Mk. 16:15) if the Holy Spirit of God does not lead us. It is actually counterproductive. It does HARM to the cause of Christ to speak of His love and His grace if we ourselves have not experienced that love and that grace so much and on such a continual basis that it can't help but overflow into every facet of our lives. If that is not there, nobody will listen to the message. This is precisely what is happening today, when people in our society listen to Christians talk and can't hear the good of what they are saying ... simply because of the rigid lifestyles of the Christians who are speaking the message. Our unloving and ungracious attitudes, our unhappiness, our intolerance, our joyless spirits, our commitment to duty before love, pervades everything we do when we are so busy trying to keep ourselves in the Vine. It's a religion based on fear and duty, not a relationship based on love and gratitude. If we fear excommunication, we are not operating in love - because there is no fear in love.

THIS is what Jesus warned about when He said, "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away ... and withers..." (vs 6) Thinking that we can produce fruit in our own strength is as ludicrous a ventriloquist's dummy (if it could think) thinking that it can move its mouth without the ventriloquist's hand inside, and insisting that it can talk and make people laugh without its owner. It can't be done. Abiding isn't straining and grunting and striving to keep God from casting us out. THAT'S NOT ABIDING. THAT IS SEPARATING OURSELVES FROM THE VINE, trying to do it on our own. We abide in the Vine when we realize that there is absolutely NOTHING we can do to keep ourselves there. We are totally dependent on Him. TOTALLY. Remember He said that GOD is the Vine-dresser - it is God who looks after our spiritual life; all we need do is rest in Him, receive life from Him. The fruit will take care of itself. It just will.

And this is how: The fruit of the Spirit (that fruit that we bear when we abide in Him) is love, first and foremost. The rest of the fruit (joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control) are the different facets or expressions of that love. Pure and simple. Nothing complicated about it.

If you think that isn't enough - that we have to get out there and fulfill the Great Commission - let me tell you that unless and until we abide in Him (i.e., let His life infuse us, empower us, love us with an inexhaustible Love), the fruit of the Spirit will not be showing in our lives. Therefore, all that will manifest to the very ones we are trying to reach is how rules-based, how full of fear we are. They will prefer their own lifestyle to a life lived from a place of fear and duty.  NOBODY will be attracted to that. NOBODY. Not only that, but we will approach mental and spiritual exhaustion, and crash and burn in disillusionment and bitterness. How many people I have heard say (referring to what passes for Christianity in our society), "I tried that, and it didn't work." When I questioned them, I found out that they were desperately trying to do-do-do and didn't understand or experience the grace and love that is the motivation and the strength for all the doing.

Once we depend on Him and draw our life-source from Him, those fruit will automatically appear in our lives. We won't have to work our tails off to keep from falling in the mud or falling off the Vine; we will be happy and free and energized, and people will WANT to know what's different when tumultuous things happen to us and we face them with faith and peace and yes, even joy (recognize the fruit of the Spirit?) in the midst of circumstances that would just make them shut down. 

I can still hear some objections. I can still hear you say, "But what about the burning? doesn't it say that we'll be cast into the fire and burned?" 

Okay, let's look at that. "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and they gather them up and cast them into the fire, and they are burned." First, if we interpret "not abiding in Me" the way that I have mentioned above, that means He was talking about those who are trying to live the Christian life in their own strength, trying to follow all the rules so that God will be pleased with them. These are the ones who are [already] cast away, "fallen from grace". (Read the book of Galatians for more information on that, especially chapter 3:1.) But look. Even though they are cast away, "They are 'cast away as a branch'..." Those who are cast away don't stop being branches. NOT ONCE. And then look at who gathers the branches for burning. "THEY." The KJV says, "men." The implication here is that these are people who are not part of the Vine (otherwise they'd be branches.) The world will destroy you and rip you apart IF you are fear-based and rules-based. Your 'great' testimony, your brilliant words will fall to the ground and the ones you want to reach the most will not respond to you, starting with your children. You'll be treated like firewood ... useless twigs fit only for fueling their rejection of the Message. 

Then He makes the most amazing promise. This goes over and above what anyone could expect. "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." (v. 7) So, if we let ourselves be loved by Him, if we let ourselves experience the wonder of His grace, we will want to know what He has to say to us because we love Him in return (not because we are commanded to do it, but because He rescued us from certain death!) ... From such a grateful heart, can any request that is out of His will and contrary to His heart be possible? Of COURSE the request will be granted, because we would not ask for something that was selfish after He gave up all that He had and all that He was just to be near us! 

Can we get our hearts and minds around that kind of unconditional love? Can we?

Can we grasp the supreme fulness of His grace, the awesomeness of His care of us, and let Him flow in and through us unhindered by our own efforts, dependent on Him for everything? Can we begin to lay hold of that simple truth that He has done it all? that nothing we can do can make Him love and accept us more than He already has?

I often wonder what would happen, how our world (both inside of us and the world with which we come in contact) would be transformed, if we really could "get that."

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