Piggybacking off the last post reflecting on the joy in having a fruitful life, this entry is going to focus more on the pruning part of Jesus’ message. It is found in John 15, which is part of what’s known as “the Farewell discourse” in theology. In his sermon series, “I Am,” lead pastor Matt Chandler reveals some key points Jesus touches on when He states to His followers that He is the true vine…
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 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.
In short, the fruit that we have been unable to produce in our own lives, Jesus will now make possible for us. See, in the Old Testament, Israel or God’s people were often referred to as the vine, but in a negative context. They were referred to as a vine that did not bear fruit, and as a result, God’s wrath was forthcoming. Vine analogies were a pronouncement of judgment in that case.
So in this New Testament passage, Jesus is taking the vine analogy and flipping it around to create a newfound hope by Him, in Him and through Him. By stating that He is the true vine, He can do what we cannot do, and be what we have been unable to be.
In other words, this is Jesus entering into the equation and declaring, “I GOT THIS!” Because we have been unable to produce fruit in a way that is pleasing to God, Jesus is telling us that He has our backs, despite our failures and shortcomings.
Okay, that’s good news. So what do we do with it? Expect to be pruned.
To be a Christian is to bear fruit. If there is no fruit, there is no genuine belief. If we don’t bear fruit, we get cut off. And if we do bear fruit, we get cut back. But how we define that fruit is what really matters, as Chandler explains. If we define it as external, moral, religious ways than we are no better than the flawed religious leaders of that time (the Pharisees).
And that’s not how Jesus defines fruit…
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Jesus prunes us so we can grow in these areas of spiritual fruit.
Now the reason why this fruit is a singular “fruit” and not a plural one is profound. Chandler elaborates that if you leave any one of them out to make it singular, then it reveals the fruit to be a “counterfeit fruit.” In other words, it would be like something stapled to a tree in the hopes that it would grow and produce, instead of legitimately growing on its own. So in essence, ALL of the fruit of the Spirit just falls apart if you remove just one. Each piece of the spiritual fruit builds upon the other and reflects each other in its own right.
And the Lord in His kindness prunes so that we might grow in these areas.
Through that pruning process, I can assure you there will be hardship, difficulty and doubt. Spiritual growth is a lifelong journey. And it is not an easy one either. But Jesus grows us in who He is, not who we hope to be. Our own strength cannot possibly achieve it, no matter how hard we try. We can only rely on Jesus. And when we do, we can expect to find victory.
So because of this, we can rest assured that we needn’t be perfectly disciplined or perfect in our mindset before we come to Him. Case in point, the very next verse…
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
Let’s backtrack to the time this was written. Jesus was preaching this to His disciples, even though in less than twenty-four hours from that moment, they would betray Him and deny Him. Now how powerful is such a statement when you put it in its proper context? The disciples are clean, not because of who they were, but because of what they believed. They believed in His Words, despite the actions that would come to be shortly thereafter. When Jesus was arrested, they fled (Mark 14:50).
So our position really is in His presence because of who He is, not who we are. That’s powerfully encouraging news right there.
Yet, our natural inclination when we offend someone is to avoid them. The common stigma that seems to dominate Christianity today, is that in order to attend church or worship the Lord, a person must first clean their life up and get in the proper mindset. To do some “spring cleaning” so to speak before it’s time for church. But that is not the case in the New Testament world we live in. As Chandler reiterates, “The Bible doesn’t play it out like that. He doesn’t ask you to clean yourself up to come, He asks you to come so He can clean you up.”
So why should we be disappointed when God continues to cut away what needs to be cut away from our lives? This is a loving action by the Lord that we don’t recognize nearly enough. It is another form of discipline—not punishment—that He uses to groom and teach us.
My friends, understand that when God really cares about you, He will go after these things that pull you away from Him and keep you from growing in the fruit of the Spirit. Oftentimes, we compare ourselves to those around us, who live the comfortable life with no worries and few difficulties, and think, “why am I getting the short-end of the straw here? I follow God more than them, yet I am being put in such a dire circumstance! What have I done to deserve this?”
King David alludes to over and over again in the Psalms, that a life apart from God is simply unbearable. Absence from God is hell. So God lets those who want nothing to do with Him get exactly what they want, because they desire a life apart from God.
And when those things become the primary source of worship in their lives, they become completely dependent on them. It determines the good days and the bad ones because of their momentary nature. Happiness is built on external circumstances, but joy is different. The true joy that Christ speaks about is built on ultimate spiritual realities—that we belong to Him and He belongs to us. And that we are positioned in His presence and He is what we will never be.
When this life is over, our achievements cannot be taken on to the next level. Yet God’s love is forever. It endures through hardship and difficulties, confusion and chaos, and creates a foundation from which everything else revolves around. His presence fills a void in the soul that no person, place or thing could ever do. So consider yourself blessed when He doesn’t allow you to be consumed by the allure of the world. After all, we are not of this world…
If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
I have learned (and am still learning) this lesson the hard way and so I stress to you—trust in no one and no thing but God, and be truly content in what He provides. Trust in His discipline and His provision and you will discover purpose in everything. Even though things may not turn out in the way that you had hoped or thought you wanted, it is ultimately for your good. Pruning is just another part of that process. Through that process, God can surprise you at times, but make no mistake, when you look back at your circumstances in hindsight, you’ll often see that it was in fact, done for your own good. And to help you bear fruit, the way Jesus promised we would, when we abide in Him.
The God of this universe is serious about your joy. He’s with you and He’s for you. And He will make a way. He’s got this.