Tag Archives: context

Branches with Free Will: John 15

4″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.

 5″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.

 6″If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them in the fire…”

When we encounter this passage, we tend to dissect and parse.  There are many questions.  Is my salvation secure or can I lose it?  Who are the branches which are burned? How do we “remain” or “abide”? What do WE have to do?  How do we work this?  Am I DOING the right things?

All these approaches focus on our actions. We examine this passage like engineers, and then apply it like lawyers.

For an excellent and comprehensive exposition of this passage, read this.  It avoids the engineering problem and yet answers all the questions.


But allow me to share my little perspective.  When meditating on a passage, I like to re-imagine the scene in the truest original context that I can, letting the Holy Word speak for itself. It’s also important to see a given passage in the proper context of the entire length of the scene, examining what came before the passage and where it leads.

Here we are joining Jesus and his disciples in the middle of a long conversation.  They are in the Upper Room during the Last Supper.  Jesus knows that very soon He will be arrested, tortured and killed.

He is not at this point giving a lecture on the requirements for becoming born again, or a treatise on the doctrine of eternal salvation. Earlier in the same discourse, he has told them who is his true disciple.

John 14: 23: Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”  

Simple and easy to understand. These are the ones who belong to me.  This is how you can tell. These are terms of relationship, not legality.

Having established this, he moves on. Jesus is speaking to his most intimate disciples, his dear friends.  He is sitting with a small group of his companions, men who do belong to him, who have given all to follow him.  He explains what sort of relationship they can expect to experience even as he leaves them.

They are words of commission, but also words of comfort for dear friends.

“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.”

It’s not the entrance exam; it’s the job description.  Far from being a warning, this metaphor is meant to be a picture of loving reassurance to those who belong to Him.

He is the vine and you are one of his branches.  What privilege. What intimacy—what devoted care.  He is in you and you are in him. He gives his life to you.  Because he is alive, you grow and bear fruit.

You belong to Me. I love you so much and so perfectly.  I know who you really are, and I want to be as close to you as a Vine to its branches. I want to care for you and keep you alive forever.  I want to share my being with you.  I want you to be with Me, sharing all the eternal glories and treasures My Father has in store.

Who can discriminate the vine from the branch?  They are all one.

The branches of the vine do not need to strive to take care of themselves, find food and water, work, or decide what to do.  They simply abide in the vine, allowing the life of the vine to nourish them, make them grow, cause them to bear fruit.  They only have to abide, remain, and be filled with His life.

In order to understand this passage better, I imagine a vine whose branches are sentient. In fact, these branches have free will!

The branches can choose one of two attitudes.

They can humbly recognize that they are but limbs of a greater body, that their life is not their own, that they belong to the Vine; they can glory in the intimacy and grace that they enjoy as part of the Vine, they can praise and glorify the Vine, their Source.

Or they can chafe against their place, refuse the nourishment and life force coming through them from the Vine, and decide to determine their own course.

I want to feed myself.  I want to work.  I want to be a tree.

They can rebel, but if they do that, they die, wither, and end up in the fire.  They have borne no fruit and so the Gardener has cut them out and discarded them.  Apart from me you can do nothing, as apart from the vine, a branch withers and dies.

Notice also that the branches which revel in the life flowing through them cannot help but bear fruit; fruit is inevitable and intrinsic to the Vine. If you are a humble branch in a thriving vine, fruit will grow. You will bear fruit.

Your will bear fruit entirely because of Him.

We belong to a God who cares nothing for credit.  It is starkly obvious that all glory and honor truly belongs to Him.  There is only the credit which He has all right to, and we who deserve no applause whatsoever in simply bearing what he has grown.  We eagerly reflect all praise upon Him.

We can work away pettily at making sure we get credit for our poor tiny bits of self-interested effort, or we can be free and worship Him who is All in All.

I find this scene very touching  and encouraging.