What Does It Mean to Abide in Christ?: two essentials for bearing fruit

vine and branches

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener….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 15:1-4)

The theme of this passage is God’s people bearing fruit as living “branches” within Jesus the “vine” as tended by the “gardener,” who is Father God.  At various places in the Hebrew Bible, Israel is referred to as a vine: a vine transplanted from Egypt (Psalm 80:8), God’s vineyard intended to develop a harvest of justice and righteousness (Isaiah 5:1-7), and a once living vine now shriveled in exile (Ezekiel 19:10-14). Here in John 15, amidst the upper room discourse, Jesus describes the new community formed around Him as branches sustained by a vine, which is still called to bear fruit.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing….This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:5-8)

Again the theme returns: a calling upon God’s people to bear much fruit for the Father’s glory. The key to such fruit-bearing is remaining, or abiding, in the vine, who is Jesus. There can be no fruit-bearing apart from Jesus. To not remain in Him is equivalent to becoming lifeless, and this lifelessness leads to a fiery end. Remaining in Jesus is the key to fruit-bearing, as well as to having effective prayer-communication with God. The question, of course, is what does it mean to remain or abide or continue in Jesus? the first clue comes in verse 7: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you.” To remain i Jesus is linked to His words remaining—or abiding or continuing—in us. There is a parallel here: remaining in Jesus means letting His words remain in us. Perhaps it is easier to understand this if we use the word “continue.” If we want to continue in Jesus, we will need for His words to continue in us; not just informationally but transformationally in our lives. This parallel between remaining in Jesus and His words remaining in us is followed by another parallel in the next verse: bearing much fruit is linked with showing ourselves to be Jesus’ disciples.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command….This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:9-17)

In verse 9, the metaphor switches from gardening to relationships. Along with that the concept of “remaining” switches contexts from branches remaining in a vine to friends remaining in the love of the ultimate friend. Jesus is the ultimate friend because He loves to the ultimate extent: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (15:13). Jesus does this because He keeps the Father’s commands and remains in the Father’s love (15:10). The connection between remaining through keeping commands and remaining in love is tied so tightly that it is difficult to see how one could exist without the other. Like the individual strands of a braided rope, it is hard to know whether to call it “rope” if they are not all there braided together as one.

So, Jesus says, if we want to remain in Him and bear fruit to the Father’s glory, it will involve obedience to His commands/word while also abiding in His love. His command ultimately is “Love each other as I have loved you” (15:12, 17). While there is certainly a sort of experiential mysticism of remaining in Christ’s love here, it is vacuous of true remaining if it does not simultaneously translate into remaining in Jesus’ commands through practical obedience. Or, as the Apostle James wrote, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17).

Teach me, Lord, to truly remain in You,
like a branch in the vine that bears fruit,
like a friend sustained in love to a Friend
through overflowing love.

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