John Chapters 13 to 17, Part 5
by Karl Kemp
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We continue this verse-by-verse study of John chapters 13-17 here in Part 5, starting with John 15:1.
" 'I am the true vine [God's true vine with its branches represents true Israel (which embraces the Lord Jesus Christ, all the believers from Old Testament days, and all true Christians, including those who will become Christians at the end of this age, with the spotlight being on the end-time remnant of the nation Israel).], and My Father is the vinedresser. (2) Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away [[Bearing fruit goes with having saving faith and continuing in that faith, a faith that cooperates with God's saving grace and manifests itself in good fruit like faithfulness, love, obedience, and works of righteousness (the fruit of the Holy Spirit [cf. Gal. 5:22, 23]). In this context (with the words that follow in verse 2 and the words of verse 3), these words at the beginning of verse 2 could be limited to "branches" that never do manifest a solid faith commitment to Christ and His word in their hearts; they are "believers" who do not continue in His word, or become disciples, or bear fruit. See John 8:31. I'll quote part of John 8:31-36. (John 8:31-36 are also quite relevant to the second half of John 15:2 and to what it means to be "disciples" of Christ in verse 8. These verses are discussed in my paper on John chapters 5-8 on my internet site; that paper should be on this Christian article site in the near future.)
"So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed in Him [They had become "believers" in one sense, but as the following words show, they needed to continue in His word to learn the truth and become His "disciples" and be set free from sin (cf. Matt. 28:19, 20; John 2:23-25).], 'If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; (32) and you shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free.' ... (34) ...everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin ... (36) So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."
John 6:60-69 provide an example of "disciples" withdrawing from Jesus and not continuing with Him and His word. John 6:64 indicates that these "disciples" never did truly "believe" in Christ (they never became true "believers") and that Jesus knew this from the beginning. John 6:70, 71 speak of Judas, who was a "devil" and was going to betray Him (cf., e.g., John 12:4; 13:2, 10, 11, 18, 21-30; and 18:2, 3). The parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:3-9, 18-23; Mark 4:3-9, 13-20; and Luke 8:9-15) speaks of those who, for various reasons, fail to continue with Christ and His word by faith (the seed that was sown by the Sower was the word of God).
If John 15:2a is limited to "believers" who never had saving faith to begin with, which is possible in this context, these words don't demonstrate that true believers can lose their salvation, even though this verse speaks of these branches being in the vine (Christ) in some sense before God takes them away. John 15:6, however (with the strong exhortation regarding the need for the apostles and all Christians to continue to abide/remain in Christ in John 15:4-6), seems to clearly warn that true believers (will become unbelievers and) will be lost if they don't abide/remain in Christ (by faith).
There are many passages in the New Testament that clearly demonstrate that born-again Christians can fall away from Christ. We must take such warnings seriously and make it top priority to stay faithful to God by His sufficient grace. God doesn't give us saving faith to begin with, and He doesn't compel believers to continue in faith. (See my papers "A Paper on Faith" and "Once Saved, Always Saved?" The second paper and extensive excerpts from the first paper are on this Christian article site.]]; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes [[The Greek verb used here ("kathairo") means "to make clean"; it can also be translated "prune" when speaking of branches. The translation "prunes" fits the picture of the vine with its branches and the vinedresser well, but I believe it would be far better to translate "He cleans." (In the margin the NASB has, "Lit. cleans; used to describe pruning." The NEB has, "he cleans"; the ASV has, "he cleanseth"; the NT by Henry Alford, "he cleanseth"; the KJV "he purgeth"; the Amplified Bible "He cleanseth and repeatedly prunes"; and Hendricksen translates, "he cleanses.") This translation (He cleans) shows the (apparent) important relationship with the adjective "clean" in verse 3 (Greek "katharos a, on"). The Greek verb and adjective are closely related; the verb was derived from the adjective. We'll discuss the meaning of these words further as we continue.]] it so that it may bear more fruit. [[It seems that the words of verse 3 are important in establishing the meaning of these words at the end of verse 2 (starting with the words, "and every branch that bears fruit..."). In verse 3 Jesus says, "YOU [speaking to the eleven apostles] ARE ALREADY CLEAN [my emphasis] because of the word which I have spoken to you [which they had received, and had been continuing in, by faith]." Compare John 17:6, 8, "I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. ...for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me."
The apostles were representative of disciples who had a solid, abiding faith commitment to Christ. They submitted to God, His Son, and His word in faith and continued in that word. They bore fruit; they were for real; their lives/works demonstrated that they were genuine disciples of Christ. They made God and His Son top priority in their hearts; they submitted in faith to the words Christ spoke (which He received from God the Father) and took them into their hearts and made it a top priority to understand them and to live in line with them. God can work with those who submit to Him and take His word seriously; they are receptive to (they appropriate, cooperate with, and greatly appreciate) His saving grace.
On the need for Christ's true disciples to continue in God/Christ's word, see John 8:31-36, which are quoted (in part) above under verse 2 (cf., e.g., John 14:21, 23). As John 8:31-36 show, those who continue in the word of Christ are set free from sin; they are cleansed from sin (which includes being cleansed from sinning; see on 1 John 1:7 on pages 202-206 in my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin: Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ"). The apostles, as John 15:3 shows, had become "clean" through the word which Christ had spoken to them (which they had submitted to and continued in by faith). On the apostles being clean, see John 13:10, 11. (I had a footnote: As we discussed under John 13:8-10, there was a definite limit to the depth of the cleansing from sin that could be accomplished before the new covenant had been established on the shed blood of Christ and in the outpouring of the Spirit of life and holiness.)]] (3) You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. [[See under verse 2. God and His word had made the apostles clean, but the apostles had to submit to God and His word in faith, and they had to continue in that faith. It was understood that the apostles (and all Christians) must stay clean (and continue to grow in the things of God) through the saving grace of God in Christ.]] (4) Abide ["Remain" NIV] in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides ["it must remain" NIV] in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide ["remain" NIV] in Me. [[The words of this verse and most of the rest of the verses that follow in this chapter have their primary application for the days after Christ has died His atoning death, been resurrected, ascended to the right hand of the Father, and come back to His disciples through sending the Spirit to dwell in them (cf., e.g., John 14:12-23; Gal. 2:20; Phil. 4:13; and 1 John 2:6). We abide/remain in Christ by continuing to walk in line with the word of God (in the "righteousness and holiness of the truth" [Eph. 4:24]) and in/by/after the Spirit of God by grace through faith.]] (5) I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides ["remains" NIV] in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. [[Christians are totally dependent on Christ and the grace/Spirit of God to partake of spiritual/eternal life and to bring forth good fruit (even as a branch is totally dependent on the vine to which it is attached), and God (the triune God) must receive all the glory for the good fruit.
It is helpful to distinguish between two different categories of fruit. So far in discussing the fruit that Christ's disciples must bear in this chapter we have only discussed one category of fruit, the fruit that includes a life lived in obedience to God's word in righteousness and holiness by faith, which includes the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22, 23 give a partial listing of the good fruit the Spirit produces in the lives of believers as they walk in/by/after the Spirit (in accordance with God's word) by faith, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control...."
The other category of fruit is the fruit of the ministries of the apostles (and all Christian ministers and the "ministries" of all Christians). Jesus, not surprisingly, spoke much of the ministries of His apostles in these chapters (cf. John 13:16, 20; 14:12-14, 26; 15:4-8, 16, 18-27; 16:1-15, 23-28; and 17:6-26). John 15:16 (with 15:18-27) is especially relevant, "You did not choose Me but I chose you, and APPOINTED YOU THAT YOU WOULD GO FORTH AND BEAR FRUIT, AND THAT YOUR FRUIT WOULD REMAIN...." There is much overlap between these two categories of fruit; both categories come by the grace/Spirit of God in Christ. For one thing, the apostles could not have had fruitful ministries if they did not have an abundant supply of the fruit spoken of in the preceding paragraph. Sin, fleshiness, and worldliness destroy ministries. Furthermore, the transformed lives of the apostles and other Christians testified to the truthfulness of the gospel (cf., e.g., John 17:23).]] (6) If anyone does not abide ["remain" NIV] in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up [cf. Rom. 11:20-22]; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. [See under verse 2.] (7) If you abide ["remain" NIV] in Me, and My words abide ["remain" NIV] in you [[If His words abide/remain in us, we will think and live in line with His words, which include His commandments. If we have faith in God's word, we will continue to be doers of His word (cf. James 1:22, 23); faith without works is dead (James 2:26), that is, it isn't real faith. ((I had a footnote: If we are living for God and keeping His commandments, we can have an assurance that our prayers will be answered (assuming that we are praying in line with His will [cf. 1 John 5:14, 15]). See 1 John 3:18-22. I'll quote 3:22, "and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things pleasing in His sight." We must also pray in faith (cf. James 1:5-8; Mark 11:22-24).))]], ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. [[Compare John 14:13, 14; 15:16. Those who abide/remain in Christ and have His words abiding/remaining in them will be living in the truth, righteousness, and holiness of God, and their attitudes, priorities, and motives will be right. Apostles (and other ministers and all Christians) like that will ask for the right things (in accordance with the will of God and in line with their commission and assignments from God), and they can be sure of receiving the things they ask for (cf. 1 John 5:14, 15). (Believers like that will always be seeking God to know His will in specific areas too. His will, not our will, be done, and His name be glorified!) In this context the emphasis was on the apostles asking for things that went along with fulfilling their commission to take the gospel to the world and establishing the Christian church in the truth of the gospel (cf. John 15:16), but this promise that their prayers (and ours) would be answered was not limited to that area.]] (8) My Father is glorified by this [We were created to glorify God (and to enjoy Him and His salvation and creation - especially His new creation - forever).], that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples ["showing yourselves to be my disciples" NIV]. [[The Father was glorified by the faithful, loving obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ when He lived on the earth, especially by His atoning death (cf. John 13:31, 32; 17:4 ["I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do"]). Now the Father is glorified as the Lord Jesus Christ continues His work on the earth in and through His disciples, who love and are faithful to the Father and the Son. I suppose we should see both categories of fruit included here that I mentioned under verse 5. There can be no doubting that the Father is glorified by the righteous, holy lives of Christians (cf., e.g., Matt. 5:16), even as He is glorified by His disciples fulfilling their assigned ministries. "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). The Father was glorified through the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, and He is glorified through our lives to the extent we live in the center of His will, because, for one thing, people can see something of what God is really like and what He can do - it is all good, very good. The fleshiness, sin, etc. of Christians rob God of glory; it also gives a bad witness regarding the truthfulness and glory of the gospel.
Regarding the last words of this verse, "and so prove to be My disciples," Jesus said in John 8:31, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine." (On John 8:31 see above under verse 2.)]] (9) Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you [[This is a very special love indeed. We become united with the Lord Jesus Christ in such a glorious way that WE EVEN SHARE IN THE LOVE THAT THE FATHER HAS FOR HIS UNIQUE SON. (We have also become partakers of the righteousness and holiness of God through our union with the Lord Jesus Christ, and after we are glorified through our union with Him, we will reign with Him forever.) In John 17:23 Jesus mentions (in prayer) that THE FATHER LOVES (true) CHRISTIANS EVEN AS HE LOVES HIS UNIQUE SON. If these words were not in the Bible, we would have a very hard time believing that they are true. What a privilege! What a salvation plan! We must be faithful to such a God (by His grace) for His glory and for our good!]]; abide ["remain" NIV] in My love. [[As the next verse shows, there are conditions (at least one condition) for abiding/remaining in the love of God. (See under John 13:34; 14:15, 21, 23 and the references cited there. Jude exhorted his readers to "keep [themselves] in the love of God" [Jude 1:21]. The epistle of Jude shows that they were to do this by staying faithful to God and His word by His grace [cf. Jude 1:24] in days when many were falling away from the faith.) In the next verse Jesus speaks of keeping His commandments (by grace through faith) as the condition.
Jesus was speaking throughout this chapter to those who had already repented and submitted to God in faith. They were already loved by Jesus in a very special sense (cf. John 13:1); the issue here was their need to continue to abide/remain in His love by meeting God's condition(s). We could also say that the condition is that we continue to appropriate God's saving grace (which includes His sanctifying grace, which enables us to keep His commandments) by faith. Or, we could say it this way: The condition is that we continue to respond to His love (by faith) and love Him in/by the Spirit. If we love Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15, 21, 23).
We must understand that God loved us before we love Him (cf., e.g., 1 John 4:19); He loved us while we were still ungodly sinners (cf., e.g., Rom. 5:6-8). ((I had a footnote: The fact that God foreknew that we would submit to Christ and the new covenant in faith (e.g., Rom. 8:29) does not detract from the fact that He had to take the initiative in our salvation or the fact that we are saved one-hundred percent by the grace of God in Christ - we did not (and we do not) merit/earn salvation at all.)) We did not, and we could not, earn His love, but we must respond to His love and His offer of salvation with repentance and faith, and we must stay faithful to His covenant (the new covenant) by His grace/Spirit through faith if we expect to abide/remain in the love of the Father and the Son.]] (10) If you keep My commandments, you will abide ["remain" NIV] in My love [Compare John 14:21, 23; 15:14, "You are My friends, if you do what I command you."]; just as I have kept My Father's commandments [cf., e.g., John 14:31] and abide ["remain" NIV] in His love. [[Compare John 8:29, "And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone [cf. John 16:32], for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him"; John 10:17, "For this reason [at least this is one reason] the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again."
This verse (John 15:10) is typical of the teaching of the Bible in general in that it speaks in black and white terms, not gray. Jesus speaks of His disciples keeping His commandments (and not sinning), just as He had kept the Father's commandments without sinning, and we must begin to think that way in our hearts (in faith). Most Christians in our day think it's impossible to live without sinning, and they aren't even setting that as a goal; they expect sin to continue and make much room for it. They don't have faith that they can stop sinning; most don't think they are supposed to have such faith; very often Christians even refer to verses in the New Testament that supposedly prove that it is impossible for Christians to stop sinning this side of glory. I believe they are making a serious mistake. I believe the New Testament is quite clear on the fact that God has truly called us, and enables us, to live in His righteousness and holiness with the victory over all sin. (Start with my book "Holiness and Victory Over Sin: Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ"; this super-important topic is also discussed in many of my papers.) One thing is for sure, if God's sanctifying grace in Christ is sufficient for us to live above sin, which it is, we will not live above sin if we don't appropriate that sanctifying grace on a continuous basis by faith.
What happens if born-again Christians sin? It's clear that God doesn't immediately stop loving Christians if they commit a sin, and when we repent (which means more than asking for forgiveness; we must do everything we can to make things right, and we must make it a top priority to stop sinning), He is quick to forgive and to forget. Compare, for example, 1 John 2:1, 2. The Christians at Laodicea that Christ was speaking to in Rev. 3:14-22 (and what He said to them applies to all Christians in the same situation) needed to do quite a bit of repenting, and He still loved them (Rev. 3:19), but I am quite sure that they were not fully abiding in His love, and He powerfully warned them that if they didn't repent He would "spit [them] out of His mouth" (Rev. 3:16). Having been spit out of His mouth, it doesn't seem that they would abide/remain in His love at all. In a similar way Jesus warned the Christians at Ephesus that if they didn't repent they would no longer be His people (Rev. 2:1-7), and He warned the Christians at Sardis who were in sin that if they didn't repent He would erase their names from the book of life (Rev. 3:1-6). These verses in Revelation chapters 2, 3 make it quite clear that Jesus was speaking (at least for the most part) to born-again Christians, Christians who were on the verge of losing their salvation if they didn't quickly repent. (See my paper "Once Saved, Always Saved?" on these verses.)
We desperately need more transformation in the body of Christ. We need to raise the standard to where the New Testament puts it and make it top priority to live like God wants us to live (by His grace/Spirit through faith) for His glory and our good. We certainly shouldn't tempt God to see how much sin, fleshiness, and worldliness we can get by with and still be Christians in the eyes of God. That's dangerous, evil experimentation!
I trust all serious Christians will agree that it really is a good thing for us to fully live in line with God's commandments (His moral laws). He didn't give them to us to hurt us or to deny us what is good or needful. The devil is still trying to convince those who will listen (like Eve listened) that God's commandments are burdensome (cf. 1 John 5:3) and need to be broken for our greater good. God really is a good God! He is for our ultimate good! That's what love does! Real joy, as the next verse shows, comes with living in the center of God's will, fully abiding in His love.]] (11) These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. [[Compare John 17:13, "But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world [while He is still with His disciples, before He goes to the Father] so that they may have My joy made full in themselves." It isn't clear how much "these things" include here in John 15:11, nor does it make much difference. It could be limited to what Jesus said in John 15:1-11, or it could include all that He said starting at John 13:1. The point that Jesus was making here is clear, and it is a glorious point indeed: If the apostles (and all Christians) are faithful to Christ (and the Father) and keep His commandments, they will abide/remain in His love and will have the same joy (the same fullness of joy) that He had experienced through keeping the Father's commandments and abiding in His love. ((In John 14:27 Jesus spoke of His apostles (and all Christians that meet His conditions) having the same peace that He had (as they love Christ and keep His word).))]] (12) This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. [[See John 13:34; 15:17; 1 John 3:23; and 2 John 1:5. It was to be understood, of course, that loving God, which is the first great commandment given in the Mosaic Law (cf. Matt. 22:36-38), was even more important than loving one another, but (as John 13:34 shows) Christ's disciples loving one another just as they have been loved by Him (which included His dying for them, which is mentioned in the following verse) was a NEW commandment (a NEW commandment that goes with the NEW covenant [John 13:34]). Born-again Christians are enabled, and required, to love God and one another on a higher level than was required under the old covenant.
In John 15:10 (and 14:15, 21; cf. 14:23), Jesus spoke of keeping His "commandments"; also cf. John 15:14, 17 (see under 15:14, 17). His one "commandment" cannot be fully equated with His "commandments," but many of His commandments are embraced in His one commandment, and He puts great emphasis on this new commandment to love one another just as they have been loved by Him by calling this commandment "My commandment" here.
I'll quote what the apostle Paul said in Rom. 13:8b-10 (also see Gal. 5:14), "for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. (9) For this, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,' and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' (10) Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." What Paul said here (as the context shows) was not limited to the special love Christians are to have for other Christians. We must understand, of course, that we haven't begun to fulfill the law if we love our neighbor while skipping the greater commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.]] (13) Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends [On being Christ's "friends," cf. John 15:14, 15; Luke 12:4; Matt. 12:50.]. [Compare John 10:11-18; Rom. 5:8.] (14) You are My friends if you do what [[The Greek relative pronoun ("ha") behind "what" in the United Bible Societies "Greek New Testament" (fourth revised edition) is neuter plural. It could be translated "the things that," for example, instead of "what." ((I had a footnote: George R. Beasley Murray ("John," page 266) translates, "the things [I command you].")) The things that Jesus commanded His disciples is equivalent to the "commandments" He gave them (cf. John 14:15, 21; 15:10).
The Greek noun ("entole") translated commandment(s) in John 14:15, 21; 15:10, 12 (the noun is singular in 15:12 and plural in the other verses) was derived from the Greek verb "entellomai," the verb translated "I command" here in verse 14, and in verse 17.]] I command you. [The words of this verse (15:14) are comparable in meaning with the words of John 15:10, "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in My love."] (15) No longer do I call you slaves ["servants" NIV], for the slave ["servant"] does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you [cf. John 16:12].
We will continue this verse-by-verse study of John chapters 13-17 in Part 6, starting with John 15:16.
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