"Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit."--John 15:2Jesus frequently compares people, Jews and Gentiles alike, to plants--trees and branches, vines, wheat and chaff. This is a picture that is very much in line with the Biblical view of man and his salvation (and thus, opposed to the way all other religions and even a lot of evangelicals and others who have attached Jesus' name to their beliefs view salvation): we are grown by God, we are chosen, made into what He wills and for His greater pleasure. I've been reading through John after a brief series of events involving a conversation with a couple Jehovah's Witnesses and this verse in particular stuck out to me for a myriad of reasons. All of Scripture is like a diamond that reveals different things when viewed at different angles, so I just want to take a moment and look at the facets here.
Firstly: who are the branches? We are, and God the Father is the one who is maintaining us--but Jesus, God the Son, is the vine from which we are growing, as the preceding verse says. This is remarkable to me because it reminds me that God did not throw me out here alone and without support, but rather He is both the One who planted me here and the One in whom I am growing and deriving strength from. He has placed me into the perfect spot and God both watches over me and nourishes me. Yet that by itself is insufficient for a look at this verse because it makes it seem like God made me for my own sake, which is certainly not true in light of the first part of verse two: the branches that don't bear fruit, He removes.
This is pretty harsh to us in modern evangelical America. God removes us? And as verse 6 says, those branches are burned? Isn't it God's fault that those branches didn't bear fruit?
But in examining the Word we see that there is a much deeper element to what God is doing in the whole world. He isn't just looking at humanity and saying "you were good, you go to heaven; you were bad, you go to hell." He's creating something that reveals our intense need for Him; branches that wither were not deprived by God of nutrition except in that He gave them over to their heart's desires. And even that is not done except in hope of reconciliation.
The second half of the verse gives me a lot of pause, because lately I've had a lot pressing on me while I've been going through the recovery/step studies process at my church. Not bad things, but just stuff working me and pushing on me serving to crush pride; my endurance through it has been by God's grace in providing strength and a community of Godly men around me. Branches that produce fruit--people that display Christ through the way they live their lives and fight against their sin--are pruned. Pain is a difficult thing but its presence is not an indication of God's punishment, but rather that God is cutting out the parts of us that inhibit growth into the fullness of life in Him. It's joy and it's hope even for those who are suffering and struggling.
I'm very thankful that it's not my will that saves me, but God's grace and the faith He imparted to me as a gift I don't deserve. What I pray is that more and more, I would display the fruit of the Spirit in my life, in my words and way of being. I pray to walk in that and to be refined into a man who fights the enemy at every turn by the way that I am. I want to be a Christian hedonist.