Exploring God's word : New Testament

In Jesus’ famous discourse about the true vine, we are presented with a model of Christian living that is, to say the least, surprising. Jesus uses the symbol of a vine and its branches to depict the vital connection between himself and his disciples - in verse 4 Jesus says, ‘Remain in me as I also remain in you’ to describe this interconnectivity. The Greek word used here for ‘remain’ is μείνατε (meinate) and it is used throughout John 15:1-17. It is traditionally translated as ‘abide’ but carries the strong idea of staying at someone’s house. The suggestion is a radical one, a relationship with Jesus is not being described as a fleeting encounter, or just a visit, but rather, a permanent staying together in each other’s company - a dwelling together. Jesus has used the same root word to speak of his relationship with his Father in John 14:10; ‘it is the Father, living (μένων menōn) in me, who is doing his work’ and now, in John 15, he extends out this idea of ‘staying together’ to include those who believe in him.

 The effects of staying with Jesus, are many, but John details four. Verse 5 states, firstly, that this ‘staying’ will result in the production of ‘much fruit’ - our lives will be productive. Secondly, Jesus declares, ‘ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you’ (verse 7) - our prayers will be answered. Thirdly, by dwelling with Jesus we will know his transforming love, ‘Now remain in my love’ (verse 9) and finally we will experience ‘complete joy’ (verse 11).

The benefits of μένων, then, seem wonderfully clear, and yet, we are left asking the question - how then do we maintain this vital, relational connection with Jesus? The clue has already been given in the first few verses of John 15 - and our understanding is helped again by a little grasp of the underlying Greek words. In verse 2 Jesus says of the Father; ‘He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes.’ The word here used for ‘prunes’ is καθαίρει (kathairei) and also translates as ‘cleanses’. Indeed, in verse 3 it is translated in that way, ‘You are already clean (καθαροί - katharoi) because of the word I have spoken to you.’ The implication is clear, there must be a cleansing, or a pruning if the life-giving sap of God’s Spirit is going to flow into our lives and allow the production of fruit. This life flows from the very throne of God (Revelation 22:1) and Jesus said in John 3:34 that it is given ‘without limit’. Even more surprisingly, in verse 3, Jesus declares to his disciples that they have ‘already’ been made clean - already pruned! (So often this passage is interpreted as the ongoing pruning work of God to make Christians fruitful. But, Jesus unambiguously states that it is a finished act... we have already been pruned, cleansed!).

 The secret, then, of ‘staying’ with Jesus, is knowing that we have been cleansed, the old nature has been cut away, and the new life can flow. Whilst the old self presents ongoing challenges, John 15 represents a call to stand firm in the truth that we have been forgiven and given new, white garments to wear - robes of righteousness! We may not feel clean, but as we hold on to Jesus’ words (verse 3), and allow the truth of the gospel to remain in us (verse 7), the Spirit of God will flow into our lives and produce the fruit of the Spirit. In short, it is only as we come to terms with what Christ has done for us and truly embrace it, that we will feel comfortable in his presence. Once that happens, we will no longer be those who just ‘visit’ Christ but those who ‘live with’ Christ. This is the vision of Christian living being presented in John 15 and it represents a powerful picture of a redeemed humanity, able to dwell with God and be his people.

 ‘And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.‘ (Revelation 21:3).

Roger Wyatt