The Vine and the Branches (Part 1)
by David Tryon
There are many Christians, struggling to live the Christian life, who have never discovered where the strength to live that life is to be found. There are many earnest believers, young and old, who are continually being disappointed and cast down because they are finding their own resources so inadequate to meet the demands of real Christian living. There are hundreds of Christians of all ages who are hungering and thirsting after a fuller, deeper life than that which they now experience. What they need to know, and to know experimentally, as well as mentally, is that all the resources of the Christian life are in CHRIST, and in HIM ALONE, and that He lives in them by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps there is no better and no simpler illustration of these truths than the Lord’s parable of the vine and the branches in John 15. We shall look together at some of the great lessons which this parable teaches, with the prayer that God will use these lessons to bring great blessing into the lives of each of us.
“I am the Vine,” said the Lord Jesus, “you are the branches”(verse 5). Every true Christian is “in Christ,” a branch in the vine, joined to the Lord, a partaker of his nature.
“I am the True Vine, and my Father is the Gardener (the vinedresser). Every branch in me that bears no fruit, He takes away … If a man abides not in me, he is cast out as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”
The first lesson we learn from this parable of the vine and the branches is that a branch is useless if it does not bear fruit. We need to be careful, when trying to understand the teaching of a parable such as this, not to press the details of the parable too far. There are those who teach that these words show that it is possible for a man to be “in Christ” and out again; to be saved and then lost; to have eternal life and then lose it. This cannot be. There are clear statements in Scripture to the contrary. We must remember that no earthly parable can fully express all sides of eternal truth. Yet these words of the Lord Jesus are very, very solemn words. Perhaps we shall more clearly understand the truth contained in them if we compare them with some words of the apostle Paul which teach similar truth. “Every man’s work shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abides which he has built, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Corinthians 3:13-15). The apostle is writing about Christian service and he likens it to a building. It is possible he teaches, for a servant of Christ, while building on the One True Foundation (verse 11), to fail to put into his building such materials as can stand the test of fire with the result that one day all his life work will be burned up, proving that he has been utterly useless, and all his work completely wasted. This is what the Lord Jesus is teaching under the figure of the branch that does not bear fruit. A branch that does not bear fruit is a useless branch; its existence is a wasted existence; it is only fit for the fire.
How tremendously solemn this is. What a terrible, what a tragic thing it must be to be a Christian who is not bearing fruit! What a tragedy is the life of the careless Christian, the lukewarm Christian, the sinning Christian, the idle Christian, the worldly Christian, the prayerless Christian! How very seriously concerned we all should be as to whether we are branches that are bearing fruit, or whether we are fruitless, useless branches.
WHICH ARE YOU?
These words are certain to be read by many a fruitless Christian. Are you one of them? Do you know, as you read these words, that your Christian life has been a fruitless life? It is not necessary to explain to you what is meant by -“fruitless”; you simply know that you are not fulfilling the purpose for which God saved you, just as a branch that is not bearing fruit is not fulfilling the purpose for which it is in the vine. Probably you judge your condition by certain indications in your life, some sin that has dominion over you, a failure to witness, a lack of prayer, a distaste for Bible reading, no power in service, a love for worldly things. This may not be due to your carelessness or indifference. You may have made great efforts to become a fruitful Christian, to witness, to pray, to overcome sin. Yet you look back on failure. You know there has been no result. On the other hand, it may be that you have just not let “fruit-bearing” concern you very much. You are a Christian (you tell yourself), your sins are forgiven, you will go to heaven. That is the most important thing. You have not felt that these other things matter very much. Your life is fruitless because you have not been particularly concerned whether you bear fruit or not. But whether your life is fruitless because of your carelessness and indifference, or in spite of much deep concern, and longing, and striving, you know it is fruitless.
THE TRAGEDY OF A FRUITLESS LIFE
Before we go any further with the study of this parable, will you read again those words of the Lord Jesus about the fruitless branch, and in his Presence think for a moment of the tragedy of such a life.
What a tragedy it is in the sight of God. What a disappointment and grief to the gardener is the branch that bears no fruit, that completely fails to fulfill the purpose for which it is in the vine. What a grief to the heart of the Great Gardener must your fruitless Christian life be, a continual frustration of the wonderful purposes of grace He had in mind when He placed you in Christ.
What a tragedy is such a life as far as others are concerned. There are weary, fainting, thirsty, bitter lives in this wilderness world of ours; these lives are coming into contact with yours every day. It is God’s purpose that they should be refreshed and strengthened and sweetened by the fruit which you shall bear. And because you are a fruitless branch, these weary, thirsting, perishing ones have passed you by unrefreshed, unblessed. Oh, the tragedy of it! Little have you realized the harm you have been doing; the love and joy and peace of which others have been robbed because you have borne no fruit.
What a tragedy such a life is from your own point of view. It is a wasted life. A branch is only in the vine for one purpose, to bear fruit. If it fails to do that, its existence is wasted. As far as its usefulness is concerned, it might as well not be there. It is no use at all. Your fruitless life is a wasted, useless life. At the judgment seat of Christ you will suffer loss. All the produce of those wasted years will be burned up. What awful, solemn mystery surrounds those words of the apostle, “But he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.”
This then is the first lesson we must learn from this parable, that if our life is a fruitless life it is a tragically wasted life, useless to God, useless to man, and an irreparable loss to ourselves. Oh, let us ask God to teach us how we may bear fruit to his satisfaction and glory, to the blessing of others, and to the full salvation of our own souls.
Grace Notes: April 7, 2005
Footnotes by the editor:
 For a study on assurance, see Grace Notes: “How to Have True Assurance.”
 The Judgment Seat of Christ does not determine destiny; it will determine rewards or lack thereof in heaven (2 Cor. 5:10). The author’s treatment of verse two is sound, but is based on the KJV rendering, “he takes away.” However, there are good reasons to translate this verb as “he lifts up.” This is the primary meaning of the Greek verb “airo.” It is used in this sense often (Cf. Matt 4:6;9:6;11:29;4:20;16:24;17:27). The KJV translators seemed to associate this verse with the image of verse 6: “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” In that verse, however, Christ refers to the unsaved person who does not continue in saving faith. In verse 2 He symbolically describes the born again believer IN CHRIST who (temporarily) does not bear noticeable fruit. In this case the Gardener “lifts up” the branch, (cleansing it, supporting it, positioning it in the sun …). Through such corrective discipline the believer is restored to a fruitful abiding relationship (Heb. 12:5-11). See also Bruce Wilkinson, Secrets of the Vine, (Multnomah), pp. 32-41.
Now we come to a second lesson of the utmost importance.
“As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abides in the vine, no more can you, except you abide in me … for without me (or, severed from me), you can do nothing.”[John 15:4,5]
So we learn that a branch cannot bear fruit by any effort of its own. Severed from the vine the branch can do nothing. That fact is so obvious that we are inclined to pass it by without further thought, and so miss the far-reaching implications of this part of the parable. Think of it for a moment. There is a branch, severed from the vine, lying before you on the ground [vs. 6]. How utterly helpless it is to produce any fruit! If a branch could have feelings and understanding it might be deeply conscious of its uselessness, and the danger in which it lay of being cast into the fire. It might be full of the deepest longings after a life of fruitfulness. It might make mighty resolutions to do all in its power to produce fruit. But it would be utterly powerless to make any move towards satisfying those longings, or carrying out those resolutions. That severed branch is a picture of the most complete helplessness.
“As the branch cannot … NO MORE can you.” Will you sit still a moment now, and let those two words “no more” sink deep into your heart? You can do no more towards producing the fruit which God requires in your life than can that severed branch. NO MORE. You may be deeply convicted of your useless, fruitless, Christian life. You may be stirred up to a great longing that things should be different you may have been planning and contriving and resolving in order that your life may be different in future. But you can do nothing. No stirring up, no effort, no determination, no strength of will, can make your life what God wants it to be. “As the branch cannot … no more can you.”
Do not misunderstand this teaching of the Lord Jesus. Many Christians who think that they have received this truth have not even got a glimpse of the depth to which it goes. Unconsciously they are placing upon it limitations imposed by their own preconceived ideas of the possibilities that are in human nature. The Lord Jesus is not teaching that, because of your natural weakness, you need help to bring you up to a standard of life which you cannot reach yourself; that by your own goodness and strength and courage you can get so far, but not far enough to reach God’s standard; that if you made an immense effort it would help a great deal, but because of your natural limitations that effort needs to be supplemented by His power. That a better, stronger, braver man than you are could get further than you can get. That is not what He is teaching at all. This statement goes far, far deeper than that.
Go back to the parable again and ask yourself the question, how much can a branch do toward producing fruit? Can a branch have some part in the production of the fruit? Is it conceivable that if we found a branch clever enough and strong enough it could produce fruit of itself? The answers are obvious. The branch does not possess in itself even the smallest glimmerings of fruit-producing life. The best branch is as helpless as the worst; the strongest as helpless as the weakest, the most beautiful as helpless as the ugliest. The branch, whatever its natural condition, cannot …
“No more” can you. It is not a question of whether you are strong or weak; good or bad; brave or cowardly; clever or foolish; experienced or inexperienced. Whatever your natural condition you are absolutely helpless to begin to live the life God requires. Whatever your gifts, accomplishments, virtues, experience may be, they are of no more help to you in producing fruit than is natural beauty in a branch. In you (that is, in your flesh) dwells no good thing, not the first faint flickerings of the life that produces fruit.
Thousands of Christians never find that out. They spend their lives fighting against the admission of it. They know they come short, but they think it is not so short that a greater effort, backed up by the Holy Spirit’s power, will put them right. And so they ask his help, and try again.
AN “UP AND DOWN” EXPERIENCE
What is the result? The result is what is sometimes called an “up and down” Christian experience. When they appear to be advancing in the Christian life; when they receive indications that God is blessing their service; when they get some definite, unmistakable answer to prayer; when they overcome some temptation; when they discover within themselves some thought of holiness, some virtue, some desire for the things of God, then they are “up.” On the other hand, when they are conscious of failure and lack of progress; when they see no blessing in their work; when prayer is apparently unanswered; when sin gets the better of them; when they get some glimpse of the corrupt, sinful state of their natural hearts, then they are “down.” They are “up” when they appear to be producing fruit, and “down” when they can see no fruit; ever battling against the admission of the truth that “as the branch cannot … no more can” they. They know nothing of the rest which remains for the people of God, and which can only be entered by ceasing from their works (Hebrews 4:9-10). Their life is one continual effort to produce fruit for God’s glory, to prove to themselves and to God that the branch can, after all, do a little to help itself.
There are many earnest Christians who have lived like this for years, and have become more and more disappointed with their Christian experience. There are many young Christians, who, having begun well, have gradually slipped back, as they have proved by bitter experience how utterly unable they are to reach the standard which God requires. Are you like that? You know your life is fruitless, but it is not because you do not care. You are tremendously concerned that your life should bear fruit; you have tried your hardest to be the best for God, and you have failed. “It is no good,” you say, “I cannot be a keen Christian.” Is that what you say? Is it? Do you see what you are admitting? You are admitting the very thing that God has been asking you to admit! The Lord Jesus said, “As the branch cannot …, no more can you,” and you didn’t believe it; so He has been letting you find it out by experience. And now, at last, you say, “It’s no good. I cannot …” You are admitting at last what He has been trying to tell you all along. You have come to the place where He can begin to do His work in you.
Troubled Christian, lately you have said often, almost in despair, “I cannot.” It is true; yet if you could but see, that is no reason for despair, but rather for joyful expectancy that your barren days are past, for now God is going to show you what HE is waiting to do in those who “cannot,” and who admit it. You cannot. Consent fully to that position of complete powerlessness. Do not be afraid to let go every hope of being able to make the smallest contribution towards the production of real fruit. Turn your back on self, and refuse to expect any good thing from it any more. And now listen as He tells you of the Life which is going to do through the branch what the branch can never do by any effort of its own.
Printed copies of this article in tract form are available from:
AFRICA EVANGELICAL FELLOWSHIP, Post Office Box 1679, Bloomfield, New Jersey 07003
 Christ declared “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). This recognition of spiritual emptiness apart from God is not only crucial for salvation; it should also lead us to more fully abide in Christ as our life source. Indeed, we are “blessed” with this attitude!
[Bracketed content and footnotes by JBW]
For an illustrated children’s book (for all ages) on this passage, see Michael Wells, The Gardener’s Love. www.abidingLife.com under: resources/books.