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(John 15:1–11) Producing Spiritual Fruit is Impossible

(John 15:1–11) Producing Spiritual Fruit is Impossible

by Stephen Davey
Series: Sermons in John
Ref: John 15:1–11

In this message Stephen introduces us to one of Scripture's most famous analogies: the analogy of the Vine and the Branches. But to fully understand the significance of this analogy, we'll need to be armed with sound principles of interpretation. Here is Stephen to give them to us.


“Producing Spiritual Fruit Is Impossible!”

John 15:1-11

In west Texas there is a famous oil field known as Yates Pool.  During the Depression this field was a sheep ranch, owned by a man named Yates.  Mr. Yates was not able to make enough money on his ranching operation so, like many others had to live on a government subsidy.  Day after day, as he grazed his sheep over those rolling west Texas hills, he was troubled about how he would be able to pay his bills.  Then a seismographic crew from an oil company came into the area and told Mr. Yates that there might be oil on his land.  They asked permission to drill a wildcat well and he signed a lease.  At 1,100 feet they struck a huge oil reserve which would produce 80,000 barrels a day.  In fact, 30 years after the discovery, a government test of one of the wells showed that it still could flow 125,000 barrels of oil a day.  And Mr. Yates owned it all.  The day he purchased the land he received the oil and mineral rights.  yet, he lived for years on relief.  Potentially, positionally a multimillionaire; experientially, poverty stricken.  Why?  He did not know the oil was there.  He owned it, but he did not possess it.

I can't think of a better illustration of one of the great problems facing Christians today.  Feverishly seeking to win or earn God's approval; fervently trying to make something of their lives by their own fleshly efforts, they plan, they resolve, they vow and decide, they work . . . but are still impoverished, spiritually poverty stricken.

If we learn anything this morning,  I want us to learn or re-learn that victorious, fruitful living is not the by-product of a self improvement course.

Spiritual fruit is not the result of improving our resources, spiritual fruit is the result of  resting in our relationship...possessing what we already own!

And, according to John's Gospel, chapter 15, our relationship with the Son of God will result in three things:  Let me give you an overview:

1) the privilege of fruitbearing

2) the prize of  friendship

3) the pain of being forsaken

These three experiences are the lot and portion of every believer, in some form or another.

Now, whenever you study the Bible, depending on the passage in front of you, the Bible can serve in a couple of different ways - it can serve as a sword which pierces your heart and peels back your motives.

The Bible can also act as a window, that allows you to see the panoramic view of history, humanity, the character and quality of God;  the glory of the cross.

The Bible can act as a mirror, and when you look into it's pages you come face to face with yourself - and you are struck with your depravity on the one hand, your deep needs, your areas of improvement, etc.

Finally, but not exhaustively, the Holy Spirit through this Book can provide you with a model.  It shows you what God is intending to make of you - what He desires you to be - it paints a picture of  all your privileges - and if you've been reading  the Bible that way, you've long discovered that you are, potentially, positionally a multi-millionaire.

The challenge is to translate our potential into performance. 

And the wonderful thing about the Master Teacher, just as He did with His earlier disciples, so He does for us now,  He never presents a model of Christian experience without providing the means. 

To do so would incredibly frustrate us - he would become like the Egyptian pharaoh who demanded more bricks from the Israelite slaves, yet at the same time, stopped the delivery trucks that hauled in the necessary straw.

It would be like a father demanding his son making a first string on the highschool basketball team and yet never allowing him to practice.  Or demanding your daughter make her own clothes without first showing her how to use a sewing machine.

In John 15, we are given one of  the greatest challenges in our Christian experience - at first glance, it's overwhelming; with closer study, it is actually encouraging, for it not only provides a model, but reveals the means.

Let's read it together.  Follow along - 15:1.  I am the true vine (by the way, this is the last of Christ's "I Am" statements in John's Gospel.) and My Father is the vinedresser (He's in charge of the vineyard).

2.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit.

3. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.

4.  Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abies in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

5.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.

6.  If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

7.  If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it shall be done for you.

8.  By this is My Father glorified that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.

9.  Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.

10.  If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love.

11.  These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy

may be made full."

Now what we have just read is called in the science of Bible interpretation, an allegory.  That is, this passage is an extended metaphor - a word picture that immediately links the student with  the color and drama of some cultural setting..we are placed into that setting as one of the objects.   The reader is  invited to a busy Palestinian vineyard.  We notice right away the owner and operator is God the Father.  The massive grape vine is the Lord Jesus and the many branches that hang with juicy clusters of grapes are believers.

John 15 is perhaps one of the most widely known allegories.  Psalm 23 is another well known allegory.

Now when you study the Bible, you soon discover the many different kinds of vehicles which carry the truth.  Hyperbole, similes, parables, allegories, figures of speech, types, etc. 

I pulled out Roy Zucks volume entitled Basic Bible Interpretation, which was the actual content of my seminary course which Dr. Zuck taught me and many others.

I read some of the material again from his volume.   It was fun this time because I knew I wouldn't be tested on what I'd read, the next day. 

Dr. Zuck gave two warning in his section on allegories which I will give to you - and I'm doing so simply because John 15 has within it the potential of distorted theology, unless carefully interpreted.

In fact, we just read in v. 2 and v. 5 & 6 - if we don't bear much fruit we're in fear of hell fire?!

Warning #1 - Do not attempt to interpret details in allegories that are not explained.

For instance, in the allegory of the house being built by wisdom in Proverbs 9, we don't need to ask what the meat, the table, or the maids represent.  They are not explained - therefore, they are not necessary to understanding the main point of the allegory. 

Several points in John 15 are never explained.  So, since this is an allegory, the Lord wasn't concerned with the details, but with the main point - which we'll look at in a moment.

Warning #2 - Do no attempt to attach spiritual significance to every detail in an allegory.

This by the way, was the very mistake that gave rise to what is called the Allegorical method of interpretation.  That is, the method whereby the Bible interpreter made a spiritual and even theological connection with every detail.  This method goes all the way back to Origen of the second century who declared that every verse in the Bible had a hidden, subtle meaning. 

So, as scholars allegorized . . . the donkey Christ rode upon was the Old Testament, and the young colt following behind was the New Testament.  Or in the Book of Ruth, the field is the Bible, Ruth represents students, and the reapers are the teachers.  Or as scholars conveniently argued, the prodigal son came home - and home represented the church.

Here's the tragedy of this allegorical method of interpretation.  It  eventually led, among others things to the dark ages.  Not only was their an historical period known as the dark ages, but a time in church history as well - they coincided! 

By the Middle Ages, the Bible had become a closed book to the population at large.  The uneducated laity certainly could never understand the deeper things of God's word - and so by the middle ages the common populace firmly believed that it would take a priest, a church father, a Bible scholar to really understand this mysterious book.  And so in the middle ages you had cathedrals with Bibles literally chained to the pulpits - the common person feared the Bible - it was untouchable.  And so the organized church would twist the scripture and contort it into saying whatever they wanted it to say in order to control the common person.

It would be ultimately the Protestant reformation that would unchain the Bible from cathedral pulpits and secret orders and strike a blow at the allegorical method of Origen.  And it would be a bold monk by the name of Martin Luther who, in the early 1500's, would launch a movement that eventually put the Bible into the hands of the people.

Martin Luther, a man who rarely minced words, actually wrote,  "Allegories are empty speculations and as it were the scum of Scripture."  So much for winning friends, he would also write, "Origen's allegories are not worth dirt."  


The point is, in an allegory, the details do not carry some hidden, secret  theological truth - the details are simply part of the story which add color and culture.

When you, the Bible interpreter; when you, the royal priest approach John 15:1-11, and any allegory!  the question you ask is this - "What is the main point and purpose of Jesus' teachings...what's the thrust. 

Then stay with it!  Corral your imagination for the moment.

The allegory tells  us that we are branches which bear fruit - does that mean we need lots of fresh water and sunshine...say yes and we'll quit early.  If the detail is to be taken as a direct analogy then we might as well plan to spend lots of time fishing (water and sunshine!) or a lot or golfing near water.  Whenever I golf near water I usually get wet.

And does this allegory mean that just as grapes hang in clusters, so our fruit will come in bunches, never one at a time. 

And more seriously, does He mean that if I don't bear fruit I'm going to be cut off the body of Christ and thrown into the fires of hell?

That's what it says in verse 6 - If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

Wow - imagine being a Christian and thinking, "if I don't bear fruit, I'm going to hell after all."  For starters that's inconsistent with what it means to become part of the Body. - I didn't become a part of the Body of Christ by producing good fruit - then are you saying that I can only remain part of the body by producing good works?  NO! 

This is inconsistent with other scripture that is clearly explained - Paul writes, "That which I don't want to do I do and that which i want to do I don't - who shall deliver me from this body of death."  In other words Paul is struggling with his lack of fruit. . .he knows there could be more!  But he goes on to say, "There is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus."

The important thing about John 15 is that Jesus is not giving an allegory on sonship; he is giving an allegory on fruitbearing

I've read this past  week the writings of some commentators who dissected each verse like Origen of old; drawing theological meanings here and there; developing analogies from every fine point - forgetting all the while that this was an allegory - a metaphor that must be interpreted as a metaphor.

Take the allegory of Psalm 23.  Another well known extended metaphor.  I'm told that I'm a sheep and the Lord is the shepherd - The main point of that allegory is that  just as a sheep is cared for by the shepherd, so I am cared for by the Lord.

But!  Psalm 23:2 says He makes me to lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.  Am I to apply that detail literally - is God going to provide me with a three acre lot with lots of grass, with a pond of still water on it?!  No!  That's missing the point of the allegory.

The point of  John 15 is that we are to recognize our life source as Christ and in light of that life, bear fruit.  And if we don't we are as useless to the cause of Christ as a branch that didn't bear fruit was useless to the cause of bearing grapes.

The literal interpretation of scripture, takes an allegory and treats it like an allegory - trying to uncover the main truths and leaving the details alone. 

With all that said, the question remains, "What did  Jesus want these first disciples and us to walk away with - what are the legitimate points of comparison between the life of the believer and the life of a vineyard.

Principle #1 - "Spiritual fruitbearing is the direct result of a relationship"

That is, the key to a branch bearing fruit is it's dependance and relationship to the vine.

John 15:4  Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  5.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Part of our spiritual poverty comes from the fact that we are convinced that we can produce fruit - so we keep trying, time after time - the truth is, We cannot produce fruit - we can only bear fruit.  

As Andrew Murray wrote, the branch is nothing more than a rack from which the fruit of the vine hangs.  It is the sap from the vine, coursing through the branch that produces fruit.  Likewise, it is the life of Christ, flowing in us that produces anything worthwhile.

Paul put it this way, "He who began a good work in you will perform it. . .he works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure!"

For most Christians, we sincerely believe that salvation is the work of God in grace, but growing up as a child of God - well, your on your own.

Okay, Lord, I've got three areas of life I'm going to straighten out . .let's see, how'd I do today. . .where am I coming along, what's the progress report.  We're looking under every leaf for fruit.  Results, results, results. . .

So you put the fruit of the Spirit on a list and put it on your refrigerator or on the dash of your car or in your journal - "Let's see, this week it's patience week; Lord, I'm going to develop that characteristic of patience in my life."  You know what will happen - you will have war all week.  

I'm convinced  if you pursued the fruit of the Spirit, one at a time, by the time you reach the end of the list you will have already lost your patience and probably love."  

Why?  Because, by God's grace he won't allow you to be able to do something by yourself that He has already said, only He can do in you.

That's why it's called the fruit of the Spirit - it isn't the fruit of Stephen or John or Susan, it's the fruit of God's Spirit - all I can be is an available branch upon which His fruit, His life, His strength, His patience and peace and love - His character is displayed.

You see, Jesus Christ is in the process of turning the tables on the way we naturally think!  This is a reversal of the typical Christian thought.

The condition of  every Christian is not that we are strong, but that we don't have any strength at all.   Not that we are slightly in need of help, but that we are totally helpless.  Paul said, "I can do all things, through Christ, who strengthens me. 

The Lord here  said the same thing only in a different way,  notice verse 5b.  Jesus Christ said, "Without me you can do "something...";  "a few things".  You can do nothing!

The point is, we are not simply handicapped, we are paralyzed.

Look again, and underline one of two main points in Christ's allegory -

Abide in me                   -           v. 4a

abides in the vine             -           v. 4b

you abide in Me              -           v. 4c

he who abides in Me        -           v. 5b

abide in Me                    -           v. 6a

If you abide in Me           -           v. 7a

my words abide in you      -           v. 7b

abide in My love             -           v. 9b

Again, the main thrust of this allegory is seen in the repeated use of this phrase  "Abide in me" - it means to remain in fellowship with Jesus Christ.  And when you and I have a relationship with Jesus Christ, He gives  us His insignia - that stamp that reveals our relationship - v. 8 spells it out  By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.  The authentic stamp of a disciple is fruit.

In fact, according to the mind of Christ, when His life flows in and through us the second principle comes into view:

Principle #2: Spiritual fruitbearing is the expected result of our relationship.

The main thrust of this allegory is abiding and fruitbearing.  You could also underline the many times Jesus uses the words, bear fruit.

Notice verse 7, 8 again.  7.  If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.  By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit..."

Now is He talking about grapes?  No.  He's talking about spiritual fruit.

You know, tt's interesting that the metaphor of fruit is used throughout the New Testament:

When you praise and thank God for whatever you will, your lips are considered fruitful.   Hebrews 13:15.  Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.

When you acknowledge God's control over your finances and you give to the work of the ministry, your gifts are considered fruit.  In Philippians 4 Paul referred to the offering of the Philippian church to be a basket of karpos - fruit.

Turn back to John 12:24 - Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itslef alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." 

Notice that Jesus again uses a metaphor - He isn't saying to go and bury yourself 6  feet under, He's saying,  "When you sacrifice your own plans and dreams for the sake of God's plans and dreams, you life is considered fruitful"

Then there is the fruit of the Spirit - love joy peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, self-control...

Now I happen to believe that many a disciple is frustrated because they are pursuing the right things, the wrong way.  The fruit of God's character is a right thing but we can not have it independently of Him. 

Notice again John 15:5  Jesus says,  "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit..."   in other words, "You pursue the fruit and you will never have it;  you pursue a relationship of intimacy with Me and you will eventually bear fruit."

So we pursue God.  Our focus is abiding in Christ - and He works in us His character over time.  That's his promise.  And it will happen to all those who abide in Him - walk with Him, develop a relationship with Him - we will eventually bear the same qualities that He has.

Let me illustrate it this way - you never sat down with your child and said, "Okay, I'm going to teach you to talk just like me - with my particular accent. . .now repeat after me 'Yaaall."  You Moms never gave your little girl lessons on how to toss their hair like you do, or tell their dolls stories just like you tell stories; Dad, you never gave your son a formal lesson on how to walk like you do"

They learned it all over years of abiding with you.  Some things you picked up from you father or mother early on. . .even now some things are just coming out in new situations.

Fruitbearing is the result of a relationship - not a self-improvement devotional guide.

 Focus on your relationship and fellowship with the Lord. . .He'll teach you over time to talk like Him, view life like Him, walk like Him.

And when you do, it'll be obvious you had nothing to do with it other than be willing to walk with Him and listen to's His life flowing through you.

Let me summarize by giving you two statements from this passage. 

-Fruitbearing is not the reward of self-effort

In other words, it is the result of Christ's effort flowing through those believers who are His willing branches.  Would you ever see a grape branch "trying hard" to bear fruit?  No.  It just abides in the vine and by it's attachment enjoys the laws of its nature.

Look how strongly Christ puts it in verse 16.  You did not choose Me, but I chose

you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain.

That is, I chose you - I place you . . . I know the characteristic you need for your appointment - stop looking under every leaf; stop evaluating the nature of your branch - look at me!

-Fruitbearing is not a reason for self-glorification

Notice verse 8 again, "By this is My Father glorified; that you bear much fruit and so prove (reveal to the world that you are) My disciples.

And that makes sense doesn't it?  If we didn't do anything other than allow Him to display his character through us, then He gets all the credit?!

Corrie Ten Boom wrote humorously,  "A woodpecker tapped with his beak against the trunk of a tree just as lightning struck the tree and split it open.  He flew away and said "I didn't realize there was so much power in my beak!"  Then she adds, "Don't be a silly woodpecker. " Know where that power has come from and to whom the credit belongs.

The Lord Jesus, the night before He was to be crucified said, "Gentlemen, abide in me...if you will, you will bear wonderful fruit; but don't ever worship the fruit, worship me; don't ever pursue simply the fruit, pursue me. . .desire intimacy with me."

And when we do - the part of the paragraph can become reality,  notice verse 11. "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full."  Whose joy?  Ours?  Did we drum it up?  Did we create the environment for it to happen?  NO!  In this metaphor we're just branches, enjoying our relationship with the vine.   Invigorated by  life giving sap as it were that  is laced with joy.

Before I close, I want to share with you a story that helped me understand even better what it means to abide in Christ.  James Montgomery Boice wrote about an incident where he was having dinner with a pastor during a Bible conference.  This pastor relayed to him something that he had seen - He told of visiting  Dr. Ussher, a noted Bible chronologist before Dr. Usher died.  Dr. Ussher suffered from diseases that limited his activity; among them was an inflammation of his joints.  He had himself seated in an east window in the morning, where he enjoyed the warmth of the rising sin.  Toward noon he was moved to a window with southern exposure, where the warm rays of the midday sun cheered and soothed him.  As afternoon wore on he was again to a window that faced westward and he sat and watched the sun slipped beneath the horizon.  Dr. Ussher spent his day, abiding in the Sun.

The question is simple, "Where is the Son"  He asks, "Will you watch for me?  Will you follow me?  Will you enjoy me?  Will you be willing to bear my fruit in you?"

If we will abide with Him, Jesus says,  the Father will receive glory, and we will  recieve joy; and the cause of Christ will experience the potential of precious fruit.


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