What does it mean to “abide?” Just before Jesus set His face to the cross, He instructed His disciples to Abide in Him, using a vineyard and its grapevines metaphor:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 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. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. John 15:1–8
Jesus uses the word “abide” no less than seven times in this short passage, which inspired me to look deeper into its meaning.
The English translation “abide” comes from the Greek word μενο (menoh), which essentially means to “remain in,” “stay with,” or “reside with.” These meanings imply a close living relationship with Jesus that the disciples clearly enjoyed during the Lord’s earthly ministry. However, the timing of His encouragements to “stay with” Him in the moment that He spoke these words was clearly at odds with what was to transpire in the coming days. Jesus would very soon be tortured and killed, making it impossible for the disciples to “stay with” Him in any temporal sense. So, what was Jesus getting at here in commanding them to “abide in Him?” I think it was three things: His identity, His purposes, and His expectations.
Verse one begins with “I AM” the true vine. This is the last of seven “I AM” statements Jesus made in the whole of the gospel of John, and notably, John is the only gospel that contains all seven of Christ’s “I AM” statements. The other six are:
I AM the bread of life; I AM the light of the world; I AM the door; I AM good the shepherd; I AM the resurrection and the life; and I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Each of these “I AM” proclamations take us deeper in our understanding of Jesus’ identity and His essential role in the salvation plan for mankind—the plan that began in the Garden, with both curse and promise as narrated in Genesis 3:15. Remember God’s pronouncement? “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The head-bruiser is Jesus Christ, and the heel-bruiser is Satan.
Jesus’ “I AM” declarations also link Him to the Old Testament revelation of God. In Exodus, God revealed His name to Moses: “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” Exodus 3:14
Thus, in all the Old Testament and Hebrew tradition, “I AM” is unquestionably understood as a name for God. So, make no mistake! Whenever Jesus made an “I AM” statement in which He claimed attributes of deity, He was identifying Himself as God!
Therefore, in verse one, Jesus, eternal God, the second member of the Trinity, possessing all the attributes of God articulated throughout inspired Scripture, is telling the disciples that He is the “true vine.” What does He mean by this?
Jesus is using a metaphor, a word picture, an analogy, to make a life and death proclamation to the disciples, and also to you and me. As John MacArthur puts it:
“The drama that unfolds in this analogy is simple: there is a vine, there is a vinedresser, and there are two kinds of branches – branches that bear fruit and are pruned to bear more fruit; branches that don’t bear fruit, cut off, dried, burned – that simple.”
The branch connected to God represents a path of life, the other, a path to death.
Jesus said, “I am the True Vine” to his closest friends gathered around Him. The timing of this pronouncement is important because it was only a short time before Judas would betray Him. In fact, Judas had already left to do his infamous deed (John 13:10) so he did not hear Jesus make this proclamation, which is an interesting foreshadowing of Judas’ fate as a branch cut off.
So, Jesus was preparing the eleven faithful men remaining for His pending crucifixion, His resurrection, His subsequent departure for heaven, and their mission to build His church.
Jesus wanted His friends, not only those eleven, but those of all time, to know that He was not going to desert them, even though they would no longer enjoy His physical presence.
His living energy—His spiritual reality—would continue to nourish and sustain them just as the roots and trunk of a grape vine produce the energy that nourishes and sustains its branches while they develop their fruit.
Jesus wanted us—believers then and now—to know that, even though we cannot see Him, we are as closely connected to Him as the branches of a vine are connected to its stem. Our desire to know and love Him, along with the energy to serve Him will keep flowing into and through us as long as we “abide” in Him.
Vine branch “health,” is measured in fruit production and in verse 2, we see that “every branch that does not bear fruit, God the Father—the Vineresser—takes away,” which means He cuts it off and disposes of it. The Father and the Son work together in perfect unity for righteous purposes.
The method of disposal is found down in verse 6: “ If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” This is a picture of permanent destruction, of eternal separation from life-giving connection, of torment. So went Judas, and so remains the fate of unbelievers who do not come by faith into an abiding relationship with Christ.
The Vinedresser takes a different approach toward the healthy branches. Verse 2 continues: “and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Well, pruning is done with a knife, folks, a sharp knife, handled with surgical precision, and that implies pain. Moreover, its pain-delivering purpose is to produce more and better fruit!
The professionals who tend vineyards for a living know how important the pruning principle is. It makes total sense that a flourishing, high-producing vine requires a caretaker who will do what is necessary to produce the best results, and those best results do require the painful cut of the knife.
Sometimes our pain is the result of our sins because transgression always brings consequences. Other times pain comes because we are bearing fruit and God wants us to bear more. Nevertheless, the results of God’s pruning will ultimately be beneficial for us, and for His purposes and glory.
Malcolm Muggeridge in his book, Jesus Rediscovered, said this about the pruning principle:
“Suppose you eliminated suffering, what a dreadful place the world would be. I would almost rather eliminate happiness. The world would be the most ghastly place because everything that corrects the tendency of this unspeakable little creature, man, to feel over-important and over-pleased with himself would disappear. He’s bad enough now, but he would be absolutely intolerable if he never suffered.”
One more thing about pruning. We cannot prune ourselves, and even if we could, we would not remove what really has to go. One writer made this same point saying: “The truth is, what is noble and attractive in us has to come from the cutting we would have avoided.” David, in Psalm 119 said this in verse 67: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your Word.” And in verse 71 he said: “It is good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”
It has been said that God’s hand is never closer than when He prunes the vine. Take heart in ongoing pruning blessed ones!
Well let’s look at how abiding in Jesus produces fruit and then, what good fruit looks like.
Jesus said this in Verses 4 and 5: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
The reality of our salvation means that every Christian remains inseparably connected to Christ in all areas of life. Believers depend on Him for grace and the strength to obey. We look obediently to His Word for instruction on how to live. We offer Him our deepest adoration and praise in sincere worship, and we submit ourselves to His authority. In sum, Christians gratefully know Jesus Christ is the source and sustainer of their lives.
Abiding in Christ is evidence of authentic salvation. The Apostle John alluded to non-genuine salvation when he referred to defectors from of the faith who "went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us." 1 John 2:19
People with genuine faith will remain—they will abide—they will not defect; they will not deny Christ or abandon His truth. Jesus reiterated the importance of abiding as a sign of real faith when He said, "If you abide in My Word, then you are truly disciples of Mine. "John 8:31
So, what is the fruit we are supposed to produce? Jesus said that no branch can even live, let alone produce leaves and fruit, by itself. Cut off from the trunk, a branch is dead. Just as a vine’s branches rely on being connected to the trunk from which they receive their energy to bear fruit, Jesus’ disciples are to depend on being connected to Him for their spiritual life and the ability to serve Him effectively.
The fruit the believer is designed to produce is that of the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22–23)
Our source of life and spiritual fruit is not in ourselves; it is outside us, in Christ Jesus. We can live rightly, and serve Him effectively, only if we are connected to Him in a faith and love relationship borne of our salvation. All true branches bear fruit. This is why Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:16:16–20: “By their fruit you will know them.”
The remainder of John, Chapter 15 explains additional outcomes, or results, of an abiding relationship with Christ:
- God will be glorified in it (verse 8).
- We can ask for help, in prayer, and He will hear us and answer in keeping with his will (verse 7).
- We’ll want to obey, and we will obey by “keeping His commandments,” which inspires love, transcendent love. (verses 10, 12, and 13).
- Such love is seen in the willingness to lay down our lives for one another, just as He laid down His life for us.
- We will also see the world hate us. (verses 18–25)
Finally, Verse 26 of John 15, the very last verse of the Chapter, brings the narrative back to the time and place Jesus said these things to his faithful eleven—we are back into the profound moments before the cross. Jesus has yet to face the scourging; He has yet to suffer and die, He has yet to reappear in miraculous resurrection, and He has yet to ascend. But you should notice that He also makes a profound promise. Jesus promises these ragged eleven the Holy Spirit after giving them this last His final “I AM:
“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” John 15:26
God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have proved perfect unity in all things, but most critically, in the sovereign plan for our salvation.
There was Godhead unity in the garden to save us; there was unity in all plans and purposes with the Patriarchs and the Nation of Israel; there was awesome unity in Christ’s condescension and passion; and there has been unity in the church age leading to now.
Run to the Spirit, Saints! Walk by the Spirit. This is how we abide in Christ in the here and now!