John’s Gospel: Chapter 15:3-7 (“apart from me you can do nothing”)

(John 15:3 ESV)  3 “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.”

This seems foreign to the context. What does “clean” have to do with the Vine? Well, Jesus had just said that those who don’t bear fruit will be cut off. He immediately reassures his disciples that they are not in any danger of being cut off.

Just because they heard the word of Jesus? Well, because they heard and believed. Their hearts are tender and in the process of being shaped to be like the heart of Jesus. They are well fed by the Vine.

R. V. G. Tasker explains in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary on John that Middle Easterners refer to pruning as a vine as “cleansing.” Therefore, there’s also the thought that Jesus’ disciples had already been pruned, that is, disciplined by the Master Vinedresser.

More precisely, Jesus is saying that his words — his teachings, his example — had served to prune the disciples to make them more fruitful. What is it, do you suppose, that had been pruned? What did the disciples have to leave behind to follow Jesus? What did they have to surrender?

You see, it’s not just about learning propositional and doctrinal truths from the Master. It’s letting these teachings serve to prune — to eliminate the extraneous and preserve what’s most important.

(John 15:4 ESV) 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.”

The branches only survive if they abide in the Vine. If they leave the Vine, they die. They have a choice to make — leave or stay. Be faithful or not.

Those who are faithful will live in Christ — will be sustained by him — and Christ will live in them. The Spirit will indwell them as they become part of the body of Christ. They will mutually indwell each other.

(John 15:5-6 ESV)  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.”

Jesus then summarizes. Those who abide in Christ bear much fruit. Their connection with the Vine should be obvious to all, because the Vine nourishes them and they bear fruit. But those who rebel, those who refuse to repent and obey — the rocky and weed-filled soils (to mix a metaphor) — will be burned up in the fire.

True fruit — fruit that comes from abiding in Christ — comes from Christ. You can’t bear fruit — not true fruit — separated from Christ. But, obviously, you can do good things and have never heard of Jesus. You can help the weak and care for the needy and be a stranger to Jesus.

This brings us to the same quandry we dealt with in Romans 8 regarding the Torah of the Spirit of life. The solution is that “fruit” means, implicitly, fruit of the Spirit. It’s not just good things. It’s not just virtue. It’s good things and virtue that come from the Spirit. Only a relationship with God — only the Spirit — can produce fruit that pleases God. Only fruit produced by our attachment to the Vine matters.

It’s not so much the merit of the fruit as the source of the fruit that makes it pleasing. If it’s produced by the nourishment that comes from being firmly attached to the Vine, then it’s good fruit. If it’s produced by something other than the Vine, it may look pretty, but it’s plastic. It’s not true.

(John 15:7 ESV)  7 “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

Now, this is one of the most difficult verses in the Bible. After all, I wish to be entirely healthy, I’ve prayed, and I’m not. Many others are in the same posture.

Does that mean I’m a rebellious sinner? And if so, doesn’t that take us back to the man born blind: “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” (John 9:2). Surely it’s not about whether one has sinned! Who hasn’t sinned?

So here are few thoughts. First, there is a true sense in which we must pray in accord with God’s will. Of course, if we were entirely unable to change God’s will, prayer would be pointless, wouldn’t it? But prayer — true prayer — must be a product of the Spirit within
us —

(Rom 8:26 ESV) Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Second, how often do we pray to have our will submitted to His? Obviously, once you pray  “not as I will, but as thou wilt”(Mat 26:39 KJV), you find it hard to complain that your prayers haven’t been answered the way you wanted — if you meant it.

Third, not every blind man in Judea was healed. Not every dead friend was raised from the dead. Not every lame man arose to walk.

(John 9:3 ESV)  3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Nor was it the most righteous or holiest who received Jesus’ miracles. It was those who would best display the glory of God.

That’s a tough one, because I have no idea which healings will best reveal God’s glory — and God and I have been known to disagree on that subject. Nonetheless, God’s choice to do a miracle, change his mind, or answer a prayer is God’s choice, driven by God’s motives.

God does not have to be gracious. I have to submit to his will. Even Paul was turned down for a healing — and he would surely seem to deserve it more than anyone I’ve ever met.

In short, the promise of Jesus is to answer insofar and only insofar as we attain to theosis. That is, as our hearts and minds become more and more attuned to the will of God, the more our prayers will certainly be answered.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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