Remain In Me
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. (John 15:1-6 NIV)
Have you ever grown a garden or watched someone work in a garden? I remember as a boy watching my grandmother walk through her garden with a hoe. She would cut out weeds, and break off dead pieces of plants and check the fruits and vegetables to see if they were ripe. I asked once why you have to do that. I was told that the weeds will take the moisture and other nutrients out from the soil and reduce what the plants get. The weeds are in competition for the resources available in the soil, so by removing them the plants get more to grow on. The same is true for branches off the plants that have not blossomed and are not going to produce any fruit. Those branches take up nutrients but don't give anything back, so they are cut off and left to wither and die.
It's a beautiful analogy for how God works on us and what He expects of us. We are His garden and He is the gardener. Just as you prune a vine so that it will produce more fruit, all the sin and other distractions that interfere with our spiritual growth and development must be cut away. And, those branches that do not produce good fruit are simply cut off and burned.
That's pretty much basic Christian doctrine and as far as it goes is correct. But notice that there is more here than that. Yes, we have to eliminate sin. Yes, we need to bear fruit. But how many can explain how that is done? Jesus makes it perfectly clear: pruning is done by the words He speaks and fruit is produced by remaining attached to Him. The mistake we make so often is to think that we are going to prune ourselves and then go out and get some fruit to hang on ourselves so that we will be pleasing to God. That's NOT how it works!
It is surely tempting though. Once we realize the condition of sin we are in and become repulsed by it the natural tendency is to want to clean up our act ASAP! The problem is that we don't really know how to do that. We see the end results of all the bad stuff we think and do and without really understanding what the problem is, we start trying to cut on ourselves. I have to STOP DOING THAT we say to ourselves. And then we find we are doing it again. (Just fill in your favorite sin here - it doesn't matter what it is.) As Jesus made clear, the problem isn't really the sinful act so much as the corrupt desires of the heart. We see the sin, want to eliminate it, but unless the heart is changed, things will never get much better. Until the corrupt desires in the heart are removed we fall back into the same temptations over and over and over again. Depressing, isn't it? This is why we can't prune ourselves. The heart has to change and only the power of the Holy Spirit residing within us can do that. Our role in this is to let go and have faith.
The moment we start pruning ourselves it means we don't really trust the Holy Spirit to do the work in us. It is frightening and worrisome and irritating because we want the process to be over with so that the sin is gone. We know we ought to be better than we are, and there are LOTS AND LOTS of people out there who just love to point out all the things wrong with us. You know how it goes, right? IF you were REALLY SAVED you wouldn't be doing that! But these things take time, and when and where and how the pruning gets done is not up to us. Father knows best! He will prune in the right order at the right time so that the end result is as He wants it to be. So all we need to do is follow the urging of the Spirit as it begins to grow in us. We aren't very pretty to look at during this process, but so what! The Father sees the end result and knows how to get there. We just need to trust Him. What we have to do is remain attached to the vine which is Jesus. That is what Jesus told His disciples: remain in Me.
The same thing applies to bearing fruit. (Again, just stick in whatever you think fruit of the spirit is.) Someone tells us that if we are not bearing fruit then we aren't saved. So we get all worried and anxious that we may have fallen away and are corrupt and no-good and, etc, etc, etc. But it is a mistake to then go running around looking for some fruit to hang on ourselves so that we then gain the approval of others. That's not the Father's way either. We are to cling to the vine and let Him produce the fruit in us. Jesus expressly warns His disciples not to try and do it on their own. Don't be anxious about the good works. If you feel that you aren't bearing fruit, it means either there is more pruning to do or it is not yet your season. But, if you remain attached to Jesus, in total faith, He will do the work through you when He knows you are ready. It will totally amaze you when it happens!
(Here is one little bit of hope - as every gardener knows, when you see blossoms the fruit is sure to follow. Going back to my grandmother's garden, if you looked real close you could see tiny little blossoms on the tomato plants. It didn't look like something you could eat, but in only a matter of weeks there was a nice tomato there.
Those who are destined for the bonfire are those who cut themselves away from Jesus. Those branches who try through their own will power to look right and do right will fail because they are not attached to the vine. It is only by being attached to the true vine, by having the spirit of Jesus residing in us, that we can do the Father's will. It's kinda weird to think of it, but what we really are destined to become are "little Jesus's" - He is the vine and we are like branches. Not equal to Him, but like Him nonetheless.
All of this is to bring glory to the Father, not us. If we can do all these things ourselves, then where is the glory to Him? What brings glory to Him is that, though we are weak earthen vessels, He can regenerate us and produce His works through us. What we have to do is hang on! Or, as Jesus said, remain in me.