Main Passage: John 15:1-17
Secondary Passage: 1 John 2:3-6
Key Verse "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked." John 15:16 NIV
As my hubby and I have been building our home together, I started a garden because we both love fresh produce we grow ourselves. When we move in, we will be able to step out our back door to pick and savor the delicious goodies we have grown. I like knowing how my food was grown. We also hope to add some fruit trees sometime soon. Part of our garden has raspberry and blueberry bushes. I learned a long time ago to prune, that is, clip off parts of branches that are dead. I also learned that cutting them down in the fall helps them produce better and more berries the following year. Cutting them back too much too soon would kill them. If I let them go uncared for, they would still produce berries, but not as many plump juicy berries. The live branches I prune off the bushes die. They don't continue to grow and produce berries, so I haul them away.
When we plant our fruit trees, one thing we could do is graft branches from one type of tree onto an existing tree. It could produce better quality fruit. The key is the right root system. A great rootstock is necessary for a grafted tree to successfully produce great fruit for years to come. If I cut a branch and plant it in the ground by itself, it probably won’t grow. It must have a strong root system to grow and nourish the fruit.
What's the Deal?
When someone becomes a Christian, it may take some time before the new life begins to show in how they live. Quite often, they find themselves with challenges that put faith to the test. Certain areas of the Christian life need to change in order to become an obedient follower of Christ. When the Holy Spirit convicts a Christian’s heart of needed change, new believers could either refuse to change or yield to the prompting God gives. One leads to greater problems in life while the other brings great blessings of spiritual growth.
There seems to be a trend for jaded Christians to leave the institution called "Church" because they are frustrated with people who don't live out the faith they claim to believe. Hypocrites abound in the church, unfortunately. But God is still who He is; He never changes. His love, mercy, and grace stay constant and sufficient. He also calls us to come together with other believers to worship Him (Acts 2:40-47) and to grow in greater knowledge of Him (2 Peter 2:4-8). Those who leave church altogether begin to look like those who are not Christians in some areas of life because they are not connected to a spiritual growth network with Bible study, prayer, encouragement, and outlets for ministry. They might maintain some Christian qualities, but their speech, attitudes, and behavior begin to reflect the groups of people with whom they spend their time. When their pruning time comes, they find it more difficult to grow from the trials and they do not find joy in the midst of those trials. When blessings cease, they begin to feel like God doesn’t love them.
The church is a source of spiritual nourishment and strength. It is like the water and sunshine that feed tender plants grafted into a strong root system deeply enmeshed with fertile soil. The vines grow strong laden with lush produce waiting for the harvest.
In the John 15 passage, we see the imagery of a vineyard with God as the caretaker of the vine. We also see Jesus Christ as the vine's root system. As branches die, they are cut off and burned in the fire. New branches, representing new believers, are grafted into the main vine to grow and produce fruit. Those grafts cannot grow on their own, but must become a part of the main vine. The word “abide” means to live with, dwell. It can also mean to accept or act in accordance with. The grafted branches take on the characteristics of the main vine, becoming more firmly established as part of that vine. The fruitfulness of the branch is greater because of the quality of the rootstock, and not because of the branch that is grafted in.
As a result of remaining in the Vine, being well-rooted as a believer in Christ, several blessings come:
In the 1 John 2:3-6 passage, we discover the test of truly knowing Jesus as our Savior and Lord is...
Being firmly rooted and grounded in our faith in Jesus Christ changes our own character to be more like His. We grow stronger, better able to handle the trials that come in life. When we are obedient, we receive God’s blessings as a result.
Believers who stop going to church because of disenchantment with hypocrites usually reflect the very qualities they did not appreciate in those they disdain. They often stop reading their Bibles and praying because they spend more time with those who do not believe. Their attitudes, speech and behavior look more like a non-believer as a result. When difficulties come, they often pray for things that do not please the Lord. They don't like His answers nor do they believe God answered their prayers at all. When they are pruned and go through trials, they shrink back into frustration. Eventually, they are like the branches hauled away and tossed into the fire.
As believers who spend time studying the Bible, we find we are not just reading words on a page. We are reading the very words of God inspired through men who loved and served God. When we study God's Word together in church and listen to the pastor teach from the bible, we gain a greater depth of understanding of the commandments God gives us. As we read the words of Jesus, we discover that He made these commandments of the Old Testament more clear in a time when they had been greatly distorted. By living out what we learn as Christians abiding (making our home) in Christ, we reflect the image of Jesus in our attitudes and actions. We become like thriving branches producing luscious fruit when we are pruned through trials, convicted by the Holy Spirit to change and grow. When we agree in our hearts with God's word, He is delighted to give us what we ask for because we understand His heart's desire for us. Our asking is never amiss. In this, we have made our home in the Vineyard of God with the firmly established roots of faith in Jesus Christ.
When you are tempted to give up on church, remember the need to gather together with other believers for a deeper understanding of God’s Word, to encourage one another as you face trials of all sorts, and to support each other in your faith and personal ministry. ask yourself this: Can I truly thrive as a Christian on my own? Instead of looking at the people who frustrate and hurt you, look to the God who loves you. There are plenty of good, healthy Christian churches around who would love and nurture you. Allow yourself to become firmly established in the True Vine, Jesus Christ. Love the Lord by obeying His commands because you love Him. Produce fruit by reflecting Jesus’ character to hurting world. Go ahead, make yourself at home in God’s Vineyard.
May God bless you!