Abiding in Christ: What Does it Mean? part 6 of 9: Exposition of John 15:1-3
Based on the examination in the first five parts, the exegesis of John 15:1-11 (cf. v. 16’s use of meno) follows.
1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
The Lord here sets up the comparison He will maintain through the following pericope. As the vine is the source of life for its branches, so Christ is the exclusive source and fount of spiritual life and fruit-bearing. The Father, like a husbandman or vinedresser, ensures greater fruitfulness by removing some branches and pruning others (cf. v. 2).
2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
The Lord’s statement that branches “in me” can be removed is the best attempt in this text to affirm Arminianism. However, these branches are not those who have been regenerated and then fell away from that state—they are those who were never numbered among God’s elect. All the elect will bring forth fruit, John 15:16, and, since they have the Holy Ghost in them, they will certainly abide, 1 John 2:27, or, employing two of the synonyms of abide in the New Testament, they will certainly continue or persevere in Christ and in obedience. The fact that the Lord refers to these unregenerate individuals as en emoi, “in me,” does not necessitate their genuine regeneration. All the nation of Israel were the seed of Abraham, but the unbelievers were cut off from the nation (Exodus 30:33; Leviticus 19:8; 20:17), so that, while nationally “in the Lord,” only the believing seed is “in the Lord” in a deeper sense (Isaiah 45:17, 24-25). One could compare the interplay in Isaiah’s servant of the Lord image between national Israel, the Israel of God, and the Lord Jesus (Isaiah 41:8; 44:1, 21; 45:4; 49:3-7; 52:13-53:12) or the Lord Jesus as the elect One and Israel as elect in Him (Isaiah 42:1; 45:4; 65:9, 22). The entire nation of Israel constituted the people of God, but in a deeper sense, only the believing Israelites, only the Israel of God, constituted the genuine people of God (Romans 9:6ff.; cf. 11:20). In the same way, all those who are members of the church are, in a certain sense, associated with the people of God; but they are not all regenerate.
The church at Corinth was the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27), but some members of the church were unregenerate (1 Corinthians 15:12, 34; 2 Corinthians 13:5). Since the institution of the local church is the body of Christ, unregenerate church members are part of Christ’s body, and thus are, in a certain sense, in Christ. Such, however, are not truly in Him, not truly united to Him, not genuinely en Christo. Contextually in John 15, Judas has just gone into outward apostasy, having left to betray the Lord to His enemies (John 13:26-30). He had been part of the pre-Pentecost church, that first church established by the Lord when He called the first baptized disciples to be with Him (John 1:35ff.); indeed, Judas had been an apostle in the Lord’s church (Mark 3:13-19), although he was never chosen to everlasting life (John 6:64, 70-71; 12:4-6; 13:2).
The unregenerate “branch” in the Lord cannot bear (pheron, present tense) fruit because it has never had a living connection to Christ (John 15:5). It had an outward, non-living, fruitless connection (and thus the utter pagan is not in view, but the false professor, the unconverted church member), but not a living, genuine connection. Union with Christ always results in a change of life, in sanctification and holiness. Therefore the branch without this living union is “taken away,” that is, it is eventually cut off from even its outward connection to the church and people of God, as Judas was, and is cast into hell. The reference is not to a true believer receiving some kind of judgment; while the verb “take away” is regularly connected to the judgment of unbelievers in Scripture (Matthew 13:12; 21:43; 22:13; 24:39; 25:28-29; Mark 4:15, 25; Luke 8:12, 18; 11:52; 19:24, 26), believers are never said to be “taken away” by God in any of the 102 verses where the verb is found in the New Testament (contrast John 16:22). Those “taken away” are the lost. In contrast, the Father, the husbandman (v. 1, cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9; Isaiah 5:1-2; 27:2-3) works with the branch that is vitally connected to the vine, and by “pruning” him brings about the result of even greater fruit-bearing. The fruit-bearing for the one with genuine spiritual life is certain, as is the fact that the unconverted will not bear fruit and will be cut off. We can see in this verse the perseverance of the saints, by divine grace, and the inability of the unregenerate to persevere (1 John 2:19). Verse two contrasts the false believer, represented by Judas, and the true believer, represented by the other eleven apostles, in the church.
One can note as well that it is taking the metaphor beyond what can be justified when an Arminian affirms that the branch that is cast off, representing the person who goes to hell, shows that truly justified people can fall from a state of justification, for the branch that bears fruit—the truly regenerate person, is also “purged” or pruned—which involves cutting off leaves and branches! If the lost man fell away from salvation because he was cut off from the vine, would not the fruit-bearing person be lost as well, because he also is purged or pruned?
3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
The Lord had stated in John 13:10 that His apostles were clean, but not all; but now Judas having been separated from the church, all to whom the Lord spoke were now clean. They were all washed (John 13:10, perfect tense) through the agency of the word spoken (here in v. 3, likewise perfect tense), so that they were justified by Christ’s righteousness at the point of their faith in His promise, with continuing results in their eternal security. Consequently all that now remained was the work of progressive sanctification, of having their feet washed, 13:10, since they were clean every whit. Clean here and purge in v. 2 are the noun and verb forms, respectively, of katharos. There is a wordplay between the purging/cleansing of v. 2 and the cleansing of v. 3. This demonstrates that the instrumentality of the bearing of more fruit, as mentioned in v. 2, is the Word of God, v. 3, cf. John 17:17. The Word is the “pruning knife” (v. 2) which the Father employs to strengthen the believer to bear more fruit. Saints bear fruit as a result of their living, vital union to the Lord Jesus Christ, through the instrument of the Scriptures, the recorded, perfectly inspired and preserved record of Christ’s Words. God the Father continues sanctifying (v. 2, purgeth) the one who has become clean (v. 3) through justification.
See the complete study on meno or "abiding," which includes the passages not only in the KJV but also in the Greek NT (not present in this series of blog posts), by clicking here.