What Did Christ Mean?
By Bearing Fruit & Abiding in Christ
Jesus the Christ (Gk. Christos: the Anointed One, the Messiah), the Son of God (i.e., God manifested in the flesh), made a number of exceedingly significant statements during His ministry prior to being crucified on Calvary.
Near the end of Christ’s earthly ministry to Israel, when it was quite apparent that as a nation repentance would not take place and “when Jesus knew that his hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father” (vs. 13:1), Christ covered a number of issues with His disciples (Chapters 13-17), one of which (from Chapter 15) follows:
(1) I am the true [Gk. alethinos – genuine, authentic – as opposed to false] Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser [Gk. georgos – Gardener].
(2) Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
(3) You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
(4) Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
(5) I am the Vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
(6) If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.
(7) If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.
(8) By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
In this passage Christ uses a figure-of-speech (metaphor) to convey what is critical to Christians. Here He speaks of Himself as being the “true Vine” with God the Father as “the Vinedresser” (Gardener). But His primary attention is directed towards “every branch,” those, He said, who are “in Me.”
(This is the last of the seven “I am” statements in the gospel of John [cf. 6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5]. As Israel was God’s choice vine, He lavished care and attention upon it [Psalm 80:8; Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 2:21; 6:9; Ezekiel 15; 17:5-10; 19:10-14; Hosea 10:1; 14:8], but instead of producing the fruit of “gold, silver, precious stones,” Israel became degenerate, producing only the fruit of “wood, hay, straw” if any at all.)
Christ first declared that He was “the true Vine.” This was a revolutionary concept to His disciples who were governed by Jewish concepts derived from the Old Testament. Essentially, Christ is telling them that their identification with Israel is not the essential thing. Rather, He emphatically states that He alone is the genuine connection to God, a relationship that overrides all of what they have been led to believe. And, in like manner, for the Christian, it is not his identification with a religion, an organization, a movement, or a ceremony that is essential, it is the Christian’s identification (relationship) with Christ – “the true Vine,” and that alone, which is central, paramount in his relationship with God – “the Gardener.”
Next, Christ addressed those who were “in Me.” The entire spectrum of salvation (e.g., propitiation, reconciliation, redemption, etc.) is embodied in the phrase “in Christ.” Scripturally, there are only two classifications of human beings – those that are “in Christ” and those who are not in Christ. There is no in-between.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
And there is only one means by which a person may acquire the “in Christ” certification – the “birth from above,” that which immediately occurs to a person when he makes the decision to trust (places his faith in) Christ alone for his personal/eternal salvation (John 3:3, 7, 16; Ephesians 2:8, 9). Upon that decision of “faith in Christ” the Holy Spirit immediately:
1) Baptizes (immerses) the individual into the “body of Christ” [1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27, 28],
2) Indwells the individual [1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; Ephesians 2:22], and
3) Seals the individuals for/unto the “day of redemption” [2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13, 14; 4:30].
(All three above comprise a position of permanence, one which can never be reversed by man or God.)
It was only those who were “in Christ” – “in Me” – “in the true Vine” to whom Christ was speaking in this passage of Scripture, only to Christians. Frankly, the entire Word of God, the Holy Bible is directed only to Christians, since “the natural man [non-Christian] does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they [“the things of the Spirit”] are [must be] spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Fruit Bearing – the Product
The thrust of Christ’s message in this passage of Scripture is fruit-bearing and how one who is in “the true Vine” can effectively accomplish this goal. To put it in other words, the goal of every Christian should be to “bear fruit” (vs. 2, 4), “more fruit” (vs. 2), and “much fruit” (vs.5). The fruit Christians bear are “good works,” which God has prepared “beforehand that we should walk in them.”
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
Furthermore, the fruits that Christians are to bear are depicted as the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22, 23), which are the “fruits of righteousness” (Philippians 1:11) and classified as “gold, silver, precious stones” in 1 Corinthians 3:12.
Being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:11)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22, 23)
Fruit Bearing – the Alternative
The alternative to bearing fruit for the Christian is not to bear fruit. When this is the case, the Gardener (God the Father) “takes away” the non-bearing branch (vs. 2). There are those who claim this verse supports either (1) the belief that salvation may be lost since good works are part of the salvation process, or (2) that unless a person who claims to be a Christian has good works his faith in Christ was never valid in the first place. Both views contradict the Word of God, gravely minimizing the validity and worth of the Divine sacrifice paid on the cross of Calvary.
The payment for man’s eternal salvation could only have been made by God Himself. And man, created in God’s image, given the right to choose, can only by faith accept or reject it. The issue is well covered by Arlen L. Chitwood, as follows:
The message surrounding the gospel of the grace of God is given in very simple terms in Scripture. In fact, it is so simple that man often misses it. And any person, missing the one true message given by the infinite God and drawing from his own finite wisdom and knowledge, invariably — he can’t help but so do — ends up with a corrupted salvation message.
The salvation message, that which makes salvation possible for fallen man, is clearly stated in 1 Corinthians 15:3:
“. . . Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”
The one key thought in the salvation message is death and shed blood (e.g., Genesis 3:21; 22:8, 13), which is what God requires (Exodus 12:13; Hebrews 9:22). And the one key word in the salvation message is believe (e.g., John 1:12; 3:15, 16), which is also what God requires (John 3:18).
The Lamb has died, His blood has been shed, and all that is left — all that can possibly be left — for man to do is simply believe that which has already been done on his behalf.
Eternal salvation is by grace (that which God is able to do completely apart from human merit) through faith (through believing on God’s Son [Ephesians 2:8, 9]), and it is based entirely upon the finished work of Christ (John 19:30). Nothing that man has done, is presently doing, or will ever do can have anything to do with his eternal destiny. Man can do no more than receive by faith that which has already been done on his behalf.
This is why Scripture states:
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved . . . .” (Acts 16:31)
This statement is in response to a question in the preceding verse,
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (v. 30)
And, within another frame of reference, the response to this question could only be, “Nothing!” This would have to be the response simply because there is not one single thing left for unsaved man to do (nor could he do anything if something were left, for, he is spiritually dead and incapable of acting in the spiritual realm [Ephesians 2:1, 5]).
It is of interest to note that the question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”, and the answer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” only appear together in one place in the entire Bible. Scripture is filled with information concerning redemption, but Acts 16:30 & 31 is the only place, from Genesis to Revelation, where the question concerning eternal salvation is asked and answered in so many words.
Thus, within a completely biblical framework, if the question in Acts 16:30 is asked, there can be only one answer: “Believe . . . .” Man’s ideas, thoughts, comments are of no moment. God has spoken, and that’s the end of the matter.
John 3:16 is often called “the gospel in a nutshell” by individuals seeking to draw attention to the overall salvation message stated in its simplest form in Scripture. God, because of His love for fallen man — created in His image, after His likeness, for a purpose (Genesis 1:26-28) — “gave His only begotten Son [1 Corinthians 15:3], that whosoever believes in Him [Acts 16:31] will not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Everything, in its entirety, to procure man’s salvation was done by Christ. It had to be accomplished by Christ, for the one being redeemed was “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), totally incapable of acting on his own behalf.
Christ is the one who died, Christ is the one who performed the work to procure man’s salvation, and God is satisfied with His Son’s finished work.
When Christ cried out from the cross in “a loud voice” near the ninth hour, “It is finished” (Luke 23:46; John 19:30), He used one word in the Greek text — tetelestai — that could be better translated, “It has been finished.” Tetelestai is a perfect tense usage of teleo, which means “to bring to an end,” “to complete.” And the perfect tense refers to action completed in past time, with the results of that action extending into and existing during present time in a finished state.
All of the work surrounding man’s redemption that Christ had come to perform had, at that point in time, been completed. This was the announcement that Christ made, in “a loud voice”; and, because of that which was involved in the announcement, there was then no longer any need for Him to continue His sufferings on the cross. Thus, immediately after He cried out, “It has been finished,” He “gave up His spirit [lit., ‘He breathed out’ (He expired, willingly relinquishing His life)]” (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46; John 19:30).
The work of Christ at Calvary, from the point He cried out, “It has been finished,” has existed in exactly the same finished state in which He proclaimed it to exist at that time. It has existed as a work completed in past time that extends into present time (in a finished state) and which will extend into all the ages comprising eternity ahead (in the same finished state).
Nothing can ever be added, and nothing can ever be taken away. That is to say, nothing can ever change relative to Christ’s finished work at Calvary.
That’s the way God’s procurement of man’s salvation had to occur. Once Christ’s work had been finished, that’s the way His work had to always continue to exist — in a finished state — throughout both time and eternity.
Because of Christ’s finished work, salvation is extended to man “without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1); and apart from Christ’s finished work, there is no salvation.
“He that believes on Him is not condemned: but he that believes not is condemned already [lit., ‘has already been condemned’ (a perfect tense)], because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).
It is utterly impossible — and foolish to even consider — that finite man, “dead in trespasses and sins,” could add one thing to or take one thing from the finished work of the infinite God through His Son.
All man can possibly do is simply receive, through believing on the Son, that which has already been done on his behalf.
(Foreword, Salvation by Grace through Faith)
The symbolic message given in this passage of the Gardener taking away the branch from the vine that doesn’t bear fruit should only be understood by an examination of the following two passages of Scripture.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men . . . . (2 Corinthians 5:10, 11a)
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
(1 Corinthians 3:11-15)
As to those who believe that a Christian who does not have good works/fruit never properly became a Christian in the first place, they too are quite wrong. Scripture is replete with examples of those who genuinely placed their trust in Christ for eternal salvation and later fell into sin, e.g., Matthew 26:69-75; Galatians 2:11. It is particularly true that those who have been newly “saved” may be prone to follow their pre-salvation carnal (fleshly) ways, e.g., 1 Corinthians 3:1-3. Because the sin-nature will always be in a Christian and, at times, will so influence conduct to a degenerate end, God has provided a way of continual cleansing for His children, e.g., 1 John 1:8-10.
Fruit Bearing – the Source & Means
In the 14th Chapter of John, Christ told Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (vs. 6). And just as He is the exclusive path to acquire the Father, He is the exclusive path to pleasing the Father in the production of acceptable fruit, works that emanate from faith.
To bear such fruit one must “abide” in Christ, a term that speaks of complete dependence and confidence in the One in which a Christian eternally resides. And the key to this source and means of producing fruit is found in Christ’s following statements:
“and I in you” (vs. 4)
“without Me you can do nothing” (vs. 5)
“My words abide in you” (vs. 7)
Just as a person can do nothing other than accept by faith Christ Jesus in order to experience the “birth from above” (eternal life, spirit-salvation, union with God), so it is the same when as a Christian he needs to live – produce fruit – for God. Jesus Christ, the Word of God, not only must save an individual, He also must empower/equip the individual for godly service. Note the clear instruction to “the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse”:
As [by faith] you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so [in the same manner, by faith] walk in Him. (Colossians 2:6; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7; Ephesians 3:17)
The message, the solution, just as is the message for eternal life, is that Christ alone is capable of producing acceptable fruit for the Father – fruit that will qualify as “gold, silver, precious stones” at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).
As a Christian exercises faith in the reception of Christ to work through him in the production of fruit, Christ accomplishes the process by means of the third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit. This is why you, as a Christian, are urged to be “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), a condition that comes about when you allow “the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16).
In short, when one compares the two companion passages of Scripture – Ephesians 5:18-20 and Colossians 3:16, 17 – one can only come to the conclusion that the filling (influence, control) of the Holy Spirit is only possible when one absorbs God’s Word. Indeed, it is only the Word that can save one’s soul, as is seen in the following:
Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21)
Unfortunately, so many Christians never become aware of this truth, as they avoid maturing in the faith, continuing as carnal babes in Christ, unable to bear any fruit. How can this be? Why is this so? This study closes with a very able explanation by Arlen L. Chitwood, as follows:
Becoming a Christian and growing spiritually in the Christian life is likened in Scripture to a child being born in the world and growing in the physical realm. There is a specific bringing forth as a newborn baby, which is to be followed by growth from immaturity to maturity in both instances (John 3:16; Hebrews 5:12-14; 1 Peter 2:1, 2; 1 John 2:12-14).
In the physical realm, a child grows from a newborn baby to a mature adult in order to fulfill a purpose in life. He grows physically through a proper diet and mentally through years of training — both within and without the home. He exercises his body and his mind as he receives a proper diet and training, growing after this fashion. Ideally, the better he is prepared both physically and mentally, the better he will be able to function in life.
In the spiritual realm, matters are identical. A newborn babe in Christ is to grow from immaturity to maturity for a purpose. His food for proper growth is spiritual, for it is a spiritual growth. It is the Manna from heaven, the Living Word of God. He is to begin with “milk” and progressively move to “meat” and “strong meat” (cf. 1 Peter 2:1, 2; Hebrews 5:12-14).
Inseparably connected with the reception of the Word is training at the hands of the Father (Hebrews 12:5-11). The words “chastening,” “chastens,” and “chastisement” (KJV) in these verses have to do with a training process, not with the Christian being disciplined per se, though the training process may involve discipline (cf. v. 7).
(The words “chastening,” “chastens,” and “chastisement (KJV),” in Hebrews 12:5-8 are translations of noun and verb forms of a word referring to young children [paideia and paideuo], and these words refer to the instruction or training of children. And, contextually, this is a training of those whom God views as “sons,” looking out ahead to these sons one day being elevated into positions of power and authority with God’s Son in His kingdom.
For additional information on Hebrews 12:5-8 and child-training, with a view to sonship in the preceding respect, refer to the author’s book, God’s Firstborn Sons, Chapter 3.)
The entire process allows the indwelling Holy Spirit to progressively work the transformation (Greek: metamorphoo, a metamorphosis) of Romans 12:2 in one’s life — a transforming work, beginning from within. And the more one progresses spiritually within the scope of the metamorphosis, the better prepared he will become, the better equipped he will be, to realize and fulfill his calling in life.
Every Christian is a servant in the Lord’s house, and every Christian has been called to exercise some particular sphere of responsibility therein (Matthew 25:14ff; Luke 19:13ff). Household servants have been placed in charge of their Lord’s goods, which are of a spiritual nature, not material. And the proper use of that which is spiritual within the house requires training in spiritual matters. This is why there must be a progressive work of the Holy Spirit in one’s life, effecting the metamorphosis. This is why there must be a progression from immaturity to maturity in the faith.
To achieve this end, God has placed pastor-teachers in His Church. They are the ones who have been commissioned to lead the household servants from immaturity to maturity in spiritual matters in order that the servants might properly function within the scope of their individual, particular callings.
And He Himself gave some . . . pastors and teachers [lit., pastor-teachers];
for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,
till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge [Greek, epignosis, mature knowledge] of the Son of God, to a perfect [‘a complete’] man . . . . (Ephesians 4:11-13a).
(The words “pastors and teachers” in Ephesians 4:11 are structured in the Greek text in a manner that requires that the two nouns refer to the same individual — pastors, who are teachers, i.e., pastor-teachers.)
There though has been a breakdown within God’s order in Christendom; and this breakdown is of such a nature that, resultantly, gross error has supplanted biblical truth to the point that it has reached even into the very realm of soteriology itself (the doctrine of salvation). Pastor-teachers, over the years, have failed to fulfill their calling. The saints have not been led from immaturity to maturity. Household servants are in no position to handle that which is spiritual, for they lack the necessary spiritual training; and as a result, the house is in disarray. Churches today are filled with immature Christians who can be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). It is that period of Church history depicted by the church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-21), the terminal period of the present dispensation.
This is not something that has occurred overnight, or even in the past few years or decades. It has been occurring ever since the woman in the parable in Matthew 13:33 placed leaven in the three measures of meal, depicting an act of Satan, which could only have occurred very early in the dispensation; and the leaven has been doing its corrupting, damaging work since that time.
Leaven works best in a place where the temperature is not too hot or too cold. Note the “lukewarm” condition of the church in Laodicea in this respect (Revelation 3:16). The leaven, after numerous centuries of deteriorating work, is being brought into the advanced stages of its action and is doing its most damaging work within the lukewarm confines of the church in Laodicea near the end of the present dispensation, during the very time in which we presently live.
The working of this leaven is going to be so complete by the end of the dispensation that the Lord, while upon earth, looking centuries ahead, asked a question concerning conditions on the earth at the time of His return:
. . . when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith [the faith] on the earth? (Luke 18:8b)
The response to the question, designated by the wording of the Greek text, is negative. The Son of Man will not find “the faith” (an expression peculiarly related to the Word of the Kingdom) on the earth when He returns. Rather, He will find conditions as depicted in Revelation 3:14ff.
(Taken from Chapter 2, Salvation by Faith through Faith)
Finally, when a Christian receives “with meekness the implanted Word,” which insures spiritual growth to spiritual maturity and resulting in good works (fruit), he may be assured of God’s approval and glorification (vs. 8), his certification as a disciple of Christ (vs. 8), and that he may ask what he desires (for all such requests will be in accord with God’s Word) and “it shall be done” for him (vs. 7).