In opposition to the Deism view which believes that God does not intervene in his creation, Scripture is clear that God is at work in the world, and specifically in His children. God promises to finish a glorious work in those who are His (Phil 1:6). God’s work begins in eternity past when God elects His children. Then in time, God promises to call, justify and sanctify them, conforming them into the image of His Son. His work concludes in eternity future when He promises to glorify all who are His (Rom 8:29-30).
God’s work of sanctification is magnificently illustrated for us by Jesus in John 15. Jesus characterized His Father as a worker who is continually working in His vineyard. The Father’s work includes cutting off branches which are fruitless, and pruning branches that are fruitful in order that they may produce much fruit. It is clear that the fruitless branches are unbelievers who do not have a permanent union with Christ. If they were connected to the vine they would inevitably produce fruit. The fruitful branches are believers which the Father promises to prune in order that they may produce as much fruit as possible. This process of pruning is theologically called sanctification. The goal of the vinedresser is that every one of His vines not only produce fruit alone, or more fruit, but “much fruit” (John 15:1-8).
Every Branch-Every Son
It is a sad reality that many orphans often do not have the tender care and continual discipline of parents to correct, encourage and shape them into fruitful human beings. Good parents are continually concerned with shaping their children. The same is true spiritually speaking. While the world uses trite names like “the man upstairs” to address God, we are blessed to call Him “Father” (Matt 6:9). Unlike unbelievers in the world, we have the special attention of God. He does not leave us alone like orphans. Rather, God is concerned about “every branch” in His vineyard, (Jn 15:2) and “every son” in His house (Heb 12:5-11). This means that every one of us are certainly going to be the recipients of God’s work for His good pleasure (Phil 2:13). As true branches in His garden, we will certainly experience His knife. And as true sons in his house we will certainly experience His discipline. Our heavenly Father is good in that He takes continual efforts to shape those who are His into the “image of His Son” (Rom 8:29). The lack of his working knife and discipline is a certain indication that we are not His.
Right Perspective: Welcoming the Knife
How we view the work of God’s discipline in our lives is crucial. Sometimes God allows His children to experience the worst kinds of situations. If we are not prepared mentally we may in fact curse God instead of worshiping Him. Scripture is clear that God does not spare His children from persecution, hardship, pain, suffering, death and so much more. When God providentially brings His painful knife or discipline we must remember that He is doing it for our good (Gen 50:20, Heb 12:10). God is always good, always right, and always wise! He doesn’t allow anything into our lives (even evil) that doesn’t have a divine purpose (Rom 8:28). It’s hard to say, but as believers we should welcome His knife and the discipline of God in our lives. We should long to be as fruitful as possible. This means trusting God and welcoming His divine work.
No Accidents & No Waste
Our good Father, the vinedresser doesn’t make any mistakes. Unlike humans who may not be the best at “pruning” and may butcher a plant by accident, God does not make mistakes or accidents in His children’s lives. The Father’s cultivation of our lives is according to His loving and thoughtful providence. This means that God allows the exact interventions in our lives which are designed to produce in us mature and well-rounded Christian character. Sometimes His pruning knife may seem to cut too deep, but His purposes are all-wise and designed to enable us to grow strong to produce the most fruit possible. We should also remember that the branches God removes from us are never a waste. He knows exactly what we should possess. Sinclair Ferguson said it wonderfully, “When our ambitions are thwarted, our own plans come to nothing, and we feel the blade of providence in our lives. Here is our security: God does not waste, therefore I shall not want” (Sinclair Ferguson, Maturity, page 46).
What is the Fruit?
God’s goal in the Christian’s life is not just to produce a mediocre crop, but that we all would produce “much fruit” (Jn 15:8). It is true that some will produce more fruit than others (Matt 13:8), but it goes without saying God intends on producing a substantial harvest in each one of us. The fruit that God is interested in producing in our lives is certainly fruit that pertains to our character. Hopefully through God’s grace, by the end of our lives, we will have many successes and our “great works” will not be burned up (1 Cor 3:12-15). These for sure are important fruits. But the Lord is mostly concerned about transforming our personal lives. When God prunes, it is for the purpose of transforming us and shaping us. The Holy Spirit is mostly concerned about producing in us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22). God disciplines us so that we might yield the “peaceful fruit of righteousness” and that we might “share in His holiness” (Heb 12:10-11).
Our Responsibility: Abide in Christ!
So, then what makes the difference among Christians? Why do some produce more fruit than others? God is working, but the honest truth is that many Christians are not as diligent as they should be. The key to this truth is found in the command that Jesus made to His disciples. He said, “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….whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:4-5).
When we become Christians, Christ permanently dwells or has union with us. In response to that union we are commanded to abide in Him. This verb abide is often translated as ‘remain’, ‘stay’, ‘continue’, or ‘dwell.’ Abiding is not some mystical activity. Jesus is simply saying that we are to have “fellowship with him that is marked by a resolute, Spirit-enabled, obedience to God’s word – a willing submission of heart, soul, mind and strength to the Lord and His revealed will” (Ferguson, page 48). The Apostle Paul says it this way, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col 3:16). Abiding in Christ means being immersed with the Word of God and saturating our minds with His Word so that we will be obedient to Him.
Fruitfulness is Tied to the Word
There is no way we can bear much fruit without learning the Word and obeying it. We must learn to read Scripture properly understanding the true meaning of it. Then we must apply it and allow it to transform our minds & our wills. This will allow us to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:5). As a result, we will bear much fruit for the glory of God.