Identity with Christ: The Vine and the Branches

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Dr. Eckman takes a look at John 15 and discusses our identity in Christ.

John 15

For this month, we have studied our identity with Christ. For our weekend study, we are looking at portions of Scripture that teach us about identity. We have looked at Isaiah 52-53, and now we are looking at John 15.

Identity has three parts to it. The first part is that Christ identified with us. He made the choice out of his love for us to be a identified with our persons. The second part is that we are identified with him. Many believers are very conscious of the fact that they are identified with Christ. But they are not as aware of the fact that Jesus has consciously chosen to be identified with them. From my perspective that is the more exciting truth. Out of his love for us he has invested himself totally in who we are. That is thrilling and should make us delighted. The third part of identity is that we should choose to identify with Christ and live out of that identity. The first two parts are already been done for us, but we have to choose to do the third. So we will see in John 15 how of these three truths are presented.

Jesus has left the upper room where he washed the disciples feet. Then he walked down the street and crossed the Brook Kidron and went up to the Garden of Gethsemane. As he was walking down the road, he shared with his disciples the illustration of the vine and branches. This illustration beautifully shows the truth that Christ has identified with us and we are identified with him. The first verse says:

"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser" (John 15:1).

In the Old Testament Judah was called a vineyard of God: this was in the book of Isaiah. The purpose of the vineyard was to bear fruit for God. But it failed to produce good fruit and instead introduced rotten fruit. Israel failed totally to fulfill its purpose. Note what Isaiah said:

"Let me sing now for my well-beloved A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. 2 And He dug it all around, removed its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it, And hewed out a wine vat in it; Then He expected it to produce good grapes, But it produced rotten ones. 3 'And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge between Me and My vineyard. 4 What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones? 5 So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground. 6 And I will lay it waste; It will not be pruned or hoed, But briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.' 7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, And the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress" (Isaiah 5:1-7).

Now Jesus was claiming to be the true vine as opposed to the false vine Judah. Further, he stated that the Father is the vinedresser or the farmer who takes care of the vine. So we have two members of the Trinity involved in this illustration, God the Son and God the Father. He goes on to describe what the Father does for the vine and the branches.

2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He lifts up; and every branch that bears fruit, He cleanses it, that it may bear more fruit.

Jesus said that God lifts up the branch that does not bear fruit. This referred to the reality that when the branch touches the ground it usually becomes unfruitful because of the bacteria in the ground. The vinedresser has to lift up those branches as he carefully checked daily the health of his vineyard. This is describing a labor-intensive process performed by God. Then, the branch that is bearing fruit he will cleanse it or prune it so that it will bear more fruit. The same may actually involve taking a sponge and cleaning the leaves and the branch from bugs and debris. Again also it referred to pruning away the leaves and twigs that are not fruit bearing. Notice how intensely God the Father is involved.

3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.

Then he tells his disciples where they are in the process. They have been cleansed by his word. At this point he is presuming that he is the vine and the disciples are the branches. What does this say about identity? As we picture the vine and branches it is obvious that one is part of the other. You cannot have a vine without branches and you cannot have branches without a vine. They share the same life but that life comes through the vine into the branches. Symbolically Jesus has chosen us by becoming the vine, and we are identified with him my being the branches. There is a dual identification which was initiated by the choice of Christ. Jesus then comes to the part that we play in identification. He tells us that we must choose to participate.

4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

We are told that we must abide in Christ. We must abide in the identification that he has given us. He then mentioned the branches again as illustrative of that truth. A branch cannot bear fruit apart from the vine. Nor can we. The believer who does abide in the vine is promised to be very fruitful.

5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.

But this fruit bearing is entirely dependent on our connection to Christ. Without him we can do nothing. We must examine this metaphor carefully because every metaphor does not create a perfect identity or equality between what is pictured and the reality that the picture is being compared to. A branch does not have any choice in being part of a vine. A branch has no control over its fruitfulness. A branch does not have a mind or a will or is a person. But a branch beautifully illustrates dependency. In reality we are not branches nor do we have leaves. So it is important to know the difference between the metaphor and reality. We have to choose to participate in the vine. We have to exercise faith that we are in Christ. We have to choose to live our life out of our identity in Christ. That does not happen automatically. But this metaphor has an important lesson and underscores an incredible reality. Apart from Christ we can do nothing that is of spiritual value. Uselessness occurs when a believer does not abide in the vine.

6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

So abiding is tremendously important. It will determine the fruitfulness of the Christian. To not abide is to be useless as a Christian. Jesus then went on to say what is one of the practical results of abiding in the vine. Our prayers will be answered.

7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.

And so as we have examined John 15, we have seen the three parts of identity described. Christ has chosen to be identified with us. We have been identified with him. Those two realities we are not responsible for they have been done to us. But we are responsible for the third part which is to live out of our identity in Christ. Next weekend we will look again at this portion.

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