John 15:2 & 6
“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” and “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.” (John 15:2 & 6)
Is there a life filled so full of good things that it overflows? We can discover God’s own guarantee of a life overflowing with love and joy, of effective service to God and others (John 15). And the plan was not to provide this fulfillment for some special cadre of super saints, but for everyone who is “in Christ.” Yet how that life may be experienced seems to elude most people.
Part of the problem is that many start at the wrong place in their search for fulfillment. One must begin, not with discovering something about God, but something about oneself. We probably don’t like that the Bible starts with bad news about us. In fact, it says that apart from Christ we are “like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (John 15:6).
In the verses for today (John 15:2 & 6) was this “branch” in Christ and then got cut off? Or was this person safe in Christ but was merely disciplined? Or was he never in Christ at all? I suggest that the passage is figurative, an allegory, and thus should not be treated as a literal doctrinal statement. To fit the vine-and-branch analogy Jesus was simply saying that people who do not live an authentic Christian life should not consider themselves joined to him, that people who do belong to him will give evidence of it in attitudes and action. Whatever the interpretation, it seems clear that those who are not “in Christ” are in bad trouble. And this is the consistent witness of Scripture.
But we don’t like the bad news. Yet the Bible is clear that without Christ I am a worm, a worthless wretch. Indeed, a withered branch fit for burning. We don’t like to hear it put that way. Oh, I am an image bearer of the glorious God, to be sure, spoiled and damaged though the likeness is. But the bad news I must confront first is that I deserve hell since I fall so short of God’s standard for me.
The law always precedes the Gospel. Paul understood this. The most glorious description of our salvation, of what it means to be “in Christ” (Romans 3-8) follows hard after the very bad news of humankind’s moral rottenness and total lostness apart from Christ (Romans 1-3). First the bad news, then the good.
And the good news is good indeed. In fact, when God regenerates or re-creates a person, the transformation is so radical you could compare it to a birth (John 3). The newborn is very like the fetus, but such new potentialities and relationships! The transformation is so radical you could liken it to death (Romans 6). The new entry into celestial bliss is the same person who lately lay immobile on his death bed, but what new capabilities, what undreamed of new dimensions of life! One other biblical expression used to identify this new being is to describe a person as now being “in Christ.” Thus, whoever is in Christ is a new creation, the old characteristics and relationships have passed on, all is new (1 Corinthians 5:17). Philip E. Hughes, in commenting on this passage, describes what it means to be “in Christ”:
- security in him who bore our sin
- acceptance in him with whom alone God is pleased
- assurance of the future in him who is the resurrection
- inheritance in him who is the sole heir
- participation in the divine nature
- knowing and being free in the truth that is in Christ
This is the first meaning of being “in Christ.” It describes the relationship into which one enters by faith at initial salvation, what takes place when God re-creates or does what the theologians call regeneration. This concept does not exhaust the meaning of being “in Christ.” What Christ himself teaches us about abiding in him in John 15 includes this, but his teaching goes far beyond that basic entry “into Christ.” We examine the teaching about “abiding” another day for it holds the key to a life filled full. But Paul, who uses the expression “in Christ” most, emphasizes the basic, start-up relationship when he speaks of it.
Indeed, what you are in Christ, as King James English would have it, is an “exceeding magnifical” creation. You have been chosen as an intimate companion by the all-glorious One. You have been forgiven – the Judge no longer sees you as a stumbling failure but as pure and innocent as the Lord Jesus. You have been adopted so that you now belong to the first family of the universe. You have been re-created, given the capacity for holiness, for wholeness, for growth, for fulfillment. You are no longer an outsider. You are an insider and all those changes took place the moment you moved from outside to inside. That is what it means to be “in Christ.”
But that is just the beginning. To “abide in Christ” is something more. Much more.
 Hughes, Philip Edgcumbe, Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962, p 202.