Below are my study notes for John 15:6-8. We spent a good time this Sunday on verse 6 especially and dealt with the reality of God’s judgment and the converse blessing (eternally) of abiding in the vine.
15:6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
Invisible and Visible
This is a reiteration of what was introduced by Jesus in verse two. Every branch that doesn’t bear fruit it likened unto a person who spends their time attending church but never really believes. These are the false Christians – they are the chaff, the weeds, the seed that lands on the hard ground and never takes root.
It is hard for anyone to read this passage and not think of Christ’s words from Matthew 13. In that chapter we read of Jesus’ parable of the weeds (among several others) and the power of that parable brings us to a place of fear and trembling. Here are some excerpts:
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:24-30)
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:36-43)
We have to distinguish between those who fellowship on a Sunday morning and superficially “attach” themselves to the vine (the church who is Christ), and the vine itself with its true branches. There have been those who make a distinction between the “visible” and “invisible” church, or the “visible” and “true” church. Theologically when you distinguish these two groups, it comes down to those who are the elect and those who are the reprobate. Those who attend church for something to do on the weekends, and those are themselves joined metaphysically and spiritually to the body of Christ.
I stress here that we are not to be play the role of the angels here sorting through the crop. Rather we are to be sowers of seeds and those who nourish the ground with the Word of God.
The second point in Scripture that this passage brings to mind is when the prophet Zachariah tells of a vision he was given of Joshua (the high priest at the time) before the throne of God. In the vision, Joshua stands before God’s throne in filthy garments and is being accused by Satan. The analogy used to describe Joshua here resembles verse 6 of our own passage:
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” (Zechariah 3:1-2, ESV)
This is the kind of defense that Jesus will offer us on that final Day of Judgment. He will stand for no accusation against His elect – for all accusations fail to hold weight against the balance sheet of Christ’s redemption. What a great truth to know that He has plucked us from the burning and placed us before the Lord and clothed us in the righteousness of Christ (see the rest of Zech. 3 for a beautiful picture of this).
Getting it Wrong
One of the things we see from time to time in our everyday interaction with other evangelical friends – especially those brothers and sisters who worship in the Presbyterians tradition – is that instead of “playing the angel” they go in the opposite direction to the point where we see them baptizing even infants into the church.
This is not the same mistake as the Catholic Church, which believes their baptism conveys grace, and therefore salvation. The Catholics are completely in error and have been for hundreds of years, but it is not that error which we are addressing here. Rather, the Presbyterians baptize infants from an outgrowth of a belief that the NT community functions as the OT community functions. They (rightly) believe that the church will be a “mixed” communion with both wheat and tares, but (wrongly) see that as meaning that the church of the Old Testament will function as that of the NT with Baptism serving in the place and manner of circumcision.
This is a mistake of not applying the newness of the New Covenant to their ecclesiology. While the OT congregation was marked outwardly by circumcision inwardly the people were missing the primary determiner of New Covenant membership: the indwelling of the Spirit. All it took to be part of the Israelite communion was obedience to the laws of Moses with regards to the ceremonial rites and so forth (most notably circumcision). Of course God wanted their obedience from the heart, but He dealt with them differently than He deals with us – there is some discontinuity there (in other places I have dealt with the justification of OT believers as coming from Christ – they looked forward for their justification as we look backward to the cross etc.).
The New Covenant church is marked outwardly by love and obedience – this certainly includes baptism and the Lord’s Super. But those are outward manifestations of the primary marking, which is new birth by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the new circumcision – a circumcision of the heart.
Again, I’m convinced that this problem we see in other evangelical denominations with padeobaptism emanates primarily from a lack of understanding and applying the newness of the new covenant.
The Outward Sign of a Brand Plucked
Lastly, as I write these words my own daughter Chloe Mae is going to be baptized tomorrow morning by our pastor. I believe in the significance of baptism, and the reasoning behind it is clear – it is an outward sign that we have been joined to the body of Christ. It is the proclamation of that spiritual truth to all who will listen. It is the testimony given by a soul whose life has been raised from death unto life.
Although (as Ryle says) many have been attached to Christ outwardly through baptism or church membership, but have never understood the significance of what it truly means to be “in” Christ. First must come repentance and a true desire to set Christ above all things. A real affection for the Savior is kindled within your heart, and you cannot help but tell others of the gracious salvation of which you are now a recipient. All of this is from the Spirit at the direction of the Lord Jesus, and for the glory of the Father.
15:7-8 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
We’ve studied something similar before in prior lessons, and we see this principle illustrated throughout Scripture – not simply in the NT but also in the OT as well.
When Jesus tells them that they will be granted whatever they ask its based on the presupposition (or prerequisite, you might say) that they will be asking for the right things because the words of Jesus will be “abiding” in them. When Jesus’ words abide in someone they change that person. Their desires are different because His words are powerful – they are “living and active.”
Take, for example, Psalm 37:4, which says:
Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
In this passage, David knows that the prerequisite for receiving what we desire from the Lord is that first we desire Him in the first place.
If you recall, I addressed this specifically in John 14 where we read the following:
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:13-14)
Here we see that the end goal of Jesus granting us what we ask for is that the Father would be glorified in the Son. The Father is glorified in the Son in three main ways. Here is an adapted list of what I mentioned previously:
- When we ask for things in the name of the Son, the Father is glorified in the lordship of the Son, because this lordship exhibits our desire to please Him, and mirrors the relationship that the Father and the Son have together.
- The Father is glorified in the Son because when the Son answers our requests He exhibits his power, mercy, grace, kindness and love – all of which are character qualities shared with the Father. Therefore, by His acts of love on our behalf, the Son exhibits the heart of the Father for His children.
- The Father is glorified in the Son because “whatever” He grants will be in accordance with the “greater works” (14:12) of the Son. In other words, when we ask for “whatever” we need, it is in the context of 14:12 and doing His works, which is to say that we are asking for His help to do His work. We are basically bowing before Jesus and saying, “this is Your work Lord, give us help to do this work of Yours.” The Father is glorified in this because it makes much of His Son and the Father’s plan and character (as we see in 15:8).
Consequently, this verse reminds us that we have a chief end in life and a real purpose for which we have been saved (Eph. 2:10). I really can’t stress this enough because there are so many people in the world who don’t know the answers to these fundamental questions: what is the purpose of my life? Why am I here? Who am I? Etc. We not only know the purpose of our lives, but we know who sustains us, and keeps us until the end. This passage assumes we know these truths, and is a call for us to call upon Christ to for our help in our daily task of living for His glory.
Two Practical Takeaways
There are two things that are presupposed by Jesus’ words here that are most instructive.
First, we have to have His words abiding in us. Which means we need to first be reading His word. This only serves to underscore both the need for time in the word of God. Here is Jesus, the Word incarnate, telling us something more than just a mystical truth (cf. Carson) having to do with the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. There is truth by extension to the assertion that in order for His words to be abiding in us we have to devote ourselves to those words. That means time in the Word of God itself.
Second, to “ask” something of God is to be spending time in prayer. Jesus assumes that we will be taking our requests before the Lord. Paul urges us to do the same:
…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)
And so in order to be a fruitful Christian we must recognize the importance of prayer and reading God’s word. Interestingly, the more we realize and internalize the truth that we are “in” Christ and that He is “in” us, and in fact here with us right now, the more we ought to be driven to communicate with Him.
So here is the question: Do you ignore Jesus’ presence? And do you seek to solve problems on your own strength, or do you consult the Word? Let me tell you this, there are many within the church today who seriously think that ministry can be done apart from using God’s word as the dominant method for gaining wisdom and healing. There are people in this very church who think that. And I am here to tell you that they couldn’t be further from the truth. If you are in a small group or “Bible study” which purports to be using the “latest” in trendy programs and yet considers the Bible as an adjunct part of the curriculum, then flee from that group my friend! Run for your life.
There is nothing so powerful as the Word of God. It is that abiding word used by the One who abides within us that will renew your mind, change your heart, and sanctify your soul.