the blessings of abiding branches
every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 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. 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.… If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” (15:2b–5, 7–11)
Three distinguishing marks of the true branches stand out in this analogy. First, they bear fruit (vv. 2, 4, 5, 8). That characteristic most clearly sets them apart from the false branches (cf. vv. 2, 8). Second, they also abide (remain; continue) in Christ’s love (v. 9). Finally, they operate in full cooperation with the source of life, keeping His commandments by following the perfect example of the Lord Jesus Christ, who always obeyed the Father (v. 10). As Jesus had earlier told those who professed faith in Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31). Obedience proves that a person’s love for Christ is genuine (John 14:15, 21, 23), a point John makes clear in his first epistle: believers confess their sins (1:9), unbelievers deny them (1:8, 10); believers obey God’s commandments (2:3), unbelievers do not (2:4); believers demonstrate love for others (2:10), unbelievers do not (2:9, 11); believers live in patterns of righteous (3:6), unbelievers do not (3:9).
But that does not mean that those who love Christ will always obey perfectly; there are times when we lapse into disobedience and fail to abide fully in Christ. Paul admonished the Corinthians,
I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (1 Cor. 3:1–3)
Jesus rebuked the Ephesian church for its diminished devotion to Him: “I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Rev. 2:4). John, after making the absolute statement “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin,” immediately added “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:1–2). Therefore the Lord’s exhortation to abide in Him is appropriate not only for unbelievers, but also to remind and warn believers who are not abiding in Him in the fullest sense.
Because He wants them to be spiritually productive, the Father takes every branch that bears fruit and prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. Pruning
was … an essential part of first-century viticultural practice, as it is today. The first pruning occurred in spring when vines were in flowering stage. This involved four operations: (1) the removal of the growing tips of vigorous shoots so that they would not grow too rapidly; (2) cutting off one or two feet from the end of growing shoots to prevent entire shoots being snapped off by the wind; (3) the removal of some flower or grape clusters so that those left could produce more and better-quality fruit; and (4) the removal of suckers that arose from below the ground or from the trunk and main branches so that the strength of the vine was not tapped by the suckers. (Colin Kruse, The Gospel According to John, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003], 315)
The Father prunes the true branches by removing anything that would sap their spiritual energy and hinder them from fruitful results. His pruning involves cutting away anything that limits righteousness, including the discipline that comes from trials, suffering, and persecution. The knowledge that the Father uses the pain that Christians endure for their ultimate good should eliminate all fear, self-pity, and complaining. The classic text in Hebrews reminds those undergoing God’s painful, pruning chastening,
It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Heb. 12:7–11; cf. 1 Cor. 11:32)
In the Father’s infinite wisdom and absolute, sovereign control of all of life’s circumstances, He “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28; cf. 5:3–5; Gen. 50:20; Deut. 8:16; 2 Cor. 4:16–18; James 1:2–4).
But suffering is merely the handle of the Father’s knife; the blade is the Word of God. You are already clean, Jesus told the eleven true disciples, because of the word which I have spoken to you. Because they had embraced the gospel through Christ’s teaching, the eleven had been regenerated by the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3:3–8; Titus 3:4–7). That same gospel is found today in the Scriptures, the “word of Christ” (Col. 3:16). The Word is instrumental in believers’ initial cleansing at salvation (cf. Rom. 1:16), and it also continually purges, prunes, and cleanses them.
God uses His Word as the pruning knife, because it “is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12), but He uses affliction to prepare His people for the Word’s pruning. The psalmist affirmed the connection between affliction and the Word’s work in his life when he wrote, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.… It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Ps. 119:67, 71). Psalm 94:12 also makes that connection: “Blessed is the man whom You chasten, O Lord, and whom You teach out of Your law.”
The Lord’s words emphasize two important truths regarding spiritual conduct: 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. 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. First, since all true believers, those who abide in Christ and He in them, will bear spiritual fruit, there is no such thing as a fruitless Christian. John the Baptist challenged his hearers to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8), and warned that “every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (v. 10). Contrasting true and false teachers, Jesus said, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:17–20). In Luke 6:43 He added, “There is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit.”
Second, believers cannot bear fruit on their own, because as He plainly stated, As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 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 (cf. Hos. 14:8). There may be times when believers have lapses, when they fail to be faithful to their life in Christ. But true branches, through whom the life of the vine flows, cannot ultimately fail to produce fruit (cf. Pss. 1:1–3; 92:12–14; Prov. 11:30; 12:12; Jer. 17:7–8; Matt. 13:23; Rom. 7:4; Gal. 5:22–23; Eph. 5:9; Phil 1:11; Col. 1:10; James 3:17).
A popular misconception equates fruit with outward success. By that common standard, external religion, superficial righteousness, having a large church, a popular ministry, or a successful program are considered fruitful. But the Bible nowhere equates fruit with superficial, external behavior or results, which deceivers and hypocrites, as well as non-Christian cults and religions can duplicate. Instead, Scripture defines fruit in terms of spiritual qualities. “The fruit of the Spirit,” Paul reminded the Galatians, “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23). Those Christlike traits mark those through whom His life flows.
Praise offered to God is also fruit. The writer of Hebrews exhorts his readers, “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Heb. 13:15; cf. Isa. 57:19; Hos. 14:2).
The Bible also identifies sacrificial love in meeting the needs of others as fruit. Referring to the monetary gift he was collecting for the needy believers at Jerusalem, Paul wrote to the Romans, “Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain” (Rom. 15:28). Acknowledging the Philippians’ financial support of his ministry, Paul told them, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account” (Phil. 4:17 nkjv). Supporting others who are in need is a tangible expression of love, which is one of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
Fruit may also be defined as holy, righteous, God-honoring behavior in general. Such conduct is “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8); the fruit produced by the good soil (Matt. 13:23) of a transformed life; the “fruit of the Light [that] consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Eph. 5:9); the “fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:11); the “peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11). Paul prayed that the Colossians would be continually “bearing fruit in every good work” (Col. 1:10), because Christians were “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
Finally, the Bible defines fruit as converts to the gospel—not the artificial fruit of superficial “believers,” but genuine disciples who abide in the true vine. Referring to the Samaritans who were coming out to Him from the village of Sychar, many of whom would believe savingly in Him (John 4:39, 41), Jesus said, “Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together” (v. 36). He declared of His sacrificial death, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Paul expressed his desire to the Christians in Rome to win converts in the imperial capital: “I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles” (Rom. 1:13). At the close of his letter, Paul greeted “Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ” (16:5 nkjv). In 1 Corinthians 16:15 the apostle referred to “the household of Stephanas,” as “the first fruits of Achaia,” while in Colossians 1:6 he rejoiced that “in all the world also it [the gospel; v. 5] is constantly bearing fruit and increasing.” John wrote of the 144,000 evangelists, who will be redeemed during the tribulation, “These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb” (Rev. 14:4).
Another blessing comes in Jesus’ promise If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. That sweeping, all-encompassing promise presupposes that three conditions are met. First, the prayer Jesus promises to answer must be offered in His name; that is, consistent with His person and will, and so that He might display His glory in answering it (cf. the exposition of 14:13–14 in chapter 9 of this volume).
Second, the promise is only to those who abide in (have a permanent union with) Jesus Christ. God does not obligate Himself to answer the prayers of unbelievers, though He may choose to do so if it suits His sovereign purposes.
The final condition is that Christ’s words abide in the person making the request. Words translates the plural form of the noun rhēma, and refers to the individual utterances of Christ. The promise of answered prayer comes only to those whose lives are controlled by the specific commands of God’s Word (cf. Ps. 37:4). On the other hand, both Psalm 66:18 and James 4:3 warn that those controlled by sinful, selfish desires will not have their prayers answered.
The true branches also have the privilege of living lives that glorify God. My Father is glorified by this, Jesus told the disciples, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. The greatest theme in the universe is the glory of God, and to live a life that brings God glory is the believer’s highest privilege and duty. Only those who are in union with Christ can glorify God. Paul wrote, “I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me” (Rom. 15:18; cf. 1 Cor. 15:10; Gal. 2:20; Col. 1:29).
Jesus further promised that those who abide in Him will experience His love. Just as the Father has loved Me, He said, I have also loved you; abide in My love. The way to do that is to keep His commandments, just as He kept His Father’s commandments and abides in His love. Righteous obedience is the key to experiencing God’s blessing.
The crowning blessing, to which all the rest contribute, is full and complete joy. The Lord promised to impart to believers His joy—the joy that He shares in intimate fellowship with the Father. These things I have spoken to you, Jesus said to the eleven, so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. The Lord promised that His own joy will permeate and control the lives of those who walk in communion with Him. Just a short time later, Jesus reiterated this promise in His High Priestly Prayer to the Father: “But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves” (John 17:13). Such joy comes only to the obedient, as David learned to his sorrow. After his terrible sin with Bathsheba, he cried out, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation” (Ps. 51:12). But the obedient receive “joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).
God Glorified … In You
“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
The connection between John 15:7 and John 15:8 is the connection that the glory of God has with prayer according to the will of God, a connection that we have already seen in John 14:13–14 (“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.”). But here the emphasis is different. In John 14 the emphasis was upon prayer itself. That it was to be answered was to be a comfort to the disciples. In John 15 the emphasis is upon the glory of God.
In this text the glorification of God is linked to four elements, each of which should be abundantly visible in the life of each Christian. The elements are: fruitfulness, love, obedience, and joy. Each one is linked to the central theme of the chapter, the need for Christians consciously to remain in Christ, and should receive careful attention.
The first of these ideas is fruitfulness, which Jesus highlights by saying, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (v. 8). The flow of thought is that if we are Christ’s and remain in him, then we will be fruitful in the Christian life and God will be glorified in our fruitfulness. Moreover, the fact that we are fruitful will be a proof that we are indeed Christ’s disciples.
At this point we should probably talk about the real meaning of fruitfulness, for if we fail to do that or if we define fruit wrongly, we are inevitably going to discourage some Christians, which we should not do. Let me explain what I mean. If we begin with a phrase like Paul’s words of expectation in writing to the Romans—“that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles” (Rom. 1:13)—and if we therefore identify the fruit of the Christian life with converts to Christ, then we will discourage any who, for whatever reason, do not see many come to the Lord. And we will discourage those who, because of sickness or old age or whatever unfavorable circumstances, are unable to do much and who are therefore made to feel they are useless.
It is true, of course, that these other items may be looked at as fruit in a certain sense. The Bible does so itself. But the real fruit is that listed in Galatians 5:22–23: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” This fruit is the fruit of Christ’s own character within us. It is his love, joy, peace, and so on, within the Christian. Once we see this, we see that a fruitful life can belong to any child of God regardless of his age or circumstances. He or she need not be disheartened by advancing years or by suffering. In fact, the person may even be encouraged by them, for it is in such circumstances that the character of the Lord can shine brightest and others can best see that he is truly his Lord’s disciple.
Do not think that in taking this approach I am denying the need for fruit in the sense of conversions. We obviously need these too. But the starting point, indeed the indispensible heart of the Christian’s witness, is this divine character. Apart from it, the effort to save others is like an apple tree trying to produce other apple trees. It cannot be done in that fashion. First, the apple tree must produce apples. After that the apples, which contain apple seeds, will produce other apple trees.
The second of Christ’s emphases is love. This follows naturally since love is a fruit of the Spirit. In fact, it is the chief fruit, for “the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). Jesus speaks of it saying, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (v. 9).
As I look at that verse I see three parts to it. The first part is a declaration of love: “I have loved you.” We know that these are wonderful words to hear at any time, if they are true. “I love you.” “I have loved you from the moment I first set eyes upon you.” “I will always love you.” This is the basis of any good marriage, when the love expressed is the fullest measure of love. It is the basis of a Christian home in the love between parents and children. In a different sense it is the basis of friendship and certainly of fellowship within the church. But if this is true when the words are spoken by mere men and women, how much more wonderful they are when spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ, as here, and when we are the ones loved. This is an astonishing love, for there is nothing in us that could give cause for it. We are sinners. Jesus is holy. We have rebelled against God. Nevertheless, Jesus loves us.
The steps of the expression of his love are these. To begin with, he loved us with an electing love. This is the stage of love revealed in Deuteronomy 7 in relation to Israel: “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you …” (vv. 6–8). He loved you because he loved you. That is the heart and full substance of it. As Spurgeon has written, “Election is based upon affection, and that affection is its own fountain.”
Next, the Lord became a man like us, so great was his love for us. It is written of love in marriage, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Thus did the eternal Son. He left his Father’s home in heaven to come to earth to woo and wed his bride, the church. He redeemed her. The incarnation is Jesus becoming like us so that we might become like him.
Finally, having elected us in love and become like us in a human form, Jesus died for us. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). That is true, and the greatest example of it is the death of Jesus himself. Said Spurgeon, “That laying down of life in our Lord’s case was specially a proof of love, for he died voluntarily; there was no necessity upon him, as upon us, to die. Other men, if they died for us, would but pay the debt of nature a little before its time; but Jesus died who needed not to die, so far as he himself was concerned. He died also amid circumstances of pain, and shame, and desertion, which made that death peculiarly bitter. The death of the cross is to us the highest proof of our Savior’s infinite love of us. He must die the death of a felon, between two thieves, utterly friendless, the object of general ridicule; and this he must do as bearing our sins in his own body. All this makes us say, ‘Behold how he loved us!’ O beloved! can we doubt Christ’s love, since he laid down his life … ?”
It is not only a sublime declaration of love that we have in this verse. We also have the measure of that love; for Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” I suppose that we would rejoice in the love of Christ for us even if his love were but a part-time or half-hearted thing. For him to love us at all would be remarkable. But this is not what he says; nor is it the case. Jesus says that he has loved us, not with an imperfect or even a “perfect” human love, but rather with the greatest love there is; namely, the love which has existed within the being of the Godhead from all eternity and which will exist to all eternity, the love of the Father for him and (we must obviously add) his love for the Father. Is there a greater love than that? It is impossible that there could be. This love is without beginning or end. It is without measure. It is without change. It is according to the measure of this great love, and consequently with that love itself, that Christ loves us.
One thing more. First, we saw Jesus’ declaration of his love for us. Second, we saw the measure of that love. Third, we have the challenge of love, which is, in this case, to “continue” it. If we continue in his love, then we will be remaining in him and prove fruitful.
The third word in this catalog of elements contributing to God’s glory is obedience, though it is expressed in a challenge to keep Christ’s commands, as has been done elsewhere. “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (v. 10).
Are we tired of this emphasis by now, this emphasis upon Christ’s commands? I suspect that we are; but if we are, the fault is in us and not the commands. For, as John says in his first epistle, “His commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). Then what is wrong? I suspect that what is wrong with us is that we are not really as anxious to do Christ’s commands as we would like to think we are; thus, the emphasis upon obedience (we have had it several times already in the last discourses, and we will have it several times more) exposes our halfhearted commitment to the will of Christ and so gives birth to feelings of true guilt.
What happens to us is precisely what happened to Peter when, following the resurrection, the Lord was recommissioning him to service. Peter had denied the Lord three times in the presence of the servants and soldiers in the courtyard of the high priest. So Christ recommissioned him with a threefold pattern. He asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Peter was aware of his recent failure, but he did love Jesus. So he replied in what I believe to be an air of genuine humility, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
After a short time Jesus asked Peter again, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter replied that he did.
Again Christ gave the commission, “Feed my sheep.”
Finally the Lord asked Peter the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” This time we are told, “Peter was grieved because he asked him a third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’ ”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15–17).
Why was Peter grieved? He was grieved because the third repetition reminded him of his threefold denial and hence awakened grief and true guilt for what he had done. Moreover, the questioning had suggested that perhaps, just perhaps, Peter’s first effusive answer, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” could not be taken at quite its face value. Peter was always prone to blurt something out, but did he really mean it? Did he mean it enough to take a servant’s role in caring for Christ’s sheep? Did he mean it enough to continue to fulfill this or any other command of Christ until his life’s end? Ah, that was quite a different matter. And Peter, like us, did not enjoy being reminded of his weakness.
We need to be reminded anyway. That is the point of the repetition. “If you love me, obey my commands” (14:15). “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me” (14:21). “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teachings” (14:23). “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love” (15:10). “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (15:14). The point is obvious. We must keep Christ’s commands if we are to be Christ’s disciples and grow in his love.
Let us note one thing further. It is true that we are reminded to obey all that Jesus has given us by way of instruction. But even as he tells us this, Jesus points out that he is asking of us no more than he has already asked and given of himself. “Just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love” is his comparison. We can be encouraged by this, knowing that the One who instructs us has himself set the pattern and will give us strength to do as he requires.
In the last verse, Jesus introduces the fourth and final element that is to be in us and by which the Father shall be glorified. It is joy. Christ adds it, I am sure, to indicate that his commands actually lead in precisely the opposite direction from being grievous. They lead to the fullness of that joy that is of God and that is rightly listed as the second virtue in the list of the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians. Jesus says of this virtue, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (v. 11).
This sentence speaks of the Christian’s joy in three senses: joy attained, joy abiding, and joy abounding. Joy is to be attained as a result of the things Jesus had been teaching. This is the reason why the Christian must abide in him, so that the views, outlook, and aspirations of the Master will be those of the disciples as well. This is the reason for the twofold repetition of the word “joy”—“my joy” and “your joy.” The joy of Jesus is to be the joy of the disciple. His joy was a wonderful thing, for it was not deterred by suffering or any other circumstance. In fact, it rejoiced in hardship; for we read that Jesus “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). Where did he find that joy? The answer is in his intense desire to do the will of his Father: “I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices” (Ps. 16:8–9).
Second, the verse speaks of joy abiding—that “my joy may be [remain] in you.” The point of this phrase is that joy does not necessarily remain. Many things can destroy it. Sin can destroy it. So can disobedience or unbelief. David confessed this in the great fifty-first psalm, crying out to God, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (v. 12). It was not that his salvation was lost, only that the joy had evaporated. This always happens when we become separated from Christ in the sense of having the fellowship that once was ours broken. In contrast to this, we must abide in him; for when we abide in him the joy abides also.
Finally, the verse speaks of abounding joy. This is the meaning of the clause “and that your joy might be complete.” I wish that all Christians were more joyful, and, as I read this verse, I sense that the Lord desires this too. Unfortunately, there are many long faces and dour looks. There is too much defeat, too much unhappiness. It does not need to be that way. Rather we should be able to rejoice in Christ, even in the face of arrest, beatings, crucifixion, and death, as he did.
When joy, linked to fruitfulness, love, and obedience, is found in the life of a Christian, all can see it and know that the source is divine. We can never produce these things. We cannot produce the Spirit’s fruit. We cannot produce love. We cannot produce joy. But Jesus can do it as we abide in him.
Abiding in Christ
“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.” (John 15:7–8)
As Jesus prepared to depart from his disciples, he taught them a parable consisting of three parts, spelling out the conditions of their spiritual fruitfulness in his absence. The first two parts depicted God’s provision on our behalf. First, Jesus would himself be “the true vine,” securing by his obedience eternal life to give to those who come to him in faith. Second, the Father would be the vinedresser, tending to our spiritual growth primarily by pruning the fruitful branches. Both of these are divine actions, accomplished for our benefit by God’s grace.
The third element of the parable presents believers’ responsibility. In order to bear fruit as living branches, Christians are commanded to abide in Christ. “Abide in me, and I in you,” Jesus said. “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4).
The Meaning of Abide
Jesus’ teaching on abiding in him is evidently of great importance, as seen not only by the fact that Jesus taught this parable on so pivotal an occasion as the night of his departure but also in the extended treatment he gave to the subject. It is clearly important for Christians to understand what it means to abide in Christ. The Greek verb meno means “to dwell or remain.” J. C. Ryle explains how it speaks of our relationship with Christ:
To abide in Christ means to keep up a habit of constant close communion with Him, to be always leaning on Him, resting on Him, pouring out our hearts to Him, and using Him as our Fountain of life and strength, as our chief Companion and best Friend. To have His words abiding in us, is to keep His sayings and precepts continually before our memories and minds, and to make them the guide of our actions, and the rule of our daily conduct and behavior.
Jesus amplifies his own teaching by relating our abiding in him, first, to our resting in his love: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love” (John 15:9). This informs us that the Christian who abides in Christ is one who believes, trusts, relies on, and rests within Christ’s love for his own. Even while Christ’s love for his disciples is unbroken, it is still possible for Christians to “live without being mindful of Christ’s love for them and so break the closeness of their fellowship.” This is why Jesus urges us to remain in his love. John wrote of this in his first epistle, emphasizing that “we know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 John 4:16 niv). To be a Christian is to know the love of God in Christ, who died on the cross for our sins. To abide in Christ is then to rely on that love, so that in all things we draw near to him, look to him in faith, and confidently expect his saving grace to be at work in our lives. Jesus has proved his love for us forever on the cross; now we are to abide in his love.
Jesus points out to us an analogy between his relationship of love with the Father and our relationship of love with him: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (John 15:9). This reminds us that Jesus’ love for us consists of more than mercy and compassion, since the Father does not pity the Son but rather delights in the Son, approves of his Son, and desires the fellowship of his Son. Likewise, then, Jesus delights in his people, approves of those who are cleansed by his blood (1 John 1:7), and delights in those whom he takes as his disciples.
How many Christians are paralyzed in their spiritual lives by a dread of Christ’s disfavor and disapproval. They see a constantly frowning face in heaven. But Jesus says that his love for us is like the Father’s love for him. We might say that Jesus not only loves us but likes us. Indeed, the primary biblical metaphor for Christ’s love for the church is that of a groom for his bride. A groom longs for his bride with great delight and piercing joy. The Bible tells us that since believers are robed in the perfect imputed righteousness of Christ (Gen. 3:21; 2 Cor. 5:21), then “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isa. 62:5). No man marries a woman simply because he feels sorry for her, and Jesus’ love for us is one of joy in fellowship, delighting in our redeemed persons for his own sake.
Christians who know and rely on Christ’s love will respond by obeying his commands. This is the second relationship that Jesus identifies with abiding in him: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10).
Jesus is not saying that we are saved by obedience, since we are saved by faith alone in his perfect saving work for us. What he is saying is that as we rely on his love for us and respond with loving obedience to his commandments, the result is that we are drawn near to abide in his love. Ours should be the grateful, devoted attitude of David in Psalm 40:8: “I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” The source of this submitted will is our knowledge of God’s love for us, and its effect is our abiding in Christ.
These very words were ascribed to Jesus in the New Testament (Heb. 10:7), so that his obedient love to the Father sets the pattern for our obedient love to him: “just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10). Jesus took great pleasure on earth in showing his love to the Father by obeying his commands. Likewise, our love for Christ and our abiding in him involves the submission of our will to his will, so that on the path of obedience that Jesus himself walked we have close fellowship with him. Realizing this, we are warned against thinking that abiding in Christ manifests itself in mystical experiences. Instead, abiding in Christ manifests itself in devoted obedience to his Word. Jesus is describing a lifestyle of abiding in him that moves from love to love. In the fourth chapter of his first epistle, John enlarges on this theme, stating that “in this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). Our defining reality as Christians, he says, is God’s love for us in Christ and Christ’s love for us on the cross. Both the Father and the Son continue to love us so that believers live through Christ, abiding in his love, living for his pleasure, and accepting his will as our own. John sums up the Christian life, saying, “We love because he first loved us” (4:19), and the way that we show our love is through joyful obedience to Jesus’ commands.
This mentality was displayed by the aged bishop Polycarp, when the Roman proconsul urged him to renounce Jesus in order to escape being thrown to the beasts in the arena. Polycarp answered, “Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” Every Christian should reason likewise: what wrong has Jesus ever done so that I might disobey the commands of him who loved me so?
Abiding in Christ Delivers Us from Judgment
Having defined abiding in him in terms of his love and our obedience, Jesus also sets before the disciples four great results that ensue from our abiding in him. The first is that abiding in Christ delivers us from the judgment of God. Jesus expressed this truth in negative terms, speaking of false professors who do not abide in him: “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” (John 15:6).
Throughout the New Testament, fire is used to depict the torments awaiting those who stand under God’s judgment for sin. An important example is Jesus’ parable of the weeds in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus said that he has planted his good seed in his field, but the evil one has come and planted weeds there also. The weeds in that parable represent false professors and correspond to the fruitless branches in John 15. Jesus said that we should not concern ourselves with trying to sort the wheat from the weeds, but that we should leave the task for when the harvester comes. He explained, “The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close 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” (Matt. 13:39–42). This is one of many places where hell is described as a place of personal, physical, and perpetual torment as God’s just penalty for sins (see Matt. 3:12; 5:22; 7:19; Mark 9:47; etc.).
Jesus speaks here of God’s judgment not on sinners generally but on professing believers who did not possess his saving life and bear good fruit. In the context of the Farewell Discourse, we think of Judas Iscariot as the classic example of a false professor who was first removed and then condemned by God. Jesus referred to him as the “son of destruction” (John 17:12), that is, one doomed to eternal judgment for his betrayal of Christ.
The Old Testament background for Jesus’ teaching on the burning of the fruitless branches is Ezekiel 15:1–6. The prophet pointed out that the wood of the vine is good for nothing unless it bears fruit. “Is wood taken from it to make anything? Do people take a peg from it to hang any vessel on it?” he asked (15:3). The wood of the vine is so useless that it will not even serve as a peg. Therefore, if it will not bear fruit, it can be used only for fire, and even then it burns too quickly. Since the vine was a symbol of Israel, this was a warning of God’s judgment, which soon fell on fruitless Jerusalem through the siege of Nebuchadnezzar and the city’s destruction. God warned, “Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so have I given up the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (15:6).
Christians should look on the fall of Jerusalem and realize how useless to God is fruitless religion. A profession of faith in Christ is of no interest to God unless it goes on to bear the fruit of a godly life, and such an empty profession of faith renders us fit only for the fires of God’s judgment. It was with this in mind that James wrote that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). He did not mean that we are saved by a combination of faith and works, but rather that saving faith is always a faith that goes on to bear the fruit of good works, along with a changed life. According to Jesus, then, false professors of faith will sooner or later be taken away by God (John 15:2), and they will ultimately be subjected to God’s fire, all because they never truly embraced Jesus as Savior and therefore died without their sins’ being forgiven.
In contrast, to abide in Christ is to be delivered from God’s judgment, since the branches that abide in him bear fruit through their possession of saving life. How urgent it is that every professing believer actually abide in Christ—relying on his love, living in close fellowship with Jesus, and bearing the good fruit of obedience to the commands of the Bible—which is the only kind of faith that actually saves us from the just wrath of God on our sins.
Abiding in Christ Leads to Power in Prayer
A second result is that abiding in Christ leads to power in prayer. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you,” Jesus taught, “ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).
This promise is essentially the same as the one made in John 14:13–14: “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.” The difference here is the nuance of Christ’s words abiding in us. Jesus earlier said that if we ask in his name, he will answer our prayers; now he insists that we must pray with his Word abiding in us.
A. W. Pink explains that Jesus refers here to a life that is “regulated by the Scriptures.” Jesus speaks of his “words,” which refers to “the precepts and promises of Scripture personally appropriated, fed upon by faith, hidden in the heart.… It is … constant and habitual communion with God through the Word, until its contents become the substance of our innermost beings.”
In God’s Word we find that Jesus tells us not to expect comfortable circumstances or the absence of trials and temptations. What we should seek is faith to trust Christ, strength to obey God’s will, grace to transform our lives, and compassion to care for a lost world. In John 15, Jesus has stressed the vital importance that we abide in him, relying on his love and obeying his commands. Surely abiding in him, then, is something for which we should pray, with confidence that Jesus has promised to bless prayers that are offered according to his Word. According to Jesus’ promise, whenever we pray for the priorities he has taught in Scripture, we should pray with an absolute certainty of divine answers. Do we pray for grace to believe, for compassion on the lost world so that we will witness the gospel, or for courage to stand against the pressures of the world and of sin? We must pray for these things, and when we pray Jesus’ own words back to our Lord, when his teaching forms the substance of our pleas, we can be assured that they will be heard with favor in heaven.
If we wonder why we do not seem to enjoy greater power in prayer, we are given a vital clue in this passage. Perhaps our lack of power in prayer stems from a lack of abiding in Christ and in his Word. F. B. Meyer writes: “If you abide in Christ in daily fellowship, it will not be difficult to pray aright, for He has promised to abide in those who abide in Him; and the sap of the Holy Ghost securing for you fellowship with your unseen Lord, will produce in you, as fruit, desires and petitions similar to those which He unceasingly presents to His Father.” The “secret” to power in prayer, then, is to live closely enough to Christ that our own desires, expressed in prayer, have been molded by his Word.
An example of how abiding in Christ works with prayer was given by Corrie ten Boom in one story of her poor but godly father, Casper. Living under Nazi occupation in Holland, their family faced many difficulties and great poverty. On one occasion, they had prayed for God to send a customer to buy a watch so that they could pay their overdue bills. A customer did come, picking out a quite expensive watch, and casually remarked as he paid that another merchant had sold him a defective watch. Corrie’s father asked the man whether he could examine that watch, and pointed out that only a minor repair was needed. He assured the man that he had been sold a fine-quality watch by the other merchant and gave his money back as the man returned the watch that he had been going to buy.
Little Corrie asked, “Papa, why did you do that? Aren’t you worried about the bills you have due?” Her father replied that it would not honor the Lord to allow another man’s reputation to be wrongly harmed, especially since the other merchant was a believer. He assured the little girl that God would provide, and just a few days later a man came and bought the most expensive watch they had, the sale of which not only paid their bills but also paid for two years of Corrie’s education. How simple it would have been for Casper to take the man’s money and claim God’s answer to prayer! But he put obedience to Christ first, and then did not lack for anything, since abiding in Christ produced not only obedience but also great power in prayer.
Abiding in Christ Glorifies the Father
The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins by telling us that man’s chief end is “to glorify God.” This highlights the importance of the third result of abiding in Christ, that in this way we glorify the Father. Jesus added, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8).
This is an important statement, first, because it reminds us that we “prove” our discipleship by bearing fruit to the Lord. Jesus adds that the same fruit that grants us assurance of salvation also brings glory to the Father. This indicates that if we are not abiding in Christ and bearing the fruit of changed lives, then we are denying God glory that ought to be his. It is easy for us to speak of praising God and to sing hallelujahs, but the way that God especially desires to be glorified in us is by our transformed lives. That our lives might contribute to the glory of the one, true, and eternal God ought to fill our hearts with wonder and amazement. Moreover, that we might give something back to the God who has given his own Son for our salvation ought to spur us with great zeal for the glory of the Father.
Christ’s fruit in our life glorifies the Father before the holy angels, who Peter says long to look into the things of the gospel (1 Peter 1:12). Our changed lives vindicate God’s saving purpose before the accusations of the devil. Back in the garden, God cursed Satan, declaring that he would be made to eat dust (Gen. 3:14). One of the chief ways in which God feeds the Serpent dust is by first forgiving our sin through Christ’s blood and then actually making us holy, so that even Satan must glorify God in our salvation. The fruit of our lives further glorifies God before the watching world. Gordon Keddie writes that even the hard-hearted world “cannot but see the hand of God in the saving change of an otherwise corrupt and condemned sinner.” The unbeliever “may pour contempt on his friend who is converted and gives up his former wicked ways, but he knows somehow that he protests too much and is really covering a deeper amazement at a change that he cannot explain.”
When Jesus says that our fruit proves our discipleship, a corollary principle is that many professing Christians lack assurance and peace in their salvation, some living with great doubt and fear, because they are careless about abiding in Christ. Ryle observes, “Men are content with a little Christianity, and a little fruit of the Spirit, and do not labour to be ‘holy in all manner of conversation’ (1 Peter 1:15). They must not wonder if they enjoy little peace, feel little hope, and leave behind them little evidence.” The way for us to receive the most benefit from our faith is the same way that we are of maximum usefulness to the Lord: if we will abide in Christ, we will bear much fruit so as both to glorify the Father and to prove our discipleship.
Abiding in Christ Fills Us with Joy
Fourth, Jesus states that abiding in Christ fills us with joy: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). The world insists that turning from sin to follow Christ is bound to take all the pleasure out of life. Jesus insists that exactly the opposite is in fact true. The way to possess true and abiding joy—not the joy of the world, but what Jesus calls “my joy”—is to abide in him.
It is obvious from this that we may fail to know the joy that ought to be ours. We lose our joy when our fellowship with Christ is broken through worldly distractions. Disobedience and unbelief steal our joy. This is why David pleaded in his great prayer of repentance, “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Ps. 51:11–12). David missed the spiritual joy that he had previously known, and he pleaded with God not only to forgive him but also to restore his presence and therefore his joy. Jesus found his joy in pleasing the Father through obedience. Leon Morris comments: “It is not cheerless, barren existence that Jesus plans for his people. But the joy of which he speaks comes only as they are wholehearted in their obedience to his commands.”
Jesus stated his desire that by abiding in him, “your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Jesus was not speaking here of a fairy-tale happiness in which all our worldly dreams come true. Jesus never promised a carefree life to his followers, but he did offer us fullness of joy as his life grows in us. Hebrews 12:2 says that “for the joy that was set before him” Jesus endured the cross, so that even that great baptism of suffering could not snuff out the eternal flame of his joy. Abiding in him, as a living branch in the true vine, we experience his life flowing into us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, so that our deep experience of blessing matures into the rich wine of spiritual joy as we abide in him.
Do you find that you long for the fullness of Christ’s joy in your life? It is evident that Jesus longs for this, too. Indeed, there can be no greater object in love than for the One we adore to have joy in our fellowship. We do not need to live joyless lives, but we do need to abide in Christ, relishing his love, offering our obedience in return, and then abounding in the perfect divine joy that he has eternally possessed and that he delights to give to those who abide in him.
9. As the Father hath loved me. He intended to express something far greater than is commonly supposed; for they who think that he now speaks of the sacred love of God the Father, which he always had towards the Son, philosophise away from the subject; for it was rather the design of Christ to lay, as it were, in our bosom a sure pledge of God’s love towards us. That abstruse inquiry, as to the manner in which the Father always loved himself in the Son, has nothing to do with the present passage. But the love which is here mentioned must be understood as referring to us, because Christ testifies that the Father loves him, as he is the Head of the Church. And this is highly necessary for us; for he who, without a Mediator, inquires how he is loved by God, involves him in a labyrinth, in which he will neither discover the entrance, nor the means of extricating himself. We ought therefore to cast our eyes on Christ, in whom will be found the testimony and pledge of the love of God; for the love of God was fully poured out on him, that from him it might flow to his members. He is distinguished by this title, that he is the beloved Son, in whom the will of the Father is satisfied, (Matth. 3:17.) But we ought to observe the end, which is, that God may accept us in him. So, then, we may contemplate in him, as in a mirror, God’s paternal love towards us all; because he is not loved apart, or for his own private advantage, but that he may unite us with him to the Father.
Abide in my love. Some explain this to mean, that Christ demands from his disciples mutual love; but others explain it better, who understand it to mean the love of Christ towards us. He means that we should continually enjoy that love with which he once loved us, and, therefore, that we ought to take care not to deprive ourselves of it; for many reject the grace which is offered to them, and many throw away what they once had in their hands. So, then, since we have been once received into the grace of Christ, we must see that we do not fall from it through our own fault.
The conclusion which some draw from these words, that there is no efficacy in the grace of God, unless it be aided by our stedfastness, is frivolous. For I do not admit that the Spirit demands from us no more than what is in our own power, but he shows us what we ought to do, that, if our strength be deficient, we may seek it from some other quarter. In like manner, when Christ exhorts us, in this passage, to perseverance, we must not rely on our own strength and industry, but we ought to pray to him who commands us, that he would confirm us in his love.
9–10 The measure of the Father’s love for the Son is the measure of the Son’s love for the disciples. Since the Son lived a life of perfect obedience and spoke only what the Father told him to speak (8:28; 12:50), it is not surprising that the Father’s love for the Son would be duplicated in the love of the Son for his disciples. The responsibility of the disciples is to “remain in [his] love” (cf. the parallel in Jude 21, “Keep yourselves in God’s love”).
How this is accomplished is clearly set forth in the following sentence: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love” (v. 10). Love for God is defined in 1 John 5:3 as “obeying his commands.” The model for Christian obedience is the obedience of the Son (“just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands”). Christian ethics are integrally related to the person and conduct of Jesus himself. Obedience should not be thought of as simply compliance with a set of regulations but as wholehearted commitment to a way of life springing from and expressing the very nature of God. Obedience is not burdensome. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt 11:30). Satan wants to make us think of obedience as restrictive and palpably unfair (cf. Ge 3:1–5); in actuality, obedience frees us to become everything that someday we will rejoice to be. In the meantime we will find that the enjoyment of each day is determined by our willingness to allow our lives to be directed by the express will of God.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2008). John 12–21 (pp. 146–151). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 1171–1176). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Phillips, R. D. (2014). John. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (1st ed., Vol. 2, pp. 291–300). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Gospel according to John (Vol. 2, pp. 112–113). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Mounce, R. H. (2007). John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 576). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.