“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. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 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 15:4-6).
What kind of union is this conjugation of vine and branches? We know that, as children of God, we are members of His family. Paul describes in Romans 11, in his allusion to the olive tree, that those who are Gentiles have been “grafted in” to the tree alongside the “natural branches” (the Jews, God’s chosen people). So we all are conjoined to Christ, who is the vine. But what is the nature of this union with Christ? What are we to glean from this allusion?
First, we see that it is a living union. We are not merely “capped on” to the vine; we are indelibly grafted in to it. We receive the same life-giving food and sustaining nourishment that the vine receives! God the Father, as the vinedresser (John 15:1), nourishes and sustains and grants fruit to the vine (Christ). Those things, in turn, are passed along to us, the branches. This union with Christ is not some inanimate, lifeless connection, but a thriving, fruit-producing fellowship!
Second, this union is a complete union. We as the branches are complete only in Him, the vine. No branch can continue to live if it is separated from its host; neither can we if we are not dwelling in Christ. We are complete in Him and only in Him, and apart from Him we can do nothing. If we are out of fellowship with Christ (due to sin or unbelief), we will have no source of nourishment and life! To look at this completeness from the opposite side, we also see that, without the branches, Christ (the vine) cannot offer fruit to others. It is not the vine that flowers and produces fruit, but the branches. Of course, as God, He has all power to do whatsoever He wills; but He has chosen in His wondrous grace to use us to bear fruit and thus bestow His blessings upon others.
Third, this union is a purposeful union. We are not conjoined to Christ just for the sake of the union itself, but for the purpose of bearing fruit. Notice that He says, whoever fails to abide in Him and fails to bear fruit will be “gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” Harsh condemnation for those unfruitful branches! We can glean from this picture that our sole purpose as branches on the vine of Christ is to forget ourselves and live for others. We cannot bear fruit if we are focused merely on surviving. We must utilize the life and sustenance that we receive from Christ, not just taking it in but sending it out to others. To put it simply, we must give what we get! For instance, it is a good and needful thing to regularly attend church and receive the Word through God-centered preaching and music; but if we fail to share that which we have received, we will become stagnant and unfruitful. If we fail to minister and serve to the same extent that we receive that ministry and service, we will be as dead branches on the heavenly vine – useless and good for nothing but fuel!
He is the vine; we are the branches. We receive life and sustenance from Him continually. We live only in and through Him. We bear fruit through Him, as a result of being conjoined to Him. And He then lives through us, and bears fruit through us. What a command and a consolation that is! What a wonderful union we can (and should) have with Christ!