I AM The True Vine

I. Introduction

We’ve been going through the 7 “I am” discourses of Jesus.

  1. I AM the Bread of Life
  2. I AM the Light of the World
  3. I AM the Door
  4. I AM the Good Shepherd
  5. I AM the Resurrection and the Life
  6. I AM the Way and the Truth and the Life
  7. I AM the True Vine

We’ve already covered the first 6, now we are at the 7th and final “I AM” statement. So far, during the first 6, Jesus has given these “I AM” statements to explain His relationship with the Father, and His relationship with us. These metaphors – Bread, Light, Door, etc – were chosen by Jesus not just for their imagery, but because each one of them had special meaning to the Jews. The Bread reminded them of God’s provision of manna, the Door reminded them of the sacrificial blood over the door prior to the Exodus, etc. Jesus has spoken to the Jews, the Pharisees, the Believers and the non-Believers, and the Gentiles. And now we come to the final “I AM.”

This one is different. Jesus is saying goodbye to the 12 disciples. Judas has already left to betray the Lord for 30 pieces of silver, and Jesus knows He will soon be arrested, tried unfairly, scourged and crucified in accordance with scripture.

Jesus and the 11 remaining disciples have left the Upper Room in Jerusalem and are walking together through the Kidron Valley toward the Garden of Gethsemane near the Mount of Olives. That might sound like a lot of walking, but it’s not. Here’s a photo from the Jerusalem walls near the East Gate where you can see all three locations.

Did the disciples understand Jesus’ impending death? I’m not sure they fully understood. All through the Upper Room Discourse in John 14, Jesus says He’s going away and then coming back. He has to go away so the Holy Spirit will come. Thomas then says, “Lord we don’t know where you’re going.” Jesus gives them comforting words, and ends John 14 with essentially saying, “let’s go for a walk.”

And then gives them the 7th and final “I AM” in John 15:1-11 –

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for 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 keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept 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.

II. The True Vine

This time, Jesus isn’t speaking to Pharisees or Jews or Gentiles. He’s speaking to His followers. I mean literally His followers. Jesus said, “Let’s go for a walk” and they followed.

The words Jesus speaks to them are words of comfort and hope and how to live while we wait for His return. And as always, Jesus chooses a metaphor that has great significance when He called Himself the True Vine.

The disciples would have understood this vine a little differently. Imagery of the vine, the vineyard, its relationship to the nation of Israel was used throughout scripture. If fact, during this walk through the valley of Kidron, they probably had a view of the temple and the gold vines decorating it. I’ve seen some estimates that the gold used for the vine was worth as much as $12 million in today’s money. I went looking for a picture of these gold vines to show you…

… but then I remembered the temple was destroyed in 70AD. Duh. In fact, the amount of gold on the temple may have been a motivation for the Roman soldiers to not leave one stone unturned, also in fulfillment of scripture. So here instead is a model representation of what it may have looked like –

But why “the True Vine?” Is it in comparison to something else? Scripture like this one from Isaiah 5:1-7 shows the vine is a metaphor for Israel –

I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit.

“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
What more could have been done for my vineyard
than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
why did it yield only bad?
Now I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trampled.
I will make it a wasteland,
neither pruned nor cultivated,
and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
not to rain on it.”

The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.


So this is the message the disciples understood. The vine was Israel and despite everything the Lord did for the vine, it yielded only bad grapes.
So that’s the context – Israel is, or was, the vine. Christ is the true vine. But it’s not just Israel that has fallen short – Romans 3:9 –

What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin.

So it’s not just Israel that yielded bad grapes. Israel failed. Gentiles failed. All of man’s attempts at his own religion failed. It will take God Himself to succeed where man fails, that’s why Jesus is the true vine. The word true in the Greek is alathenos, “that which has not only the name and resemblance, but the real nature corresponding to the name, in every respect corresponding to the idea signified by the name, real, true genuine.”

III. Bear Fruit

Let’s look at our scripture again, John 15:1-11 –

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for 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 keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept 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.

There’s some repetition here. Let’s begin with the words “bear fruit” which is repeated 6 times.

Now this is not bear fruit. This is a bear, and this is some fruit.

Now, I’ve sat in on several lessons over the year that focused on the phrase “bear fruit.” Sometimes it was used to emphasize the need to make disciples. Other times it emphasized on the need to do good works. But I finally realized while studying for this lesson while those lessons didn’t resonate with me, and let me explain.

A few years ago, Diane asked for a Methley plum tree for her birthday. I’m not sure how long ago that was. Three years, maybe? So far, it’s just a tree. It’s grown nicely, it’s probably 15 feet tall now.

There’s no plums on it, though. I tried shouting at it, “bear fruit!” But it’s still just a tree. A tree without fruit. Now to be fair to the tree, as if the tree cared, I read it may take five years or more before we’d see plums on the tree. So here’s my point: I cannot command the tree to bear fruit. The tree will bear fruit in season and when the time is right. That’s what the tree’s purpose is. It’s made for bearing fruit when the conditions are right. As you can see, the grapefruit tree right next to it is bearing quite a lot of fruit, looks like it’s going to be a bumper crop this year.

No doubt Jesus wants us to bear fruit – verse 8 says

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

But I realized that it’s not written as a command, as though Jesus says “now get your lazy rear ends off that sofa and go bear me some fruit.” But bearing fruit as His disciples will bring glory to God.

But “bear fruit” isn’t the only phrase repeated. “Bear fruit” is repeated 6 times, but the word “remain” or “remain in me” is mentioned eleven times! Remain, remain, remain in me, remain in me. Without remaining in or abiding in Jesus, there can be no fruit. Jesus desires communion, fellowship, to be united with Him. The life of the Vine will flow through us, and then we have fruit.

So the reason previous lessons where I was told to “bear fruit” didn’t resonate with me is that I don’t believe that’s what Jesus was emphasizing. Abiding in Him is what He is emphasizing. Abide in Him, and we will bear fruit. Then and only then are the conditions right. We were made for bearing fruit, and we bear fruit naturally when the conditions are right.
So what kind of fruit are we talking about? Not bear fruit, we already talked about that.

But your Christian character is fruit. In Galatians 5:22-23,

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

When you are abiding in Him, this fruit grows naturally in the right conditions. If you do a self-examination and discover you are missing fruit – say, forebearance or patience, then the solution is not to try harder to be patient. The solution is to abide in Him.

Your love and righteousness is fruit, Philippians 1:9-11 –

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

This is righteous love. Some love isn’t love, it just masquerades as love. If a child says, “I want to play in traffic!”, is it love to say, “ok, dear, whatever you want, you can have.” I think the word love is misused in the news media when they really mean self-indulgence. It’s not the same thing as practical, righteous love.

And you’ve heard me say that good works are not necessary for your salvation, and it’s true. Your salvation is 100% based on just believing in Christ Jesus and what He has done for you. But… good works are fruit in that belief, Colossians 1:9b-11 –

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.

Your good works which spring out of your faith in Jesus bring glory to God. Good works are good fruit.

And also just being thankful to God is good fruit, Hebrews 13:15-16,

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

God loves it when you thank Him and praise Him, because He knows that you know He deserves praise.

IV. The Gardener

This good fruit does not come naturally. It comes supernaturally. Our sinful nature remains when we give our lives to Christ. The difference now is that we have the ability to say no to sin, if we abide in Him.

We don’t do this on our own. Verses 1&2,

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

Verse 1 says that Jesus is the vine, and His Father is the gardener. I don’t know about you, but I have some reservations if I’m going to be pruned.
I looked up some information on growing a vineyard and taking care of grape vines. Turned out to be pretty complicated. Here’s some information from the Texas AgriLife Extension and Elton Vineyards –

Dormant pruning is a critical component of the grape production system. It provides the mechanism to maintain the training system, allows one to select the fruiting wood, and to manipulate the potential quantity of fruit produced. Because of the way grapevines grow and produce fruit, growers must prune annually. Fruit is only produced on shoots growing from one-year-old canes. Therefore, healthy new canes must be produced every year to maintain annual production of fruit.

Turns out if you don’t prune enough, wild growths sprout, cause excessive shade for other sprouts, and the amount of fruit is greatly diminished. The idea of pruning includes allowing some but not too many sprouts for this year, and allowing just enough new sprouts to be productive next year.
Our lives have a lot of these wild shoots. Our efforts on our own become distracted and wild and they take up a lot of time. We grow a lot of branches, but those branches just provide shade. No fruit.

When we abide in Jesus, the Father is the gardener that prunes. How much pruning in a vineyard is an art. But one of the things I read about pruning a vineyard is that a lot of pruning yields the best results. Sometimes pruning 90% of the wild growths is necessary.

The Father’s way of pruning us are innumerable. They may be through issues with a job, or health, a parent or a child. The pruning never seems easy or comfortable, does it? God is basically taking either useless branches and cutting them, but much of the time pruning the vineyard involves remove branches that were productive last year. I discovered that once a branch has born fruit, a new branch with new buds is needed for next year’s fruit.

I don’t know how much to read into this or try to explain. I think the Father’s pruning for each of us is personal. He knows us, He knows what must be removed. He knows what must be encouraged, and He knows what has already born fruit and is past its time.

I think of the major changes in my life. Some of them might be self-inflicted as I tried to prune myself. But some of the others were definitely the work of the Father. My stepfather passed away 3-1/2 years ago now. I still think of how much life was in him and how he blended two families together so well and with so much love.

I suppose he bore his fruit, and it was time for pruning for the next generation. Every person that was touched by him is growing new shoots because he’s gone.

Was it necessary? Was the time right? Sometimes maybe I get the idea that I could have a better idea, that maybe he should still be with us a little longer. But I abide in Jesus, and I trust in Him. And through the pruning, I learn more of God’s character. Hebrews 12:11 puts it this way –

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

I take consolation in that there is a purpose, an eternal purpose, for all things, and God causes all things to work together for good for those that love Him. All things. The branches that remain, the branches that are pruned. If I trust in Him, there is a harvest of righteousness and peace.

V. Branches of Nothing

In John 15:5-6,

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

We are dependent on Jesus, He is the vine. Jesus says the branch alone does not bear fruit, and neither do you or I. Apart from me, He says, we can do nothing.

Wait. What does He mean by nothing? Aren’t there lots of people that accomplish stuff, and some or even most of them do it without Christ, don’t they? We build large cities and skyscrapers, but build cars that go fast and rockets that go even faster. We travel to space and to the bottom of the ocean. Isn’t that something?

But Jesus says that apart from Him we can do nothing. The Greek word Jesus used was “u”. It means no. Not. Absolutely negative. Without. I didn’t misunderstand Him. He means nothing. Our earthly accomplishments are dust in the wind.

This a statue, or what’s left of a statue, called Ozymandias in Egypt. Originally, archaeologists believe it stood 62 feet or nearly 6 stories tall. This is all that’s left, and the poet Percy Shelly wrote a poem that ended like this –

And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Earthly works are no more than Ozymandius. Nothing remains. We are called to do more. We are called to eternal works. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 –

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

Both Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:9 expound upon testing and it speaks of a “judgement seat”. Many Christians do not have a firm grasp of our eternal life, believing that somehow we show up at the throne and God evaluates us on some sort of bell curve, giving rewards to some and punishments to others. But that’s not it.

Others believe that Christians aren’t judged at all, believing that Christ paid the price for our sins. But that’s not accurate either.

If we have faith in Jesus Christ, our names are written in the book of life, and there is no condemnation. But no condemnation doesn’t mean no judgement. The judgement seat for Christians weighs our good deeds. There’s no punishment, there is no risk of hell, but there are rewards for treasures stored up in heaven.

If we spend our life in pursuit of pleasure, lust, self-indulgence, or anything that does not bring glory to God, this verse, like John 15:6, says those branches are burned up. That effort was worthless. If one does not abide in Jesus, there are no rewards. The Christian is still saved, but the smell of smoke lingers in his hair.

A life abiding in Christ is a life of gold and silver and precious stone. A life attached to the true vine produces fruit that brings glory to God. Without Christ, our earthly works have no meaning. They are just burned up and forgotten.

The world teaches differently. We have our bread and circuses, we have our show and tells, but without Christ, it’s all a mirage. What lasts are the fruits of the spirit, the fruit of righteousness, the lovingkindness we show to one other in Christ’s name, and the thanks we give God for His many blessings. That’s what lasts for eternity.

VI. Conclusion

So one day, your life and my life will pass through the fire of judgement, to test the quality of our work. I don’t know exactly what these rewards are, but I know if the Lord Jesus is giving special rewards, I want to be in that line.

When Jesus says He is the True Vine, we should remember He encourages His followers to

  • Abide. Fellowship, trust, love.
  • In Him. It’s all about Jesus, not us.
  • Bear Fruit. Fruit of character, changed life, good works, and thankfulness that brings glory to God. A natural production of fruit that grows with pruning and under the right conditions.

It’s what we were made for. To know God and make God known. To abide in the True Vine and bear fruit that brings glory to God. Ephesians 5:8b-10 –

Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.

That’s good fruit.

To God be the glory.