The Cure for a Fruitless Soul
Dr. Jim Denison
A man was unknowingly caught in an automated speed trap which measured his speed using radar and photographed his car. He soon received in the mail a ticket for $40 and a photo of his car. He sent the police department a photograph of $40. He received a letter from the police containing a picture of handcuffs. He mailed in his $40.
One day you and I will receive a summons to appear before the highest court in the universe. Our Judge won’t need radar and cameras to render his verdict. What proof will he find that you and I were his followers? Not just Christians, or church attenders, but true disciples? What kind of evidence will he be looking for?
I’m teaching systematic theology at DBU on Tuesday nights this semester, and have discovered that students haven’t changed since I left the faculty of Southwestern Seminary years ago. They still want to know: will this be on the test? They want to know what to study for the exam.
Let me give you a study guide, and tell you why it matters so much today.
How do we become part of the vine?
Here’s the “I Am” for the week: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener” (v. 1). These words were spoken while Jesus and his disciples were walking to Gethsemane from the house where they ate the Last Supper.
Probably they’ve turned off the road and into one of the temple courts for a while. And here they’ve come face to face with one of the most beautiful and powerful symbols in all Israel: the vine of grapes. A large vine of pure gold, fixed to the gate of the Temple itself.
The “vine” was Israel’s image of herself. She put it on her coins, and used it constantly. As America’s image is the eagle, and Russia’s is the bear, so Israel’s was the vine. Over and over again in the Old Testament, this symbol was used for their nation.
However, the Old Testament also makes clear that Israel’s vine had degenerated. Her vineyard has run wild; her grapes are sour and bitter.
The psalmist complained: “Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire” (Psalm 80:16). Jeremiah quotes the Lord: “How did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine” (Jeremiah 2:21; cf. Isaiah 5:7).
On the other hand, Jesus is the “true,” authentic and correct vine. Israel is the false and corrupted vine; Jesus is the true and right vine. Being “attached” to their temple or our church is not enough. Being an adherent of their religion or ours is not enough. We must be connected to the “true” vine, the only One who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). No other vine will do.
When we trust in Christ as Savior and Lord, we become his. We “shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16); we are “a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17); we “shall never perish,” for no one can take us out of Jesus’ hand (John 10:28). All this happens when we make Jesus our Lord. To what vine are you attached today?
But it’s not enough to be in the vine—we are also supposed to bear fruit: “I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last” (v. 16). This is the proof that we are really the disciples of Jesus: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (v. 8). If we bear “fruit,” we are his true disciples. If we do not, we are not.
So, what is this spiritual fruit? How do we bear it? What happens to us if we don’t?
What is spiritual fruit?
The vines of Israel, then and now, grow two types of branches. One bears fruit—the other does not. Those which do not bear fruit are immediately cut off, so they won’t burden those which do. Those which do bear fruit are pruned—cut back, disciplined as it were—so they will bear more fruit. This occurs each year in December and January.
Jesus’ point is clear: some branches bear fruit, while others do not. How do we know which we are? Here are the “fruit” God inspects.
One: our lives glorify God. “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit” (v. 8a). Jesus told us to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). When last did someone praise God because of you?
Two: we have the joy of Jesus: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (v. 11). A recent Gallup poll showed that those who attend worship regularly and give $2,000 or more annually to their faith community are more likely to be “satisfied with their lives” than those who do not.
When we are properly related to the vine, we bear the “fruit of the Spirit,” including “joy” (Galatians 5:22). We have joy which no circumstances can give or steal. How much joy is in your heart today?
Three: we reproduce spiritually, bearing “fruit that will last” (v. 16). A tree reproduces by bearing fruit—so does a disciple. We are to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). We are to tell what we know, to give what we have. God measures the faith we possess by the degree to which we share it.
How do we bear spiritual fruit?
So, what do we do to bear such fruit? How can we be attached to the vine so that our lives glorify God, bring us joy, and bring others to him? Let’s learn Jesus’ imperatives, as they build one on the other.
First, admit that we need the vine: “apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5). Not something, but “nothing.” No matter our stock portfolio or educational achievements, or title or status.