Successful gardeners know that pruning, cutting back the branches, increases fruit bearing. Each spring vinedressers cut back each vine to its rootstock to enhance its fruitfulness. Sincere believers, the fruitful branches, will be “pruned,” meaning that God must sometimes discipline us to strengthen our character and faith. However, branches that do not bear fruit are “cut off” at the trunk and are completely discarded because they are worthless and often infect the rest of the plant. People who will not bear fruit for God or who try to block the efforts of God’s followers will be cut off from his life-giving power.
The grapevine is a prolific plant; a single vine bears many grapes. In the Old Testament, grapes symbolized Israel’s fruitfulness in doing God’s work on earth. The prophets had written of Israel as God’s vine, carefully planted and cared for. However, the vine was a disappointment because it yielded only rotten fruit; that is, they refused to give him love and obedience.
Jesus, with all believers “abiding” in him, is the true vine, the true fulfillment of God’s plan for his people. The new society of God’s people, Christians – originates from Christ and is united to him as branches to a vine. God is the gardener, the cultivator of the vine and the branches. Believers, both sincere and false, are pictured here as the branches.
The fruitful branches are true believers who, by their living union with Christ, produce much fruit. Nevertheless, this union can be broken. The Father cuts off every branch that does not produce fruit. Those who become unproductive – those who turn back from following Christ after making a superficial commitment – will be separated from the vine. Unproductive followers are as good as dead and will be cut off and tossed aside.
Believers are to remain in Jesus, the vine, and he will remain in us. A vine branch can survive and produce foliage for a while after it has been severed, but it cannot produce fruit unless it is connected to a rootstock. As Jesus had a living dependence on the Father, so believers in Jesus need to have a living dependence on him. “Remaining,” for the disciples and for all believers today, means to make a constant, moment-by-moment decision to follow Christ. In addition, we must not be passive-believers, we must not just sit and “remain” until they die. Instead, we must be active-we have a lot to do. We have to learn how to be successful Gardeners’!