I Am The True Vine – Part 1

John 15:1-11 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 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. 5 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. 6 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. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 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. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.


One of my biggest pet peeves in life are those vines that grow up from the ground and wrap themselves around everything—power lines, buildings, trees. From what I can tell, they have no purpose other than to cause the destruction of whatever they touch. We have several hundred+ year old oak trees that have had the life choked out of them by these vines.

As I see this happen around our property, in addition to being annoyed, I’m amazed at the manner in which hundreds of feet of vine can grow out of and be sustained by a relatively small root. At the same time, it’s remarkable how hundreds of feet of vine wrapped around a tree will dry up and fall off by simply cutting it off from its root—which happens to be one of my favorite things to do.

In a lot of ways, that’s what this passage is about. It’s about the need for God’s people to be connected to the vine if we are to grow and bear good fruit. At the same time, conversely, it is also about the certainty of our withering and death if we are not. Jesus is the vine that we (the branches) need to be connected to if we are to have life and bear fruit. And the Father is the vinedresser, the one who tends to the whole.

The big idea of this passage is that the Christian life is about abiding Jesus in such a way that His mind, heart, and actions flow freely out of us, and all according to the superintending grace of God. Jesus’ words help us understand and appreciate these things in compelling ways. In them we find promises and blessings that are sweet beyond what any of us can comprehend. And the main takeaway, therefore, is to seek the Spirit’s help to abide in Jesus and to be shaped in every way by the person and promises of Jesus.


There’s a lot in these few verses. In order to help understand what it means to abide in Jesus, to remain in Jesus, and receive the blessings that come from abiding and remaining in Jesus, we’ll consider the setting of Jesus’ words, the Father as the vinedresser, Jesus as the true vine, and then the beginning of the blessings that come to all who remain in Jesus as fruit-bearing branches (two this week and eleven more next week).

We’ll begin with the setting. There are two keys to understanding the setting of this passage.

The Immediate Location

The first is the immediate location. We’re not sure what it is, and it probably doesn’t matter much. Chapters 13-14 took place in the upper room of a home in Jerusalem. There, Jesus ate the Passover meal with the twelve and began teaching them about what was to come (His betrayal, crucifixion, resurrection, and return to the Father), what it meant, and how they ought to navigate it in faith. Chapter 14 ends with Jesus saying to the disciples, “Rise, let us go from here.”

From there, He continued to teach through the end of chapter 17, which is the next time we’re given a location. It’s possible that Jesus and His followers remained in the upper room and Jesus’ statement (rise, let us go…) was something akin to a Minnesota goodbye. On the other hand, it’s also possible that Jesus said what He said in 15-17 on the way to the Garden in which He was betrayed (18:1).

Either way, the important points are the content (not the physical location) of Jesus’ teaching and the fact that He shared it with the eleven disciples (Judas had already left to betray Him) who were primarily charged to continue His ministry after He went to be with the Father. He was offering them further help for their critical commission.

A Vineyard

The second key to the setting concerns the illustration Jesus used—a vineyard. People in Jesus’ day were very familiar with vineyards. They were everywhere in ancient Israel. Many people worked in them and everyone benefited from them in both their personal and religious life.

I read a bit on this, this week. In simplest terms, working a vineyard entails training, pruning and harvesting. Training the vines involves directing them with ropes, poles, rocks, or trellises to improve their ability to bear the most and healthiest fruit. Pruning involved cutting off dead branches and cutting back live ones, both to direct the best nutrients from the vine to the healthiest parts of the branches; again to maximize health and fruit-bearing potential. And harvesting, of course, involved collecting the fruit at the proper time for nourishment and enjoyment.

The main point is that Jesus drew on each of these aspects of vine-keeping in the things He said to His disciples. With those things in mind, let’s consider now the Father as vinedresser of the vineyard of life and faith.


In the opening words of this passage, Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” As I mentioned in the introduction and as we’ll see in working our way through this passage, the heart of this whole section is the fact that Jesus’ followers must and will remain in Him at all times. As we do, we will become more like Jesus in our mind, heart, and actions. As we do, we’ll live in the love of the Father and Son. And the key to Jesus’ words concerning the Father, is that it is the Father who superintends it all; who oversees, directs, and shapes it. In a way that is like, but infinitely greater than the best vinedresser in a vineyard, the Father is responsible for the training, pruning, and harvesting of all the spiritual fruit of His people. He has chosen to do so exclusively through His Son.

In that way, it is the sovereign, gracious hand of God that unites us with Jesus in the first place, it is what keeps us connected to Jesus, it is what helps us become more like Jesus, it is what empowers us for life and ministry in Jesus (bearing fruit), and it is what allows us to do it all in the love of Jesus.

Likewise, it is the sovereign, gracious hand of the Father that cuts off those who are imposters or would harm His people. That’s the heart of v.2, which we’ll come back to in just a bit.

What’s more, all of these things happen in the Father’s timing, according to the Father’s plan, and, as v.8 tells us, for the Father’s glory, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”

There is such significant peace to be found here, Grace Church. How much frustration have you experienced in life because things didn’t go the way you thought they should? How many times have you longed for God to do something specific, only to experience something entirely and upsettingly different? How often have you asked God to cause a sin in you or in someone else’s life to die, only to have it continue painfully on for years? How often have you prayed for God to help you experience His presence only to feel alone through a trial and become resentful for it? How often have you longed for your family member or friend to trust in Jesus only to have them continue on in unbelief, causing you to wonder at God’s intentions? How often have you wished for quick healing for an ailment that lingered and been burdened by the suffering?

That the Father is the vinedresser means that He has always has the good of the whole vineyard, including every single branch in mind and at heart. The fact that He is the vinedresser means that He has a perfect plan and sufficient authority to accomplish it. And the fact that He is the vinedresser means that His ways are better than ours.

Combined, if we will believe Jesus’ words and trust in the Father, we are freed from the kinds of frustrations that are reflected in the questions I just asked you. We are freed from believing that we know how things out to be or even from the pressure of trying to figure it out on our own. We are freed to rest in the Father’s care, trusting that its outcome will be infinitely and eternally better than whatever our own care-plan might have called for.

For all who truly understand what it means that the Father is vinedresser, far from a frustrating violation of our own sovereignty or freedom, it is a source of peace and rest whenever our plans go unfulfilled and an opportunity to praise the glory of God when they come to pass.


I started with the second clause in the first verse (“my Father is the vinedresser”) because it is the banner over all the rest. And yet, the heart of the passage is the final “I am” statement from Jesus.

I am the bread of life (6:35, 48, 51), I am the light of the world (8:12; 9:5), I am the door of the sheep (10:7, 9), I am the good shepherd (10:11, 14), I am the resurrection and the life (11:25), I am the way, the truth, and the life (14:6), and I am the true vine.

There are two parts to that title that we need to look closely at: “true” and “vine”.

Israel as the Vine

Had Jesus simply referred to Himself as “the vine,” the rest of what He said would still hold. But He added the qualifier, the descriptor, “true” to the title. He is not simply “the vine”. He is the “true vine.” Almost certainly, Jesus was comparing Himself to the nation of Israel. God had called Israel the vine. She was to give God’s life to and bear God’s fruit among the nations. Two key passages help us see this, Psalm 80 and Isaiah 5:7.

In the Isaiah passage, that Israel is the Lord’s vine/vineyard is made clear.

    For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts
        is the house of Israel,
    and the men of Judah
        are his pleasant planting

Israel and Judah, the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel, are the vineyard of the Lord. They were planted well by God when He made a good covenant with Abraham and his offspring. Insofar as Israel kept covenant with God, there would be justice and righteousness for them and the nations through them. However…

    … [The LORD] looked for justice,
        but behold, bloodshed;
    for righteousness,
        but behold, an outcry!

Instead of justice and righteousness, there was bloodshed and outcry. The vine/vineyard was withering and bearing bad fruit as a result.

Psalm 80 expands on this idea.

    8 You [God] brought a vine out of Egypt;
        you drove out the nations and planted it.
    9 You cleared the ground for it;
        it took deep root and filled the land.
    10 The mountains were covered with its shade,
        the mighty cedars with its branches.
    11 It sent out its branches to the sea
        and its shoots to the River.

Again, we see that Israel was a vine planted by God to bear fruit to nourish and bless them and the nations. We also see that God gave the vine everything it needed to thrive in these ways. He cleared the ground, provided sufficient shade, and made sure it was well watered.

And yet, by the time Psalm 80 was written, the vine was once again in trouble, such that that Psalmist wondered…

    12 Why then have you broken down its walls,
        so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
    13 The boar from the forest ravages it,
        and all that move in the field feed on it.

The man who wrote the Psalm, Asaph, then pleaded with the Lord…

    14 Turn again, O God of hosts!
        Look down from heaven, and see;
    have regard for this vine,
        15 the stock that your right hand planted,
        and for the son whom you made strong for yourself.
    16 They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down;
        may they perish at the rebuke of your face!

Israel was the vine, but Israel failed to remain in God by keeping His covenant commands. Therefore, instead of flourishing, Israel, cut off from the God of Hosts, decayed and produced only rotten fruit. They did not know the Lord’s pleasure or blessing. This was the condition of the vine when Jesus came to earth. They were decaying from the inside to the point that they couldn’t even recognize the Son of God among them.

And that makes the next verse, Psalm 80:17, especially significant…

    17 But let your hand be on the man of your right hand,
        the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!

The plea of the Psalmist was being answered in their midst. The “son of man” was among them. However, having severed themselves from God through disobedience, they could not recognize Him.

Jesus as the True Vine

By referring to Himself as the “true” vine, then, Jesus was claiming Psalm 80:17 and contrasting Himself with Israel. Were Israel failed, Jesus was victorious. Jesus was what Israel was meant to be. He was the true vine. The one Israel could only point to.

Having ushered in the new covenant, Jesus replaced Israel as the vine. It was from Him that the nations would be blessed. It was from Him that the fruit of God would be born. It was from Him that life and nourishment, justice and righteousness, would come. He had become the Lord’s pleasant planting. He is the deep root and through Him would branches spread throughout the earth. It was for His sake that the Father would turn again, look down from heaven and see, and have regard for the branches. The hand of God was upon Him to make Him strong.

This is why we trust the Bible and worship the godhead. This is what we mean when we say that the whole Bible tells one grand story of redemption. This is the kind of work of God that we look at, marvel at, and give glory to God in the highest for. For centuries Israel served as a shadow vine, so that the true vine could come and be the fulfillment of every promise of the Lord of Hosts.


Finally, then, how do the followers of Jesus fit into all of this? What does it mean to be a branch connected to Jesus? In answering those questions, we find 13 blessings that belong to all who abide/remain in Jesus. As I mentioned earlier, we’ll consider the first two this morning and then the final eleven next week.

  1. Fruitless branches are cut off (2, 6). We see this in v.2.

    “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he [the Father] takes away…”

    We see this same truth reiterated and expanded on just a bit in v.6.

    “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.”

    You might wonder how that’s a blessing. It kind of sounds like Jesus is saying that Christians who do not share their faith enough, or see enough people trust in Jesus, or spend enough time serving the poor, or come to church enough will be cut from the team. Carry your weight or you’ll be cut off. Maybe you’ve even felt that way at times, as if you’re not performing well enough and so God might eventually run out of patience with you. If that’s what Jesus meant, this would be anything but good news; anything but a blessing. But is that really what Jesus meant? Most certainly, it is not!

    Jesus was describing the nature and outcome of the unbelieving believers that have been so prominent in John’s Gospel—spiritual fruitlessness. Jesus was talking about those who only believed they believed in Jesus, or who merely believed in certain, convenient aspects of Jesus’ ministry and teaching. They would be known by their “apple nailing”.

    Have you heard of the idea of apple nailing? Imagine an apple tree that has only produced rotten apples for years. Now imagine someone cutting off all the bad apples, purchasing nice apples from the store, and nailing them to the branches. It would look good for a while, but eventually they too would rot off and fall to the ground since there is no longer life in them, since they are no longer connected to the vine.

    That’s what we’re talking about here. Those who call themselves Christian, but lack genuine faith in Jesus can learn a lot about the Bible. They can like certain aspects of a church’s community. They can appreciate being a part of something so ancient. They can feel secure or comfortable in the moral code of God’s Word. They can even enjoy engaging in apologetic arguments with skeptics. But it’s all apple nailing apart from being truly connected to Jesus.

    Far from teaching that those who were once truly in Jesus can be cut off, therefore, this is another way of saying what John said in his first letter (1 John 2:19), “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

    Those who claim to be in Christ, but aren’t, those who believe they believe in Jesus, but don’t, will eventually be recognized as imposters by their lack of godly fruit.

    So how is that a blessing for those who do abide/remain in Jesus? As I said earlier, and as we’ve seen throughout John’s Gospel (especially in Judas), unbelieving believers often do great harm to the Church. That the Father will eventually take them away and throw them into the fire is for the protection, purity, health, and fruitfulness of His Church. It is a gift from God to help us know if someone’s faith (including our own) is counterfeit and that He will separate the genuine from the counterfeit.

    The first blessing of God for those who are truly in Jesus is that those who are not truly in Jesus will be revealed as such by their lack of Spiritual fruit.
  2. Fruitful branches are pruned for greater fruitfulness (2). The second blessing of abiding in Jesus is found in the second half of v.2. Fruitless branches are cut off and fruitful branches are pruned, and both for the benefit of the whole.

    2 … and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

    This is simply another way of saying two essential things about the Christian life; both of which are true blessings. First, Jesus taught that God is always at work to grow His people in our faith. When we first come to trust in Jesus, to abide in Jesus, to become connected to Jesus, it always comes by the way of repentance; through seeing our sin in light of God’s holiness and gaining a new and different distaste/hatred for it.

    And yet, when we first come to faith in Jesus, we are not immediately made entirely righteous. God forgives us and reconciles us to Himself, not because we instantly become as we ought, but because He places us in Jesus who eternally is what we ought to be. To become a Christian, a follower of Jesus, is to be granted belief and repentance, but we are justified by God based on Jesus’ righteousness, not our own.

    Again, God justifies us based on our positional righteousness (in Christ), but He promises to make us practically righteous as well. From the moment of our conversion God begins working out in us true righteousness. We immediately bear fruit, and gradually bear more and more fruit as God transforms us. That is a blessing that comes exclusively from being in Jesus.

    The second aspect of this truth, and the second part of this blessing for those who are in Jesus, is that God often grows us in our obedience, righteousness, faith through pain. Pruning always does damage on the front end for the sake of greater health on the back end. Like a broken bone needs to be painfully reset before it can fully heal, God’s sanctifying work often comes through trials. If you are a Christian, you are a fruit-bearer and you want more fruit in your life. God promises both and the second through pruning away from you all that is not yet like Jesus.


All (branches) who are truly in Jesus (the true vine) will bear fruit an increasing measure. This is the necessary and certain result of being in Jesus. Being united to Jesus, remaining in Jesus, and bearing the increasing fruit of Jesus are all gifts from and overseen by God (the vinedresser).

All of this is good news indeed for a people who were once alienated from God, hostile to God, and rightly condemned to death by God. Indeed, to be in Christ is to know awesome and eternal blessings from God.

This means, Grace Church, that there is certainly a way in which we must actively cling to Jesus, to exercise self-control, to work out our salvation, and to strive for the good fruit of God. But as we as we also saw, all of this is according to the superintending grace of God. Therefore, just as our ultimate hope for being attached to the vine in the first place isn’t anything in us, neither is our hope of remaining in Jesus. He will draw us in and He will hold us fast.