Abiding in Christ as the Vine

In John 15 Christ speaks of the vine and its branches, where he is the vine and the disciples are the branches. Most of us are familiar with that figure, which emphasizes that faith is union with Christ.
But there is another aspect of the figure that receives less attention: Jesus calls us to “abide” in him. A branch that abides in the vine remains connected to the vine. Apply the illustration to the reality: to abide in Christ is to stay in union with him, to remain in communion with him, to maintain conscious fellowship with him, and not to be cut off from him.
We abide in Christ by faith. Often the Bible uses the word “faith,” but there are times when metaphors are used (look up John 4:14; 6.35; 7:37; and 15:4, and identify the metaphors). In other words, to abide in the vine is not the same as doing “good works.” We do not maintain communion with Christ by performing good works. The branch does not abide in the vine by bearing grapes, as if the presence of grapes were the prerequisite for abiding in the vine. Instead, fruit is the consequence of abiding in the vine or the result of union with the vine: “faith is an instrument that keeps us in communion with [Christ] in all His benefits” (Belgic Confession, Art. 22).
Faith is a bond, which explains how we became branches in the vine. We were not active in forming the bond, for faith is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8; Phil. 1:29); but faith is also an activity: it does not lie dormant in our hearts.
The branch abides in the vine not by bearing fruit—which is the result of abiding, not the abiding itself—but by drawing nourishment from the vine. We abide in Christ not by doing good works—which is the result of abiding, not the abiding itself—but by drawing grace from Christ; or to put it another way, through believing in Christ, for faith “embraces Jesus Christ with all His merits, appropriates Him, and seeks nothing more besides Him” (Belgic Confession, Art. 22).
To abide in Christ is to trust in his perfect work. When we think that if we were more fruitful, God would accept us, or when we think that God’s love for us depends on our fruitfulness, we are not abiding in Christ. We become discouraged, for we look away from Christ. Christ says to us: “Do not fret over your fruit. I am the source of your fruit. By abiding in me, you will bring forth much good fruit.”
To abide in Christ is to depend on him. The vine supports the branches, but the branches cannot support themselves. When we try to live the Christian life in our own strength, we become discouraged, fearful, or proud. We are engrafted into Christ; now we live out of him. We look to Christ to maintain us, to make us holy, to give us grace and the Spirit, and to give us peace. In short, we look to Christ for everything. As a branch has no other source of sap but the vine, so the Christian has no other source of life but Christ.
To abide in Christ is to draw from him his graces and gifts, and thus to grow in our communion with him (Eph. 3:17–19; Phil. 4:19; Col. 2:9–10). These riches are not found in anyone else, for the vine planted by the heavenly husbandman is an inexhaustible source of sap, from which we draw by faith alone.
Jesus also warns about the fruitless branch, which is a picture of the hypocrite. He perishes, just as the fruitless branch is cast off, withered, gathered, cast into the fire, and burned. In light of that, Jesus urges his disciples, “Abide in me.” The question is, however, in what sense is the fruitless branch “in Christ,” and in what sense does the fruitless branch not abide in Christ? The Bible speaks of a category of people who are externally, formally, or only by appearance in Christ, but scripture is also clear that true believers cannot perish (John 6:37; 10:28–30).
Because the Spirit has united us to Christ by a true faith, we abide in the vine, we draw sap from the vine, and we bear fruit through our union with the vine. The Lord uses the warning to drive us closer to him: when the wind blows, a tree digs its roots deeper into the earth; when the warning comes, we trust even more firmly in Christ for our salvation. Warnings drive us to Christ; and the closer our union with Christ is, the more fruit we will bear to his glory.
Christ’s promise is to abide in us. The precise relationship is important to understand. It is not that Christ’s abiding in us depends on our abiding in him; it is not that Christ will abide in us if we first abide in him. Similarly, the vine does not abide in the branch if the branch abides in the vine, for the vine is first. The branch draws out of the vine, but the vine never draws out of the branch: the flow of sap is one way. The relationship is this: Christ’s abiding in us is the power by which we abide in him. To express it theologically, the source of our faith is Christ, the object of our faith is Christ, and the source of our continuous, ongoing activity of believing is also Christ.
By abiding in Christ we bring forth good works, sweet to the Father’s taste, works that glorify God and benefit the neighbor, the fruit of the Spirit. The believer who is united to Christ by a Spirit-worked faith, and who abides in Christ by the same faith, shall bring forth fruit. Therefore, do not fret over your fruit, but trust in Christ, draw out of his fullness, and you shall bring forth fruit.