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Abiding in the Vine

Who is Jesus referring to when He speaks of branches in Him that are 'picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned?' If they are 'in Him,' how can this be?
by Lorraine E. Espenhain | Source: Catholic.net

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit... If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." [Jn 15:1-2, 6]

The above verse of Scripture contains a severe warning which Jesus gives to those who call themselves Christians, yet do not have the fruit of discipleship growing in their lives.

It must be understood that this warning is not addressed to Jews, Muslims, Shintoists, Buddhists, atheists, or any other group that does not acknowledge Jesus Christ and His redemptive work on Calvary. People who fall into this category are not ‘in Christ,’ nor do they profess to be. They don’t even believe in Christ. How, then, can they be ‘in Him?" Therefore, we know that this warning can only be referring to one group of people, namely, those who profess to be followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

According to Jesus, God the Father is the Gardener Who is looking for very specific fruit in the lives of those who profess to be in His Son. He is looking for the fruits of repentance, genuine discipleship, and Christlikeness. He is looking for the fruit of a life that has been completely transformed by the power of His Holy Spirit. If our lives are not producing that fruit, then something is clearly amiss in our relationship with the vine, and we have not come to understand what genuine discipleship entails. In short, we have been deceived and need to turn back to God.

When we leave this world and stand before God to give an account of our lives, the subject in that day will not be if we believed that Jesus was the Son of God or not. The subject in that day will be whether or not our lives bore the fruit of that belief.

When a genuine Christian dies, he is still attached to the vine. Physical death does not sever him from Christ, for Saint Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that nothing, not even death, will ever be able to separate those in Christ from the love of God. The branch ‘in Christ’ that is eventually cut off from the vine is the man who called himself a Christian on earth even though his life did not manifest the fruits of genuine discipleship. According to Jesus, in eternity, this man will be severed from the vine and cast into the fire of Hell. He will be cast into Hell because the fruit produced in his life did not match his profession of faith.

This is a hard teaching, and one that too few people are willing to present to others for fear of offending them or being ostracized, but it is one which must be taught for the sake of men’s souls. If souls are hanging in the balance, will we allow our desire for self-protection and self-preservation to keep us from speaking the truth so that men may be saved? If we do, then we are no longer worthy to proclaim the Word, and we will be judged accordingly.

As Christians, we must be faithful to the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, and this means embracing and heeding the unpleasant ones as well as the pleasant ones.

If we want to remain in the vine, then we must obey the commands and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. It isn’t enough to read of them or hear of them; God is calling us to obey them. Because so many have chosen to suppress the hard teachings of Jesus while teaching only the pleasant things of God, churches in the U.S. (both Catholic and Protestant) are filled with men and women who have become desensitized to those things which the Bible calls sin. They have been deceived by the prince of darkness into believing that mere church attendance and a mental belief in the Lord Jesus Christ are all that is necessary to abide in the vine. While Sunday morning may find them sitting in church pews, the rest of the week finds them pursuing the world and consistently giving in to the demands of their flesh.

They covet, fornicate, and commit adultery. They exploit, get drunk, and mistreat others. They gossip, lie, and refuse to show kindness. They’re greedy, selfish, and refuse to forgive others. They are lovers of pleasure more than they are lovers of God, a people who know nothing of what it means to deny themselves, take up their cross, and die completely to self in order to live for God. And yet, they identify themselves as Christians, followers of the commands and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, have we forgotten God’s rebuke to Israel spoken through the prophet Jeremiah when the people of Israel were worshiping Him at the holy temple while engaging in sin throughout the rest of the week? The Lord addressed them as follows: "Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to other gods, and then come and stand before Me in this house which bears My Name and say, ‘We are safe - safe to do all these detestable things?" [Jer 7:9-10].

This rebuke wasn’t addressed to the unbelieving Gentile nations that surrounded Israel. The prophet Jeremiah was specifically instructed by God to stand before the holy temple in order to deliver this message to the people who were coming to worship Him. Their false religion was worthless in the sight of God because the fruit coming from their lives did not match their profession of faith.

This should serve as a warning to us that God is not looking for mere church attendance and outward forms of religion. He’s looking for the genuine fruits of discipleship in Christ, and only when He sees that fruit does our religion have any value in His sight.

How can we know if we are truly abiding in the vine or not? The answer is simple: obedience to the Word of God. Jesus said, "If you obey My commands, you will remain in my love..." [Jn 15:10]. If we want to know what God commands, then we must take the time to study His Word on our own so that we will understand what genuine discipleship entails and put it into practice in our lives.

The devil doesn’t want men and women to open up the Word of God in order to discover the Truth and how to walk in that Truth. He knows that when a man makes it a practice to study God’s Word, eventually, the Holy Spirit will use that Word to transform his life and make him what God desires him to be. The evil one continually distracts men from spending time with God in prayer and in His Word because he knows what happens in men’s lives when they devote themselves to these disciplines.

If we want to abide in the vine, we must obey the commands of God. If we want to know what God commands, then we must take the time to study His Word. But study alone is not enough. We must then put into practice those truths which we have studied. It’s as simple as that.

If a man desires to become a physician, he must receive a certain education in order to learn how to become one. He must discipline himself and take the time to study. We apply this truth to earthly matters, but not to Christian discipleship. How can we become disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ if we do not even know what He commands? To refuse to study God’s Word is to remain in a state of ignorance. When we are ignorant, we take wrong paths, make wrong choices, and produce the wrong fruit.

Too many Catholics do not know the Word of God. To them, study of God’s Word is ‘a Protestant, evangelical thing,’ not ‘a Catholic thing.’ Reading the Bible on one’s own is for radicals and religious fanatics. Those who believe such things have been deceived and are thinking exactly as the evil one desires them to think. Study of God’s Word is ‘a Christian thing,’ and something that is vitally necessary if we desire to live as God commands.

Some are producing fruit for life while others are producing fruit for death, but we are always producing. There is no in-between state. When death comes for you, my friend, what fruit will you present before the holy and living God? Will you be cut off from the vine in that day or will God receive you into Heaven with open arms? Will He be pleased with the fruit you present or will He reject it just as He rejected Cain’s offering?

To the extent that we are living obediently to the truths contained in the Holy Bible is to the extent our lives are producing the fruit that God desires. People who go to church week after week, yet do not apply the teachings of God to their lives, have been deceived. These are the individuals to whom Christ is referring when He speaks of branches that will be broken off and thrown into the fire. To ‘abide in Christ’ involves much more than church attendance and a mental belief in Christ. It involves obedience to the commands and teachings of Jesus Christ, and it is this obedience that will determine whether or not we truly abide in the vine.

May God grant all of us a listening ear, that we might hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.

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