In John 15:1-2 there is much debate as to what Jesus is actually saying in these verses, namely verse 2. The main questions are: Who is Jesus speaking about, Believers or non-believers and are the non-fruit-bearing branches condemned to hell or are they lifted up and mended so that they are able to start bearing fruit?
These are the main topics under question, but again, a careful study in the original language shines light on the Truth. (φωτισθέντες ἐπί τήν ἀλήθειαν)
Let us read the scriptures as translated in the NKJV.
John 15:1–2 (NKJV)
1 “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 bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
The answer to the first question, “who is Jesus speaking about” is right in front of us and translated plainly in English so there should be no debate as to who Jesus is addressing. He answers this at the beginning of verse 2, “Every branch in Me”.
These two little words, “in Me”, tell us who Jesus is addressing. He is talking about Christians who are in Him. All through the New Testament we see this explained. A Christian is one that is “in Christ”, 1 Jn 5:11, Eph 1:3-4, 3:6. If you are not in Christ then you are not a Christian, but these, as Jesus plainly says, are “in Him”. They may not be bearing fruit, but they are still Christians. How many of these type of Christians do we see today? Those who believe that Jesus is their Savior, but do nothing with it and thus never bear any fruit. We see this explained in the parable of the sower, Mark 4, and the parable of the talents, Matt 25:14-30. Jesus tells us we are the salt of the earth, but warns us not to lose our saltiness, Matt 5:13. He also admonishes us to store up treasure in heaven rather than the temporal rewards on this earth, Matt 6:19-21. Paul is always telling us to press toward the prize of the high calling, Phil 3:14. These admonitions are not to earn our eternal salvation, but to inherit our eternal and everlasting rewards.
Now that we know Jesus is speaking of Christians, it makes the next question answerable. Many of those who think Jesus is speaking of non-believers, mis-interpret the next phrase. Many assume Jesus was addressing non-believers, therefore they say that any branch not bearing fruit is taken away, as in being removed from God. But this is taken from the wrong context. The Father would never cut off a believer from Jesus, Jn 10:29, 17:11. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The Father is taking away and taking us up, but not away from God, but instead moving us closer to Him. He is mending, lifting us up, taking us up from being trodden under foot, laying on the ground and not bearing any fruit. The Greek word translated “takes away” is αἰρει. In other places of scripture this word has been translated lifted up, taken up, collect, bear. It is never used to cut off. Even in the instances where context interprets the word as taken away, it is in the sense of carrying or bearing up. As in Matt 14:12 it says the disciples came and “took away” the body of Jesus. They didn’t cut off the body of Jesus, but instead carried or bore Him up. And in other instances where it is translated taken from, the “from” is a completely separate word, as in being lifted up and moved away “from something”, Matt 21:43, Lk 8:18. This word on its own does not mean to be taken away from or to cut off, but rather to be taken up, lifted up, taken into the hands of God.
Now that we understand the true meaning of this word αἰρω, and we know Jesus is speaking concerning Christians, a better translation would be:
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes up…
How does the Father take us up? He does this through His Word,
2 Timothy 3:16–17 (NKJV)
16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
God wants everyone who is in Christ to be complete and to bear fruit. Therefore, the first step concerning the branch that is laying on the ground not bearing fruit is to lift it up and mend it, take it into Himself, keeping it safe, and giving it the opportunity to bear fruit.
This leads us to the next discussion, those who are already bearing fruit. These are Christians who are bearing fruit, abiding in the Vine, and governed by the Word of God. This is the next progression in a Christians life. This is called Sanctification. Refer back to our statements previous, the parable of the sower, Mark 4, the parable of the talents, Matt 25:14-30, the salt of the earth, Matt 5:13, storing up treasure in heaven, Matt 6:19-21, and pressing toward the prize of the high calling, Phil 3:14. This is the process of our Sanctification. We are not Christian because we do these things, but we do these things because we are Christian. This is the process of crucifying the flesh and living to God, Gal 5:24-25, Rom 8:13, Col 3:5, Eph 4:22. Picking up our cross daily and following Him, Matt 10:38-39.
This Sanctification process is what the King James translates in verse 2 as “purges” or “prunes”. This word is so much more than just a pruning. It is the process of purging the effects of sin and lust, purging the hold of the flesh on our lives and making us void of evil. The Greek word used in verse 2 is καθαίρει. It the same word at the beginning of this verse, to take up, to lift up or to carry, αίρει, but He adds κατα in front of it. Any time a κατα is added as a prefix to a Greek word, it is intensified immensely usually in the negative sense. For instance, the word “to judge” is κρίμα, but to condemn to hell is κατάκριμα. This intensity is what is happening to believers in the next stage of the Father sanctifying us. He is intensely taking us up and lifting us up, or intensely carrying or bearing. The best English word for this is the KJV translation “to purge”. In the literal since this word actually means to kill. As I said, the κατα in front immensely intensifies it in a negative way. But it is not the Christian He is killing, but rather the lust of the flesh and the filth of this world that contaminates us. He is making us void of evil. This is Sanctification. Completely purging our flesh of its sinful desires. Remember in Galatians Paul says the way to reject the flesh is not to stop fulfilling the flesh, but rather to start walking in the Spirit. It is then the lustful desires of the flesh are purged, καθαίρει, and we can walk and be holy just as He is holy. Do you see the synergy, συνεργος, the working together between us and the Father in Jesus through the Holy Spirit?
In the case of verse 2, to those who are not bearing fruit, but are in Him, the Father begins to take up, αίρει, these Christians. This is phase one of our Christianity and unfortunately some Christians never get past this stage. But to those who are abiding in Him, have received His Word, and have committed their life and their will to the Father, they are bearing fruit and He begins to Sanctify by not just lifting them up, but now He begins purging, καθαίρει, the flesh and lustful desires. We can’t do this to ourselves, it is only through the cleansing of His Word that we are made holy just as He is holy. It is the Father working in us through His Spirit that sanctifies us. However, we have to make the daily decision ourselves to walk in Him and abide in Him. The Father will not sanctify us unless we abide in His word and commit our lives and our will to Him. Remember what Jesus said just a few verses down,
John 15:7–8-7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
John Wesley had what I would consider the best handle on this idea. He not only preached this, but he lived it every day of his life, constantly looking to Jesus, abiding in His Word, and in turn denying his flesh in every circumstance. Below is a section of a sermon he preached on Justification by Faith:
Sanctification is the immediate fruit of Justification and still a distinct gift of God. The one (Justification) implies what God does for us through His Son; the other (Sanctification) is what He works in us by His Spirit (in Christ).
Both Justification and Sanctification are gifts from God and both are activated and apprehended by faith. But we must understand this is a progression of our Christianity that involves our commitment to Him and His will. It is not driven by works but rather it is driven by our heart toward Him. The Father can’t take you to the next level of Christianity, or as Paul says in Hebrews, be carried on to perfection, Heb 6:1, namely Sanctification if we don’t have a heart committed to Him and His will. The Father can’t purge you, καθαίρει, until you commit your life and will toward Him, allowing His Word to govern your life. This is indeed how the Father purges us, by His Word, as Jesus states in verse 3, “You are cleansed by the Word”. The word “cleansed” is an adjective from the same Greek word used in verse 2 meaning to be purged, καθαροί.
If we do not have ears to hear His Word, then we can never be purged of the lusts of our flesh or to be made void of evil, while we exist in this world. There is sin in this fallen world, but God does not want to take us out of the world, but rather He wants us to function purely and holy within it. Separated unto Him while still living in this fallen world. This process of Sanctification is not a requirement to live eternally with the Father. Our eternal salvation was bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus and we only need believe in the name of Jesus and His work on the cross and you will be eternally saved from the pit of hell. However, this is only the beginning of what God has to offer us. He wants us to continue in Him, abide in Him and He in you and it is then you will fulfill the entire will of God for your life.
Listen to the words of Jesus just a few hours after He spoke to His disciples before the cross. This is the prayer of Jesus to the Father concerning believers:
John 17:6–18-6 “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word…. 8 For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me. 9 “I pray for them. ... 10 And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 … Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are… 13 But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
Those who receive the Word of God into their life will be continually purged by the Father and made void of evil as we live in this world. The Father wants to purge, καθαίρει, us, Sanctify us by His Word, so that we will continue to bear more fruit. Because as we bear fruit, the glory of God is pronounced to the world and in turn our joy is made full, Jn 15:11. We begin to be fellow-workers with God in His plan of redemption for all mankind. This is the will of the Father. That He would have an eternal family dedicated to living and abiding in Him, full of never ending happiness and joy forever.
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, Amen
Ἡ χάρις τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ μετὰ πάντων υμῶν. ἀμην.