Study 5: Being in the Vine

I am the vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes itso that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing…
My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 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. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that you joy may be made full.

John 15:1-5, 8-11

We have laid the foundation for what it means to be a man in the church of Jesus Christ: you are subject to your Lord’s Word and you are responsible not only for your growth and maturity, but helping those in your sphere of influence. 

Genuine growth in Christ occurs when the Truths of His Word become our convictions: that for which we are willing to live, and if necessary, die. For that, we need the Scripture to convict us and renew our thinking. It is then that we are assured that what is produced in our lives is genuine and eternal spiritual fruit.

John 15:1-11 is a crucial passage for the believer – here we find the source of our Christian life and the purpose of our Christian life:

  1. The Source – Jesus Christ
    • “I am the Vine, you are the branches…”
    • “…apart from Me, you can do nothing.”
    • You cannot manipulate growth (in yourself or a disciple), no one will truly grow apart from Christ’s work through the Holy Spirit.
  2. The Purpose – Bearing Fruit
    • “…you did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear much fruit, and that your fruit would remain…” (v16)
    • Every true believer utterly dependent on Christ for both salvation (He chose us) and sanctification, and God’s purpose will be fulfilled – every branch that is genuinely in the vine will bear fruit
    • This fruit is not an external human work, it is genuine godliness (true mind renewal, victory over sin, Gal 5:22-23)
    • Genuine Spiritual fruit is eternal (it ‘remains‘)

Christian growth is a mandate, not an option. In fact, the result of Christian growth (bearing spiritual fruit) is the evidence that we are genuine Christians.

The goal of God’s Sovereign choosing, saving and sanctifying work in every believer is to produce much fruit. And for that, we (the branches) must abide in the Vine, and the Vinedresser will prune us. This is the believer’s life – we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus (abiding) for good works (fruit-bearing), which God prepared beforehand that we would walk in them, Ephesians 2:10. 

What a wonderful thought! In all that we do, in all that we encounter – from the most sublime to the mundane – all of it is part of God’s plan for me, to bear fruit.

Abide in Me

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you…”

  1. “Abide in Me” is not saying “get attached/get saved”. The branches that are cut off and burned are those who only had a superficial connection to the Vine, they were never saved to begin with. Particularly in this context, Jesus would be referring to Judas.
  2. To ‘abide’ is about ‘steadfastly remaining’, ‘to stay’, ‘to be immersed in the resource of the Vine’. This is to live every moment in intimate fellowship with Christ, without hindrances, without disruption of the vital nutrients of our salvation.
  3. A Christian can bear less fruit that he should when they do not “live in the conscious presence of the ever-near Christ” as John MacArthur puts it.
  4. How do we “abide in His love” (v9)? “If you keep My commandments, you abide in My love.”
  5. Glory in submitting to the Lordship of Christ. Submission is the mechanism of abiding in His love. It’s not mystical or emotional (though emotions may, and should follow). First and foremost, it is a humble submission to our Master – Jesus Christ and His Word.
  6. The fruit of the Spirit is not the outworking of your feelings, it is the outworking of your glad submission to your Slave-Master’s commands. He chose us, bought us with a price, and we belong to Him. 
  7. To abide is to submit wholeheartedly to our Lord. This is not cold orthodoxy, it is the sweetest act of love towards Christ. And His yoke is easy, His burden is light.

This is the goal of our discipleship. We’re helping each other to soften and submit to the Truth. As we grow in this, our relationship with Christ grows more intimate, with all the nutrients flowing unhindered towards maximum productivity in bearing fruit.

He Prunes

“…every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”

  1. The word used for “pruning” has at its root the meaning “cleanse”. Jesus illustrated this in washing Peter’s feet “you are already clean (saved), but you have need for daily cleansing of your feet”. Repeated in v3. You need daily cleansing, daily ‘pruning’. 
  2. The purpose of pruning is directing growth so that every ounce of nutrient goes towards maximum productivity. 
  3. Pruning involves:
    • pinching, where a juvenile branch needs to be slowed down and matured or it will be vulnerable to the elements and bear premature fruit
    • topping, where a section of a rapidly growing branch is removed so growth is concentrated, rather than rapid
    • thinning, where all superfluous clutter and twigs that waste resources are cut away and removed
  4. God may see where you are in over your head – you may want a privilege, a freedom, a responsibility, a ministry – but you’re interrupted, redirected. You are being pinched so that you first mature in that area.
  5. Perhaps God may cut off an area of your life, usually something you enjoy or would find hard to remove yourself. He sees that you’re spread out too thin. He wants you to focus resources.
  6. Of course, the excess should constantly be trimmed away. All the unnecessary, unhelpful stuff. Things that slow us down (Hebrews 12).
  7. Every one of us must admit – we need pruning.

A Swiss team of climbers were preparing to climb Mont Blanc when a feisty Frenchman came by with a camera over his shoulder with extra lenses, a bottle of wine, half a wheel of cheese. The team leader said, “you can’t take that stuff with you”. He answered, “I am going to, and I’ll beat you to the top!” and off he went. Finally the team got going, and before long they came across some cheese, a bottle of wine, a couple camera lenses discarded by the trail. When they reached the summit, there he was. But he had to jettison everything to get to the top.

Commenting on this, a pastor said “Most people, when faced with the loss of their goods to make it to the summit, will rather let the top go and pitch their tents in the plain. And the plain is full of tents.”

When men prepare for an expository sermon, they may take upwards of 20 hours to work through the meaning, the implications, and the application of just a few verses. How much time have you spent in the Word dealing with an issue in your own life? On developing integrity? On cultivating a deep assurance of your salvation? On wrestling through the implications of God’s Sovereignty? 

What parts of your life need pruning to maximize the resources God has given you towards your spiritual growth and influence?

Study 4: Cultivating Conviction

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity (sinful fear lacking conviction), but of power and love and discipline. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God… for this reason I suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.

2 Timothy 1:7-8,12

Consider the martyrs of old. How is it that they were willing to die – often horrifically painful and shameful deaths – for points of doctrine many who call themselves Christians today are unable to articulate? Were they just made of different stuff?

No. The difference is, they were men of profound conviction. And we are called to the same.

Conviction doesn’t happen automatically. It is cultivated. It is then tested in the crucible of trials and temptations. It is reinforced by brotherhood. It is lived in private long before it is tested in public.

We must be men of conviction, who stand on those conviction in our most private moments – and if the time comes, in the face of public opposition. Yes, we need conviction for times of persecution. But it is also conviction that preserves us through trials and makes us stand against temptation. Discipleship is where we cultivate conviction in one another.

Conviction as the Drive behind Ministry

Paul speaks of his conviction (2 Timothy 2:5-12). “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced…”

  • Conviction is that for which you are willing to live and die
  • Conviction is rooted in the character of God
  • Conviction is revealed & proven in suffering
  • Ultimately, we always live by our deepest convictions

Why was Paul enduring endless suffering? What was his drive?
“…for this reason I endure all things for the sake of the elect, so that they may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it, eternal glory.” 2 Timothy 2:10

That is the drive of ministry. What has God given you to do for the saving and sanctifying of His chosen people? Evaluate your life. How do you spend your time? How do you pray? How do you spend your resources? How do you organize your life?

Developing Convictions

The Apostle’s prayer in 1 Corinthians 15:58 “…be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” Note the enduring, steady discipline, the unshakable and undeterred conviction with consistency.

This is what we do in discipleship – we help one another come to grips with the call of God on our lives, helping one another establish convictions, strengthen convictions and stand sure on convictions.

If we are to work on conviction, we must be sure that we don’t default to an external program or method. This must be deep and internal change. While habits can be adjusted, conviction is all about our heart. Our thinking.

  • Convictions must be rooted in and driven by doctrine
  • The truth of Scripture (doctrine) confronts the inner man
  • Before you jump to application, first consider implication
  • Truth must implicate you (your thoughts, motives, affections, will)
  • To be convicted is to be convinced

Allow Scripture to be the finger of Nathan pointed at David’s face saying “you are the man!” Allow Scripture to implicate you, convict you and convince you. Then the externals of your life are forced to match your new internal convictions.

Drawing out Implications from Scripture

When working out the implications of a truth Scripture teaches (for example, the Sovereignty of God), there are some large over-arching categories:

  1. Error in our thinking
    • What unbiblical teaching have you held on to?
    • Rooted in ignorance, poor instruction, or false teaching
    • You have to change what you believe to conform to Scripture
  2. Unholy motivations
    • What fleshly cravings must you uproot? (James 1:14-15)
    • Every motivation since the fall – apart from God’s grace – is tainted by selfishness and our corruption
  3. Idols of the heart (Ezekiel 14)
    • What are you willing to sin to get or hold on to?

The Sword of the Spirit exposes our motives, our intentions, our idolatries and our error. When you finally get to the propositional truth of a text, how do you work through its various implications in your personal life (or the life of someone you’re discipling)?

  1. Eternal vs Temporal
    • Colossians 3:1 “Keep seeking the things above, not the things on the earth”
    • If you are not considering eternity, but are locked in the temporal, you will have false doctrine, unholy cravings and idolatries driving your life
  2. God-centered vs Man-centered
    • Ask: how does this truth implicate my humanistic world-view?
    • Do you ever think that you deserve better than your current circumstance? Do you evaluate your trials from a man-centered, rather than God-centered perspective?
    • Evaluate at these things in your thinking, your motivations, your cravings
  3. Deep vs Shallow
    • Am I spending considerable time thinking through this issue?
    • Or do I just not want to put in the time?
    • Am I uncomfortable what this may implicate in my life?
    • Make sure you allow the truth to go all the way
  4. Inner Man vs Outer Man
    • Every thought must be captive (not merely our behavior)
  5. True Worship vs False Worship
    • What am I worshipping? (addressing idols & cravings of the heart)
    • How am I worshipping? (addressing true/false doctrine)

Going through these categories, it will be no problem to begin applying truth towards genuine internal convictions as the Scripture implicates your inner man. Press in to the truths of Scripture, until they are unshakable convictions that will not only prepare you for coming persecution, but will drive deep into your soul to face our most private temptations.

Consider trials you may face. Are you prepared? You should be building your ship to weather the storm.

Study 3: Life in the Church

You have an indispensable role in the church: to use your spiritual gifts and pursuit of godliness for the growth and benefit of the body.

“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called. He gave some as… pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”

Ephesians as a whole is about life in the church of Jesus Christ. The first three chapters lay out the theology, and from chapter 4 to the end is how this is to be lived out practically. These three chapters (4-6) contain more commands than any other book of the New Testament.

What we find through this chapter is that the Christian life is not only intensely practical, demanding vigorous application of doctrine to every-day living, the church is a body unified in truth and under the Lordship of Christ, where every member contributes to the growth and health of the whole.

The Argument of Ephesians 4

v1-6       live a life worthy of your calling into the Church of Jesus Christ
v7-11      gifts of grace have been given to the church and every Christian
v12-16   each must exercise his gift & position for the building of of the body
v17-23   this means we should live a renewed life coming from a renewed mind
v24-32   the principle of putting off – being renewed – putting on

Summed up:

  1. This is the life of the church: discipleship as each member contributes to the growth and maturity of the body as a whole.
  2. This growth is to be fiercely pursued in sanctification (the process of putting off sin, being renewed in our thinking, and putting on righteousness).
  3. The key is renovation of the mind (we are being taught in Christ, the source of Truth – in contrast to our former ignorance, darkened understanding and futile thinking).

The life of the church is in the personal discipleship relationships; as we help one another in this process, as we grow up together in a mature man (v13) where each person supplies that which is lacking in his sphere of influence.

Discipleship is about Imitation, Renovation, Cultivation, and Conformation (see Study 2). It’s about taking the doctrines of Scripture and making them convictions in your life that will transform the way you live.

The Discipleship Approach

1 – The Discipleship Relationship

  • Your family
  • A friend/relative in crisis
  • An immature believer needing confrontation
  • A person asking advice
  • Someone ‘assigned’ to you

Understand that your first priority is discipleship of your family. This is your responsibility. But God will – as you mature in your walk – bring others into your sphere of influence. Be in ‘discipleship mode’. How can I encourage, exhort, teach, pray for, learn from? In what way can I stir this person towards greater love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25)?

Remember the principle of imitation. This sobers us. It is self-purifying. Consider the responsibility of spiritual influence and tackle the issue of hypocrisy in your own heart.

2 – Identify Flawed Thinking (How do they think about…?)

  • God
  • Self/Man
  • Sin
  • Salvation
  • Sanctification

Don’t be tempted toward ‘behavioral change’, but understanding that the issue is always about the thinking (Eph 4:17-21, 1 Cor 10:3-6). Where are there doctrinal errors? Have they bought into the world’s way of thinking? Are they under the spell of false teaching?

Ask questions. Probe. “A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, but a man of understanding draws it out.” Prov 20:5

3 – Work on Renewal of the Mind

  • Lay down a doctrinal foundation
  • Get resources for the particular issue at hand (see Joel James A Quick Reference Guide for Counsellors and Disciplers)
  • Work out steps for moving from knowledge to experiential knowledge (Col 1:9-12)
  • Keep driving towards conviction
  • Pray together

We should be asking: “How does this doctrine work itself out by faith in these particular areas of your life?” That means you need to be in the disciplee’s life (and being discipled, you should be open and vulnerable enough to receive deep, probing questions). Remember, our relationships should never remain superficial.

Until When?

So you should be engaged in the lives of those in your sphere of influence – working through doctrine carefully, and seeking ways to apply it. You are being equipped for this work of ministry (Eph 4:12). Until? “…until we attain to the unity of the faith.” (v13) Unity happens, not when we sign off on some doctrinal statement, but when it becomes a shared conviction, put into practice in godly living. Until “…every man is complete (mature) in Christ,” Colossians 1:28.

Christ is the goal. We should strive to be like Him – pure, holy and righteous. Confessing sin, building spiritual friendships, sacrificing for one another, praying for one another, loving one another. This is the life of the church. This is discipleship.

With what kind of Attitude?

Galatians 6:1 “…you who are spiritual, restore (set right, align, reset)…” 

Spiritual is simply referring to 5:22-23 “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control…”