THE FRUITLESS BRANCHES OF JOHN 15 ARE NOT GOD’S ELECT BUT PROFESSING NOMINAL CHRISTIANS
compiled by Michael Jeshurun
“Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away!” [John 15:2]
This verse has been one of the historical battlegrounds of doctrinal interpretation only second to Hebrews 6. Not only has this text provided the field for forgetting those things which are behind many battles between the two schools of theology – Arminian and Calvinist, but even among Calvinists themselves there has been disagreement as to the interpretation of this passage. Though there are other important problems in the parable of John 15:1-8, the most significant question concerns THE IDENTIFICATION OF THE UNFRUITFUL BRANCHES mentioned in the parable.
Arminians have generally understood the unfruitful branches as representative of true believers who, because they become unfruitful, lose their salvation and consequently are ultimately cast into the fires of hell.
But that would negate everything that Christ said concerning the eternal security of those whom He saves. The Master said in no uncertain terms, “I give unto them eternal life; and THEY SHALL NEVER PERISH, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand.” [John 10:28, 29]
There are some well meaning Calvinists who have tried to solve this problem by saying that “taketh away” does not necessarily mean “take away” but it actually means to “lift up”. A propping of the branch so it can bear more fruit. But that will not work! And it will not work because of verse six of the same chapter where the Lord says – “If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”
The scriptures affirm that there is a kind of attachment to Jesus that is not a saving attachment. There is a kind of union with the Vine that is not a saving union!
There are numerous examples in the New Testament of that sort of thing. Here is one of the clearest – Judas. Judas was chosen by Jesus. He was one of the 12 apostles. He had a relationship with Jesus. When the apostles went out to heal and to cast out demons, Judas went with them too. He cast out demons. He healed the sick and cleansed the lepers just as the others. And he did it in the name of Jesus. In fact he had so cleverly camouflaged himself with the rest of the apostles that when the Lord said “One of you shall betray Me!” They did not say, “We know WHO he is talking about.” No! They had not the faintest clue that it was Judas!
Truth is, Judas was not saved! He was not born again. He was not elect. He was, as Jesus himself said, a son of perdition from the start. And it was already prophesied in the Old Testament that he was going to betray Jesus.
Here is another illustration of the fact that there is a kind of attachment to Jesus that is not a saving attachment. There is a kind of union with the Vine that is not a saving union. . . .
Jesus said in Matthew 7 “Not everyone that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? and in Thy name have cast out devils? and in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.” [Matt 7:21-23]
The million dollar question is not whether YOU profess to know Christ but whether CHRIST knows you! “The Lord knoweth them that are His!” [2Tim 2:19] And it goes without saying that He also knoweth them who claim to be His but are not!
As it was with Israel of old so it is with the Church NOW! Concerning Israel the apostle said, “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children!” [Rom 9:6,7] And we would not be wrong to conclude that in our day they are not all ‘Christians’ who call themselves Christians and neither are they the children of God because they were born in a Christian family and were ‘baptized’ whether in infancy or when they came of age! “Flesh and blood CANNOT inherit the kingdom of God!” [1Cor 15:50] Period!
God has no grandchildren! Only children! You are either a child of God by the New-birth and are sovereignly placed into the True Vine to bear fruit or you are just a branch that has attached itself by mere profession but have not “the root of the matter in you!” [Job 19:28] Oh yes, you may profess to ‘know God’ but as the apostle warned, “in works you deny Him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work Reprobate!” [Titus 1:16]
You may have heard this before but there is the true invisible Church within the visible one!
“I am the vine, ye are the branches.” “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered.” It is plain that in such language our Lord recognised a twofold union to Himself,— one, a living union, like that of the fruitful branch in the vine; the other, a dead or mere external union, such as the unfruitful branch in the vine, that was cast forth and withered; and such precisely is the two-fold connection with Christ, exemplified in the case respectively of the invisible and the visible Church.
Those who are united to the Saviour by a living union,— unseen indeed of men, but known to Him, – constitute that society of believers spoken of in Scripture as the spiritual or invisible Church of Christ. Those, on the other hand, who are united to the Saviour by an external union of outward profession and outward privileges, known and seen of men, numbering among them the true believers in Christ, but not exclusively made up of true believers, constitute the visible Church. “The visible Church,” says the Confession of Faith, “which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, together with their children, and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” – James Bannerman
“Every branch in me that beareth not fruit He taketh away!” John Calvin said, “Christ intends by these words to awaken anxious inquiry, by declaring that all the branches which shall be unfruitful will be cut off from the vine. But here comes a question – Can anyone who is engrafted into Christ be without fruit? I answer, many are supposed to be in the vine, according to the opinion of men, who actually have no root in the vine Thus, in the writings of the prophets, the Lord calls the people of Israel His Vine, because, by outward profession, they had the name of The Church.” – John Calvin
Another has rightly said, “We cannot press this metaphor so far to say that branches that are cut off were truly saved; after all, Jesus promises that no one – not even we – can snatch ourselves from His hand (10:27–30). Our Lord is alluding to the fact that it is possible to be in the church and not be regenerate. Those who profess faith in Christ falsely can be called “branches” of a sort, because their profession connects them to the covenant communion in a way that is not true of those who openly deny Christ. But apart from true faith, such branches never receive nourishment from the vine. They cannot bear fruit and are therefore finally cut off.” – Ligonier Ministries
That the unfruitful branches represent unsaved professors, has been the standard interpretation of the great majority of Calvinistic commentators and is in accord with the whole tenor and preponderance of Scripture.
Concerning the phrase “in me,” John Gill has commented as follows: There are two sorts of branches in Christ the vine; the one sort are such who have only an historical faith in him, . . . they are such who only profess to believe in him, as Simon Magus did; are in him by profession only; they submit to outward ordinances, become church members, and so are reckoned to be in Christ, being in a church-state, as the churches of Judea, and Thessalonica, and others., are said, in general, to be in Christ; though it is not to be thought that every person in these churches was truly and savingly in him.”
Alexander MacLaren too concludes that the unfruitful branches represent unsaved professors. “It seems to me that the very language of the metaphor before us requires us to interpret the fruitless branches as meaning all those who have a mere superficia1, external adherence to the True Vine. For according to the whole teaching of the parable, if there be any real union there will be some life, and if there be any life, where will be some fruit, and therefore, the branch that has no fruit has no life, because It has no real union. And so the application, as I take it, is necessarily to those professing Christians, nominal adherents to Christiainity or to Christ’s Church, people that come to Church and chapel, and if you ask them to put down in the census paper what they are, they will say Christians. . . . but who have no real hold upon Jesus Christ, and no real reception of anything from Him.”
DO ALL CHRISTIANS PRODUCE FRUIT?
Yes! All truly regenerated Christians produce fruit! It may be a bountiful hundredfold, an average sixty fold or a meager thirty fold . . . according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. But ALL true Christians bear fruit!
“But what is this ‘fruit’? A popular conception, frequently heard in testimonies, is that a Christian’ sole purpose is to ‘win souls’ and that ‘soul-winning’ is the fruit alluded to when we speak of a Christian bearing fruit. But of the sixty-six times the word ‘fruit’ is used in the New Testament, only one verse uses it for soul-winning (Jn. 4:36). And it is even possible that this verse may be interpreted so that soul-winning is not the fruit designated here. The other non-literal usages of the word all refer to SPIRITUAL fruit; the fruit of the Spirit, or the fruits of righteousness which are the general result of the Holy Spirit’s work in and through the believer.
These “fruits” are primarily attitudes produced in the believer. These attitudes are of course, manifested in the believer’s actions. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith [fulness], meekness, temperance and self-control]: against such there is no law [Gal. 5:22-23]. Can a believer conceive of a Christian who has never experienced the love, joy, or peace, that the Holy Spirit produces? If such fruit has never been produced, then it may be safely affirmed that the Holy Spirit is not resident in such a person and that such a person is not saved!
This present generation of Christians has emphasized the doctrine of carnality while de-emphasizing the doctrine that a true faith MUST PRODUCE FRUIT. Earlier generations of Christians were more insistent upon this latter point as well as the first. Only a generation ago Dr. Ironside spoke emphatically upon this point. . . . “when you are born again, you love to follow Jesus, and if you do not, you are not a Christian. Take that home. Examine your own foundations a bit. . . . It makes a tremendous difference what you do. If you do not behave yourself, it shows that you are not a real Christian. I know that a real Christian may fail, but the difference can be seen in Peter and Judas. Peter failed, and failed terribly, but he was genuine, and one look from Jesus sent him out weeping bitterly; his heart was broken to think that he had so dishonored his Lord. But Judas companied with the Lord almost three-and-a-half years, and was a devil all the time; he was a thief, and was seeking his own interest. He was even made the treasurer of the company, and he held the bag, but we read, “He bare away what was put therein” (John 12:6), as this has been literally translated. At last remorse overtook him, not genuine repentance, and what was the result? He went and hanged himself. He was never a child of God. There is a great difference, you see, between a Christian and a false professor.”
The only proof that a person is a real Christian is the “fruit” produced in his life. “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them!” (Mt. 7:20). Indeed, this very truth is taught by the parable under consideration. FRUIT WILL BE PRODUCED IF THE UNION WITH CHRIST IS REAL. Paul tells believers that they were saved “unto good works” (Eph. 2:10). He also states that when believers stand before the Bema, “then shall every man have his praise of God” (I Cor. 4:5).” – Charles R. Smith
“There are a great many believers who bear very little fruit for God, but ALL bear some fruit for Him. There are many people in the Vine (and the Vine speaks of profession here on earth) who bear no fruit for Him, and will eventually be cut off altogether when Jesus comes. There will be no place with Him because there is no union with Him.” – Ironside.