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The Real Vine and the True Branches
As I was reading John 15 one day, the Lord gave me this vision. Actually, the vision is quite simple, not at all profound. He showed me a large, strong, healthy-looking vine with thousands of branches attached. Then, as I looked closer, I noticed that almost every branch I saw was dead. They had no leaves, of course no fruit either, and they were falling off of the vine onto the ground. Next to the vine I saw bundles of these dead branches stacked, bundle after bundle, as far as I could see off into the horizon. As I watched, new branches would come out, grow a little, then wither and fall off. Only a very few remained attached to the vine. Those that did developed leaves and eventually bore fruit. But, these branches never got very large. They were continually cut back, but they always grew, they always had nice, green leaves on them and they always developed more fruit. It was disheartening though, to see so few of them bearing fruit. Most all the branches that came onto the vine quickly withered and fell off.
As I said, the vision is not profound. It follows pretty much what you read in John 15. It was what the Lord said to me that affected me the most. First, He told me to paraphrase this chapter and call it "The Real Vine and the True Branches". The Real Vine, of course, is Jesus; and the True Branches are those who remain attached to the Vine and produce the "fruit that belongs to the Vine". The branches that wither, die and fall to the ground are those who profess Christ, then fail to develop a real relationship with Him through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. (Instead, they chose ritualistic, dead religion; legalistic, dead fundamentalism; fleshly, dead charismania; "bless me", dead materialism; or a host of other dead choices. And thatís how they end up, dead!)
The purpose of this paraphrase is simply to develop the proper context to explain verses 7 and 16. However, donít read it just for the explanation alone (which you will see at the end of this paper), allow yourself plenty of time to meditate on the importance of what Jesus is talking about in this chapter. "Abiding in Him", "dwelling in Him", or "living in Him" is absolutely what salvation is all about. And you cannot be "in" Him without the genuine ministry of the Holy Spirit active in your life, as it is explained briefly in verse 26. Hereís the paraphrase:
In this passage Jesus makes two promises that are, at the same time, exciting and devastating. Exciting, when properly understood, devastating, when misunderstood. People in the traditional church today love to hear messages that tell them to "claim" the words of Jesus when He says, "Öask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you." (Vs. 7); or "Ö whatsoever you ask of the Father in My Name, He will give it to you." (Vs. 16) The so-called prosperity message thrives on isolated verses like this. And there are many in the church today who have used this religious view to feed their lust for material things in the name of God.
As weíve discussed before, since they chose the things of the world (materialism) instead of the things of God (His character and purpose), God in His judgment has allowed them their deception and their materialism (or anything else they sought, instead of Him). Because itís what they asked for (in His name, of course), they think itís His blessing, but itís His curse. Thatís the devastating part. Professing Christians, who will never know God, never have salvation, because they were taught to "use" God as a means to their own end. The Sovereign Lord will have the last word (if you want to know what it is, you can read it in Matthew 7:21-23; or Luke 13:24-30). The apostasy of these last days is marked by people who insist on coming to God on their own terms (on the basis of what they think or what they want), instead of submitting to His terms (and giving in to what He requires).
The exciting part is having an understanding of these promises and tapping into them. They are, of course, conditional. All of Godís promises are. As you read the paraphrase above, itís easy to see from the context what the conditions are. We have to abide in the real Vine. We have to live continually in relationship with Him, consecrated to His purpose, dedicated to producing the fruits of the Spirit. And in that context, as we obey His instructions, allowing the Holy Spirit to direct our lives, weíre changed into His glorious image. And thatís the key to asking, "what we will" and having the assurance that either Christ (in verse 7) or the Father (in verse 16) will give it to us.
Itís amazing that people in the traditional church think all they have to do to get God to give them what they want is to ask for it "in Jesusí name". What a great gimmick! Why would anyone not want to get in on this? Receive whatever you want, whenever you want it. Simply ask God, and put Jesusí name on it. Of course it doesn't work. But it sure sounds good.
What does it really mean to ask "in Jesusí name"? The term "in My name" found in verse 16 doesnít mean weíre supposed to say "in Jesusí name" every time weĎre through asking God for something we want, or through thanking Him for something we already have. The Greek term onoma in the context of John 15 doesnít mean simply to say His name. It means to speak as a representation of all that the name implies! I know the King James translators had a mandate to come up with a translation that was both poetic and easy to read, but whatís the excuse for all the rest of the boneheads that have taken a crack at it since.
Come on people; look at the context for crying out loud! Jesus is using an illustration here Ė abide in the Vine and produce the fruit that naturally results from this union. Heís talking about others living continually in a relationship with Him that is so close, so vital, that it results in them being conformed to His image. The relationship is such that the character and purpose of Jesus is formed in their lives. They literally become a representation of all that He is! The point Jesus is making here is simply this: you can go to the Father as a representation of all that I AM, and can ask whatever you want of Him, and Heíll give it to you. (And while weíre at it, letís mention Matthew 18:20, "For wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there I AM in the midst of them." Here, onoma means the same thing! Just because a group of people get together to do their religious thing and say Jesusí name at some point in time doesnít mean Heís there with them. But, when two or three are gathered with the character and purpose of Jesus on the agenda, He says Heíll show up.)
The bad news for everyone in the "bless me" crowd is, of course, that to become a representation of all that that Jesus is requires a lot of time, submission, obedience, sacrifice, self-denial and, yes, even some suffering. Itís easy to say His name; itís very difficult to become a representation of what His name implies.
The word of the Lord was very specific to me regarding verse 21 above. He was describing what happens when we consecrate ourselves to the character and purpose of Christ. We look like Him, sound like Him, care only for the things He cares for, and want only what He wants. In this way we come to the place where we ask only for the things we know He wants us to have. Our flesh is out of the picture! Period! Consider this for just a moment, do you think Jesus ever asked the Father for anything out of selfish motivation. Or, did He only ask for what He knew was part of the Fatherís plan and purpose for His life?
And how does God commit Himself to this promise? The answer is found in II Timothy 2:13, "ÖHe (the Father) will always be faithful to His Word and to His righteous character, because He cannot say, no, to Himself". Jesus came to reveal the Father, a flesh and blood example of the Fatherís righteous character. Jesus then reveals to us His secret of getting what He asks of the Father Ė displaying the Fatherís character. Then Jesus encourages us to live in Him and display His character, which is nothing less than an extension of the Fatherís character! Then, regardless of whom we ask (Jesus in vs. 7 or the Father in vs. 16), on the basis of their righteousness, which we have chosen to emulate, the answer must be, yes.
The Lord wants us to have what we need, and I believe in some instances, even what we want. But, material things canít be our priority, and they canít be idols that consume our devotion or affection. The Lord sums it up nicely in Matthew 6:30b-34 when He says, "Öyou have such a little faith. You donít need to worry, wondering, where am I going to get food to eat, or what am I going to have to drink, or how am I going to get clothes to wear? Only godless people worry about these things, scurrying around, frantically trying to provide for themselves. But your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. So, get your priorities straight. The first thing you have to do is learn how to be like God and do things His way, then all those other things, and more, will be given to you. So, donít worry about what youíre going to need tomorrow, just learn to trust God for what you need today. Thatís about all you can handle. Besides, when tomorrow comes, it will bring a whole new set of problems and pressures to test your faith." Isnít God good?
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