Fruit of the Vine

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you.

As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”

(ESV: John 15:1-8)

What part do works play in our salvation? The words of Jesus quoted above from the Gospel of John illustrate grace and works through the imagery of a vine. Christ is the vine, we are the branches, and God the Father is the vinedresser. Christ indicates that those branches that do not bear fruit are taken away, but those that do bear fruit are pruned so as to be able to bear more fruit.

Does our relationship to God, then, depend on our works, our fruit? Far from it; for we are not reconciled to God by our works, but by His grace given through Christ’s Word and sacrifice. As Christ says, we “are clean because of the word” he has spoken to us. God makes us clean through his incarnate Word and through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit.

In addition, as branches we can not bear good fruit of our own accord or due to our own powers or abilities. We must abide in the vine, in Christ, through faith. By abiding in him, he gives us the nourishment to go forth and produce the fruit of good works. Works flow from faith in Him and in the confidence that we are His. By trusting in his promise of salvation we are enabled to do the work he has entrusted us with.

It within this context that we can understand Jesus’ “Parable of the Talents.” Concerning the kingdom of heaven, he tells his disciples:

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.

He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.

Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’

But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

(ESV: Matthew 25: 14-30)

The worthless servant sinned due to his lack of faith in his master. Through his inaction he showed that he did not love, trust, and obey his master above all things. Rather, his fear drove him to hoard that which he had been given, rather than using his gift as a blessing for others. As a result, he was cast out, and what he had been given was taken from him and given to those who had been faithful. His lack of faith was manifested in his inability to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (cf. Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:8).

Works flow from faith. Only by trusting in God above all things can we confidently move forward as Christians, radiating God’s love as works of love to our neighbors. As James says in his epistle:

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

(ESV: James 2:18)

Yet we must always remember that grace, salvation, faith, and works are solely the work of God. God freely gives us His grace, to which He calls us to respond through faith in the death and resurrection of His only Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Upon this faith and trust in God and through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit we can move forward in works, secure as branches in the vine of the Son. Our works are reflections of God’s love that we are able to perform by virtue of our adoption as His sons and daughters in faith (John 1:12-13). By God’s grafting us onto the vine, we are able to bear fruit (cf. Romans 11:17-24).

With this assurance we are able to rest in peace with God, knowing that our relationship with Him depends solely on His grace and not on our works. Yet, out of this faith in His promises our works will flow.

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

(ESV: 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)

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