Sermons & Sunday Schools

The Secrets of a Productive Christian

In this sermon, Pastor Joseph Babij begins examining Jesus’ private teaching in John 15 on what being a spiritually productive, fruit-bearing Christian looks like while awaiting Jesus’ return. Specifically, Pastor Babij discusses the first two secrets related to being a real and productive Christian:

1. The Pruning of the Father (vv. 1-3)
2. Remaining in the Son (v. 4-6)

Full Transcript:

Let’s take our Bibles this morning and turn to John 15. My message is titled “The Secrets of a Productive Christian.” Reading through this section of Scripture, you will find that it teaches the most important relationships that a Christian must maintain to have a productive life and effective ministry. The first important relationship is with Christ of course. Our passage is in John 15:1-11 and the key word is “abide.” That emphasizes union. The second important relationship is with other believers which is in John 15:12-17. The key term there is “love,” which emphasizes communion. The third relationship is the believer’s relationship to the world and John 15:18-27 shows that with the key term being “hate” or “disunion.”

So we have union with Christ, communion with believers, and disunion with the world. Because the first relationship is the most vital with Christ, that is where we will focus our attention this Lord’s day on the subject of abiding in Christ. Let’s look at our text and let me read John 15:1-11:

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 bears fruit, He prunes it so 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. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 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 your joy may be made full.

Let’s pray. Father, we thank You for this section of Scripture. We know that in it we are disciples and can hear what Jesus told His disciples. They are a group of people that He has called to Himself and loves. He wants them to grow in Christ Jesus and bear fruit. Lord, I pray that all of us here today would desire the same thing and that we would know that the condition for bearing fruit is to abide in Christ. That is our job and I pray that we would do that and never walk away from You, instead to continue to pursue the things that please You and learn every day how to love You because You loved us first. I pray this in Chris’s Name, Amen.

So as we look at this passage of Scripture this morning, in verse 3 we notice the passage of Scripture is talking about believers since it says:

You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.

The verses revolve around a visual picture of the vine, the branches, and the vinedresser. The vine in verse 1 is identified as Jesus Christ. He identifies Himself as the genuine, true vine. The imagery of the vine in the vineyard is a familiar picture in the Old Testament, that is why we read the passage of Scripture in Psalm 80. We see it also in Isaiah 5, Jeremiah 2, Ezekiel 15, etc. But the point in that passage of Scripture that we read is that the Psalmist bemoans the fact that the vine flourishes no more.

We know the vine is a picture of the people of Israel. Israel is the vine that God brought out of Egypt. This is what the Psalmist says in Psalm 80:14-16:

O God of hosts, turn again now, we beseech You; look down from heaven and see, and take care of this vine. Even the shoot which Your right hand has planted, and on the son whom You have strengthened for Yourself. It is burned with fire, it is cut down; they perish at the rebuke of Your countenance.

They bemoan the fact that Israel is not bearing fruit but has come to the point in their relationship with God where they were led into idolatry. They were not the light that God wanted them to be and they were not abiding in God and so therefore the Lord allowed them to go along with their own sin and because they did not produce fruit, they were cut down.

The next person in our passage of Scripture is the vinedresser in verse 1 where it says that the Father is the vinedresser. God the Father is pictured as a faithful gardener, busily working His vineyard. The next thing is in verse 5 where it says that God is the vine and the believers are the branches, who are Christians. So the main subject in this section of Scripture is abiding, meaning to have a vital union with Christ. The result of abiding in Christ is fruit bearing. There are three degrees of fruit bearing in our passage. For every branch that does not bear fruit, He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes.

So the first degree is to have any amount of fruit. The second is at the end of verse 1, which says that He prunes the branch to have more fruit. In John 15:5 it says:

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.

If there is no fruit whatsoever, the branch is taken away and the Heavenly Father desires Christ’s disciples in all points of history to bear much fruit. The vinedresser, which is the Father, is not content with mediocre disciples of Christ. There is an element of secrecy in John 15 because Jesus is not addressing the multitude. He is talking intimately to His disciples and He is pulling them aside privately and Jesus tells His disciples the secrets of productive Christians. So the first secret is pruning by the Father who is the vinedresser. He will prune those who do not bear as much fruit as they ought to bear.

It says in John 15:1-2:

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 bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.

So there are two actions of the vinedresser. The first thing is that He does something with the branch that isn’t bearing any fruit at all. He takes it away as in verse 2. A second action of a vinedresser is that He does something with the branch that isn’t bearing enough fruit and it says in verse 2 that every branch that bears fruit is pruned to bear more fruit.

If we look at the Greek term for prune it means to make clean or cut away and trim unwanted growth. The Father as the vinedresser does this. He prunes and cleans away unwanted growth in our Christian lives. He does it so the branches that are connected to the true vine will produce as much fruit as possible in their Christian walk. In verse 3 it is implied that the Word is the means by which the Father performs the work of pruning His disciples’ lives. He says in John 15:3:

You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.

The true disciple of Jesus not only receives the Word of God, but he keeps the Word of God. If you just go back to John 14:23, it says:

Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.”

So those are the two actions of the vinedresser. There are also two branches in our passage, one that produces fruit and one that lacks the production of fruit. It says in John 15:2:

Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away.

Here we see in this passage of Scripture that we run into a difficulty that there are three views worthy of mention regarding our passage of Scripture. Especially the views concerning the fruitless branches. The first view would be that these branches represent true Christians that finally perish. That doesn’t hold true through the rest of Scripture because we know that believers are kept secure by Christ and the Father.

The second view is regarding those who fruitless branches that are true Christians taken up to Heaven by physical death as a discipline. The burning represents the burning of their unfruitful works at the judgment seat of Christ. However, the figure clearly removal from the vine, whereas a physical death does not serve a true believer’s connection with Christ. Furthermore, it is the branches themselves that is the persons that are burned and not just their works.

The third view would be that the fruitless branches represent the mere professors of belief and are finally severed from the superficial connection they have with Christ. Now this actually happened earlier in the text where we know Judas was part of the disciples. He seemed to be a disciple of Jesus but he was removed and not approved to be a true disciple. This is sure in our passage. We are nothing if we get away from Christ. Then we would just be branches that whither and fit to be cast into the fire.

We are not to come and go in regards to Christ, but are to abide. The vine needs the branch as truly as the branch needs the vine. No vine ever bore any fruit except upon its branches. It is by the branch that the vine displays its fruitfulness. Therefore abiding believers are needful as to the fulfillment of the Lord’s design. So in this passage of Scripture, I think there may be a combination of two of the interpretations even though overall it’s not talking about salvation but abiding. If as Christians today, we think about what the Father actually does, He comes into our lives and He prunes us and cuts away the stuff that is in our lives that is old.

The sharp knife of the Father purging will apply to you if you’re a Christian today. If during this COVID crisis you are now feeling the purging process of the Father, you must not think it’s a strange thing that’s happening to you. He will cut everything away in our lives that is preventing you and I from bearing more fruit. That’s what He does!

So you may be noticed since you have become a Christian that you have more troubles than ever. You may observe that the people who were once for you are now against you. The temptations of the devil are more frequent and intense than you ever noticed before. You even say to yourself that some of your personal and business affairs have gone wrong. Life that once had been in control has spiraled out of control. One would ask the question if this is supposed to be happening to a Christian, to someone who knows the Lord?

See here is where the secret comes in, you know the Father is going to purge you and not let you get away with things in life that are not pleasing to Him. Those things many times are secret that go on in our hearts and minds. We have to take care that we abide in Christ when the pruner’s blade is cutting close to you. Cling to Jesus all the more when that is happening and when things in life seem confusing. Endure the trial and never even dream of giving up your faith in Christ. The old saints have provided us wisdom during times of purging and one of them is Job. This is what it says in Job 13:15:

Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him.

See that is the attitude that the disciples have when the pruning knife of the Father does it for our good, not for destruction or to hurt us. It is to make us people who bear more fruit in our walk. So the Christian has this inside knowledge of being a branch connected to the vine, Jesus Christ, and it is the will of God that His disciples bear much fruit.

Just as in the Christian experience, pruning is painful in horticulture. Everyone who does any kind of planting knows that if you don’t cut back the old branches and the flowers that die off, for example roses, you won’t produce more flowers. As His Word works to transform our minds for Christian living and effective service, we understand when the hard pruning comes from the Father only then will we produce greater fragrance and beauty in our Christian walks.

If you want to be a productive Christian, you must be pruned. That is the first secret. The second secret in our text in John 15:4-5 is this, remaining in the Son. It says:

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.

The secret is that you cannot bear fruit on your own. It is humanly impossible for it to happen. It is only by Christ’s work in us. The issue is abiding and remaining which has to do with our continued fellowship with the Lord and the fruit bearing as a result of our abiding. Our active responsibility in John 15:4 is an imperative and a command, which is to abide in Him. When we are abiding, fruit comes naturally continuing with Jesus to the Holy Spirit and depending upon Christ in prayer, and submitting to Him in all things.

In other words, separated from Christ there is no fruit. But connected to Christ there is fruit because Her s the life giving vine that produces sap into the branches which is us. How does one abide in Christ? We will look at 1 John to learn about that. There are a few things he says about abiding in Christ. 1 John 4:15 says:

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

Now look at 1 John 3:23-24:

This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

In 1 John 2:24 says:

As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.

Now all of these verses show that confessing Jesus as the Son of God establishes the relationship of abiding in Christ. You cannot abide in Christ unless if you have believed and trusted in Him as Lord and Savior. As you do that, not only do you profess that but in 1 John 1:6 it says you will continue to walk in that truth by faith. As you continue to walk in that truth, you continue to obey Christ’s commands. It’s all part of the Christian walk which includes abiding in Christ. This means you believe Him, you follow Him, you listen to Him, you love Him and want to serve Him. That’s what makes a person Christian, that they continue in the faith and abiding in Christ.

The active responsibility is to abide in Christ. The passive response of fruit bearing is to abide. That means that it’s Jesus’ job to produce the fruit and it is our job to abide. It says in John 15:5:

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.

If we don’t abide in Christ, disciples can’t even produce a bud or real fruit. Without a vital relationship with Him, nothing of genuine or eternal value can be produced in our lives. In other words, our job is to obey, love, serve Christ and grow in His Word. In fact, John 15 is packaged in between chapters 14 and 16. John 14 is about the role of the Holy Spirit and John 16 is about the promise of the Holy Spirit that is coming. The Holy Spirit becomes a vital Person for a Christian when it has to do with fruit.

Now you may ask what fruit we are looking for in our own Christian walks. The Holy Spirit is cleaning us up and making changes in our lives to bring us into conformity and the will of God. That conformity happens from the inside out. Also, God wants to see the fruit of what the Spirit is doing on the inside. The goal of the Christian life is righteousness so that we are being sanctified and set apart so we will do what is right and pleasing in His sight.

Righteousness, holiness, fruit bearing is most evident in our behavior. We learned this in 1 Peter 1:15 where it says:

But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior.

So the Holy Spirit is making this change in us through the truth and Word of God in our minds. That means that the Word and Spirit go together and should not be separated. The Word of God transforms us so we develop deep, Biblical convictions. Our consciences will not allow us to live against those convictions. That comes from a transformed mind.

So we desire to do what is right as a product and also to live in a pleasing manner before the Lord Jesus Christ in our behavior. Behavior is at the center of concern and sanctification. Behavior shows what is or isn’t going on inside. That also means that internal transformation is important, but may mean that someone is just professing Christ and masquerading as really knowing Him. In other words, people have no connection to Christ and are living in hypocrisy. Hypocrites totally externalize righteous behavior which is why a lot of the times they have lists of what they did right.

We should never live by lists but by a relationship with Christ. What fruit are we to produce or that God produces in us? First of all, the fruit of connectedness in Christ in John 15. Also we have the fruit of the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians which includes love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, kindness, etc. Also fruits of words and actions are important. Fruits of service and good works are as well. There is also the desire for others to be saved and to be a testimony to those who are not believers yet.

See the Spirit of God becomes a vital Person in our walk in abiding in Christ where He is producing fruit in us as we are staying connected to the vine and getting life-giving sap from Him. Now what are the consequences of not bearing fruit? John 15:6 says:

If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.

One interpretation is that the singular branch and the plural them mean that it’s not the person but their works. A disciple can become a barren branch in which they become useless with no fruit. When this happens, the vinedresser cleans with His disciplinary hands and may sanctify the person through circumstances of life or by some trial. It can wean the person off of worldly thinking that drives them to Christ, to the Word of God, the fellowship of believers, and to prayer. This would show them their own heart and humble them in that process. The Father chastises us, not to harm us but to make us more fruitful.

It says in Hebrews 12:10-11:

For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

This is the fruit that comes down from the pruning process of the Father. So those who would say that it is the singular branch and the works that would be earned by them, would say that the works are done in the power of the flesh and by the believer. The works, not the believer, are burned up. Paul conveys the same truth in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, where the fire mentions here is in relation to the believer’s works at the judgment seat of Christ. That is a time where the Christian’s works are examined and those who do not pass the examination are burned up.

If that is the interpretation, remember that the judgment seat of Christ is not a judgment for sin. The reason why is that the sin question for the believer has already been settled the moment you repented of your sin. The judgment was placed on Christ as He hung on the cross of crucifixion and there He satisfied the justice of the Father and bore the penalty for all our sins and your account is marked as paid in full by Christ’s death.

So your sins have been transferred to the cross and Christ’s righteousness have been transferred to your account. It is the judgment for service, for works, and the purpose is not to determine whether people will enter Heaven or hell. It has been decided when they believed in Jesus Christ as their Savior. The judgment is also not only for the purpose of weeding out punishment for sin. The purpose of the judgment seat of Christ is to review our lives, our service, our abiding, our thoughts and fruits and words after we became Christians.

Christ, after His perfect evaluation will either give or withhold rewards from His children. So what happens to Christians who build with the wrong building materials? According to 1 Corinthians 3:15 it says:

If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

The unfaithful Christian will be saved so as by fire and his life works. Anything that was wood, hay, or straw will be destroyed and there will be few or no rewards for him. Our standard for this judgment is our faithfulness in practical holiness and faithful sacrificial service to Christ. In saying that, it is clear from other passages of Scripture that there are false Christians as well as true ones. There are people who appear to be joined to the parent steam and yet bear no fruit.

They possibly were born into a Christian family and lived vicariously through their parents but were never saved. Perhaps they were trusting in their church membership, baptism, human good works, religious experiences, dreams or visions. They have no vital union with Christ or grace in their hearts. They have no inward work of the Holy Spirit or fruit to show they are real disciples. They just merely profess the faith and are finally severed from their superficial connection to Christ.

Christians service their life and food producing strength from Jesus alone. A vine branch is lifeless and useless if it does not remain attached to the vine. So that means likewise that unless the living sap from Jesus and the true vine is flowing to us as His disciples, that is the only way they can produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit. There is just no other way for it to take place if they don’t abide in Christ.

You know what else is interesting from past Biblical history, is that if you just look at Israel and how they disconnected themselves from God, the vine, and the source of life. Also they listened to Him and then rendered Him lip service unsupported by any fruit in their lives. Or they just accepted God as Lord and they when they encountered difficulties by being God’s people, they abandoned Him and went after other loves and that is called idolatry. The Christians must abide in Christ if they’re going to produce fruit in their lives.

The Apostle Paul expressed the same spiritual truth in Galatians 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

This second secret is that you cannot bear fruit on your own. It is not a human possibility, but Christ’s work in us. This is the great distinction of those who just profess and get involved in religion and those who are true believers. The first kind of people have no fruit to show for it! The point Jesus has in speaking to His disciples is that what He wants is for them to desire that no matter how hard it gets. This life is short and we should keep seeking and hearing His Word to practice it and deal with sin.

When the Father prunes you, we should cut that out because we know when that happens is when real joy comes. That’s when we begin to discover the secret of the Christian life, which is to abide in Christ because it is He who produces fruit. My concern should be to abide in Him.

Are you doing that today? Or are you a barren branch with nothing to show for it? Have your relationships with other people not improved because of your bad attitude? Has your willingness to dig in made you not be an example for Christ in your life and home, to your spouse, coworkers, or neighbors? That’s where it all comes out! In your behavior because the Spirit of God is working on the inside to make you like Christ. That is our job and part of the secret of living for Christ. There is a third secret which I have no time to get to today. I’ll pick that up next time, which is the secret of liberty in prayer.

Just thinking about that for a moment, there was a doctor visiting in a home of one of his patients. It was the custom of the family that when someone comes to visit their home, a member of the family would quote a Bible verse. So the doctor walks in and it was the little girl’s turn to quote a Bible verse, which was John 3:16. This was how she said it: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have internal life.”

Needless to say, he did not correct her for it is internal life as it is everlasting life that God gives us. Both are something we need to look at and ask ourselves about honestly. If this is something we have, then praise God. But if not, then today is the day we need to pray for salvation. Come and believe in Christ. If you’re not sure whether you would go to Heaven if you died today, talk to me or Dave or someone in our church that can share the gospel with you. Don’t put it off one second because we are not guaranteed tomorrow.

I pray for all of you that you would be a person, from God’s perspective, that you would have fruit, more fruit, and much fruit. And that you would want to live your Christian life and do it by abiding in Christ. Let’s pray.

Lord, thank You this morning for Your people. Thank You for the Word of God that in it is contained the things that bring conviction of sin and that expose us as to who we are. That helps us to evaluate ourselves so we know what pleases you. This is what You require in our lives and Lord, I thank You that You pull Your disciples aside and share with them things that no one else knows. This is one of those cases. I pray that all of us today would take to heart these truths in Scripture. We would see the reality of it and give You all the glory. In Christ’s Name, Amen.