Abide in Me, and I in You.
The words we find in John 15 have often been used to espouse a poor theology concerning what it means to be saved and what it means to continue in salvation. In this passage, Jesus compares Himself to a vine, and the Father to a vinedresser. In this comparison, Jesus makes a few things clear:
1). God "takes away" some who are "in Him". These are those who do not bear fruit.
2). God "prunes" those who are "in Him", but that also bear fruit.
3). Those who "abide" in Jesus will be the ones who bear fruit.
4). "Bearing fruit" is ultimately manifest in Christ-like love for others.
There is much discussion primarily over this question: Who are those branches that God "takes away" and "burns up"?
I think it will be most effective to begin by ruling out the wrong answer. As we have discussed before, we must always interpret Scripture using Scripture. When a passage is difficult, we must make sure that we do not interpret it in a way that contradicts other, more clear, passages. Throughout the history of the church, there has been an interpretation of this passage, and passages like it, that believes this to be evidence of a Christian's ability to lose their salvation. This argument would see those "taken away" as those who were once believers. At some point, they do not bear fruit, and because of this, God removes their status of salvation as a result of their failure to bear fruit. The issue, however, is that the whole of Scripture is clear as to what we call the "perseverance of the saints." This simply means that once someone is grafted into Christ as a believer and is made a new creation, they cannot lose this standing before God. In short, if we could lose our salvation, WE WOULD. To interpret this passage as evidence of being able to lose our salvation would be to shortchange the power of God's saving grace, and to nullify the grand narrative of Scripture.
So, how should we understand this passage? First, we must realize that Scripture is clear that all believers will bear fruit. If someone does not bear fruit, that is sufficient evidence that they are not actually a believer who has been made a new creation. This person "taken away", then, could be one of two things:
1). It could be a person who claims to be a believer, but is not. Eventually, their faithlessness will cause them to be removed from the people of God, and they will be seen for who they actually are: not a part of the Vine.
2). It could be a believer who once bore fruit, but has become stagnant and fruitless due to some sin or failure to live in God's will. This side would argue that God "takes away" people in this position sometimes by allowing them to experience physical death. They still receive eternal salvation, but they have no fruit to bring before God on judgment day.
To be clear, both of these options are not contrary to the wider biblical view of salvation. Both recognize the perseverance of the saints, and place the power of life and death in the hands of God. Strong and educated believers fall on both sides of this, and that is ok! What I think we can really come away with here are these things:
1). True believers bear fruit because they are attached to the Vine, and that will not change.
2). God prunes even those who bear fruit so that they will bear more fruit!
Let us not glance over that second point! We, as believers, should expect there to be pruning in our lives as we strive to look more and more like Jesus. Sometimes it will hurt, but that is okay, because we will come out of the other end bearing more fruit!
In His Name, Pastor Dustin