by Bill Delvaux
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5
Amid all the unknowns of today’s unprecedented chaos, there’s one thing we’re surely learning—how interconnected we all are. This is such a contrast to the modern worldview of stringent individualism that we inherited from the Enlightenment era.
It seems that we are not quite so autonomous as we imagined. And that’s a good thing. The demand for autonomy has bred an epidemic of loneliness, despair, and alienation.
But we were not created to be self-sufficient. We were created to live connected to God and to each other.
What Does Jesus Mean by Vine and Branches?
Listen now to Jesus as he begins one of His most amazing statements: “I am the vine; you are the branches…” (John 15:5). Such a simple statement, yet you can spend a lifetime plumbing the depths of it. Let’s explore its meaning.
Jesus first mentions that He is the vine a few verses earlier: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener” (John 15:1). There are a number of Old Testament references that speak of Israel being a vine, planted and tended by God. Yet instead of bearing good fruit, it was degenerate. It was a false vine.
Against this background, Jesus speaks of Himself as the true vine, the One who will bear good fruit to His Father’s approval and glory.
Now we understand a bit more about our verse at hand. Jesus is the vine, the true source of life for us believers. We are branches connected to Him, drawing that life from Him as branches draw the necessary nutrients to survive and flourish.
At first glance, we may assume that branches bear fruit, but in another sense, it’s really the vine that makes it all happen. The point is: there is such interconnectedness that while we are doing the work, Jesus is doing the work in us as well.
But there is even more here in this short statement. When Jesus says that He is the vine, it is the last of a series of statements He makes in the gospel of John using the same form: “I am the Bread of life, I am the Good Shepherd, I am the Resurrection and the Life.”
The repeated use of “I am” suggests the name God gave to Moses by which to call Him: “I am who I am” (Ex. 3:14). Jesus is implying that He is the vine from which all life comes, that He is indeed God as the Son.
Every life in the created order came through Jesus (John 1:3), and the new life of the Kingdom now flows out of Him as well.
What Was Happening In John 15 When Jesus Said He Is the Vine?
More help in understanding Jesus’ words comes when we look at the context. What was going on in John 15 when He spoke these words? John 14-17 is often called the Last Supper Discourse because it was His last time of teaching with the twelve disciples. He is already looking over the cliff, into the darkness He is about to fall with the cross. A few hours after He finishes these words, He is arrested, tried, and crucified. He knows the end is near. Yet with all the horror facing Him, He still wants to prepare the disciples for His departure as best He can.
The significance of the context now becomes clear. When someone is nearing death, what do they talk about? What do they want to say?
It’s often words of great importance, words that reveal the deep loves and concerns of the heart. They are words that must be said before death comes. This is exactly how we should see Jesus’ words in John 15:5.
He is saying something so close to His heart, hoping we will hear Him and receive those words.
What Kind of Vine Is Jesus Referencing?
Many of us are urbanites, having left the life of the farm. So agricultural contexts commonplace in Jesus’ times sometimes need a bit of explaining. What kind of vine was Jesus speaking about here? Not a poison ivy vine, nor a wild vine growing up a tree in the woods, nor an ivy vine covering an old house.
The Old Testament allusions make it fairly clear that this was a grapevine, often used for making wine. This was as commonplace as growing corn in Kansas or potatoes in Idaho. In fact, the grapevine is mentioned more often than any other plant in the entire Bible.
This is so in line with the way Jesus taught throughout His ministry, taking everyday items as analogies for Kingdom truths.
Understanding the Rest of John 15:5
After Jesus states that He is the vine and we are the branches, the rest of John 15:5reads this way:
“…If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
The key action is to remain. It is translated in different ways: to stay, to abide, to live, to live in union. I like to state it this way: “If you stay at home in me and I stay at home in you, you will bear much fruit.” Jesus is to be so much a part of our daily existence that He feels like home. Talking to Him becomes like talking to your best friend. Being with Him is like being at home on your favorite couch.
We become like Jesus and do His great deeds not by trying harder or pumping up some kind of spiritual energy. We do all of this by simply staying at home with Him. Bearing fruit then just happens—because it’s ultimately His fruit, not ours.
To make this point even stronger, Jesus concludes this verse by stating the same truth in the negative: There is nothing you can do in terms of bearing fruit by yourself. Nothing. Zero. Zip. Let that sink in. It will change you.
Where Else Does the Bible Explain the Concept of Remaining in Jesus?
The other place in the New Testament that describes something parallel to remaining in Jesus is Paul’s letters. It’s his catchword, a simple two-word expression continuously repeated without apology: in Christ.
Paul uses this phrase to describe almost everything about being a follower of Jesus. We aren’t just believing a set of truths. We aren’t just practicing wholesome ethics. We aren’t just doing good things for others. We are in Christ, literally and figuratively.
We are in such close proximity to Him that when He died on the cross, we died with Him, and when He rose from the dead, we did as well into a new life (see Romans 6:1-10).
To even add more shape to the idea, Paul uses another metaphor. We are the body of Christ, and He is the head. Our whole life is dependent on staying connected to Him, remaining in Him (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). To try to do otherwise would be to try to function as a decapitated body!
How Do We Practice Remaining in Jesus?
Now to the most important point. How do we do this? How do we learn to remain in Jesus so that He becomes like home to us? Jesus believed that we could; otherwise, He would have never asked us to.
Here are four suggestions to get you going. Try one and see where it takes you:
1. Inventory: Before you go to bed each night, take a brief inventory of the day. If we don’t remain in Jesus, we are just remaining somewhere else—in anxiety, in anger, in fear, in shame, in ambition, in numbness, in self-absorption. Ask yourself, “Where was I remaining today?” Then talk to Jesus about your desire to remain more in Him.
2. Listening: Remaining happens as we just start the conversation with Jesus. Start each morning by having a conversation with Him about some passage of Scripture and the day ahead. Then be still for a few moments. Ask Jesus, “What do you want to say to me?” Jesus is always trying to speak to us, but often we do not take the time to listen.
3. Gratitude: One of the surest ways to learn to stay at home with Jesus is to practice gratitude. Take some time regularly to give thanks. Use these categories, each for a few minutes, to notice things: give thanks for what you have seen, then what you have heard, then what you have touched with your hands, then what places your feet have taken you, and finally what your heart has loved.
4. Stillness: Try to sit in silence for 5-10 minutes each day. As thoughts come up, don’t try to resist them or retain them. Just let them go. Be still. Over time you will begin to notice more of His presence already alive in you.
Remaining in Jesus is not just one of many things we are asked to do as Jesus-followers. It is the one thing from which everything else proceeds. To miss this is to miss Him. And to miss Him is to miss it all.