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Sifted or Pruned, What Will It Be? 1/20/02

John 15: 1-8; Luke 22: 31,32

Life is not static, that is, without anything happening. Even when life seems uneventful, even boring, (Parents: Have you ever heard your kids say, even once, "I'm bored!" or "Are we there yet?") we are continually being acted upon or appealed to by forces outside ourselves. We are as a matter of fact, being changed regularly in one direction or another. The issue of today's text is, "which direction are we being changed in?"

The Scripture before us is one of the simplest yet profound teachings on theChristian life. It is the metaphor of the Vine and the Branches. Let's examine it together and see if we can make the proper applications.

The history of the Vine in the Bible: When Jesus talked with his disciples about the "Vine" that day they may have been walking by the temple. On the front of the Jewish temple was a huge golden vine with grape clusters hanging from it. It was an artistic masterpiece of which the Jewish people were very proud. But it was also an object lesson and a reminder of God's proclaimed relationship to his people. The Vine had Old Testament roots (no pun intended). Roots anchored in the tender soil of God's own heart. Let's look at some examples.

Psalm 80: 8,9, the Psalmist writes: "You brought a vine out of Egypt: you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land."

Isaiah 5:1,2: "Isaiah 5: 1,2: "I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My beloved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit."

Jeremiah 2:21: "I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me?"

So what or whom is God referring to when he sees through the prophets? Isaiah 5:7 gives us the answer: "The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight." The Vine (and vineyard) has Old Testament roots and it refers to the nation of Israel, God's special people.

The true vine (John 15): "I am the true vine..." What did he mean by that? Did you notice in two of the Old Testament Scriptures that the vine was in trouble? The "choicest vines" had become wild and bore "only bad fruit." That was still going on in Jesus' day. Israel had ceased to be a "true vine" unto the Lord. The nation of Israel was no longer a "Life Vine" unto God. Now God plants a new vine, and that Vine is Jesus. The nation of Israel, especially its religious leaders were no longer an example to the world of the love and mercy of God on earth. Jesus was! Jesus was the "true vine," and his Father (God the Father) was the gardener.

The Vine and the Branches, from National to Personal: In the Evangelical Church we talk about receiving Jesus as our "personal Savior. Now, whereas this is not Biblical language, it does underscore the fact that God wants to get personal with us. He is not a God at a distance, and neither is His Son. When we give our lives to Jesus Christ the Spirit of God enters into our life and we are "born again." Romans 8:9 says," ...if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ (or the Holy Spirit), "he does not belong to Christ" Romans 8:16 says, 'The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children." Jesus is our "personal" Savior. He died on the Cross for our sins. God saves us one person at a time as we respond to the Gospel message. Our God is a personal God, and Jesus makes this very clear in John 15. Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener" (Verse 1). To understand this teaching more completely we need to also hear Jesus in Verse 5: "I am the vine; you are the branches, Christians are the branches (receiving their life from the vine), and God the Father is the gardener (He plants, cultivates and prunes). The Father's cultivation of the Vine involves two things:

"He cuts off every branch...that does not bear fruit." This statement by Jesus leads some Christians to ask, "Does this mean a person can lose their salvation/" This is an ongoing discussion in the Church, but is probably not being addressed here. We need to understand this statement within the context of when it was being stated and not super impose the later theology of the Church on it. Jesus may be referencing Judas here who was an intimate part of his discipleship group but went out from among them and was "cut off." How are branches "cut off" by the father? Primarily through the Word of God. John says in 8:66 that at one point in Jesus' teaching ministry, 'many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." John said in 1 John 2:19 of those who would not receive the doctrine of the church he was overseeing "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us." Here were people who claimed to be a part of Christ, but would not receive His Word. Most Western cults have been started by people who went out from the Church. Psalm 119: 89 says, "Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens." Hebrews 4:12 says of God's Word, "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit. Joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." Through His double-edged Word God will cut off every branch in Christ that does not bear fruit.

Secondly God "trims clean" (or prunes) every branch in Christ "that does bear fruit so that it will be even more fruitful." This is the word of God I want to zero in on today. First of all, what is the "fruit?" Some people believe that fruit refers to winning people to the Lord, but more likely it is the fruit of the life of Christ in us. The "fruit of the Spirit: that Paul talks about in Galatians 5:22, 23. Paul said the fruit of the Spirit is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." These are the characteristics that define the life of Jesus who is the "True Vine." As we allow his life, through the Holy Spirit, to flow into us our lives will bear the same fruit as his. How many of these characteristics do you recognize in your life on a regular basis? We were born to bear good fruit. If we are a part of the Vine, that is, if we truly know Jesus as our personal Savior our lives should be bearing the fruit of the Spirit.

As the Gardener, God the father wants to prune away anything that interferes with our fruit bearing. He wants to work with us in a personal way. Now God prunes every branch individually. No two branches are exactly alike. How much pruning God has to do depends upon how old we were when we became a Christian, what our life was like before we came to Christ, and how willing we are to cooperate with God. Unlike a real grape vine we can resist the Gardener's attempts to prune away the excess "foliage" in our lives. We also need to realize that like grape vines, we will always be in need of periodic pruning. When I was growing up my dad raised a lot of things that were designed to bear fruit: berries, grapes, apple trees etc. and you know what? They all got a pruning annually to keep them bearing good fruit. So it is with us as Christians.

The purpose of pruning; God prunes us for two reasons: to get rid of anything that is blocking the flow of the Spirit in our lives and to eliminate anything that drains off our energy so the fruit cannot form and grow to maturity. What are some of the things that block the Spirit's flow and drains away the energy of our lives that God wants to use for fruit bearing? Here are a few examples: Unconfessed and unrepented sin. Unforgiveness, prayerlessness, too occupied with the activities of this world. Worry that is stimulated by your imagination of things that probably won't come to pass. Addictions, unresolved anger that goes back to your childhood. Or if you're a young person, a situation in your home that continues to feed your anger. Fear. Lust. Preoccupation with this world's goods (Gotta have it!").

What does God use to prune us? Primarily his word. Jesus said to his disciples in John 15: 3, You are already clean because of the Word I have spoken to you." But God may also use circumstances, other people or our conscience to prune us. He may prune us by withholding His hand when we are sinning until we become so miserable we finally turn back to him. God may send us someone to confront us on something. Or we may get caught either by our parents or law enforcement. Sometimes God will prune us by using our own conscience.

Is there pruning that God needs to be doing in your life? Ask God to show you what it is.

Remember that we have an enemy. Jesus said to Peter in Luke 22:31, 32: "Simon Simon Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." Take a lesson from the apostle Peter, none of us are immune to this sifting. Peter recovered, and later wrote this warning to the Church: "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith..." (1 Peter 5:8,9).

Conclusion: Life is not static. We are being changed. The question is, "In which direction?" Sifted or pruned, how is it with you?

Until next time,

Pastor Joe


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