(408) 779-0697 | info@westhills.org

John 15:1-11 Study Guide: Abiding in Christ

Community Group Study Guide — Abiding in Christ
How Following Christ leads to joy and a changed life
John 15:1-11

Study Information:
We live in a very success driven part of the world and it is difficult for some of us to not connect our meaning or happiness to our success. Rags to riches stories or the “founders myth” fill our new feeds and timelines and we often admire people who have “made it.” Yet so many people end up looking back on life wondering what kind of impact they made and whether they really found joy. Jesus deeply cares about our lives producing fruit and for us to have our joy be full. Instead of offering us a vision of hustle in order to find happiness, Jesus invites us to abide in him and find joy (John 15:11). We’re called to lasting and meaningful work that flows from our connection to Christ into the rest of our lives. To communicate this truth to us Jesus gave one of the most powerful images used in the gospels for what life in him looks like: he is the True Vine.

The vine was a common descriptor for Israel as the people of God in the Hebrew scriptures, but instead of flourishing in relationship with God Israel struggled to trust and obey and ended up producing “wild fruit” (Psalm 80, Isaiah 5). Jesus now says that he is the “true” vine, meaning that he is the new Israel and being part of God’s people is not based on ethnicity or family heritage but our connection to him and as we abide in him we will produce fruit and find joy.

Jesus is the vine, meaning he is the trunk of the plant, and we are branches extending out from the trunk that bear fruit. God’s role is pictured as a loving gardener caring the branches so they’d bear more fruit. Followers of Jesus are called to abide, the Father prunes and removes and the end result is that his church bears fruit and grows in joy. The key to all this is not producing through our own effort but through abiding in Christ.

John 15:1-8
Branches only bear fruit because they are connected to the vine. Branches are dependent on the vine for nourishment, water, pollination and all the various things that enable a plant to grow. Jesus told his disciples he was leaving, but he would not be abandoning them. It may seem hard to imagine how they disciples can “abide” in Jesus with him gone, but in the greater context of this section on John we have to remember that he is teaching about the Holy Spirit who will come and dwell in his people. How can they abide if he is leaving? Through the Holy Spirit. The word “abide” has shown up in John already when Jesus’ disciples first met him and wanted to see where he was “staying” or when Jesus talked about his word needing to “remain” in them (John 1:39, 5:38). “Abide" communicates a resting in Christ, relationship and a conscious need to depend on him. Notice that as we abide in Jesus he abides in us, meaning that this is a sharing of life, rest and peace that can only be present because of the Holy Spirit connecting us to God through his indwelling presence (John 15:4). This may seem a bit mysterious but do not let that push you away from the clear truth: Jesus wants his followers to know that to follow him involves a real relationship with him. This relationship results in meaningful work and fruit (John 15:5, 8). If you were to sever the connection of the branches form the vine they would no longer be alive and would shrivel up and die.

We can abide in Christ through conscious recognition of our need for Jesus, by being in his word and through worship and the result is meaningful work produced from our lives (John 15:10). When Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing” he did not mean that we couldn’t start a business, get organized, be better parents, volunteer at your school or even run a ministry; You can do a lot in your own strength without abiding in Jesus. But you can only bear spiritual fruit, grow in spiritual character, glorify God and influence God’s kingdom through an abiding, vibrant relationship with Jesus. Notice how God is not concerned with how useful or successful we are, rather he is commanding for us to rest in him and allow God to work to produce that fruit in our lives.

Pruning and Removing
John 15:2-3
God as the gardener has a role in this spiritual growth; every branch that is doing well gets the knife. It sounds counter intuitive but in order to bear more fruit the branches get pruned back often. Pruning a vineyard happens to prevent growth from being too rapid where you end up losing a whole branch and you also prune to cut away suckers that drain nourishment from the rest of the plant. It can look cruel but is what is for the best for the vine. Even though it is for the ultimate good of the branch, pruning still results in pain. In Psalm 119:71 the psalmist says that it was good for him to be afflicted so he could learn God’s statutes. Often growing in Christ can be painful. For some it is from the need to deny our worldly desires and say no to an ungodly relationship or change sinful actions that have been giving us earthly comfort. For others this pruning is the Lord bringing a measure of suffering to our lives to help us depend on him. From the outside it looks painful and it is certainly not easy, but pruning is always beneficial for us and it may take some seasons to see the evidence of that. In order to bear fruit the branches need to be stressed a bit. Just take a minute to think about what is more spiritually dangerous… seasons of suffering or times of abundance and comfort? You often see people grow more spiritually complacent during times of comfort. Remember, God never calls the evil we face “good” but he allows it and uses it for our good and it often results in growth and joy (James 1:2). If you’re a follower of Jesus you will face times of pruning, but know that it is for your spiritual good so you can bear more fruit and grow in your relationship and dependence on Christ.

The Gardener’s second role is to remove dead branches (John 15:3, 6). It is hard not to think of Judas as the specific target of what Jesus was saying here. The word in Greek for “takes away” here has a double meaning and can also mean “lift up” which has caused some people to interpret this passage as a vinedresser mending the branch so it can re-grow back into the vine but the contextual clues lead us to a different interpretation. Jesus says he takes away dead branches that are not bearing fruit and talks about how they were all clean because of his word (John 15:3). Notice also that these branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire rather than restored to the vine (John 15:6). Jesus also made reference to being “clean” here and if we go back to chapter 13 he referenced how one of them would betray him and how the disciples were all “clean” but “not everyone of them” (John 13:10-11). Soon after that Judas left to go betray Jesus. God does have a heart to restore his lost and hurting children and to mend them into the vine. However, these branches that do not bear fruit are likely a reference to people who are attracted to Jesus or the church for some reason but are not born again. Some claim to be in the vine (connected to Jesus) but the lack of fruit disqualifies them. We should not be quick to rush to judgment and our hope would be that people in that sutaiton would become connected to the vine and bear fruit, but there are always people like Judas and Jesus here promises to remove them so that the living branches can thrive.

Resulting in Love and Joy
John 15:9-11
Just as the Father and Jesus experienced love, so too we get to experience that same love. Jesus invites his followers to not just abide in him but to abide in the Father’s love (John 15:9). This happens through being in his word, prayer and keeping his commandments (John 15:7, 10). This fruitful life will result in greater intimacy with Christ, greater freedom from sin and greater joy. In our culture that emphasizes hustle, productivity and success know that the work you’re called to is to abide in Christ. God doesn’t care about your usefulness, he cares about how relationship with him leads to growing love and holiness through abiding and that will lead to greater happiness and joy.

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?

Discussion Questions:

What do you think Jesus means by the word “abide” and how is that illustrated through the image of the vineyard and the gardener in this passage?

We all go through difficult seasons in our lives. How does this passage help us understand what God’s intent is with allowing those seasons through the image of pruning?

Jesus mentioned that when we bear fruit we prove to be his disciples. What does bearing fruit look like and how does it glorify God (John 15:8)?

What is the connection between abiding in Christ and experiencing joy (John 15:11)?

How can you grow in this practice of abiding in Christ?