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Sunday, 28 July 2013

A Grape Concern...

Yes, you've read that correctly, as the title is deliberate. It was thought up after a verse in John's Gospel was brought to my attention - 15:1-2, which, from the NIV, reads:
I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

This was brought to my attention after posting my last blog: He Who Overcomes. As one who believes in Eternal Security of the Believer, this verse certainly looks as if the whole doctrine falls flat.

When I consider many of the verses John wrote, such as he who believes in him shall have eternal life, he must mean what he had said. When Jesus declared himself the Bread of Life and everyone eating shall live, he meant that metaphorically, but still we don't expect any small print to condition such a statement. Then with his insistence on his union with the Father, and what the Father have given him he shall in no wise cast out. This concludes with a declaration that all three: The Father, Son and Holy Spirit were sealed with the covenant that none of those the Father had given will ever be lost, but all kept and protected - all of these found in chapters 6, 10 and 17. Luke also wrote that at the Last Supper, we have Jesus reassuring Peter that he had prayed to the Father that his faith would not fail (22:31-32.)
Then in the parables which Jesus himself taught, we can read of a woman taking leaven and mixing it into the dough - symbolising the Holy Spirit doing a work in the believer which cannot be undone, as the leaven cannot be separated from the dough once it has been mixed in - Matthew 13:33. Then the distinction between the wicked and the just (13:47-50) at the end of human history, which indicate that the wicked remained evil and the just, righteous, as pictured by different species of fish caught in the net. The parable of the tares tells very much the same thing - that the wheat and the tares were two distinct species of grass. The seeds of wheat were sown by the landowner himself, while the seeds of the tares were sown at the landowner's field by an enemy. The wheat remained as wheat, and tares as tares, there were no conversion from one to the other, no wheat turning into tares - Matthew 13:24-30.
The idea of Eternal Security, according to these parables and the discourses recorded in the Gospels, depends on who we are; children of God. In John 10, one of the Lord's main discourses is that sheep which belongs to the Good Shepherd will follow him, and they are promised eternal life, given to them by the Shepherd himself. Jesus then emphasised that none of his sheep would pay any attention to a stranger, for his voice being unfamiliar, would set off instinctive alarms which would cause them to flee from the voice of a stranger.

Then we have such beautiful promises in Paul's letters, in particular Romans chapter eight, and Ephesians Chapters 1-3. For example, I quote these verses (NIV):
What, then, can we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?
It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died - more than that, he was raised to life - is at the right hand of God and who is interceding for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height or depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:31-39, emphasis mine.

We as children of God cannot ever be separated from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus! These are the most plain and straightforward words which teaches Eternal Security, or Once Saved Always Saved (OSAS.) We cannot lose our salvation after conversion because we are a new creation! (2 Corinthians 5:17.) However, just as two species of fish will always remain the same two species, likewise, wheat will always be wheat and tares will always be tares, it's through the grace of God that we have been adopted into God's family from being Satan's slaves. In a sense, because of our regeneration of our spirits, we have become "changed species" and therefore we could never go back to the "species" we were before. That is why I'm such an advocate of OSAS. We are a new creation, forever adopted into God's family.

Therefore, on the face of it, John 15:1-8 looks like a direct contradiction to all what was said above. I'll quote verse 2 again, from the NIV:

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

The RSV puts it like this:

Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

Like the RSV, the KJV as it:

Every branch that beareth not fruit he takes away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

According to the Greek/English New Testament, the verse says:

Every branch in me not bearing fruit he takes it, and every (branch) the fruit bearing, he prunes it that fruit more it may bear.

It is the word "away" added into the verse by the English translators when the KJV was printed in 1611 and most likely in earlier English translations. The word was added to bring out the full sense of what Jesus was trying to say, according to the translators. However, the UK is not the land for growing grapevines, not so much because it isn't warm enough, rather, there is too little sunshine throughout the year. Therefore in the UK, and certainly in the days of King James' reign, no one here really understood what was involved in growing and harvesting grapes. By contrast, in the Middle East, where the land enjoys long spells of Summer sunshine, grapevines were, and are abundant. And such were harvested in the region for millennia. The Canaanites knew how to grow and harvest grapes long before Israel invaded Canaan under Joshua's leadership.

In preparation for this blog I did a little research myself on the Internet, mainly to confirm what I have already suspected, from a sermon delivered some years ago, that branches not bearing fruit are not cut off by the gardener, instead they are moved to another position to maximise exposure to the sunlight.
Year old grapevines positioned on trellises
The fruitless branches referred to here were the youngest shoots which needs plenty of sunlight exposure before they can bear any fruit. Hence the need of climbing frames or trestles for these young shoots to be lifted up. These young shoots don't produce any fruit for the first year, maybe two years. The young branches will not be cut off from the vine, instead they guarantee that the vine has a future. When the branch begins to bear fruit, both good and inferior quality grapes grow on it. The inferior grapes are cut away and disposed of until the branch produces only sound fruit - good for both eating and wine making. A grapevine that is well taken care of can last up to a hundred years.

Christians who don't believe in Eternal Security will point to verse six, which reads:

If  anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

To be honest, it is easy to read "Hell" into the verse, making it read that abiding in Christ through human willpower or choice is essential  to "stay saved." Rather, the verse seem to imply that the branch became separated from the rest of the tree by some force before it started to wilt, or dry up. Living branches just don't voluntarily sever themselves from the rest of the tree, unless the whole tree is diseased. To be severed, it would either be cut with a pruning tool, a saw or an axe, or broken off by force. But in either case the cause of the severance is from outside, causing the branch to die afterwards. When considering that Jesus prayed for Peter's faith not to fail, and shortly afterwards made a request with his Father for all believers to be kept safe and protected; would God allow a branch to be broken off his tree by an outside force? Would God sever a believer after adoption into his family, against the request of his own Son?

But on the other hand, history is full of those who claim to be Christian but had never experienced a re-birth of the Spirit. Having travelled extensively, I have blended into whole populations who assert their Christian background but have never experienced a re-birth of the spirit. Many of these attend church on a regular basis, yet remain in their sin. I have even watched TV documentaries about Pirates of the Caribbean and seen the movies, how they have paid respect to the Bible and claim a Christian heritage, yet I doubt that any of them were saved; or in one of Charles Dickens's novels, how a career housebreaker and murderer had claimed a Christian background, but showed no indication of having salvation.

The fate of the lost could well be compared with discarded, wilted branches which are collected and burned. But we need to remember that the whole discourse, from the start of chapter 14 to the end of chapter 16 was about the Holy Spirit taking the place of Jesus' physical presence after his resurrection and ascension. In John 14:16-17, Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit will abide in them forever. The Holy Spirit in the vine is here symbolised as the sap flowing into the branch. The life of the branch is in the sap itself, enabling the branch to bear fruit. If the sap dries up, the branch will wither. In turn, the young, yet fruitless branch needs both the sap and plenty of sunlight before it can bear fruit. The sap is the Holy Spirit; the sunlight is the Bible, both essential for maturity.

The discourse took place after the Last Supper but before entry into the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas Iscariot had already gone to the Pharisees to discuss how to hand Jesus over to them. So the Lord was talking to the Eleven, all true believers. The illustration of the grapevine was familiar to all his listeners, who probably had a vineyard or even a single vine in their back gardens. They knew exactly what he was talking about. Young shoots are simply not mature enough for fruit bearing and instead, need to be exposed to the sunlight.

It is very much the same as in the parable of the sower. Four types of ground are mentioned; with the fourth, the good soil, eventually producing a crop which will feed others. But everyone knew, as well as Jesus himself, that seed falling on good soil will not produce a harvest the next day! Instead, for days after the initial sowing, maybe even for weeks, the surface of the soil does not look much different. But even then, after the first shoots begin to appear, it will be months before the crop is ready to harvest.

It is a good illustration. Jesus had never advocated instant maturity straight after conversion. As with the wheat and the tares, both needed time to grow and mature. The woman mixed leaven into the dough, but this did not make the produce ready for eating. It would first need to be baked and then allowed to cool before consumption. The pattern is the same in all illustrations. The young branches does not produce fruit because the branch isn't yet mature. It needs extra sunlight. In the same way, a new believer isn't expected to bear fruit straight away. He needs first to grow spiritually. He needs to read the Bible, through it get to know the Lord, learn to pray and enjoy fellowship with other believers in a church where encouragement is found. Fruit will come later.
But once saved always saved. He is adopted into God's family and he will never perish. Fruit is not expected so soon after believing. Neither should we expect God to sever him from his family to a lost eternity in Hell.


  1. Frank,
    leaven is 'doctrine' not the Holy Spirit. Jesus says in Matthew ch. 16 v.. 12 'Beware of the leaven ( some interpretations say 'yeast') of the Pharisees.' Matthew ch. 13 v. 49 states 'This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous'. Ecclesiastes ch. 8 vs. 12 and 13 state 'Although a wicked person who commits a hundred crimes may live a long time, I know that it will go better with those who fear God, who are reverent before him. Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.' In verse 10 it says that the 'wicked' are those who used to come and go from the holy place and receive praise. I believe absolutely that believing in Jesus means picking up our daily 'manna' on our journey through the wilderness, acting on that word spoken to us and having our minds renewed in Christ. However, although I would encourage people to do this and this is what I believe the scripture to 'work out our own salvation with fear and trembling' means, I also respect the fact that each of us must do what we believe to be right. God understands us all, but the scriptures also say that there are wheat and tares in the kingdom of God and wheat and tares look exactly the same. God bless you.

  2. Dear Frank,
    We must rightly divide the word of truth. The vine and branches passage was spoken by Jesus to His Jewish apostles, who were saved by their belief that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Son of God (the Gospel of the Kingdom).

    The Pauline passages used to support eternal security of the believer apply to the Church, the bride of Christ, saved by His grace through their faith in His death, burial and resurrection as the only way to Heaven (1 Cor. 15:1-4; Gospel of Grace). As we have discussed many times on our respective blogs, we both believe in "once saved, always saved" because the preponderance of Scripture supports this position. We did nothing to merit or earn our salvation, and there is nothing we (or anyone or anything) can do to lose it or take it away, provided it was a genuine, heartfelt spiritual rebirth.

    That being said, I don't take the extreme position of some believers that the words of Jesus were only directed to Israel and the Jews, and therefore don't apply to us. I feel we can learn much from His teachings and apply them to our present context. Our late pastor used to say that sometimes God can get more glory from a believer's death than from his life. If a born-again Christian strays so far from God that their life no longer glorifies Him, He may end their earthly life. Their salvation and eternal life in Heaven are not lost, but they would receive no rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

    Thanks as always for the great writing and thorough exposition of this challenging, thought provoking topic.

    God bless,

  3. "Are you saved?" asks the Fundamentalist. The Catholic should reply: "As the Bible says, I am already saved (Rom. 8:24, Eph. 2:5–8), but I’m also being saved (1 Cor. 1:18, 2 Cor. 2:15, Phil. 2:12), and I have the hope that I will be saved (Rom. 5:9–10, 1 Cor. 3:12–15). Like the apostle Paul I am working out my salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), with hopeful confidence in the promises of Christ (Rom. 5:2, 2 Tim. 2:11–13)."

  4. I agree with everything Brenda said. And I will reiterate the first line of Laurie's comment. We must rightly divide the word of Truth. You supplied a very solid argument for "OSAS" but that scripture (in it's entirety) is straight forward. But you focused on only the first two verses leaving out very important parts of that verse. This is how confusion begins.

    Sharing the entire scripture and not just that line about being cut off would have been better, instead of separating parts and leaving the latter part as something only people who don't believe in OSAS would bring up. From 15:1-8 should have been shared all together as one piece. You said that, "Christians who don't believe in Eternal Security will point to verse six," I have to say that Christian's who believe in rightly dividing the word of God would address each part of that scripture not excluding verse six. That's like sharing a parable then leaving out the ending, the full picture cannot be painted in anyone's mind if they are only seeing half of it. Confusion comes when important parts of a scripture is left off. The reason a Christian would go to verse six is because it's an important part of what Jesus is saying and it brings everything to together.

    Your comparison of a branch that bears no fruit with a babe in Christ(a Christian not fully mature)doesn't match up. A babe in Christ ofcourse would not bear fruit as yet because hey haven't reached maturity and God knows that like you mentioned it takes time. Only a fully mature branch could be expected to bear fruit, so I'm pretty sure Jesus wasn't talking about maturity in regards to growth but in regards to the fact that branches at some point are expected to produce fruit. He is talking about those who have reached that point where they should produce fruit but have not, hence are useless and are cut off.

  5. Just the word "remain" indicates that their will be those who will not remain. In fact, it's even prophesied that many will stray from the faith in the latter days on earth. What I though as I read was that you would have mentioned the actual fruits, you mentioned the Holy Spirit, but you said nothing about the fruits Jesus expects of us. The Fruits mentioned in Galatians 5:22. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law." These are the fruits Jesus expects us to bear and if we don't bear them we will be cut off and cast out. That line is pretty clear. What you did talk about is mentioned in Romans 11:11-36. There have been branches that were temporarily removed, but in that passage Paul was talking about the Jews who are the original branches, cut off because of disobedience and unbelief and the Gentiles were grafted in after the original branches were removed. But eventually all the branches will be there, the original and the ones grafted in, creating the one flock Jesus mentioned in John 10:16. The great mystery that not even the Jews knew about. Peter for the Jews Paul for the Gentiles, so that both could hear the Gospel, because the plan was not to segregate the Church but to bring everyone together to make the one body, the bride Jesus is returning for. Jew and Gentiles in one flock together following our One True Shepard Jesus Christ. That Romans scripture lines right up with what you said about vines being removed but not destroyed.

    But here in this part of John where Jesus speaks of Him being the true vine and those who do not remain in Him will be removed and cast into the fire is talking about something slightly different. How can a person honestly believe He is going to enter heaven after not bearing even a single fruit. Yes, those who have believed in Jesus Christ will receive the gift of salvation, the cleansing of our past sins. But we must now as new creatures bear fruits. If we don't we will be cut off. It's the same as being doers of the word not only hearers as mentioned in James 1:22 and Matthew 7:24-27. Doers bear fruit, hearers only, do not.

    I think this really is in correlation with the scriptures that speaks about those who will be saying "Lord Lord, didn't we feed the poor and do this and that in your name and so on" not entering heaven. They thought they too were OSAS. We are commanded to examine ourselves to see if we are still in the faith and a clear indication of one still being in the faith is the producing of fruit. If you have no fruit how can think in your heart that you will enter the kingdom of heaven. Salvation is a gift we receive upon believing but in order to bear fruit we must abide in Jesus the true vine, which many think they are but are not. "Trembling and fear" are words that paint a very vivid picture of the disposition of true believers. Yes, we can be confident in the promises God has made, that's gives us comfort and we will always need His comforting. But we must remember that the enemy is roaming around, and let't not forget knowledge puffs up. It is love that edifies. I don't really feel any type of way about the OSAS. It is indeed true that nothing can separate us from God's love, but that doesn't mean because God loves us we get a free ticket into heaven;I bet you gays will tell you otherwise though. Even those who will perish in Hell, God does not rejoice over their death, He loves them too that's why He is suffering so long with us, it is not His will that anyone should perish. People who don't even believe in God, He still loves them. Does that mean they will enter heaven if they continue in disbelief? No. We can think OSAS and get very puffed up and forget that bearing fruit is essential in our walk in the Holy Spirit.

  6. Hi Frank! Thank you for your comment. First let me say that when I speak of the "early church", I am speaking of the church which originated in the Book of Acts, in the upper room, where the Holy Spirit was poured out and there was speaking in tongues. Yes, the church in Corinth definitely messed up big time. That was the whole purpose of Paul writing to them.and lecturing them about what they were doing wrong. What I am talking about is that we today desperately need to believe in God just as they did back then as well as show our faith in Him, rather than saying a little prayer and hoping for the best. If we truly believe that our God is our provider, our healer and all other things to us, then we need to back up our claim by showing God how much faith we have in Him.

    Now, I know I am in the "minority" on this subject in this commenting section, but as you know, I do NOT believe in once saved always saved. According to Acts 2:38, it says to be saved we must repent, be baptized everyone of us IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST, and we SHALL receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. This is just the beginning. Being saved is a life long process of Living for God and having a relationship with Him. I believe in Thessalonians, (I can't remember if it's first or second, but I can look it up if you want me to) it speaks of God turning people over to reprobate minds. I looked that word up at one time, and it means HOPELESS. In other words there is no hope for them. Another point is Sin cannot enter into heaven. God and sin cannot co-exist. Therefore, to be saved and STAY saved, we must REPENT (turn away from sin and turn our lives around).

    Thank you for allowing me to put in my quarter's worth.

    God Bless,