Jesus often taught through metaphors and parables, using tangible truths to shed light on spiritual matters. It makes sense that he taught this way, not simply because physical things are easier to understand, but because God patterned the world so we can look for and discover His truth everywhere we turn.
One of Jesus’ most recognizable metaphors is one he shared with his disciples at the last supper, on the eve of his crucifixion. His image of a gardener at work can be found in John 15. It begins, “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener…”
A vinedresser constantly watches over his vineyard, cutting away and pruning branches as they grow and decay and harvesting the fruit as it ripens. But though his care is constant, the dormant season just before spring is reserved for heavy pruning—when the gardener cuts away drastically to ready the vine for new growth. Just before Jesus goes to the cross, he tells them about this; this cutting away that is necessary if believers are to grow in the new life he is about to die to offer them.
Here in the northern hemisphere, the Lenten season lines up with this pruning season. It’s the time when many Christians concentrate as a community on repentance, allowing God to prune the church, making it ready for the growth that breaks through as the Easter sun rises after a long winter. If you have neglected to examine your own life and allow Christ to prune what is harmful and painful from your heart, mind and soul, it's not too late to make room for new joy and growth to take place in your life!
Jesus said, “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.” Pruning is absolutely necessary for a good harvest. Vinedressers cut away the tangled, useless, dead branches that suffocate and disrupt growth. They cut away branches to prevent disease from infecting and destroying the crop. They prune to direct growth in the right direction, and they prune to make the fruit grow bigger and sweeter.
He continued, “You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you.” His message—the words, laws and teachings of God—are his cutting tool. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” His word is the tool that cuts to remove the dying branches, but it’s also the tool that cuts to bring life and health. It’s one tool with two effects—life to one and death to the other.
The Hope: Live in Christ
So what determines which branches produce fruit and benefit from the cutting and which branches fail to produce fruit and are cut away? As Jesus continued, he answered that question. The Message translation of his words explains it beautifully. It says, “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire.” Christians and non-Christians alike are prone to try to be productive and to try to find life on their own, apart from Jesus, apart from the vine. And when we fail to believe that life can only be found in him, we begin to wither.
Then God’s sharp words fall upon us and cut off every withered part. When we come in contact with them, they either prune us, restoring us to health and faith; or find us entirely dead already and then we fall away. But even then hope isn’t lost—God has the power to bring dead branches back to life. Romans 11:23 says, “If they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.”
The point is that God’s sharp and powerful words, His wisdom, laws and teachings only improve our lives when they find us alive—attached to Jesus through faith, receiving his power. When His words find us this way, the pruning that looks like conviction, repentance and the cutting away of doubt and sin is something to desire rather than fear.
When you find yourself discouraged or struggling with sin—that underlying unbelief that tempts you to try to find life on your own—the solution is always to remain in the vine. You do this by keeping “your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” (Hebrews 12:1-3, MSG).
Your faith in Jesus is what will keep you in the vine, and 2 Peter 1:5-11 lists out actions you can take to strengthen your faith. It says to supplement it with:
1. “Moral excellence”— deliberately do good to others and keep a clear conscience
2. “Knowledge”—study scripture.
3. “Self-control”—practice spiritual disciplines.
4. “Patient endurance”—remain strong in the face of adversity.
5. “Godliness”—devote yourself to God each day.
6. “Brotherly affection”—find encouragement in Christian community.
7. “Love for everyone”—try to see others as God sees them.
“The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be” (2 Peter 1:8).
May we all grow with new, powerful and impactful lives in Christ this Spring!