Most people don’t like the brutal honesty of Jesus; in fact, many preachers refrain from commenting on certain of His harsh statements. After all, Jesus is love; isn’t that what His Red Letter Words are all about? Don’t the people who proudly proclaim they read only His Words in Red say that His message is all about grace and forgiveness for sin?
Pretty much. But, in reality, they also tend to pick and choose what they like and don’t like about what Jesus said.
Jesus’ message in John 15, where He speaks of being the true vine, is a potent example of this hypocrisy. In this chapter, Jesus says things that make people wince, and in doing so, they conveniently set those particular Words aside in their theology. If you’ve read any number of my essays, you’ll know I try not to evade such things; rather, I attempt to tackle them head-on simply because they are hard, and we need to think about them.
What are some of these difficult statements? Let’s start with John 15:2:
Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
Jesus will go on to say as an analogy that He is the vine and we – His followers, i.e. those who call ourselves Christians – are the branches of that vine. Initially in this verse, Jesus states that if a branch doesn’t bear any fruit, it’s obviously not of any worth. If we’re going to have a fruitful vineyard, every branch on the vine must bear grapes; otherwise, what’s the point in it being there? Thus, if it’s barren, it must be removed. In like manner, if a Christian is barren, the questions must be asked: What’s he doing? Why isn’t he bearing fruit?
If the vinedresser sees such a useless branch, he removes it. Likewise, Jesus says that if a Christian is useless, He must remove him because every branch must bear fruit just as every Christian must do as well. In other words: is he really a Christian, i.e. a born-again believer saved by the blood of Christ?
Jesus doesn’t stop there. He get more pointed in John 15:6, surely a verse that isn’t high on a lot of people’s reading lists:
If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
What are we to do with this? If a branch on the vine has proven itself to have no purpose other than to suck up water and divert it from those branches that actually produce, Jesus tells us that such branches must be eliminated from the vine. They are literally chopped off and allowed to completely dry out. Along with other such dry tinder, they are then collected and tossed into the fire for destruction.
Where does the analogy take us? This is where it makes folks exceedingly uncomfortable. First, another good question arises. Can someone truly be a Christ-follower and not bear fruit? One explanation for this situation certainly is that the answer to this is no. Thus, a “Christian” who doesn’t bear good fruit isn’t really one at all; he is simply a pew sitter who attends church but hasn’t experienced the life-changing transformation necessary to actually be “in Christ.” I think James in his epistle would echo this.
However, if the response to the above question is yes, that someone can be a true follower of Christ yet have zero fruit, then we reach a most difficult conclusion. Such a person – according to Jesus – would be treated in the same manner as the false Christian. If that’s the case, it really blows up the idea of eternal security.
What the concept of eternal security says is that once a person is saved, Christ keeps him and there’s nothing that can remove him from that position. I think that’s true as far as we take it, i.e. that no one and nothing external can remove him from the love and security of being in Christ and being eternally secure.
Yet, there is this little thing called free will. If we truly believe in this, then it allows us to always – continually – have the ability to make choices. If we believe this, then we have to believe that we will always have the choice of whether or not to continue following Jesus. Yes, He said that the Father has given Him His own and He keeps them. But, what if a person decides he no longer wishes to be one of those whom Jesus claims as His own?
Don’t we always say that God is a gentleman and will never force us to do something against our will? If that’s true, then if someone makes the conscious decision that he no longer wishes to follow Christ, won’t God allow him the freedom to go his own way? Now, that’s not to say that the Holy Spirit won’t give up on this individual without a fight, but if he’s bound and determined to leave the Lord, won’t He give him what he wants? If this person decides to no longer be the servant of the Master, or the branch on the vine, won’t God eventually honor his choice to depart?
Listen, I don’t know anymore about how God ultimately works in matters such as this than anyone else. I simply read the text, see what the Lord says, and try to reason it out. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe eternal security means just that, regardless of what an individual decides for himself. Maybe God keeps such people against their will, or they lose their will and cannot choose to leave His good graces. But, does that really make sense? I personally don’t think it does.
We as humans are made in the image of God. He has uniquely created us with all the joys and risks. He knows what we’re all about, and He has made every provision to redeem us and keep us. However, if someone doesn’t want to be kept, well… what’s to say?
I know that I want to be His own and at the center of His will. When I read God’s Word, I see the fate of those who disobey or wander from the faith. It’s not pretty. The idea of being thrown into the fire doesn’t appeal to me whatsoever. Maybe that’s a benefit of studying Bible prophecy. In so doing, I know what God has said is the end of all things. He has shown me the stark choice of eternity without Him versus eternal life with Him.
I choose life.