Myth Buster Series: Fruitless Christians?
by Dennis Michelson
Introduction: I have developed some tolerance and understanding for those who differ with me on various theological issues. The first 60 years of my life were devoted to speaking and now the last 60 years are dedicated to listening. After all, the good Lord gave each of us two ears and one mouth.
Recently, I was appoached by a man whom I consider to be a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. In the course of our conversation (he did most of the talking) he stated that he is really against this "once saved always saved" notion coming from preachers and teachers.
He cited verse two of the text before us and said it seemed plain that "every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away" and in verse six "if a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch . . .and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned."
He freely admitted that the Lord saves us but we must "hold out" and be obedient to the end in order to make it to heaven. If that is what one believes then it becomes fairly easy to deduct from John 15:1-8 that some believers may one day be burned.
However, an inductive study of Scripture prohibits one from reaching such a radical conclusion based upon this text or several others commonly cited to support views which posit that an unfruitful Christian - or a sinful Christian - can cease to be a Christian and ultimately suffer eternal punishment.
Although I see the brother's reasoning, I still beg to differ. When men look at "unfruitful Christians" they assume that such a person is liable to eternal punishment if they continue to be unfruitful. Conversely, when God speaks of "unfruitful Christians" he simply calls them what they really are - lost.
When I say unfruitful, I do not mean 30%, 60%, or 100% in the fruit-producing department. I mean 0% - no fruit. No fruit is an indication of no root. Passages such as the Parable of the Sower help us understand that those who profess to know Christ but produce no fruit are not in danger of losing something they never had.
This is the crux of the problem with people like my friend. He will look at someone and conclude they lost salvation and I will look at the same person and conclude they never had it. Keep in mind that the passage before us outlines two kinds of people (15:2) - those who bear no fruit and those who bear some fruit.
1. THE SETTING (John 13 and 14)
Judas is now gone. It appeared to everyone (except the Lord) that this apostle was not only with Christ but thought to be in Christ. This was never the case as both Old and New Testament passages indicate that even though Judas produced "works", he never produced any "fruit." Judas had leaves but no fruit.
Israel had leaves but no fruit. That is exactly what one gets without Christ (15:5) - nothing! The term in 15:5 translated as "without" means "apart from" not only suggesting dependency on the Lord but also connection with the Lord.
The Lord could say to Judas and all those like him - "I never knew you." Keep this in mind since Israel was extremely religious and Judas had obviously performed many wonderful works but in both cases - no fruit.
Also keep in mind that this is an allegory. An allegory is a story used for teaching or explaining something. In allegories people, animals, and vines have some meaning besides that one that is readily seen.
Parables and allegories ought always be interpreted in light of all other Scriptures written to teach what a particular allegory seeks to illustrate. Jesus did not actually become a piece of vine with people sticking out of Him.
2. THE "SOLUTIONS"
a. The passage teaches that some persons who were actually in Christ at one time are subsequently removed and become candidates for eternal punishment by fire. These people have become liable to eternal perdition because they did not abide in Christ once they were in Christ. This is the standard Arminian position which can be characterized as saved by grace but kept by works.
b. The passage teaches that those who profess to know Christ but are completely barren of genuine spiritual fruit have nothing but an empty profession of faith. Those who have no fruit ultimately perish because they lack Christ (the True Vine) and consequently are unable to produce any fruit.
Those who do produce fruit (as a result of their vital connection with the True Vine) are pruned so they can be even more frutiful. This is the standard Calvinistic position which can be characterized as saved by grace and kept by grace.
Note: These two "solutions" are irreconcilable. In actual fact the former position (a) is really best characterized as saved by works (with the help of grace) and kept by works (with the help of grace). Those who hold this view see faith as a pseudo-meritorious act on the part of man whereby he gains the discriminating favor of God's grace.
The latter view (b) sees faith as a gift from God and as such - when exercised - is non-meritorious. Simply stated it has to be works or grace but it cannot be a mixture of both.
3. THE SUBJECTS
Consider the implications of the view which teaches that one can potentially fall away from grace and ultimately be lost if they do not continue to abide in Christ. That fits nicely if you look to Judas for support but what about Peter? Judas betrayed the Lord once. Peter denied the Lord three times.
God doomed Judas but discipined Peter. The difference - Judas was lost and never had salvation - Peter stopped abiding and the Lord brought out the pruning shears. You see the Lord knows the way of the righteous but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
How much better to be pruned by the Divine Husbandman than to be slashed (and even burned) by some knife-wielding fundamental pharisee. When God cuts you it is surgery. When men seek to use the pruning knife it becomes a spirtual felony.
4. THE SCRIPTURES
Please consider the following:
Psalm 1 - Two men, two ways, two outcomes.
Jeremiah 17:5-10 - Adversity and drought reveal what is really inside a person.
Matthew 13 - Compare the Parable of the Sower with the concept of "no fruit" in John 15:1-8. Read Matthew 13:24-30 and note that the wheat is never subject to burning but the tares are - and no one really knows the difference until they are finally separated.
II Peter 2:18-22 - Perfume on a pig results in a pig that smells better until the perfume gives way to the pigfume.
5. THE SERIOUSNESS
One can be sympathetic to a person who looks at one passage such as John 15 and reaches a different conclusion. The real problem comes when you reach a conclusion in John 15 which runs counter to the entire doctrine of justification. In many instances arguments and debates are fueled when justification is confused with sanctification as is often the case with eternal security.
The Pauline doctrine of justification as taught in Romans and Galatians will guard a believer from reaching a false conclusion in an allegory like John 15:1-8. Also the twin doctrines of justification and sanctification will prohibit a person from turning the grace of God into lasciviousness.
Remember that ALL who are justified WILL be gloried - but the same ALL will be subject to sanctificaton by the hand of the Divine prunning knife.
Please consider that any kind of justification which can ultimately lead to condemnation is no justification at all.