The Upper Room Discourse

How to Appropriate the Holy Spirit

John 15:1-12

Teaching t07673


Review theme of last week's teaching--Jesus' death on the cross would pave the way for God's gift of the Holy Spirit to all who believe in Jesus (Jn. 7:37-39). The moment you put your personal trust in Jesus as your Savior, the Holy Spirit permanently indwells you (Eph. 1:13,14).

We left this with a key question: Once we receive the Holy Spirit by believing in Christ, how can we appropriate the Holy Spirit? Because anyone who has received Christ knows that it is possible to be indwelt by the Spirit, and yet not experience these things consistently and in increasing measure.

Jesus knew we would need this information, so he provides it in Jn. 15:1-12 through a metaphor about FRUIT PRODUCTION. Let's read the first six verses. First, let's see if we can identify the parts:

God the Father is the VINEDRESSER, the One who oversees the vineyard and participates in the process of fruit-bearing.

Jesus is the TRUE VINE, the unique and sole source of spiritual life that produces the fruit.

We (humans) are the BRANCHES. Some are connected to him, but not fruitful (15:2a). Some are connected to him and fruitful (15:2b). And some are not connected to him at all (15:6). These latter branches refer to people who have not received Christ and therefore face God's judgment unless they change their minds (one of many limitations to a metaphor).

Where is the Holy Spirit? Although not specifically named, he would be the SAP given by Jesus to enable us to bear fruit.

And what is the FRUIT? It is what Jesus and the Father want to produce in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. It would include the three things mentioned above. Paul describes them in a slightly different way in two passages.

In Gal. 5:22,23, the fruit is relational closeness with God and character change, especially in our ability to love people.

In Rom. 1:13, the fruit is people who come to Christ through our witness (word & lifestyle).

Jesus says in 15:8 that God wants to bear a rich harvest of this fruit through you! If you want to bear this kind of fruit, you need to do two things . . . 

Understand & cooperate with the Vinedresser's work

Once we are in the Vine, we come under the Vinedresser's care. God the Father begins to intervene in our lives in various ways to make us fruitful. 15:2 speaks of two different spiritual states for the believer in Christ--unfruitful and fruitful--and two different ways the Father works with us.

Read 15:2a. What does it mean that he "takes away" the branch in Christ that is not bearing fruit? This sounds like unless we bear fruit, God will reject us and judge us. But this is clearly contradictory to the rest of scripture God accepts us on the basis of our faith in Christ apart from works (Eph. 2:8,9) and that we are then eternally secure (Jn. 10:27-30). To whom then is Jesus referring? Two views are possible.

He could be referring to people who have a superficial association with him, but who have never truly believed in him--people like Judas, for example. In this case, these branches would be identical to the branches in 15:6 who are destined for God's judgment unless they turn to Christ.

The best explanation is that Jesus is referring to true Christians who are not fruitful. The verb translated "takes away" (airo) should be translated differently. Airo, like most words, has a fairly wide range of meaning--from "take away" (Jn. 1:29) to "take up" (Jn. 5:8). Jn. 11:41 contains both uses. It seems to make more sense to translate it "lift up" in this case for two reasons: Vinedressers do indeed lift up/tie up unfruitful branches out of the mud and shade so they get sunshine, and other passages (Phil. 2:13) speak of God's initiative to stimulate us to fruitfulness. He does this in many ways.

Maybe we're ignorant of how to grow spiritually, so he may bring us into contact with walking Christians who can guide us to the resources we need to grow. Maybe we're mired in an immoral habit or relationship, so he allows us to experience the consequences of our poor choices--or even engineers some consequences--to wake us up to our need to get back with him. Whatever he does, we can be sure it is motivated by his desire to see us have the true joy of being fruitful for him.

What about those of us who are already bearing fruit? Why mess with success? Even fruitful branches have lots of extraneous growth that looks impressive, but uses life that should go to bearing more and bigger fruit (MY TOMATO BUSHES versus MY NEIGHBOR'S LEAN & MEAN PLANTS). God wants the greatest harvest possible, so he "prunes" us so we may bear more fruit. This pruning process is a necessary part of spiritual growth, so we need to recognize it as such.

Some of God's pruning concerns moral issues. As we grow in Christ, he keeps showing us attitudes that obstruct a fuller harvest of fruit. The sad thing is that we usually cannot see these by ourselves. So he has to open our eyes to things like pride, or autonomy, or complacency, or self-protectiveness. This can be quite painful, but if you know God's motivation is loving, you can really benefit from it (Heb. 12:11).

Some of God's pruning concerns issues that are not moral, but extraneous. He may sovereignly remove cherished RELATIONSHIPS or CAREER OPPORTUNITIES because he knows they are a distraction to your growth. He may convict you that the amount of time you devote to HOBBIES or TALENTS is excessive, and call on you to decrease it so you can make more time for fruit-bearing. How do you respond to this kind of pruning?

Abide in the Vine

Now we come to our part in bearing spiritual fruit. Read vs 4,5. Clearly, the key to a fruitful life is abiding in Christ. "Abide" means to remain. Your "abode" is where you reside. Our part is to "hang in there" with Christ. What does this involve?

First of all, it involves an attitude of dependence on him, because Jesus contrasts abiding in him to a self-sufficient attitude. Notice his insistence on our helplessness to produce fruit apart from him ("the branch cannot bear fruit of itself . . . apart from me you can do nothing"). Maturing Christians understand that the secret to fruitfulness is not religious self-effort, but rather consistently depending on Christ to live his life out through them.

This sounds a little nebulous--almost like Eastern religious passivity. But it is an active dependence that expresses itself in practical ways. Jesus goes on in 15:7-12 to explain some of these ways. Think of them not as good works you perform to earn God's acceptance or make him more inclined to bless you, but as ways in which you relate personally to Christ and expose yourself to his Spirit's transforming power.

Read 15:7. Here are a couple of keys.

Abiding him evidently involves having "his words abide in us." I like to call this regular exposure to and growing familiarity with God's Word--as opposed to sporadic religious exposure to the Bible. As we get into God's Word on a regular basis (TEACHINGS; PERSONAL READING & MEDITATION; DISCUSSIONS), this unleashes the power of the Holy Spirit to gradually teach us Christ's perspective on all of life and change our values and priorities. The more at home we are in God's Word, the more fruitful we will be.

It involves regularly communicating with him on a personal level, acknowledging your need for him in each situation, and asking him for the resources you need to bear fruit. "Ask whatever you wish . . . " doesn't mean relating to God as Aladdin's genie ("Your wish is my command")

Read 15:9. Here is another key--"abide in my love." When we focus on how we view ourselves, or on how we perceive others view us, or on what we don't have that we want, etc., our spiritual lives become self-absorbed and unfruitful. But when we choose instead to reflect on God's love and acceptance, and cultivate gratitude to him for this, this unleashes the Holy Spirit to cause growth in our lives.

Read 15:10. This sounds threatening at first--like God won't accept us unless we obey him all the time. For some of us, this dredges up painful memories of abusive parents or authority figures whose commands were self-centered and rejected/punished us unless we complied. Jesus' point here is very different. The issue is not God's acceptance, but rather our ongoing experience of his love. Relational closeness with Christ involves trusting that his will is for our good (15:11)--which is expressed by being willing to actually follow his leadership in our lives. How do you respond when Christ corrects your attitude toward boss, or calls on you to share your faith--with mistrustful resistance, or with trusting cooperation? There is a connection between your response and your relational closeness with God and consequent fruitfulness.

Read 15:12. Here is one thing that Jesus calls on all of us to do, which is in itself a way of abiding in him. We need to cultivate reciprocal love relationships with other Christians. There is no such thing as a fruitful Christian who is isolated from other Christians.

This means getting involved with other Christians closely enough that you can serve them the way Jesus serves you: encouraging them, forgiving them, building them up, praying with them, and at times by admonishing them.

This also means getting involved with them enough that you allow them to serve you by encouraging you, forgiving you, building you up, praying with you, and at times by admonishing you.

If you don’t have this, you won't bear much fruit, because Jesus has designed fruit-bearing to take place in this kind of corporate context.  Getting involved in a Home Group is a great way in which you can learn how to abide in Christ in these other ways!


As we develop a lifestyle built around depending on Jesus in these ways, his fruit will gradually emerge and we will know increasing joy (15:11)!