The Vine and the Branches
Growing up near Napa Valley’s grape and wine country, I often observed beautiful vineyards arching in perfect rows across the rolling hills. Although the imagery was familiar and Jesus’ “vine and branches” analogy was often cited in church, the deep truths in John 15 remained abstract to me—just concepts and ideas. I didn’t get it; I didn’t envision myself “abiding” in Jesus—as a branch depends on its vine. What did it truly mean to abide? What did pruning feel like? Did I really believe that “apart from Christ I could do nothing”?
While working for a gap-year program, our staff traveled to Israel with a group of students to hike and study. One day while hiking through Galilee, we studied several “farm” parables: Good Shepherd, wheat & tares, good & barren soil, and vine & branches.
As the sun glistened over the bright, green grapes, our guide read John 15:1-17. Right before my eyes stood sturdy, stocky vines holding smaller, sometimes delicate branches that snaked upward in a network of ropes and cables. The large grapes grew among the maze of branches. This visual picture brought the Word of God to life in a whole knew way. Old, familiar words jumped off the page as if reading them for the first time. I meditated on the passage and then glanced at the vines. I imagined a wise Vinedresser spying dead or decayed branches, clipping them, and tossing them aside. I imagined how silly it would be for a feeble branch to remain alone, disconnected from the healthy trunk.
The job of a branch—my job—is to remain, to abide, and to bear much fruit. God’s Word is alive and powerful—not mysterious concepts to confuse or amuse my brain. God designed Scriptural truths to shape my perspective, thus transforming my actions. Ever since that day, I have wanted—more than anything—to consistently abide in the Vine, and to bear delicious fruit for Him!
Teaching Children about Abiding and Bearing Fruit
I brought this renewed understanding into my Elementary Sunday school class. How could I explain to children that the secret to the Christian life is not rules, but maintaining an essential relationship with the Lord? He is the Vine; we are the branches; the Father is the all-wise Gardener. These three key concepts to help children grow in their faith.
- Abiding is an Adventure
Abiding in Christ is not some mystical spiritual state available only to monks who spend lifetimes in silent prayer. Christians who abide in Christ march to the beat of God’s Spirit. We follow His lead. The Holy Spirit serves as our spiritual compass, guiding each of us to complete our individual pilgrimages. As we remain in Him, the Holy Spirit empowers us to overcome any challenge we encounter along our journey.
- Abiding means obeying. In John 15:3 and 15:7, Jesus explains that His words actually cleanse us. And if Christ’s words remain embedded in us, our loving Father will hear and answer our prayers. God’s Word is the Christian’s source of life.
- Abiding means loving. In verses 9-10, Jesus urges us to remain in His love. Verse 12 commands us to love each other with the same selfless love He has shown us. To abide in Christ, focus on relationships with others. Those who are connected to Jesus love as He did.
- Abiding Leads to Bearing Fruit
A healthy plant produces fruit naturally. If a tree fails to produce fruit, the gardener does not grab the trunk, shake it, and demand productivity. Instead, he employs all his skills to encourage the tree’s health; he provides ample water, sunshine, and nutrients. Similarly, because God’s Spirit produces the fruit we hope to see in our own lives as well as our children, we do everything possible to stay connected with the living God. Only His indwelling Spirit can empower us to live the way God desires.
- Bearing Fruit Connects Us: The Apostle Paul passionately argued, “Those who have God’s indwelling Holy Spirit do not need the law to keep them from sin. The Spirit will guide them away from evil and towards good works” (Galatians 5:16). This verse provides the backdrop in which we find the famous “fruit of the Spirit.” These character traits sprout naturally from the branches of believers who walk closely with God.
- The Holy Spirit Transforms Us: Christians who acknowledge that God is the source of the fruit are delivered from sinful, selfish living. The Holy Spirit also guards us from reducing Christianity to a system of rules and regulations. That’s why the fruit metaphor is so appropriate.
- Genuine Spiritual Fruit Lasts and Lasts
Freshly picked fruit tastes great—but even the freshest fruit eventually decays and rots. Spiritual fruit, the result of a connected heart relationship with God, brings glory to the Lord and makes a lasting impact on the world. Whatever we produce for God never fades away!
After presenting the vine, branches, and gardener illustration in John 15, Jesus described His goal for His followers: “produce fruit that will last” (verse 16). Jesus had carefully selected each disciple specifically for the purpose of bearing fruit. Their fruitfulness would bring glory to God and would also prove they were His disciples (verse 8). What a great motivation to go out and produce fruit for the Lord!
- The Adventure Begins! As we lead our children on the adventure of abiding in Jesus, let’s frequently return to Jesus’ words in John 15. We are not teaching a method for spiritual success, but rather introducing students to an intimate, personal relationship with their Lord. Look for ways to feed them God’s Word. Demonstrate Christ-like love. Pray that they will remain connected to the Vine and will begin to produce fruit that endures.
The Adventure Never Ends! Our goal is not merely that each child learns to make good choices. Abiding in Christ and bearing spiritual fruit reaches far deeper than that. Instead, let’s pray that our children will be filled with God’s Spirit so their lives overflow with good things that come only from Him. Picture each trait as a “product” or “result” of the Spirit’s activity. Our children can understand that good fruit is an attractive and lasting benefit—a valuable prize—that grows from a healthy relationship with God.