John 15:1-8 (NRSV)
1 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
We forget that faith is not some sort of challenging ascent to God. The Christian faith is, rather, the awesome acknowledgement that God reaches down in Jesus Christ to draw us closer to His heart. The Gospel of John literally says, ". . . and the Word became flesh and TENTED among us." In other words, God comes to live with us.
This present God in Jesus Christ makes it very clear, "I am the vine and you are the branches." In other words, "I'm right here ready to have a relationship with you. Graft yourself to me and I'll show you the way." We can't have a God who is up there ready to respond whenever you need him. God is not Siri, a bellhop, or the person at the other end of some sort of celestial help line. God does not want to be on hold until you find that you need Him (Generally in a crisis). God wants to walk with you every day.
Pastor and author A.W. Tozer uses some strong language when describing those who want salvation without discipleship. He says we want salvation without obedience and that most of us are guilty of being "Vampire Christians." He writes:
One in effect says to Jesus, "I'd like a little of your blood, please. But I don't care to be your student or have your character. In fact, won't you excuse me while I get on with my life, and I'll see you in heaven."1
Do we only trust Jesus for forgiveness of sins or are we serious about following Him as disciples? How can we really trust Jesus unless we are willing to be grafted into Him through our discipleship disciplines?
Sometimes I have to wonder if the decline in American Protestantism is God's way of pruning the church and its people (members). Could the pruning be a prelude to honest discipleship that eventually leads to growth? Is God pruning away those who want it both ways, who want to follow Jesus just enough to feels safe and then go about the rest of their lives as they bloody well please?
Mark Roth says it so well in his article, "Jesus, the true Vine":
The grape branch struggled mightily to hold on to the four huge, tightly packed cluster of grapes. That fruit emitted strong wafts of delicious aroma, and the look of the grapes seemed to insist on being picked and eaten. The branch could not hold back the self-confident satisfaction deep within the nuclei of each cell. It knew it was a grape branch. Appearance, fruit and chemical composition assured it of never being anything but a grape branch. Obviously the very best at that.
So the branch decided indulging in a little ungrapelike behavior would hurt nothing. "Once a grape branch, always a grape branch," it assured itself. It detached itself from the vine. No, it had neither intention nor desire to be anything less than a healthy, beautiful, productive grape branch. It just felt that submitting to the whims of the vine was no longer necessary. After all, its identity could never be changed!
Before long, though, the branch no longer felt strong and vigorous. In fact, it felt utterly drained and limp. Its grapes withered and dropped off. So did its leaves. Eventually it looked like a stick in the ground. Then it was broken up, and all that remained of it were small particles of various nutrients to be absorbed by other plants.
The other branches, still attached to the vine and plentifully nourished by it, produced a bountiful harvest for the mast of the vineyard. They saw that without the vine, their comrade could do nothing. And as they looked at the bare spot of earth a scant foot away from the vine, they realized again that to continue as grape branches they needed to continue being attached to the grapevine.2
Think about it.
A.W. Tozer, I Call it Heresy (Harrisburg, Penn: Christian Publications, 1974), 5f.
Mark Roth, "Jesus, the True Vine," www.anabaptists.org/clp/youth/13-107.html. Accessed on July 25, 2012.