Are Fruitless Christians Removed? Or Restored?


In reading John Chapter 15:1-14 where Jesus uses an analogy of himself as the vine, and those connected to him as branches of the vine, most translations tell us that unfruitful branches are “removed” or “taken away”.

(1) “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that bears no fruit, He takes away. And every branch that bears fruit, He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

(4) “Remain in Me, as I also remain in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, neither can you, unless you remain in Me.

(5) “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who remains in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit. For without Me you can do nothing.

(6) “If a man does not remain in Me, he is thrown out as a branch and withers. And they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.

These verses have given rise to confusion or in some cases condemnation, because it appears to say that unfruitful “branches” will be TAKEN AWAY. But a more exact and proper reading refutes this, as we shall see. It is not unfruitful Christians, but only those who are NOT in Jesus, NOT true believers, dead branches that are eventually removed and burnt.

Taken Away or Lifted Up?

From just one article about this confusion, we read this:

“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”

“By translating the Greek word “take away,” the power of Jesus’ message is stripped away, ending with a confusing and distorted verse causing theological issues. [But the better] translation “lift up” … befits Jesus’ words in John 15:2 and powerfully speaks to Christians everywhere.

“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He lifts up; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”

This is such an important difference that I feel impelled to point it out. The implication in most bible translations is that unfruitful branches in Jesus (that is, Christians who are not living right) are removed from Jesus and ultimately burned.

However, if the word is translated “lifted up” instead of “removed” there is an altogether more biblical and hopeful meaning, that non-fruit-bearing branches are lifted up into the sun and air by the Vinedresser to see if they will recover and start producing fruit. This indeed is standard viticultural practice!

See the Greek word for “take away” translated as “raise up” in Matthew 4:6: He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up

Contaminated By The Earth

In one house I lived in, there was a decorative vine on a wall in the garden. In the darkness at the base of the vine, some branches would trail along the soil and start taking root there. I used to uncover them and tie them up to give them a chance of better growth.

Think of the analogy here. A Christian “branch” – one that is truly joined into Jesus the Vine – sinks down into relative darkness, gets connected to the earth, and starts to take root there. But the Vinedresser steps in to lift him up into the sunlight again, to recover, to be restored!

This is an act of love, not vengeance!

The above article continues:

“The most important fact supporting the usage of “lift up” as a plausible translation is that it serves as a main, oft-used, translation of the Greek word used here (aero). John uses the Greek root word aero 26 times in his gospel, with three main English translations: lift up, bear or hold, and take away.

“D.A. Carson questionably dismisses “lift up” as an option because it is translated “lift up” only 8 times compared to a more frequent “take away.” If it is a legitimate translation, then it should be fully evaluated. In the Abbot-Smith lexicon, “raise,” “raise up,” “lift or draw up” is listed as the first definition for aero (αἴρω). There is one minor translation to “keep in suspense” (John 10:24). “Take away” is a legitimate translation, but it is hardly the only one.”

Another misconception about what Jesus was saying is that the branches in verse 2 that are supposedly “taken away” are identical to the ones in verse 6 that are cast out and ultimately burnt. But this is incorrect!

Jesus has established in the first verse of Chapter 15 that He is the Vine and His Father is the Vinedresser. Then he speaks of his children as those who are IN the Vine, abiding in him, joined, attached, sharing the same essential life-giving sap, and thus enabled to bear fruit as the Lord leads.

Following on from that, Jesus speaks of two different sorts of branches:

  1. Those who are IN HIM but need more help to become fruitful (verse 2)
  2. Those who are NOT in Him, that wither away and die through self-effort (verse 6)

Read it for yourselves and see. Verse 2 refers to “every branch IN ME” and verse 6 refers to “anyone who does NOT abide in me”.

It is also made plain that, because of the very nature of the life-giving ability of the Vine (Jesus), those who are in him WILL bear fruit – although some more than others – for you CANNOT bear fruit of yourself (through the law and self-effort) but – verse 5: “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit”.

This also is the test of a tree, spoken of in Luke 6:43-45, that we can tell the nature of a tree by its fruit. It is also the spiritual reason why the barren fig tree discovered by Jesus was cursed by him, and thus died. (Mark 11:12-14)

Conclusion

What can we learn from the words of Jesus in John 15?

Firstly, the necessity of abiding in him “for without me you can do nothing; the branch cannot bear fruit by itself…”

Secondly, there are two ways to help the fruit-bearing activity along (and this is the work of God the Vinedresser, not man) – one is pruning to provide more strength and fruitfulness, and two is raising up out of the dirt of the earth and out of constricting suffocating company, so that more fruit can emerge.

Thirdly, the non-fruitful branches indicate that the sap is not flowing in them at all.

They are not “living in him” at all, despite perhaps going to church and trying to do the right things. Eventually they will dry up and will be removed, ultimately to be “cast out and burnt” which is perhaps the way Jesus needed to refer to the Pharisees who despised Jesus and sought to kill him.

These people were perhaps fanatically law-abiding but wanted nothing to do with the life of the Son of God. Thus they were lifeless, withered and destined for the fire.

But that is not the fate of those who “remain in HIM” as Jesus promised.

4 thoughts on “Are Fruitless Christians Removed? Or Restored?

  1. Greetings in Christ, Trish.
    Thank you for faithfully posting blogs which provide for thought.
    It is true that God does not desire any to perish but all to come to salvation in Jesus Christ.
    It is equally true that He binds up the brokenhearted and ministers to those who are downtrodden – at least to those willing to come to Him,
    However, the twisting of John 15:2 to help prove these things is unjustified and a faulty translation for several reasons,
    First, let us not ignore the fact of who Jesus was speaking to and what it would mean. He was speaking to an agrarian and agricultural based society. His disciples (and those reading it in the first century) would have a good understanding of the habits of a vinedresser. I have tended fruit trees and grape vines for decades as an amateur horticulturist. What Jesus said is true – when a branch is unfruitful, you must cut it off and cast it away. So, the interpretation that it means “to lift up” has no relativity to the reality of a true vinedresser.
    Secondly, likewise, the original author’s (Paul J. Bucknell) contention that a vinedresser would lift up vines which have fallen into the ground and mud holds no weight since a vinedresser would never allow that to happen in the first place – unless he was a very neglectful vinedresser. But how can this be true of this passage since the Heavenly Father is the vinedresser (v,1). He is neither sloppy or neglectful of that which is His.
    Thirdly, one MUST not ignore the fact that the Greek verb “airo:” HAS a valid meaning of take away, bear away, carry off.” I have formally studied both Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Greek. One aspect of interpreting these languages is that often a word with varied meanings must gain their meaning from the context. With the first two points and the culture and other facts of the context, to interpret “airo” as “lift up” is inconsistent with the context. There is a reason that Paul J. Bucknell says, “[In] 61 English translations of John 15:2a, all but one, translate aero as take away, cut off, lop off, or remove.” That is because the translators of the 60 knew this aspect of Biblical interpretation and correctly translated it.
    Fourthly, the Bible makes it clear that anyone who is truly “in Christ” ALWAYS bears fruit. In John 12:24-26 (ESV), Jesus stated, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” It is not those who merely “ask Jesus into their hearts” (a completely unscriptural doctrine) who as Christ’s. Rather, it is those who will die to self, become His disciples, and follow and serve Him who will bear fruit.
    Similarly, Christ stated in John 3 that only those who are “born again of water [which I believe is the Word] and the Spirit” who can enter the kingdom of God. Life always grows and develops – or it dies, being unfruitful.
    Likewise, we see a clearer picture in the parable of the seed and the sower (although I think it might better be called the parable of the soils). The seed Is scattered on different soils with different results – and we are blessed that Christ gives us the interpretation of this parable. The seed (the Word) fell on a hard path and was stolen away by the devil. The same seed is scattered on the rocky ground which is covered with shallow soil. It sprouts but dies quickly because of the sun (persecution) came and the Word died out. The third soil was good but full of weeds which were not pulled out. These weeds were the cares, riches, and pleasures of life which eventually choked the life out of these plants. Do you think the farmer (or sower) was to provide water and do a bunch of weeding to save these plants which really chose something else other than the Truth and Life of the Word? No, the focus was put upon those plants which produced fruit.
    Christ confirmed this principle in the example of the fruitless fig tree which He cursed and which was dead the next day (Mark 11:12-21). Fruitless = death = firewood.
    Bucknell attempts to make quite a case that one “in Christ” can be unfruitful, which he derives primarily from 1 Corinthians 3. However, he can offer no proof that one’s works of “wood, hay, stubble” equals the biblical definition of “fruit.” What does the Scripture say about spiritual fruit? John, the baptist, also spoke about cutting down trees and fruit. In Luke 3:8-9 he stated, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. . . Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And Jesus claimed in Luke 6:43-44, “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.” EACH TREE is known by its fruit. If there is no fruit at all – then it appears that Christ curses fruitless trees and they die (Mark 11:12-21).
    While it is true that there are born-again disciples of Christ who may be carnal and immature, that does not mean that they are entirely fruitless.
    I could give many more Scriptures to demonstrate supporting the traditional interpretation of John 15:2. However, I have already gone over my time allotment for this reply.
    May our Lord richly pour out His blessings in Christ upon you and continue to lead you into all Truth,
    Your servant in Christ,,
    Pastor Wayne

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    • As I said throughout the post, the deciding factor here is whether or not a person is IN HIM or not. Jesus confirmed that those who are truly in him WILL bear fruit, especially with God’s support and encouragement, but those who are cut off, removed and burnt are – as Jesus said – NOT in him at all. If we start to decide whether or not people can enter the Kingdom based on their fruit, rather than their faith in the finished work of Jesus, we embark on a rocky road to works-based salvation. I do not believe Jesus taught that in this passage.

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  2. The dead branches are symbolic of all the dead ministries and worthless apostate doctrinal beliefs we acquire from false teachers or our opinions, therefore, they must be pruned or removed because they have no ability to produce celestial fruit in the soul of believers. The Christian believers are NOT removed. Only their useless beliefs are pruned. God is merciful and long-suffering. He always gives time to rectify errors, to repent, and to grow new shoots of correct biblical wisdom and understanding, that is, if they detect that they are actually in error, they will then have a chance to align their biblical beliefs to what the Bible says. If they continue in these errors they will not have access to the kingdom of God. On the day of the last judgement, all false apostate seeds will be removed from God’s sanctuary.

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