In our family, there are few things we enjoy more than a freshly picked tomato out of our garden. As I write this article, the soil has been prepared and the tomato plants are in the garden and have been caged. We know that we will have to make sure the plants are watered and protected from little hands over the coming months. Our hope is that by the time this August edition of the Lutheran Spokesman arrives, we will be harvesting some of the first-fruits from our tomato plants.
However, those fresh tomatoes are not going to magically appear in our backyard. Nor are those plants going to survive if they are not regularly watered. We need the plant first, and then we need to take care of the plant in order to enjoy those delicious, vine-ripened tomatoes.
If you can understand this simple gardening illustration, you can understand what Jesus is teaching us about the Christian life in John 15. In John 15, Jesus talks about good works in the life of a Christian. He compares the Christian life to a grapevine. As with tomatoes, you cannot have grapes without first having branches, and you cannot have branches without first having a vine.
Jesus is the Vine. He is the life-source for all Christians. Every believer has been grafted into the Vine through faith. Through faith, you are one with Christ. He gives you life. Without Jesus all spiritual life withers and dies. “Without Me you can do nothing,” the Vine says. “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered.” (verses 5-6)
In the Vine, those Christian branches remain very fruitful! “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit.”
(verse 5) Through Word and Sacrament, Jesus builds us up in the faith. In the Gospel we hear of how Jesus lived a life free of sin, faithful to all of God’s commandments, loving His neighbor and praying for His enemies. And then we are told that His perfection is given to us through faith! In the Gospel, we also hear of how innocent Jesus laid down His perfect life to pay off our debt of sin to God. In the Gospel we are assured that because of Jesus, God remembers our sin no more. In Holy Communion, our Savior feeds us with Himself—His body and His blood.
Our Lutheran Confessions put it this way: “First faith is kindled in us in conversion by the Holy Ghost from the hearing of the Gospel. This lays hold of God’s grace in Christ, by which the person is justified. Then, when the person is justified, he is also renewed and sanctified by the Holy Ghost, from which renewal and sanctification the fruits of good works then follow.” (Formula of Concord, Thorough Declaration, III, 41)
The Gospel is the essential nutrient that our faith needs. It is the Water of Life which keeps our faith alive and active. Abiding in Jesus, in His Gospel, He promises us that we will be fruitful Christians, producing all sorts of good works.
What do these fruits of faith look like? They look like our Savior. They look like a husband loving his wife as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her. They look like a wife submitting and showing respect to her husband, as to the Lord. They look like children honoring their father and mother in the Lord. They look like Christians helping their neighbor to improve and protect his property, as well as defending his name and reputation.
All these fruits of faith, and more, flow out of the Vine. And these good works will glorify the God who sent His beloved Son to save you. “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit.” (verse 8) Therefore, listen to the Vine, Who says to you, “Abide in Me, and you will be fruitful Christians!”
Nathan Pfeiffer is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Spokane, Washington.