I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.(John 15:5)
The metaphor of the vine and the branches is one of the most popular and powerful metaphors Jesus gives regarding the Christian life. It is popular because it is a simple, yet elegant image of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus, as the TRUE VINE, is the source of our life; all the nutrients that supply the branches and help to produce fruit are supplied through the vine. Similarly, the fruit of the Christian life (the fruit of the Holy Spirit) comes through an abiding relationship with Christ, the TRUE VINE.
It is also a powerful metaphor because it really depicts two types of people: Those who abide in Jesus, and those who do not abide in Jesus. Now, I have heard it taught, and I believed it myself, that this metaphor was speaking solely to Christians. In other words, there are those Christians who are abiding in Christ and who are experiencing a fruitful Christian life, and there are those Christians who are not abiding in Christ and are not experiencing a fruitful Christian life. The application was an exhortation to abide in Christ; to get connected to the vine and be fruitful for Christ.
However, I think the passage is saying much more than that. This is not a metaphor talking about productive Christians vs. unproductive Christians, but a metaphor talking about Christians and non-Christians. Notice what happens to the branches that do not bear fruit — they are cut off from the vine, gathered and thrown into the fire and burned. That sounds more like the judgment of the unbeliever than the chastisement of the unproductive Christian. Christians abide in Christ; it’s that simple! Unbelievers do not abide in Christ. Fruit is often used as the proof of genuine Christianity over against false Christianity and unbelief. There are no unfruitful Christians; just Christians with various levels of fruitfulness.
I see the exhortation to abide in Christ much like I see the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to make our calling and election sure. It’s not a call to connect yourself to the vine and abide in Chirst as much as it’s a call to make sure you are already abiding in Christ; and the proof of that is fruitfulness. Jesus indicates to his disciples (the eleven minus Judas) that they are already clean because of the word he has spoken to them (v. 3). In other words, they are already saved. They are already connected to the vine. Now abide in that relationship and allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through you to produce fruit that glorifies the Father!
Soli Deo Gloria!