The Most Important Overlooked Passage in the Bible
Justin Moser
Often times in response to the question, "What must I do to be saved" (Acts 16:30), we echo Paul, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31). However, we often neglect to tell people what exactly it means to "believe in Jesus." Since pop-Christianity became a kind of norm in America a couple of decades ago, concepts like "belief in," "faith," and "love" have become watered down. Hence, young Christians often stumble upon passages like Romans 6, James 2:14-26, or Matthew 5:17-48, and ask, what gives? "If we are saved by faith, why do we have to obey all these comands?"

Thus, I recommend that every Christian, whether new in the faith or older, consider this passage, a parable spoken by Jesus to his disciples:

"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 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.
"You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples."
John 15:1-8 NASB.

I believe that in modern Western Christianity, many of us lost the Biblical meaning of Faith, so that anyone can think they are saved if the believe that Christ exists, or that Christ died for our sins. While these beliefs are correct, they are beliefs about Christ, not belief in Christ. John 3:16 never taught us to believe about Christ, but instead, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." John 3:16-18.


So, what of the Parable of the Vine? let's look at this passage piece by piece:

v. 1: "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser."

(Theological interjection 1: note how Jesus makes himself distinct from the Father. though both are God They are not the same "person." This verse is in direct contradiction to "Oneness" theology. refer to CARM for more details on this theology)

This introduction is common to John, in that Jesus often says "I am the..." "I am the bread of life"; "I am the Light of the world"; "Before Abraham was born, I am"; "I am the gate"; "I am the good shepherd"; "I am the resurrection and the life"; "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (respectively, John 6:35, 8:12, 8:58, 10:9, 10:11, 11:25, 14:6). Here, He is making a comparison between Himself and a vine.

v. 2: "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."

First off, anyone who has worked around vines (i.e. grape vineyard), will tell you that there really isn't a distinction between the vine and the branch: the branchs are quite literally a part of the vine. This is the type of realtionship Jesus desires to have with Christians: that we be so united that, figuratively speaking, no distinction can be made between Him and us.

Fruit is analogous here to works. compare to: "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
"You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits."
Matthew 7:15-20.

Someone may interject, "Hey isn't this verse teaching that we are saved by works, since it says that one is condemned if one doesn't produce works?" However, this interpretator is being hasty, and as I will show, he has to disregard the rest of the passage to make this interpretation...

v. 3: "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you."

At this point it should be noted (I probably should have said this at the begining, to set the context), Jesus is saying this during the last supper, to the 12 disciples, minus Judas (John 13:1-30). He breaks from the parable to make a clear point: you 11 disciples are clean because of what I spoke to you. It is clear that at this point the Disciples were "believers." However, as their actions continually show in the Gospels up the the Resurrection, they didn't have much for real faith.

This statement itself has not salvific implication: to be "clean," to the Jew meant to be ceremonially clean. Before the Old Testament Jew could approach the altar of God to make an offering (sacrifice), or participate on most social ceremonies (i.e. religious feasts), they had to be ceremonially clean. The concept here is, no speck of "uncleanliness" must be present for the Jew to meet with God on a personal level. By declaring the disciples to be cleansed through his word, Jesus is saying they are ready to "meet with God" through what Jesus was about to say.

vv. 4, 5: "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing."

Here is the crux of Jesus' parable, the crux of his whole ministry, and all of Christianity (even ancient Judaism). He already argued that those who don't produce fruit are going to get cast aside. Now he says how you may produce fruit and avoid being tossed aside: by abiding in Him. How do we abide? By faith.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life." John 5:24.

Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst." John 6:35

The Greek word in each of these verses (and in John 3:16) is pisteuo, literally "to have faith, entrust" (Strong's Greek Dictionary, G4100)

Most theological dictionaries will have faith as being synonomous with trust, loyalty (as the one at CARM does). This is why in Mark 4:36-41, Jesus rebuked the disciples for lacking faith: they were terrified at the storm because they didn't trust that Jesus would protect them. If you are interested in an extended discusion on faith, see here

Now going back to our observation of v. 2, in again comes the objection, "Doesn't this teach that works are necessary for salvation." this question, however, is misguided: nowhere does Jesus say, "If you produce fruit, you are saved." instead, he says, He who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit. those who abide in Jesus will produce fruit that is pleasing to the Lord. this is a logical necessity, and the natural, inherent outcome of faith is works; and the lack of such works indicates lack of faith (hence James' observations in James 2:14-26; also Paul's arguments in 1 Cor. and Rom. 6-8, and John's in 1Jn. 1:5-2:6).

(Theological interjection 2: the last part of v. 5, "For apart from Me you can do nothing," is a clear statement that we are depraved beyond hope, and can only be good by God's grace. Of course it is a hyperbole, an exageration, and their may be some "good" one can do, but nevertheless, we are so sinful that only by abiding in Jesus we can we ever hope to please God, and be saved)

Note, that the verse says, will bear much fruit. This does not preclude that a Christian will become perfect, and will not fail to do what is good from time to time. indeed, v. 2 indicates that there is always pruning to be done, and that one can always bear more fruit. However, the implication is clear: the person who has Christ will show it in the fruit he produces.

v. 6: "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned."

Clear reference to Hell, which awaits those who decline from abiding in Jesus.

(Thelogical interjection 3: some may argue that this verse refers to apostates, who had faith [were in Jesus] but fell away; others that it refers to "pew warmers," people who had an emotional experience and "receive the word with joy," but never really had saving faith, and "fall away" for lack of faith [often cited is "the rocky soil" in the Parable of the Sower, Matt. 13:5,6, 20,21]. I would say it is also possible that both are in view of this verse. My point is, do not take this as evidence against nor for Perseverence of the Saints [Once Saved Always Saved], as it could be interpreted in either light)

v. 7: "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you."

Those who abide in Jesus may get whatever they pray for. This echoes Matthew 7:7,8: "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened."

Some will object, "If this is true, then why didn't i get that dirt bike i prayed for," or "Why isn't my acne healed that i prayed for a gagillion times?" however, if someone is abiding in Jesus, they are being "pruned" to conform more and more to God's will. That being said, the prayers of a Christian should not be motivated by selfish gain, but by selfless motivations. selflessness and humility, after all, is what God desires from believers.

James makes this exact observation in his charges against some early Jewish Christians: What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. James 4:1-3, emph. me.

Thus, the prayer of a Christian should not focus on selfish pleasures (though it is okay, indeed rightful, to ask for whatever you need; cf. Matt 7:7-11); but instead echo Jesus' prayer in the garden, "Nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou will... My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done." Matthew 26:39 KJV, 42 NASB.

v. 8: "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.

This is the end result of the Christian life: that (1) God is glorified, and (2) people know we are disciples of Jesus, and the many blessings that entails. In the 1st century, much like today, good deeds were usually done for recompensation. When the disciples of Jesus love on nonbelievers and one-another, and do this without expecting anything in return, people notice! People ask, why the heck are you doing these things? And hence more people see this and are left to wonder, why shouldn't i put my faith in Christ?


One final point that needs to be said, now that we went through the whole passage, we need to return to v. 2 for a point:

v. 2: "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."

Anyone who has ever had to trim some form of shrubbery will tell you, pruning harms the plant! The underlining premise here is, that by cutting away unneeded material, the plant as a whole does better. Instead of having a branch that is bushy and chaotic, we have a branch that is neat, clean, and even more healthy (so much so that more fruit is produced). This pruning comes in the form of trials and struggle. It hurts! but, the end result well overjustifies the means: a more well rounded Christian with a healthy spiritual life, producing more love for God, others, and even self.

So in summary, "Biblically speaking, How does one go to heaven? What does the bible ask of one in order to be saved?"

Quite simply, abiding in Jesus Christ, through faith. Such a faith produces fruit that is pleasing to God, and lack of such fruit means lack of faith.