John 15:2 “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”
Cuts off every branch.
This feels so harsh. Whenever I heard this in the past, skimming over the verses, I felt like it was basically saying that God is cutting off people. As though each branch was a Christian. So He might cut off Branch Amy if I’m not good enough to produce fruit. Or maybe Branch Tom, Branch Susan, and Branch Brian get the chop today because they aren’t producing anything of value.
And yet, this doesn’t seem like the loving God I know. This doesn’t seem like the merciful and gracious God that we learn about in Sunday School. It seems to contradict 2 Peter 3:9 which says, “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” God is multi-faceted, but He is not contradictory. So, somehow both John 15:2 and 2 Peter 3:9 must be true.
Perhaps John 15:2 is not speaking of condemnation, as I initially thought. Maybe, if He cuts off “Branch Susan”, He is removing the faith that is attempting to grow in her spot. Maybe He is giving her the opportunity to start over and grow a new branch of faith that does produce fruit. He cuts off the unhealthy growth, but her place on the vine doesn’t vanish. She doesn’t get kicked out of the Kingdom, or her salvation taken away. Rather, if she remains attached to the True Vine (we learn later in John 15 that people can remove themselves from the Vine), she has the opportunity to grow stronger and healthier faith.
But why does God want to cut anything off at all?
Jesus says, in John 14:11-12, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”
And then James says in Chapter 2:17-18, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”
Fruit. Works. Deeds. Action. In this context these are all synonyms. Jesus says that if we have faith, we will do the works that He did. James says that faith without action is dead. And Jesus also said that God, as the Gardener, cuts off every branch without fruit.
A branch without fruit = dead faith. In my garden, dead branches are ugly and serve no purpose. They certainly don’t bring me any glory as a Gardener. In fact, if anything, they distract from the rest of the beauty in my garden. So of course God would cut off branches of dead faith! He would be a terrible and sloppy gardener if He did not address them! A dead branch does not bring Him glory, but removal of a dead branch brings potential for new life to grow and glorify Him.
Paul, in Ephesians 2:8-10 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Our fruit does not bring us salvation. If we have faith, our spot in the True Vine is secured. However, when our faith is alive and healthy, fruit and works will naturally grow. When our connection to the True Vine is secure, life will flow through us and we will work for God’s glory. We will imitate Jesus, because just as we are growing from Him, He is growing in us.
Is your faith alive or dead? Take a moment to genuinely reflect on what fruit, if any, you’ve been producing lately. Is your faith bringing God glory? Even if your faith is alive and well, there are always ways it can become more beautiful in God’s eyes. Are there any areas in your life that are not producing fruit? Ask God to help you identify what needs to be cut out off so that you can glorify Him even more. And if your faith feels dead, ask Him to help you grow fresh from the True Vine.