Does John 15:1-2 where Jesus says that God the Father cuts off every branch that does not bear fruit mean that a Christian can lose his or her salvation?

By Ron Jones ©Titus Institute 2009

One of the key principles in understanding the Bible is to understand that the Bible cannot contradict itself. If God is a God of truth who wrote the Scriptures and they are inerrant (Jn.17:17), then God isn’t going to make one statement that contradicts another statement. Obviously this would be true for anything Jesus who is God said.

Jesus taught that once a person truly accepted Christ and became part of his sheep they would never perish.

Jn.10:27-30 says,
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give to them eternal life and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, who gave them to me is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one.”

Earlier in Jn.6:44 Jesus had also taught eternal security when he said,
“No man can come to me unless the Father who has sent me draws him and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Notice Jesus says that the one whom he will raise up on the last day is the one the Father had drawn to Christ. That means that everyone that genuinely comes to Christ by faith, the Father had drawn him and he will make it to heaven. That is an absolute statement of truth. A person is drawn to Christ, he or she comes to Christ by faith, he or she is raised up on the last day.

The only issue is who is a true disciple of Jesus?

This is the issue Jesus spent a lot of time on and the one he is discussing in Jn 15. and various other places in the gospels.

During Jesus ministry many had followed Jesus and become his disciples outwardly, but not inwardly. Jesus had to distinguish between those who called themselves disciples and those who actually were. In Jn.15:1-2 he does this.

Jn.15:1-2 says
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away. Every branch that bears fruit, he prunes it so that may bring forth more fruit.”

The context:
Jesus is talking to the disciples about what has just happened with Judas Iscariot and others like him. Judas had attached himself to Jesus, but did not produce fruit and did not abide in Christ. He was a disciple only outwardly and the fact that he was not a disciple inwardly was shown by his lack of fruit-bearing. He did not abide or remain in Christ. He turned away from Christ.

Jesus spent his whole ministry speaking about this problem (Matt.7:15-23, Matt.13:3-9) He taught that there would be those who would attach themselves to Christ as outward disciples, but would not truly accept him as Savior. They would call themselves disciples of Jesus even though they were not saved.

Remember, the apostles were Jews who grew up in a culture where the outward was most important. They needed to understand that a person could become a disciple outwardly and not be a true disciple.

In this passage, he makes a distinction between “disciples” and “true disciples” (“become my disciples” v.8). This is equivalent to outward disciples, but not inward disciples.

The “in Me” refers to the analogy of the vine and the branches. Branches are “in the vine.” Jesus is not using this as a theological term of union with him the way
Paul used it in Rom.8:1. Jesus is referring to those who had attached themselves outwardly to Christ and were calling themselves disciples of Jesus.

If you read the passage carefully, you can see Jesus describe the two groups:

Group 1 - represented by Judas
a. They do not bear fruit (lifestyle of unbelievers)
b. They are taken away and burned (punishment for unbelievers)
c. They are not clean (Jn.13:10-11) (spiritual state of unbelievers)
d. They do not abide in the vine (lack true faith and do not hold fast to Christ)
e. They do not abide in Jesus’ love and do not keep his commandments (Jn.15:9-11) (lifestyle of unbelievers)

Group 2 - represented by the other apostles
a. They bear fruit (lifestyle of believers)
b. They are pruned to bear more fruit (lifestyle of believers)
c. They are clean (spiritual state of believers)
d. They abide in the vine (possess true faith and hold fast to Christ
e. They abide in Jesus’ love and keep his commandments (Jn.15:9-11) (lifestyle of Christians)

Parallel passages where the two groups appear:

1. Jn. 6:60-70
In v.60 John calls those who were outwardly following Jesus “disciples” and writes that they grumbled when Jesus spoke about “eating his flesh and drinking his blood.” Jesus rebuked them. In v.66, John relates that “many of his [Jesus’] disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” These two groups appear. They are both called disciples, the ones who did not remain in Christ and left, and the ones who did remain in Christ and stayed with Jesus.

2. Matt.7:15-23
Jesus is talking about those who call themselves his disciples. He teaches a very important point. Good trees (believers) produce good fruit (true believers) and bad trees produce bad fruit (unbelievers, false prophets, ie. Judas and others). Jesus says that every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into fire. Jesus is presenting the same truth as Jn.15.

3. Matt.13:3-9, 18-23
In the parable of the sower, the second and third soils respond favorably to Christ and become his “disciples,” but they are not true disciples, because they have no spiritual root, true living faith. They don’t abide in Christ; they eventually leave. Only the last soil describes believers – the ones who bear fruit.

4. James 2:14-25
Same two groups are in focus here, those who had faith without works (dead faith producing no fruit) and those who had faith with works (living faith producing fruit).

5. Heb.6:1-9
Again, same two groups are in focus here, those who had attached themselves outwardly to Christ and even saw the Holy Spirit work around them, yet turned away from Christ. True Christians don’t do that (v.9).

The gospels, Hebrews, and James, make these distinctions between these two groups because they were speaking to the Jews whose primary sin throughout their history was claiming to have faith in God and be children of God when they had not believed in their hearts, but were only conforming externally.