The True Vine

This is the transcript of the message I shared with the Leeward Community College Campus Crusade for Christ not long ago. If you are a LCC student, looking for a college-level group of Christians to fellowship and grow with, or just curious to see what it’s about, I encourage you to check it out. The group meets Thursdays at 12:30. 

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:5

My grandma and I have a little garden in our backyard. We grow tomatoes, sweet potato, chives, mint, and some other plants. But perhaps our most successful plant so far has been a hyutan, which is the Japanese version of squash.

When I first decided to take up gardening I was really enthusiastic. I envisioned us growing and eating all these different types of vegetables. But then I hit some struggles. Our first attempt at growing hyutan failed. It never caught on, and died shortly after I planted it. The eggplant my grandma had, which had previously been fruitful, had been stung by flies and shriveled. I had planted marigold, but they died too. With the struggles came discouragement. My initial enthusiasm had faded. Had I been on my own, I probably would’ve given up on gardening. But because I shared the load with my grandma, I pressed on.

After the initial struggles, the garden has flourished. As I mentioned, our squash has been doing well. It’s grown like crazy. It started off as just a tiny plant with a single leaf, but with each passing day it grew more and more, quickly turning into a large vine. Within just a couple of months, we harvested our first fruit. Just a week later we harvested our second fruit. They were huge, much bigger than I expected. Squash sold at grocery stores is about 6 inches long. Ours is about 2 feet long, weighing 8 pounds. This plant really exceeded my expectations.

To think that this ever-fruitful vine started off as just a tiny seed. Now it’s growing so well that we’re able to not only feed ourselves, but also give to our neighbors.

The same is true with our lives. We start out as seeds, and sometimes we struggle to grow into anything fruitful. But when we accept Christ as Lord of our lives, he grows us in amazing ways. He’ll give us incredible dreams, goals, and ambitions, and he’ll grow us faster and to greater heights than we thought possible, bearing much fruit for him.

As I said, the garden is flourishing, and the plants have been doing well. But you know what’s also been flourishing? Weeds.

Intermixed in between the good, edible plants are lots and lots of weeds. But even so, the vegetables have so far been okay. So you might think that a few weeds aren’t a big a deal, right? I mean, everyone has weeds in their yards, and most people don’t even have any fruit-bearing plants.

The problem is, if weeds are left unmanaged they will eventually overtake the other plants. They suck up vital nutrients from the soil, and take up space, preventing the good plants from reaching their full potential. If you really want to maximize your harvest, you need to get rid of the weeds.

This is like sin. So often we try to justify sin in our lives. We compare ourselves to other people, thinking, “Everyone sins. Mine are small compared to other people’s. It’s not like I’m committing murder or anything. I’m a decent person. I mean, I go to church every week, and I’m involved in ministry. A small sin won’t hurt anyone. No one will even notice it.”

I remember once I was doing yard work for a lady. Her entire yard was full of weeds. The yard hadn’t been touched in years. There was a tree in the corner of the yard about 12 feet tall, and I thought it looked like some kind of exotic fruit tree. But it was actually a giant weed. It had been allowed to grow for over a decade, and had grown so big that you could no longer even tell it was a weed. It didn’t produce any fruit, it wasn’t aesthetically appealing, and it didn’t have big leafy branches to provide shade or serve any of the other vital functions that trees do. It was just a giant weed taking up space in the yard, sucking nutrients out of the soil. The roots were thick, and buried deep into the earth. It took a long time and a lot of labor to get rid of it.

This is how sin works. It’s so deceptive, sneaking up on us like weeds. When we try to justify sin, it grows within us. We might think, “A tiny sin won’t hurt anyone. I won’t let it get out of control.” The thing is, it spreads without us even realizing, growing far greater than we could have foreseen. Let a few weeds grow, and more sprout up. Let a tiny sin into your life, and more take root. Without realizing it, sin grows a stronger and larger grip on us, and we grow further and further from God. Unchecked, it will grow so big that we will no longer even recognize it as sin, but instead think of it as a normal, productive part of our lives. We won’t realize the damage it’s doing in our lives, until one day we may look and find a huge 12 foot tall weed taking up space and sucking out our energy. It’ll take a lot out of us just to get it removed.

Sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

James 1:15

If we want to maximize our harvest, we need to get rid of the weeds. If we want to be fully used as servants of Christ, we need to abandon sin.

So I try to weed my garden. But the longer weeds are allowed to grow, the more difficult it is to remove them, and unfortunately it’s nearly impossible to take out the weeds without also accidentally damaging some of the good plants in the process. Likewise, the longer we allow sin to grow within us, the more difficult it is to remove, and in the process we are damaging the good, productive parts of our lives, since we’ll have to focus our efforts on removing the sin that we’ve grown so accustomed to. God is always willing to forgive us our sins, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have deal with the consequences of our actions.

A lot of times we think of sin as big things, like murder. But sin includes seemingly “smaller” things as well, such as lying, gossiping, or cheating. I remember one time my friends and I were planning on seeing a movie. We were talking about sneaking in some snacks, because food at the movie theater is ridiculously expensive. But my friend’s mom overheard us, and she told us not to sneak in food, saying it’s dishonest, and that as Christians, we shouldn’t do it. She added, “I know you guys are college students and on a tight budget, so I will give you guys money to buy snacks at the movies. Just don’t be dishonest.”

At first I thought what she said was kind of extreme, but I came to agree with it. While it may be true that movie theaters overcharge, that doesn’t make it okay to break their rules. After all, we don’t have to go to their venues. God doesn’t say it’s okay to be dishonest if people are overcharging you. He never says it’s okay to sin if someone does you wrong. God never justifies sin. He wants us to pursue righteousness at all times, even when we’re being treated unfairly, and he wants us to have faith that he will provide for us.

We live in an impure world. As long as we are here on this Earth we will, from time-to-time, sin. You could drive yourself crazy living a life trying to avoid temptation out of fear of falling. The good news is, we need not worry constantly about sinning. We don’t have to live in a bubble in an attempt to never sin, we just have to keep our eyes on the Lord. His yoke is easy, and his burden is light. When we live for Jesus, we will avoid sin. God is more than willing to clean out our lives. We just have to let him change us. Give up the things we know are wrong, and listen to him when he tells us to let it go. Let God weed out the sin in your life, and learn to nip it in the bud right away whenever it does pop up. Flee from sin, and sin will flee from you.

When we have a relationship with Christ, we experience abounding love. When we’re focused on serving Jesus – the light of the world – how can we sin? Remain in the vine and keep his commands, and God will make our lives more fruitful than we ever thought possible, turning even desolate plots into flourishing gardens. Share the fruit of our lives with others, and we in turn will find true riches beyond compare.

Jesus is speaking:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 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. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”

John 15: 1-17