Readers Question / Comment - What does it mean that branches in Christ are taken away?

Hello,

Thank you for responding to my emails. I looked for a way to donate to your ministry online but I did not see an option.

What is your interpretation of the passage in John 15:2? The speaker at my church was discussing this saying the branches that are bearing no fruit are in Christ but still can be cut off. I read this interpretation online but it is too radical of a change in text for me to accept.

Thanks.

JPN Reply:

Hi,

I wrote a little bit (with emphasis on 'little') on some of the common scriptures used to teach that a true believer can lose their salvation. You will find that here:

http://www.jesusplusnothing.com/studies/online/eternalsecurity2.htm


There is something on John 15 in there but it is very brief. Concerning John 15:2 while the NIV uses the words 'cut off' none of the other main (and I would say more accurate) versions do. They use 'takes away'. Strongs says of the Greek word that it is:

'A primary verb; to lift; by implication to take up or away; figuratively to raise (the voice), keep in suspense (the mind); specifically to sail away (that is, weigh anchor); by Hebraism (compare [H5375]) to expiate sin: - away with, bear (up), carry, lift up, loose, make to doubt, put away, remove, take (away, up).'

So i think 'takes away' is better than 'cuts off'. Note it can mean 'lift' as in 'lifts up' like that article you sent me said, but in the KJV that word is translated lifts or lifted only 4 out of 111 times used. Normally it is takes away. William MacDonald in the Believer Bible Commentary says this on 15;2:

15:2 Opinions differ as to what is meant by the branch in Him that does not bear fruit. Some think that this is a false professor. He pretends to be a Christian but has never really been united to Christ by faith. Others think it is a true Christian who loses his salvation because of his failure to bear fruit. This is clearly impossible because it contradicts so many other passages which teach that the believer has an eternal salvation. Others think that it is a true Christian who becomes a backslider. He gets away from the Lord and becomes interested in the things of this world. He fails to manifest the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.
Exactly what the Lord does to the unfruitful branch depends on how the Greek verb airo is translated. It can mean “takes away” as in the King James tradition (also translated that way in Joh_1:29). Then it would refer to the discipline of physical death (1Co_11:30). However, the same word may mean “lifts up” (as in Joh_8:59). Then it would be the positive ministry of encouraging the fruitless branch by making it easier to get light and air, and hopefully, to bear fruit.


So there are different ways of taking this verse as I'm sure you are aware. My personal view on the 15;2 passage would be that it is talking about removing believers, not lifting them up (even though He does that as well). It is not talking about cutting them off in terms of salvation. I agree with these thoughts by J Vernon McGee. It is mostly the start of it that relates but I'll quote the whole thing:

"Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away." He wants fruit in our lives. If a branch does not bear fruit, how does He take it away? One of the ways He removes it is by taking such a person away from the place of fruit-bearing. I know many who have been set aside today because they were no longer effective for God. There are ministers like that and there are lay people like that. Removing such a branch does not mean they lose their salvation, but they are taken away from the place of fruit-bearing.
Sometimes this removing from the place of fruit-bearing is by death, physical death. I believe this is what John means in 1Jn_5:16 when he says that there is a sin unto death. A Christian can go on sinning until God will remove him from the place of fruit-bearing by death. Ananias and Sapphira were removed by death from the early church, which was a holy church, a fruit-bearing church. These two liars could not stay in that church. I'm afraid they would be very comfortable in some of our churches today, but God would not permit them to remain in the early church.

"Every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit." The Greek word is kathairo, which means "to cleanse." Some people consider the purging to be pruning, and He does that too, but it really means to cleanse. There is no doubt that the Lord does some pruning. He moves into our lives and takes out those things that offend, and sometimes it hurts. He removes things that are hindering us. I can speak to that subject and confess that it hurts. I think the Lord was pruning me when He permitted me to have a cancer and allowed it to stay in my body. He prunes out that which hinders our bearing fruit.

One of the reasons so many of God's children get hurt by this method of pruning is that they get so far from God, so far out of fellowship. The closer we are to God, the less it will hurt. I can remember playing hookey from school when I was a boy. We left our books at school and took off for the creek and went fishing. Although we didn't catch any fish, we had a lot of fun. We came in about the time school was out to get our books before going home so our parents wouldn't suspect that we had played hookey. The principal of the school figured we would do this, and when we walked into the room, he walked in right after us and said, "Boys, I'm glad to see you." We had to go to his office and wait while he got his switches. (We'd been through this before.) One of the fellows with me had been through this many times, and he gave me some of the best advice I've ever had. He said that when the principal started switching, we should move a step closer each time instead of backing off. The closer we were to him the less it would hurt. So the first time he hit me, instead of stepping back, I moved right in close to him, and I got so close I was where his fist was, and he wasn't hurting me at all. I have learned that is really good advice when the Lord chastens us also. Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth. His chastening is not a sign that He is against us; He is trying to get fruit out of our lives. We tend to complain and move away from Him, but if we draw close to Him, it won't hurt nearly so much.
However, the "purging" in this verse literally means cleansing. When I was in the Bethlehem area, I saw that in their vineyards they let the grapevines grow on the ground, and they propped them up with a rock. Because the grapes get dirty and pests get on them, they actually go around and wash the grapes before they get ripe. So the Lord comes to our lives; He lifts us up and washes us so that we may bear more fruit.



Hope this helps and all the best,
Iain.