Friday, May 26, 2006

Back to John 15...Finally!

Back in March, I posted a comment regarding "broken fellowship" the essence of which was arguing that it is an unbiblical way to describe our relationship to God when we sin. If your interested in why, or what in the world I'm talking about, I'd encourage you to look in the archives under March (there's not that many posts for that month).

However, in the course of the post I was arguing that the Johannine usage of koinonia is virtually equivalent with eternal life. Likewise, the metaphor of the vine and the branches in John 15, though using different language, communicates the same principle. One either abides in the vine or is cast into the fire (15:6). The same could be pressed with the “in Christ language.” One is either in Christ or he is not. In all of these metaphors, the breaking of fellowship, lack of abiding and not being in Christ all result in one thing: Eternal death. While this is all fine and good, someone raised an interesting question in the comments that I was anticipating others to comment on and planning on addressing myself. There were no takers, however, and one thing led to another and I never got around to addressing it. However, since at least one genteel reader has been eagerly anticipating the response (okay, "genteel" and "eagerly" might both be overstatments), I thought I would take a moment or two and share my thoughts. First, let me reproduce his comment verbatim:

Because 'fellowship with God' is 'virtually equivalent with having eternal life' and John 15 'communicates the same principle' and this is tantamount to 'in Christ'- I can safely say [read: look out for my bus!] that I have never seen such a tight (rather, 'virtually equivalent') argument for believers losing their eternal life.

I missed where John 15 is a discussion of the other vines and their fruitless branches all up and in the True Vine - the branches that were never 'in Christ' for the mere fact that they get burned? But then again, verse 2 sounds like those bound to be burned branches were indeed 'in Christ' v.2, no? Well, as you say, you're either 'in Christ' or you're not - and if you use to be ... your bad,

Ciao babe

It's an excellent observation, and I'm a bit surprised I'd never heard such an objection before. I thought it might be helpful to reproduce the text here as well:

John 15:1-6 "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. 3 "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 "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. 5 "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. 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.

Since this post is already getting lengthy and I haven't said much yet, I'll cut to the chase. I think this is simply pushing the imagery too far. I admit, that's a rather anticlimactic resolution, and I'm certainly open to other input from any takers, but I think it's missing the point. The point of the imagery that Jesus is using is the nature of the relationship that He has with His genuine followers. As a branch draws sustenance and life from the vine, even so believers draw their life and sustenance from Jesus. Likewise, just as dead branches do not draw sustenance from the vine (even though they may still be attached for a while) they remain lifeless and are fit only for burning. Therefore, while the passage is not primarily intended to describe unbelievers, it still does, albeit secondarily. The fact that such "branches" were described as formerly "in Him" is incidental to the imagery and should not be pressed so as to make it "walk on all fours" as it were. Therefore, I would maintain that this passage reinforces the "two category" mentality (in Christ or not; saved or not; light or darkness etc.) without advocating that believers can lose their salvation. In fact, by maintaining the tension in a classic Schreiner and Caneday fashion, I would argue that this passage gives tremendous incentive for perseverance, thereby ensuring that true believers will not/cannot fall away (i.e. the promises and the warnings are the means God uses to accomplish the end).


Luther's Stein said...

Something New Please

dwilson said...

do you need something new because you need something to read in class?

Luther's Stein said...

Without a doubt