In John 15:6, the branch that does not abide in the Vine is thrown away and burnt (judged). Does this mean that a believer can lose his salvation?
“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6).
The above verse is difficult and open to debate as it suggests that believers can lose their salvation. However, some think otherwise, saying that the passage in John 15 is about bearing fruit and not salvation.
On one hand, we want to be faithful to the truth found in God’s Word. On the other hand, we do not want to create a false alarm and cause unwarranted fear.
Let us delve into the passage to get a full picture of its meaning:
“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, 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, 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, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
In John 15, Jesus was addressing His disciples. Using an allegory familiar to God’s people (grapevine as in Isaiah 5:1-7), Jesus revealed to them God’s purpose in saving them: He wants them to bear fruit. Jesus paints a picture of Himself as the Vine, Father God as the vinedresser, and the disciples as the branches that form a part of the Vine. The purpose of anyone who plants a vineyard is to get a bountiful harvest of grapes. If the grapevine merely produces branches and leaves, the farmer’s hard work has gone to waste.
am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him
bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
This first part of the verse shows that Jesus was addressing his disciples (genuine believers) as the branches are arising from and drawing nourishment from the Vine (Christ).
What happens to the fruitless branch? According to John 15:2: “every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away.” Some think that God lifts up the branch so that it receives more sunlight and this might promote fruit-bearing. But this position is quickly dismissed by John 15:6: If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. This verse 6 has grave implications as the fruitless branch is part of the Vine (as suggested by ‘in Me’) and thus refers to genuine believers who fail to abide in the Vine (Christ).
To abide is to remain in fellowship with Christ, study God’s Word and obey His commands. “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).
How does a believer choose not to abide in Christ the Vine? Even genuine believers can depart from the faith, commit apostasy, deny God or willfully live in sin as many verses attest to this falling away. It all boils down to our free will/volition which enables believers to choose either to abide in Christ or turn our backs on God.
“Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Hebrews 3:12-14).
Notice the following:
- 1. Even genuine believers can depart from the faith.
- 2. Unbelief, hardness of heart and sin’s deceitfulness cause believers to fall.
- 3. God’s promise of eternal life awaits those who are steadfast in their faith till the end.
If the farmer sees no fruit from the grapevine, he is likely to chop it down. Similarly, God has no tolerance for dead wood. The fruitless branch (genuine believer who chooses to depart from Christ) will be taken away (John 15:2) or, more specifically, cast out as useless, becomes withered and is burnt (John 15:6).
Now ‘fire’ in scriptures has different connotations. It can be positive as in the case of gold refined by fire (Malachi 3:2-3). Or it can be also be positive as in baptism of fire (Luke 3:16) or tongues of fire (Acts 2:3). However, in John 15:6, fire speaks of destruction (negative). A genuine believer who fails to abide (fruitless branch) will be judged, face destruction by fire and lose his salvation. References where ‘fire’ is associated with destruction, God’s wrath and judgment include: Genesis 19:24, Matthew 25:41, Luke 9:54, Hebrews 12:29 and Jude 7.
Now, you might ask, is there any supporting evidence elsewhere in the Bible for such a harsh view?
Fruit-bearing * is a very important part of a believer’s life. “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”(Matthew 3:8-10). This means, in effect, believers cannot depend on their position in church or spiritual heritage; they need to bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
The prophet Isaiah described the Lord planting a vineyard, hoping to get a harvest of good grapes but it only yielded wild grapes. Now the vineyard symbolised the people of Judah. God looked for fruits (justice and righteousness) in their lives but was disappointed. As a result, God threatened to destroy them (Isaiah 5:1-7).
In the Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30, while addressing His disciples, Jesus warned that fruitlessness will incur God’s judgment. Jesus condemned the one-talent man who buried his talent and failed to multiply it: “You wicked and lazy servant!” (Matthew 25:26). What happened to him? He was cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:30). In contrast, the two servants who multiplied their talents were commended and given fresh responsibilities.
Paul told the Gentiles not to be proud or complacent that they have been chosen over the Jews; it is because the latter rejected God. Gentiles have to realise there is a condition to be met if they want to remain in God's favour (Romans 11:17-22). "Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off" (Romans 11:22). To ‘continue in His kindness’ is to abide in Christ in obedience to His commands.
Jesus cursed the fruitless fig tree in a way that seems inconsistent with His meek and mild image—one who welcomes children with open arms and heals with compassion (Mark 11:12-14, Mark 11:20). This drives home the point that God’s judgment on fruitlessness is indeed severe.
Notice the various ‘agriculture theme’ allegories used to emphasise the danger of fruitlessness as it brings about God’s judgment:
Grapevine: John 15:6, Isaiah 5:1-7
Fig tree: Mark 11:12-14
Tree: Matthew 3:8-10
Now let us deal with the possible objections to my stance regarding John 15: 6—that believers will lose their salvation (be cast away and burnt) if they choose not to abide in Christ.
Those who say this passage refers to a professing believer and not a genuine believer fail to recognise that Christ mentioned the fruitless branch is ‘in Me’ in John 15:2. This fruitless branch is growing out of the Vine, Christ Himself. Thus the fruitless branch represents a genuine believer. Furthermore, Jesus was addressing his disciples (genuine believers) in John 15:5. This point about ‘professing believers’ is a lame argument put forward by eternal security adherents and Calvinists in order to fit into their man-made doctrine, ‘Once saved, Always Saved’.
Others assert that no one can snatch a believer out from God’s hand. “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand (John 10: 28-29). But they ignore the condition set forth in the preceding verse, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). Yes, no one can snatch believers out from God’s hand provided they continue to abide in Christ and obey Him. What if believers choose to depart from God, deny God or willfully live in sin? This passage in John 10: 27-29 does not promise that God is obligated to hold the hand of such unfaithful believers and keep them eternally safe and secure.
Another argument raised by eternal security adherents is found in John chapter 6. “This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:39-40).
However, more accurate exegesis shows that it is only those who keep looking at the Son, and keep on obeying Him have eternal life and Jesus will raise them up on the last day (John 6:39-40). Jesus taught that assurance of salvation comes to those who continue to follow and obey Him. Our salvation is not secured by a one-time following or obeying.
Notice that Judas was lost though he was “given” to Jesus by the Father as one of the twelve disciples. “Those that Thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition” (John 17:12).
The two references advanced by eternal security proponents (John 10: 28-29 and John 6: 39-40) epitomise the danger of eisegesis (viewing scriptures through the lens of eternal security) rather than allowing scriptures to speak for itself (exegesis).
The positive take-home message of John chapter 15 is that genuine believers—as branches attached to the Vine (Christ)—need to abide in Christ so that they might bear much fruit * (John 15:2b, John 15:8). This is consistent with Paul’s teaching that believers are saved for good works which God has prepared beforehand (Ephesians 2: 8-10).
On the other hand, John 15 also issues a grave warning: Genuine believers who choose not to abide in the Vine (Christ) will be cast away and burnt—face God’s judgment and lose their salvation. Being detached from the Vine, they are unable to draw life-giving nutrients from the Vine and thus remain fruitless. And the danger of fruitlessness is illustrated by Christ who cursed the barren fig tree.
This difficult verse—John 15:6—is an example of a harsh but relevant truth that needs to be taught more often. Everyone welcomes “feel good” teaching but when the unpleasant truth is presented, we become uncomfortable, squirm in our seats (John 6:60) and think of various ways why a particular verse cannot mean what it explicitly says. And so we try to twist that verse so that it becomes more acceptable to us and our belief in eternal security.
Theologians can make things complicated, especially when they allow their preconceived ideas (eternal security) to colour their perception. This allegory in John chapter 15 on the Vine (Christ) and the branches is actually straightforward:
- 1. Audience: Genuine believers are the branches (John 15:2, John 15:5a).
- 2. Positive message: Abide in the Vine (Christ) in order to bear much fruit (John 15:5b, John 15:8).
- 3. Warning: Genuine believers who do not abide in the Vine (Christ) are not only fruitless but will be cast out and burnt (face judgment in hell). This means loss of salvation (John 15:6).
Like the fruitless branch that is cast away and burnt, genuine believers who fail to abide in the Vine (Christ) face the possibility of losing their salvation.
* What are the types of “spiritual fruit” God expects us, as believers, to bear?
Fruit of good works (Colossians 1:10)
Fruit of righteousness (Philippians 1:11)
Fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5: 22-23)
Fruit of evangelism—lives impacted by Paul’s ministry (2 Corinthians 3:2)
Fruit of lips—praising God (Hebrews 13:15)
FAITHFUL AND FRUITFUL
Why being faithful means we have to be fruitful
Though we are saved by faith, we must not forget the fact we are destined for good works. “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works.”
DANGER OF PERFORMANCE CULTURE
Is it all about fruit-bearing and productivity? The church at Ephesus excelled in good works but they failed in one area.