3 Benefits of Pruning: John 15:2

I read John chapter fifteen this morning. It is a wonderful chapter, filled with glorious truths, personal warnings, and sweet love. It is part of the last exhortations of Jesus to the disciples, and it is packed with exquisite truth for life.

In verse two Jesus says, “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” (KJV)

The first half of the verse deserved it’s own treatment. It was the second half of the verse that stood out to me. In our society, we are obsessed with comfort and ease (aren’t we all?). We seek for projects to be as easy as possible. We want our food to be readily available. We need our packages shipped the next day. It is every where. We want “1 click buy options,” and a card that we can simply move over the card reader.

We could go on with this, but I think we can all agree that it is true. We are creatures who are protective of our comforts. Now, comfort is not wrong in and of itself. It is wrong when we place it above what is necessary or better.

This is where John 15:2b comes into play. When we bear fruit for Jesus, Jesus promises that the Father will purge the branch to produce more fruit. The word translate purge (or prune, as in the ESV), comes from καθαιρω. Interestingly, this is the only instance in the New Testament of this word. Its basic meaning is to cleanse or prune. Surprise, right? But what does this look like?

Jesus is illustrating the biblical truth of sanctification with the cultivation of grapes. Gardeners know that in order to help plants grow better (or produce more fruit/vegetables), they must trim and keep healthy. Sanctification is God’s process of growth to be more like Jesus Christ (see 2 Corinthians 3:18). It is God’s pruning of our lives, if you will.

Why does this matter? Because it means that there may be things in our lives, good things, that God removes in order to help me be more like Jesus. I think there are three helpful points to note.

1. God may cause us pain in order to make us more like Jesus.

This is huge. Understanding that painful and terrible experiences in our lives are allowed and produced by God for our good and His glory redeems our sufferings. We all have had Romans 8:28 quoted to us, but it is a depthless verse. All things work together for our good and God’s glory. All suffering prunes us to bear more fruit. All experiences, no matter how impossible for us to understand, helps us bear more fruit.

2. God may bring people into our lives that help us to be more like Jesus.

We all have that one person that knows how to push every button that irritates us. There is that guy at work, or that lady on Instagram, and it seems every thing they say and do is like an arrow shot from a crossbow two inches from your chest into your heart. Could it be that God has allowed him or her into your life to prune you and me? The Scriptures are packed with references to how we treat other people. Even in John 15 Jesus says that we should love one another (verse 12). Rather than complain about the individual, rejoice in God’s sovereign goodness in allowing that tool of pruning to enter your life. Rather than seeking to minimize or eliminating the relationship, why not embrace it and through the power of God (see John 15:4) produce more fruit.

3. God may allow irritating events in your life to make you more like Jesus.

One thing about blogs that I do not like it that you do not really know the blogger. We usually have a romanticized view of those we read. One thing that you may not know about me is that I get irritated over little things. Now, I do not mean that when one little thing happens I fly off the handle. It is when 100 little things happen, ether simultaneously or sequentially. That is irritating, right?

But I am slowly learning (emphasis on slowly) that it is God’s way of helping me be more like Jesus. He was patient with people. He was kind. He trusted in the Father’s sovereign rule of His life. Don’t you want to be like Him? I do!

So, you may be experiencing a little issue or a life-changing trauma. Will it be easy to work through? Probably not. Will it be enjoyable? Only if you are warped. Will it produce more fruit? Only if you yield to God’s leading, and through God’s power allow it to mold you more into the precious image of Jesus Christ.

“Every branch in my that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” (KJV)

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Creation Meets the Christian

It is currently that wonderful time of the year where the wind becomes chilly, the sky deepens in its blueness, and the leaves of the trees become a wonderful display of the variety found all over creation. It is the time of pumpkin spice, of warmly, welcoming fires, and the renewed joy of drinking coffee. It is a time to look upon the changes of the season and reflect on the changes that come to us all.

One of my favorite aspects of fall is the change of leaves. The brilliant reds and the flashy yellows, the vibrant greens and burnt oranges, they all present a certain joy in simply beholding them. The trees range in sizes, some just a few feet in height, others towering above everything around them. Just as the ant can provide us with instruction (Proverbs 6:6-8), so too, the trees which paint our fall landscapes with breathtaking beauty can also take us under their wings and help us grow in our faith.

Sanctification is often view in an academic and intellectual manner.[1] Sanctification, as John MacArthur helpfully defines, is “the believer’s growth in spiritual maturity, practical holiness, and Christlikeness through the power and leading of the Holy Spirit (as He applies biblical truth to the hearts of His saints).”[2]

You may ask, “What does sanctification have to do with fall, or trees?” That is an excellent question! During this time of the year, I find myself constantly looking at the trees and their leaves. While engaged in the beauty of creation, I remembered a quote I previously heard, “When God wants to make an oak, he takes a hundred years, but when he wants to make a squash, he takes six months.”[3] The massive spread of the ancient oak provides shade during the summers, protection during the storms, and safety for the squirrels and birds. That same oak also provides a glimpse into the sanctification process.

Think about how long it takes for the tiny sapling to grow into the colossal hardwood. Years past, seasons come and go, children are born and grow up and have their own children. Sanctification is similar. Paul discusses this process in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”[4] Get that? We are being transformed. It is a process. Just as the oak takes years to grow, so too the Christian takes years to become more like Jesus (see 1 John 3:2).

I think there are two helpful truths from this:

  1. Do not despise the process!
  2. Brothers and sisters, we all get discouraged with our constant failures. They are daily reminders of our sinfulness, of the infiltration of the world into the very fibers of our beings. The constant and unstoppable war between our flesh and the Spirit is exhausting. It left Paul asking, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”[5] Have we not all struggled with wanting to do right but failing? Take heart! Our sanctification, our becoming like Christ is a process. It is grueling, at times. Let the trees encourage you, because just as it takes time for them to grow, so too it takes time for us to grow. But there is a delightful difference between the oak and the Christian. A horrible hurricane can demolish the tree. Nothing can prevent the Christian. Thanks be to God, because “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”[6] Therefore, do not despise the process!
  3. Learn from your failures.
  4. While our failures are sin and must be confessed (1 John 1:9), we can still learn from them. One of my favorite authors, Thomas Brooks, writes on this thought, “Ah! you lamenting souls, that spend your days in sighing and groaning under the sense and burden of your sins, why do you deal so unkindly with God, and so injuriously with your own souls, as not to cast an eye upon those precious promises of remission of sin which may bear up and refresh your spirits in the darkest night, and under the heaviest burden of sin?”[7]Brooks later offers reasons for the constant battle of sin. He writes, “…partly to keep them humble and low in their own eyes; and partly to put them upon the use of all divine helps, whereby sin may be subdued and mortified; and partly, that they may live upon Christ for the perfecting the work of sanctification; and partly, to wean them from things below, and to make them heart-sick of their absence from Christ, and to maintain in them bowels of compassion towards others that are subject to the same infirmities with them; and that they may distinguish between a state of grace and a state of glory, and that heaven bay be more sweet to them in the close.”[8]As we approach to Thanksgiving, spend time in prayer on these thoughts, especially those of Thomas Brooks. Do not be discouraged by the process, stay faithful to the spiritual disciplines! Contrary to our “have-it-now” society, our progressive sanctification (becoming more like Jesus) takes time. Look to the oak, and meditate on it. Finally, learn from your failures. Let each sin point you to the Savior. Let each mistake cause you to marvel as His magnificent grace. Let each heart break cause you to long for the wonders of heaven.

Remember Strong’s words, “When God wants to make an oak, he takes a hundred years, but when he wants to make a squash, he takes six months.”[9]

[1] A perusal of many systematic theologies will provide ample proof for this. See, for example, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible has this, “Term meaning being made holy, or purified, it is used broadly of the whole Christian experience, though most theologians prefer to use it in a restricted sense to distinguish it from related terms, such as regeneration, justification, and glorification.” Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. “Sanctification.” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1898.

[2] John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2013), 56.

[3] Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology: A Compendium and Commonplace Book Designed for the Use of Theological Students (Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society, 1909), 871.

[4] ESV

[5] Romans 7:24, ESV.

[6] Philippians 1:6, ESV.

[7] Thomas Brooks, The Works of Thomas Brooks: Volume I (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1980), 93.

[8] Brooks, Works of Thomas Brooks, 94.

[9] Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology: A Compendium and Commonplace Book Designed for the Use of Theological Students (Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society, 1909), 871.

Photo by Roman Averin on Unsplash

The Key to Sanctification

As I work my way through Powlison’s book How Does Sanctification Work?, I have been repeatedly impressed. The biblical insight is amazing, the practical aspects are encouraging, and the balanced approach is encouraging.

In my last post I mentioned the coming of snow. I can happily say that snow it did! We received about a foot of snow during the evening. It is beautiful, a small spark of God’s incredible beauty, wisdom, and graciousness. As I type this, I am sitting near a warm fire with BBC’s Planet Earth II playing in the background. I am not sure why I am telling you this, but now you know!

Back to sanctification. Chapter two begins with a question, “Is there one key to sanctification?” My understanding of sanctification would have answered with a qualified answer. Yes, of course there is one key! This key may be multifaceted, but it boils down to the basics of being a follower of Jesus Christ.

This, of course, is simplistic and utilitarian thinking, and unbiblical. Powlison provides nine typical “keys” that we often hear (or that I often say). He makes the point, “These nine assertions becomes problematic only when we lapse into saying, ‘Just remember this one thing…Just rehearse…Just make sure…Just ask…If you will just do…’”. (Powlison, 25)

What are the nine keys? Here they are:

  1. “Remember that God is sovereign and is working all things for good in those who love him.” (emphasis his, Powlison, 24)

    This one is a go-to for myself. When something bad is happening, I relish God’s control of the situation. While it may be difficult to fathom or understand its implications, God truly is in control. The problem lies when we focus on this to the exclusion of the other biblical truths about our God.

  2. “Rehearse and remind yourself of your identity in Christ.” (Powlison, 24)

    A few people seem to focus on this aspect of the Christian life. It is so important, and it is one of Paul’s emphases in the book of Ephesians. I typically hear this in conjunction with conquering sin. If you just saw yourself in Christ you wouldn’t sin! While this may be a help, it is certainly not the

  3. “Make sure you are in honest accountability ” (emphasis his, Powlison, 24)

    Depending on the flare of the church, this one can be huge! Accountability is certainly a vital part of growth in holiness. Yet, it is not everything. Some seem to suggest that having an accountability partner will alleviate all sins.

  4. “Avail yourself of the means of grace.” (emphasis his, Powlison, 24)

    By ‘means of grace’ Powlison means “corporate worship and sacraments, and maintain[ing] daily Scripture reading and prayer.” (Powlison, 24) This would be second on my list. I love the way Scripture reading and prayer can be completed, almost like a chore that can be checked off my daily to-do list. I encourage people to spend time in God’s Word and in prayer daily. It is a great way to grow, but in and of itself it is not the complete way to sanctification.

  5. Wage spiritual warfare against the predator of your soul.” (emphasis his, Powlison, 24)

    The spiritual warfare movement received more attention in the past than it does today (perhaps). Ephesians 6:10-18 warns believers about this war and how to fight it. I just began working through William Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armor, and in the beginning he mentions the seriousness of the conflict.

  6. “Get busy serving others with the gifts the Lord has given you.” (emphasis his, Powlison, 25)

    This one brings me back to my fundamental Baptist days. Some seemed to think that service equaled holiness (thankfully not everyone felt this way!). The more you do, the more holy you are. If you share with others the Gospel then of course you are a great Christian! God has gifted each believer with a gift (or gifts, as is the case) to be used for the edification of believers, evangelization of the lost, and the exaltation of our Savior.

  7. “Remember that you are accepted by God as his child and that he fully forgives your sins through the shed blood of Jesus.” (Powlison, 25)

    This is a wonderful truth that as a Christian we can never get over! Our sins, which were scarlet, are now white as snow! What a glorious reality! This, in its entire splendor, is not all there is to the Christian life. There is so much more!

  8. “Ask the Lord to give you his Holy Spirit that you might walk in his ways.” (Powlison, 25)

    Frequently the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of the believer is downplayed. We love the Holy Spirit; he helps us live the righteous life. Through the Holy Spirit we are able to pray to our Heavenly Father.

  9. “Set your hope fully on the grace to be revealed at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Powlison, 25)

    This is a look to the future grace that will be all for all believers. And I cannot wait for this! But, this is not the

Powlison’s work is already so helpful. As I continue to work through it, I hope to share it with you!

Sanctification: A Threefold Understanding

First, as I write this, I am waiting in line to pick my daughter up from school. Isn’t technology amazing?

Second, it is cold! It’s around 32 degrees with a chance of snow tomorrow. I’m hoping we see some white on the ground!

Third, I began reading David Powlison’s book How Does Sanctification Works? In the introduction, Powlison defines what sanctification is. He gives a snap shot of the tenses of sanctification: past, present, and future.

I’d simply like to provide his material, as I think it may prove beneficial for you in your walk with God. Everything from here on out is Powlison’s work.

  • In the past tense, your sanctification has already happened. You are a saint—an identity for which you get no credit! God decisively acted by making you his very own in Christ. You have been saved.
  • In the present tense, your sanctification is now being worked out. God is working throughout your life—on a scale of days, years, and decades—to remake you into the likeness of Jesus. You are being progressively sanctified. You are being saved.
  • In the future tense, your sanctification will be perfected. You will live. Your love will be perfected. You will see God’s face when he decisively acts to complete his work of conforming you to the image of Jesus. You will participate in the glory of God Himself. You will be saved.

David Powlison, How Does Sanctification Work?, pages 13-14.