The Art of Pruning

macro photography of brown leaf plants under white and blue sky

Last week we explored the reality that worship is a formative practice of Christian discipleship. However, at the end of that article I briefly mentioned the inverse scenario to which every Christ follower or non-believer being called to repentance must be made aware: before you have known Christ, you have been a disciple of the world.

What do I mean by this? I mean that the culture of death, the flesh, and the enemy of God has had an ample amount of time developing a muscle memory of sin that stretches itself out in many ways. Do you find yourself more compelled by stories of self-realization and individualism produced by Disney than the reality of Jesus Christ’s life laid down enduring all suffering for the sake of his people?[1] Are you more enthralled by the quarterly shift of product placement in advertising saying, “You can have any and everything,” than the beauty of God in the Gospel calling, “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.”[2]

This happens in my own walk with the Lord. So often I am tempted to think that I have “arrived” in my life with Jesus. I do not say the words, but my growing complacency embodies the lie that I have run out of things from which to repent. As my affections dwindle, so does the cry for watchfulness, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it.” I lose my awareness of the One holding all things together, and I seek to find life in the trash heap.

But, Christ calls me still. The Spirit brings me from my stupor.

Whispers of shame try to keep me from the throne of grace. Christ calls me still.

The Spirit calms my heart and assures me of my welcome.

So what is the hope in repentance? Once in the presence of God in Christ, what are we to do? We prune.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it my bear more fruit.” John 15:1-2 ESV

Our Life in the Son

As Jesus is teaching the apostles in the parable of the vinedresser and the vine, his people live in vital union with him. As a branch cannot survive apart from its connection to the tree, so the people of Christ are in Christ. This is language that the New Testament authors cannot escape when describing the status and experience of believers.[3] Jesus is united to his people so deeply that his life has become their life. Christians are so united to Jesus that they are united in his death that they may die to sin, and they are united to him in his resurrection and life that they may live in communion with the holy, living God. We, as followers of Jesus, feed on him that the fruit of godliness might grow. But, like with any garden, the weeds must be dealt with.

The Father’s Pruning

The Father loves his children so much that he does not leave them where they are. He goes deeper still. He does not coddle us as we try to see how much of the flesh can cohabitate with the Spirit in our hearts. In acts of true love and grace, he prunes. How amazing is that! God not only loves us so much that he makes us aware of our need, he deals with our need by uniting us to Christ, and he tears from us the death traps we have been trained by sin to grasp. And he goes deeper still!

The Spirit Replaces Garbage with Gifts

God is so gracious and kind that he does not just hit a “set to neutral” button to see how far you make it. Knowing that you cannot make it, because you are dead, God unites you to the one who lived a sinless life that you may partake in new, true life. This is known experientially through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Every one united to Christ is indwelt by the Holy Spirit.[4] And the Holy Spirit replaces our garbage with gifts. He gives abundantly in godliness, most clearly seen in “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…”[5]


We are not just called, we are lifted by God from death that we may live in his life and light.[6] We are vitally united to Jesus such that his life is our life. The Father works pruning meaningless branches that seek to steal the lifeblood from his children. And the Holy Spirit fills and heals the wounds from our battles as we daily fight to live from our true life in Christ.[7] Christian, be sobered in the light of your sin; put it to death in Christ that you may have life in him. Revel in the mercy and grace of our Lord.

[1] Philippians 2:1-11.

[2] John 21:15-18. I know this periscope has a specific intent of Peter’s restoration, but the message of Jesus calling those who love him to care for one another in the faith is a universal call.

[3] In addition to the passage from John 15, Galatians 2:20, Romans 8:9, and 1 John 4:13 are just a few examples of the New Testament writers describing the union with Christ had by believers.

[4] 1 Corinthians 6:19; Romans 5:5, 8:9-11.

[5] Galatians 5:22-23.

[6] Ephesians 5:8-15.

[7] Romans 8:31-39 is perhaps the most beautiful and comprehensive statement in Scripture addressing this full Trinitarian work in the Christian life.

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