Understanding John 15:5-6

Q. I heard a sermon on this passage which I completely disagreed with. If I understood correctly, it seemed the pastor said that believers who do not bear fruit, or refuse to allow the Holy Spirit to work through them to bear fruits of love would be taken away and “purged or cleansed” in the fire to help them grow…something to that effect. As I understand it, believers can suffer loss but I’ve never read or been taught they will have to go through some type of purgatory. This teaching sounds like more “overcomers” theory.

A. This is an incorrect interpretation of the passage. Jesus was saying in order to be effective in our Christian life we have to “remain” in Him. He said if we don’t, then we can do nothing and are like branches that don’t bear fruit and are thrown into the fire and burned. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit by itself but must remain attached to the vine, so we must remain “attached” to the Lord to bear fruit. Apart from Him we can do nothing.

That means we must respond to His prompting and work in His strength to bear fruit suitable for the Kingdom. Working on our own initiative and in our own strength, no matter how successful we appear to be, cannot produce anything of value to the Kingdom. That work is like the withered branch that’s burned up in the fire.

I think 1 Cor. 3:10-15 gives us the same idea. Some of our work is like gold, silver, or precious gems, of great value to the Kingdom. Other work is like wood hay or stubble, of no value. John 15:5-6 tells us the difference is whether it was done at the Lord’s prompting and in His strength or on our own.

Since the judgment of our works will take place in heaven after the rapture, we can’t very well be taken away to be purged or cleansed. We’ll be in glorified bodies that are perfect. No part of our earthly self will remain. This judgment is solely for the purpose of qualifying us for rewards. And as Paul said in 1 Cor. 3:15, even if all our works are burned up in the fire of judgment, we will still be saved.

So you’re right, it does sound like another incorrect teaching, sometimes called overcomer’s theory.

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