Jesus’ words in John 15 are tucked away as part of His Farewell Discourse (John 13-17), which means that John 15 is part of what Jesus wants His disciples to know if they are going to live God-pleasing lives beyond His death, resurrection, and ascension. John 15:1-16 is of particular interest to biblical counselors because this is where Jesus weaves together three theological truths: (1) the call to follow Jesus; (2) the call to glorify God; and (3) the promise of joy. What I intend to show in this post is that Jesus’ weaving together of these theological truths provides a blueprint for the Christian life and more specifically biblical counseling. As a result of Jesus’ words, biblical counselors can define biblical counseling as the work of helping fellow sinners and sufferers follow Jesus for God’s glory, which results in their joy.
Jesus calls sinners & sufferers to follow Him
While Jesus does not even utter the words ‘follow me’ in John 15, the concept of following Him is implied. This teaching unfolds as Jesus uses three different phrases: “abide in me” (v.4), “bear much fruit” (v.5, 8), and “keep my commandments” (v.10). As I understand Jesus’ teaching in John 15, there seems to be considerable overlap among these phrases to the point that these three phrases present nearly synonymous ideas. This overlap becomes apparent as we consider how the phrases relate to one another.
For instance, we see in verse 5 that the one who “abides” is the one who “bears much fruit.” Then, we see in verse 10 that the one who keeps Jesus’ “commandment” is the one who is “abiding in Jesus’ love.” In effect, abiding in Jesus, bearing fruit (v.5), and keeping Jesus’ commandment (v.10) are conceptually very similar.
As we move forward in Jesus’ teaching He fills in the specifics of His commandment. In verse 12 we learn Jesus’ Commandment is that His followers would love one another as He loves us. Jesus further defines love as self-sacrifice for the good of another (v.13).
I find it helpful to draw attention to this overlap when teaching what it looks like to follow Jesus. Our counselees need the seemingly complex expectations of the Bible simplified and made tangible. Jesus’ call to follow is simple and straightforward: love others as Christ loves you (John 15:9).
It is like Jesus is placing Christianity on the bottom-shelf for all who are willing to hear and experience His goodness. There is a beautiful simplicity to His teaching. Do you want to abide in Jesus? Then love others as Jesus loves you. Do you want to bear fruit? Then love others as Jesus loves you. Do you want to keep His commandment? Then love others as Jesus loves you.
Is Jesus’ point clear? Crystal. Is Jesus’ expectation easy? Hardly.
Jesus’ call for us to love is impossible without His abiding presence and power. Jesus illustrates this truth by utilizing the word picture of a life-giving vine at which point He identifies Himself as the Vine (v.1). Jesus illustrates that there cannot be fruit on the branches of a grapevine unless those branches are connected to the vine itself. Likewise, we cannot produce the fruit Jesus calls us to produce unless we connect to Jesus as our source of life through faith in His atonement.
Why should we want to bear fruit? “Because Jesus said so” is all the answer we should need. However, in Jesus’ kindness, He goes further by giving us two incentives as to why we should be faithful in our following Him. It is at this point that we begin to see Jesus connect the theological dots and inform how we think about biblical counseling in terms of the big picture.
When we follow Jesus we glorify God
The first reason that your counselee should follow Jesus is to bring glory to God. In verse 8 Jesus teaches that believers glorify the Father when they “bear much fruit.” Remember, this “bearing of fruit” is synonymous with abiding in Jesus (v.4) and keeping Jesus’ commandment to love (v.12). So, when a counselee follows Jesus by bearing much fruit/abiding in Jesus/keeping His commandment to love, they are fulfilling the purpose for why God created them – His glory.
This is HUGE for biblical counseling. The call for a counselee to love his wife with a sacrificial kind of love is a fulfillment of God’s call for him to glorify God. We don’t simply call our counselees to blind obedience just for the sake of obedience. We pursue obedience to Christ for the sake of God’s glory.
When we glorify God through following Jesus we find joy
The second reason that your counselee should follow Jesus is to find Jesus’ joy. Jesus is undoubtedly concerned about the Father’s glory but this glory does not come at the expense of your counselee’s joy. Jesus tells us that He is teaching about how to follow Him so that His “joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (v.11).
Biblical counselors cannot afford to miss the connection which Jesus makes concerning the believer’s obedience to Christ as it relates to God’s glory and the believer’s joy. When your counselees strive to obey Jesus, they are striving for both God’s glory and their joy. Your counselees cannot be serious about their joy unless they are serious about God’s glory through obeying Jesus. As a result, it is helpful to teach your counselees that Jesus is concerned about their joy.
How can we not be mesmerized by Jesus’ all-encompassing explanation for how following Him, God’s glory, and our joy all fit together? These three threads are the common emphasis in biblical counseling. The beauty of John 15 is that in it Jesus weaves all three threads into a unified strand of thought. Biblical counseling is difficult and counselees typically view the Bible as daunting. Our counselees need to see that their desire for joy and God’s desire for their God-glorifying obedience are not conflicting realities in the plan of God. What John 15 does for our counselees is that it shows them that the call to be a disciple, glorify God, and have joy in Jesus are all related and contingent upon one another.
Works Cited & Credit
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (John 15 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.