As we were going through the vineyards outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, this summer, we stopped to take a picture of just part of the vines in the Jefferson vineyard with a red-roofed church just beyond them.
The juxtaposition of the vines and the church building prompted my mind to go to John 15.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. … Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
John 15:1, 4-5
Jesus was speaking to His disciples in this discourse and He was advising them that they had no power in and of themselves to accomplish anything eternal for the Kingdom of God. Indeed, He said “apart from me you can do nothing”!
We think that we can do a lot of things without God’s assistance; but, without Jesus, none of them are of any merit. But, separate us from God and all our works, even the very best ones, are essentially garbage in God’s sight.
“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”
Our righteous deeds, the ones that we hold up to God as evidence that we should be rewarded, all those nice things we did and said, all of them are considered to be like a polluted garment, filthy rags.
According to Strong’s concordance information, the Hebrew word translated as “filthy rags” relates to menstruation and the soiled garments therefrom. It is profound that Isaiah used this term to describe God’s attitude toward man’s good works.
It is easy to read “filthy rags” as being merely soiled cleaning cloths. But for me, this Hebrew definition puts the “filthy rags” reference into a new light – our good deeds, no matter how costly or how worthy they are in man’s eyes, are worth only to be dumped into the refuse can.
So, what do filthy rags have to do with the Vine?
When we are in Christ Jesus, when we are connected to the Vine, our acts of righteousness avail much. When we are abiding in the Vine, we have the power of the Vine flowing through us and we can accomplish that which He has ordained for us to do for the Kingdom of God. Then, instead of “filthy rags,” God sees the righteousness of Christ that has become imputed to us through our faith in Him. In short, we abide in the Vine and He enables us to do righteous deeds that are a fragrant aroma to God, not filthy rags.
The church, the bodily manifestation of Jesus Christ after His resurrection, is to do His work.
“And [God] put all things under [Jesus’] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
Each of His children are part of the church, the body of Christ, and we each have a role to play as we live out our lives to the glory and honor of our Savior. Paul talks of the body of Christ like this in First Corinthians 12:
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. … Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
1 Corinthians 12:12, 27
In this new year, praise the Lord for the gift of eternal life through His death and resurrection and also for the gift of an abundant life in the here and now. And thank Him that He has grafted us into the Vine so that as His Church we will have the power that comes to those who abide in Him.
The vineyard and the church. The very symbols of the Source of our strength and of the Body which carries the message of our Lord to those with whom its members interact.
Father, Your ways are inscrutable and unknowable to us. We praise You for giving us Your Son as our Savior and we thank You for enabling us to witness to Your incredible love and mercy through Jesus Christ. Thank You, too, for giving us symbols that we can use to remind us of Your grace, providence and goodness. May we glorify You in all that we do, through Jesus Christ our Lord.