In John 15 verse 3, the word that was translated as “prune” in the previous verse is now translated as “cleanse.” It reads, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” A study of this word points to the predominant meaning of “cleansing.” But since the result of this cleansing is the production of “more fruit,” it’s not hard to understand how in gardening the idea of “pruning” is preferred in this context. But regardless of whether it is “cleanse” or “prune” it is clear that the disciples Jesus is addressing have already gone through that process. Some argue that the “pruning” that has been done had to do with Judas who betrayed Jesus and was cut off from the other twelve.  This is supported by Jesus’ washing of the disciple’s feet in John 13:10-11. Peter said he wanted Jesus to wash all of him and not just his feet. But “Jesus said to him, ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’” Judas was not “purified” (or cleansed) by God’s Word.

Like most commentators, Guzik suggests that the “word” in this passage is referring to the entire Bible as the “word of God.” He writes, “The word of God is a cleansing agent. It condemns sin, it inspires holiness, it promotes growth, it reveals power for victory.”[1] It’s definitely true that the Bible does all those things, especially “condemning sin,” but I agree with other commentators who see the “word” referring to the Good News of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. Kysar says, “In 13:10 it is Jesus’ act of surrendering his life which cleanses the disciples; here it is his word (logos). Word means the whole of Jesus’ message, including his life and death as well as his spoken proclamation.”[2] Jesus’ “act of surrendering his life” is the clearest expression of love. Romans 5:8 says “God demonstrated His love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” As we see a few verses later in John 15:12-14, it’s about “abiding” in Jesus’ love as Jesus abides in the Father’s love and “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

The “cleansing” that Jesus is speaking of isn’t a physical cleansing of dirt from the body. This was even clear in the washing of the disciple’s feet in John 13. It was only symbolic of a deeper kind of “cleansing.” We must remember that the purpose of God’s gardening is that “fruit” and then “more fruit” will be produced. Cleansing is the removal of anything that prevents production of fruit. The fruit referred to in this whole context is not apples, oranges or grapes! He’s referring to the Spiritual fruit of Love. He is going to address the drawing of nutrients by abiding in him, the branch, is what Paul meant in Ephesians 3:17. Paul prays that his readers, “…being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

[1] David Guzik, John, David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible (Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik, 2013), Jn 15:1–3.

[2] Robert Kysar, John, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1986), 237.