An unfruitful Christian is an oxymoron. By definition of the very word Christian, which means “Christ-like”, we assume that lofty call to be like him. And none would consider Jesus unfruitful.
So back to it: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He lifts up every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” ~John 15:1-3
It’s best that we begin with the last line, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” Jesus is not conflating salvation with fruitfulness. He has pronounced them as already clean. The disciples have yet to be morphed into the very fruitful apostles they will soon become. They’ve not made a scratch on their destiny. Up to this point, for all practical purposes, they’ve been roadies. Nevertheless, they are clean.
There is another passage that talks about gardening that deserves a peek. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes for us that humbling, scary, thrilling moment after we die and actually meet up with Jesus, face to face. It seems he borrows from this passage in John 15 to make a dramatic point: By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. I Corinthians 3:10-15
Well, Paul also includes construction in his imagery, but it is the bit about wood, hay and straw that speaks to our point. These are the works, if they can be called that, which were most likely rooted in selfish, self-serving, self-centeredness. They were works done with wrong motives and reflect an unfruitful life. I believe this passage might be the theological basis for our high church brethren’s concept of purgatory, for which I find insufficient support. Rather than a lengthy stay in a hot jail cell, it seems more like a flash fire of judgment that is over in a moment. To the extent that this is metaphorical, I cannot say. What I can say is that the person of faith who has wasted his or her life will suffer a real loss but still qualify for heaven…” If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”
That is of some comfort I suppose. But I would also think that a person who is placing their hope of heaven on this lowest common denominator passage is literally…playing with fire.