What is the fruit of the Christian life? Do we have to worry about the fruit? We’re supposed to focus on the root, not the fruit. But, what about the fruit?!?!
When I was growing up, being the over-confident Christian teenager that I was, I remember a very specific conversation. I don’t quite remember who we were discussing, but I had said something judgemental about someone and my dad asked, “are you supposed to be judging them?” I retorted back, “We’re not supposed to judge, but we are supposed to judge the fruit of someone’s life.”
I had been taught this somewhere along the way. I think it was at youth group. I can’t remember. The teaching came from Jesus’ sermon on the mount which can be found in Matthew 5-7 as well as a smaller portion in Luke.
43 “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit,44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Honestly, what I had learned isn’t that far off. However, there is one critical distinction that I needed to make.
There is a difference between critique and condemnation. And it has to do with intent. What is my intent when I’m looking at the fruit of someone’s life? Is it to put them down so that I may elevate myself in the process? Or am I trying to love and encourage them as a brother or sister in Christ? Do I even have a relationship with the person I’m critiquing? Christian community should not be condemning. However, neither should we ignore things that aren’t consistent with God’s commands for us. But, far too often our critique exceeds our relationship.
If we are doing what we do out of love, the end result will be more fruit. If we’re doing so out of insecurity, the end result will be division.
All that said, I want to talk about fruit. What is fruit? Should we even be concerned with fruit?
First, what is the fruit of the Christ-centered life?
To really answer this question, we have to take a step back. One problem I think we have made is trying to force fruit before we are established in Christ. Fruit has to come from a relationship with God. If it doesn’t, then it’s not fruit, it’s works. You can’t force fruit.
Fruit must come from our relationship with Christ. Jesus makes this clear in John 15
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 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.5 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. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
Every branch in Christ bears fruit. Not only does it bear fruit, but the Father will prune us so that we can produce more fruit. That means things will have to be cut out of our lives to make room for more fruit.
We cannot bear fruit by ourselves. When we try to produce fruit on our own, we are trying to live out our own righteousness and earn our own salvation. Our fruit must be produced as a result of/come out of our relationship with Christ. He is the vine supplying what we need for life and godliness. (2 Pet. 1:3)
It is through that supply from the vine that the fruit will come in our lives. Whoever abides, some translations say remain. Whoever are present in Christ and Christ is present in them. Whoever is held by Christ, holds on to Christ.
Notice it is both. It’s not just Christ in us, though that is the biggest part. But, we are also the abiders. Christ abides in us, and we must abide in Him. When we’re attached to the vine Christ will flow through us, but we must be about abiding as well. We must be present in Christ. As Christ holds us, we must also hold on to him. As Paul said, we must press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of us. (Phil. 4:13)
It is only through this mutual abiding that fruit will be produced in our lives.
This is also how we bring glory to God.
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
By bearing fruit we prove that we are his disciples. And by doing this, we bring glory to God.
How do we produce fruit?
By keeping His commandments. Keeping his commandments is how we produce fruit. But don’t miss it. Keeping his commandments is also how we abide!!! Doing the things that Christ has commanded us to do keeps us abiding, present in the vine. These are the words of Jesus Himself speaking to His disciples on the night before He would be crucified. These are very important words to us.
A life in the vine must do what Christ has commanded. If we claim to be in Christ we must be about the work of keeping Christ’s commands. This is crucial to abiding.
Perhaps an illustration will help.
Imagine with me that you are playing on a basketball team. (Don’t worry, this isn’t going to get real technical.) You have a good relationship with your coach. S/he are just great. You love being around them all the time. They make you feel good about yourself, the team and life in general.
Now, your coach’s job is to teach you basketball. They teach you the fundamentals of the game. They teach you how pass the ball around and drive the ball in towards the goal. They teach you how to be a team, teach you the plays. And if you do as they teach, you’re going to win games.
It’s game time. The coach wants you to go in the game. But you resist. You like being next to coach. You like talking and listening. You’ve gotten quite comfortable where you are, sitting on the bench next to coach.
So you stay on the bench all season long. You go through your entire basketball career on the bench.
Question, were you a basketball player? You knew all the plays, you knew the fundamentals, you knew what you were supposed to do. But, you never actually played in a game. Remember the movie “Rudy”? He would only go down as someone who played for Notre Dame if he got on the field during a game. All those practices, all the pain and suffering would mean nothing if he didn’t get on the field.
Of course you probably know the story, he did get on the field and he is recorded as a player for Notre Dame.
The only way for us to be true disciples of Christ is by keeping His commands. It is by putting these commands into practice that we become disciples. It’s getting in the game.
What are the commands of Christ?
Contrary to popular belief, Christ did give us specifics for how we should be living our lives as His disciples. You can boil it all down to love. Jesus told us to love one another like He loved us. To love our neighbor as ourself. It’s all about love. And while that is the truth, how it gets played out shows that we don’t understand God’s love. God’s love for us does not give us permission to do whatever we please. Instead, god’s love transforms us. And as it transforms who we are, our lives start to look different. As Bob Goff says, “Love Does.”
There are two big commands Christ gave. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself (Love one another as I have loved you). These are massively important and serve as the umbrella for which every other Christlike action will come under.
But, there are many other do/don’t statements Christ made.
- Let Your Light Shine
- Follow me
- Love your enemies
- Lay up treasures in Heaven
- Take My yoke
- And about at least 40 more.
What’s my point?
Abiding in Christ is the only way to produce fruit. The way we abide in Christ is to do what He commands. As we actually put into practice what he commands, we grow in our relationship with Him. We don’t grow in our relationship with God by simply learning more information. We must actually put that information into action in our lives. This is what a true relationship with God looks like.
So, what’s the fruit?
Fruit is the product of a life abiding in Christ. What is produced in and through our lives as a result of doing what Christ has commanded us?
The fruit of Christ flowing through us is transformation. As we are in the vine and the vine flows through us, God’s love will transform us into lives that produce fruit. In fact, it cannot not transform us. Imagine a branch of a fruit tree, refusing the life-giving sap. Ridiculous. It must flow through. When it does, it will produce fruit.
Fruit in keeping with repentance. In other words, fruit that turns away from our individualistic pursuits, agendas and desires and turns towards God’s love and commands for our lives.
The more we do this, more our lives will be transformed. Our lives will look less and less like our old selves and more and more like the image Christ is shaping us into.
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Instead of Sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, godly love will be produced in our lives.
Instead of idolatry and witchcraft our lives will produce joy.
Instead of hatred, discord, jealousy – peace.
Instead of fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy – forbearance, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness.
Instead of drunkenness and orgies – self control.
The fruit of being in Christ is a transformed life.
I think we can see this all throughout the New Testament.
Christ did not die so you could sleep better at night. Christ died, rose from the dead, ascended and sent the Holy Spirit so that we would live transformed lives. He died for our justification, redemption and transformation.
Fruit Abides Too
16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
Notice that the fruit our lives will produce by being continually present in the vine is fruit that also will be continually present. In other words, the fruit won’t shrivel on the vine. The fruit won’t rot. The fruit won’t dry up. The fruit of Christ in us is lasting fruit.
The same principle of abiding in Christ is true for the fruit. For the fruit to abide continually, we must abide continually.
Too often, as followers of Jesus Christ, I think we look evaluate the fruit of others or ourselves and get frustrated. We don’t love like we should. That other person doesn’t have joy like they should. We don’t have peace. We’re impatient. We don’t love kindness. We tend toward selfishness not goodness. We’re faithless instead of faithful. We’re not gentle or self-controlled.
We look at the fruit and think we’ll never measure up. We focus on the fruit, pray for the fruit and when the fruit doesn’t come we get discouraged or worse.
What if the point isn’t the fruit? What if the point is the root?
I think we’ve greatly confused fruit with obedience. I think we’ve thought that the fruit of the Spirit in our lives should produce obedience to Christ’s commands.
But, what if that’s not right? Could it be that our obedience to Christ’s commands, the act of remaining in the vine is actually what is supposed to produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives?
What if the reason we don’t see the fruit of God’s love in our lives is because we haven’t done our part of loving our neighbor? (Matthew 22:39)
What if the reason we don’t have the fruit joy in our lives is because we haven’t done the work of rejoicing? (Matthew 5:12)
What if the reason we don’t have the fruit of peace in our lives because we won’t forgive and we won’t go to those who have offended us? (Matthew 18:15-22)
What if the reason we’re don’t have the fruit of patience in our lives is because we aren’t making disciples and teaching them to obey Christ’s command? (Matthew 28:18-20)
What if the reason we don’t have the fruit of kindness in our lives is because we don’t bring in the poor? (Luke 14:12-14)
What if the reason we don’t have the fruit of goodness in our lives is because we aren’t seeking first the kingdom of God? (Matthew 6:33)
What if the reason we don’t have the fruit of faithfulness in our lives is because we aren’t praying in faith? (Mathew 21:21-22, John 15:7)
What if the reason we don’t have the fruit of gentleness in our lives is because we have despised the little ones? (Matthew 18:10)
What if the reason we don’t have the fruit of self-control in our lives is because we haven’t received God’s power or practiced the secret disciplines? (Luke 24:49, Matthew 6:1-18)
What if we’re supposed to focus on the commands of Christ and trust that this act of remaining/abiding/being present in the vine will be something Christ will use to produce fruit in our lives?
What if the point of the commands isn’t the commands themselves? And what if that which is accomplished by the doing of the commands isn’t the point either, instead they are a means to the fruit? And what if the point of the commands is to lead us towards the kind of life that can produce fruit?
What kind of life is that? The kind of life that sacrifices itself for the love of others.
The only way to produce fruit is to be a good tree.
43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. – Luke 6
Make the tree good and the fruit will be good. Good trees, rooted and established in God’s love will produce fruit in keeping with repentance – changed minds that leads to a change in living. And when we’ve been/are being changed, more and more into the image of Christ, we think less and less of ourselves and love others more. And that’s the fruit – Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Gentleness. Faithfulness. Self Control.