When I began to follow Christ, I was told that I should read the Bible, pray, attend church, have a daily quiet time, memorize Scripture, give generously, and share my faith with others. I was eager to know Jesus and I was sure that these practices would help me. But my guilt and frustration rose as I struggled with doing all those things I “should” be doing.
When I read Jesus’ teaching that the tree that “does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 7:19), I doubled my efforts, but my guilt and frustration only grew.
As I began to understand the Bible better and interact with other Christians, I discovered more and more about fruitfulness and how God brings it about in our lives. God’s Kingdom is about fruitfulness.
The Fruit of the Pharisees
I discovered that many of the Gospel passages about fruitfulness are warnings to the Pharisees, Sadducees, and “false prophets.” The Pharisees and teachers of the law produced the fruit of self-effort, priding themselves on fulfilling the smallest details of the law, busying themselves with activity, holding on to traditions, and trying to impress others. Jesus exposed their warped concept of producing fruit in Matthew 23.
Jesus was concerned about the lifestyle and example of the Pharisees and their negative influence on others because the Kingdom of God was about life, light, health, and growth. But of the Pharisees He said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men” (Matthew 15:9).
The Pharisees acted as if they were close to God, but their hearts were distant and disconnected from Him. Therefore, the fruit they were producing was rotten. Was this a reason for my guilt and frustration? Was my heart distant from God? Were my actions a disconnected end in themselves rather than a means of drawing close to Jesus? How could I bear good fruit?
How to Bear Good Fruit
When John the Baptist proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2), he also said, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (v. 8). Part of “living in the Kingdom”—of having a relationship with God—involves bearing fruit. This requires action, but it is action that results from being close to God and knowing what He desires. It comes from an intimate, sensitive connection to God.
Jesus said, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). This is what I had been lacking.
Jesus said, “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me. I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing”(John 15:4,5 MSG). Fruit reflects its source.
Jesus in Me
Producing fruit requires action, but it is not the action of frenzied spiritual activity.
Yes, God wants us to “bear fruit” (John. 15:2), “bear much fruit” (v. 8), and “bear fruit…that will last.” (v.16). However, He takes responsibility for providing all we need to be fruitful (vv. 2,3).
So what actions am I responsible for? I’m responsible for repentance and abiding. As we abide in Christ and He in us, we experience the life and love of Christ flowing into our lives, resulting naturally in fruitfulness. What is this fruitfulness? Moving toward spiritual maturity, becoming more and more like Jesus. In a word, fruitfulness is Christlikeness—Jesus increasing in me produces the fruit that honors God.
But what is this fruit? Is it one’s character—the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22,23? Is it “results,” such as new believers? I’m convinced it is both. If fruitfulness is Christlikeness, then the fruit we produce is both Christlike character and Christlike actions that results when He sends us into the world “to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last” (John 15:16).
What a relief to know that I do not have to lead the driven lifestyle of the Pharisees in order to bear fruit! I don’t need to define myself by a legalistic list of all that I think I am accomplishing for God. Instead, I can enjoy my connected relationship with Jesus. I can enjoy abiding in Him and Him abiding in me. I can enjoy abiding in His Word and His Word abiding in me. And I can enjoy abiding in His love and His love abiding in me.
The spiritual disciplines that once frustrated me—quiet times, Bible study, prayer, and sharing my faith—now help me abide in Christ and stay connected to Him. They have become part of the means by which I live “in Christ” and Christ lives in me.
My motives are not always Christ-centered. But as I’ve come to understand the importance of abiding in the Vine, I have the privilege of living the “Jesus in me” lifestyle. Simply put, this means experiencing His love and joy. And as a disciple of Jesus—as the beneficiary of a vital, loving relationship with God—I also have the privilege of bearing of much good fruit.
Adapted from “Fruit Without Frustration: Adventures in the Great Commission” by Chuck Broughton. Published in the May-June 2005 issue of Discipleship Journal.