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Growth, Part 2: Bearing Fruit

“…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God…” (Colossians 1:9-10)

In Growth: Part 1 I wrote about God saving the whole man, and that the Gospel, thus, requires the commitment of the whole life. This, in essence, indicates that Christ must have Lordship over what consists of the whole man, the spiritual and the practical, which should affect every aspect of our living.

In Growth: Part 2 my objective is to discuss bearing fruit. Hopefully, I can clearly arrive at what bearing fruit is and how we effectively do it in every good work. So let’s begin.

BEARING FRUIT

“…bearing fruit in every good work…”

From the start we should ask ourselves what bearing fruit actually is. I will presume, as a result of our innate human compulsion to earn justification and its resulting belief that bearing fruit is synonymous with doing, that most of us would attribute bearing fruit as good works. Doing is certainly related to bearing fruit, and the Scriptures are clear that doing is necessary of any true convert, but holy production isn’t measuring by doing so much as it is measured by being. The Scriptural formula is this: you can’t be doing without being, and if you possess being, then you will be doing. In other words, faith without works is dead (James 2:17, 26) and works without faith is the Law (Gal. 3:1-3) or, more simply, you can’t have faith without works nor true works without faith, because they go hand in hand. So, what does this mean?

Before we answer the question, let me first mention a couple of things. First, it is a settled matter that the Christian will produce fruit. It isn’t a ‘should’ or a ‘could’ or a ‘maybe,’ but a ‘will.’ It is a Biblical certainty. Within Scripture you will find zero evidence of a sincere convert to Christianity that remains unchanged. There is no such thing as a “carnal Christian” in the Bible. Like the Apostle Paul says, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you (Rom. 8:9)” and, “…if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Rom. 8:13).” A Christian will put to death the “deeds of the body,” the “flesh,” that formerly enslaved them in a habitual lifestyle of willful rebellion against God; those who belong to Christ will crucify the flesh “with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).

For all the absentee references to carnal Christianity, there are several references, however, to false converts who profess faith but prove otherwise by their works (Titus 1:6; 1 John 1-3, 4-5). In John 15 Jesus uses common Biblical imagery when He identifies Himself as the Vine and His followers as the branches. The branches will bear fruit, or, in not bearing fruit, they will reveal themselves for what they truly are – not His followers – and they, as dead branches, will be cast into the fire (John 15:1-6). True converts will always bear fruit, and they were made for such things (Eph. 2:10).

Second, we are chosen instruments for God’s own glory, and good works have an essential role to play in this reality. Bearing fruit in every good work is the tangible expression, worked through us, of the divine glory found in the Gospel. The ultimate effect of the Gospel is the recreation of lost humanity back into the image of their Creator. As the Apostle Paul writes, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29),” and that recreation should work from the inside out that is, in turn, evidenced in visible works that bring glory to God.  Jesus said to His disciples, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16),” and the Apostle Paul develops this idea when he wrote, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph. 2:10).

Bearing fruit in good works, then, isn’t something we can just take or leave. It is, rather, an immutable byproduct of being in Christ, the Vine. We should be careful not to be foolish like the readers of James who believed they could separate their faith from their works and still claim sonship (James 2:18). This idea earned the indignation of James, who responded, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19).

Instead, we should understand that heart recreation results in whole life transformation that is visible in our lives. This evidence should be readily available to us to exhibit in the court of God and men, and if it isn’t, then we should examine ourselves to be sure that we actually are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). The Christian life will be marked by growth, and a growth that is visible (Matt. 7:16). Remember, true religion is always practical (John 15:1-5; James 1:26-27).

Third, God is so interested in us bearing fruit in good works that He actually has works “prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). This is an interesting statement from the Apostle Paul because Paul, here, is pointing to God’s sovereignty as the basis for what we will do for Him. This means that bearing fruit in good works isn’t a matter of ‘if,’ but ‘when’ for the true Christian. This statement from Paul fiercely mitigates any excuse for the Christian that isn’t bearing visible fruit in their lives. In Ephesians, Paul brings us on a journey from our election in Christ in eternity-past (Eph. 1:3-14) to our corruption (Eph. 2:1-3) to God’s love revealed in His mercy and grace to the idea that we have been vigorously saved by a God (Eph. 2:4-9) that has prepared good works for us to do (Eph. 2:10). Shouldn’t this cause us to recognize the significant role good works play in the life of redeemed people?

As I wrote in Growth: Part 1, salvation is divine liberation of the whole man; it is recreation, God breathing His breath of life back into someone dead in sin. This new life that has come (2 Cor. 5:17) reforms man’s relationship between God (Eph. 2:1-10) and his fellow man (Eph. 2:11-16), which means that not only does God become the Treasure to pursue spiritually, but He also becomes the basis by which we “do good to everyone (Gal. 6:10) practically. Jesus patterned this perfectly for us in His life, death, and resurrection, and has, thus, exemplified the life we are to live. [1] We are to walk (Col. 1:10) as Jesus did (1 John 2:6), who humbled Himself in complete obedience to God (Phil. 2:5-8) and came to serve, not to be served (Matt. 20:28). For most of us who would consider this an impossible task, what is most encouraging is that it is God, Himself, who works in us “both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).” In other words, God provides the work and the means by which to do that work, and it is all for His glory and our good. The Christian will bear fruit (John 15:8).

BEARING (BAD) FRUIT

“Beware of false prophets…You will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matt. 7:15, 16)

We have seen that bearing fruit in good works is evidence of true conversion, that we were made for such things, and that those things are prepared for us in advance by God who provides the means for us to do the work. Bearing fruit, however, goes much deeper than just good works.

Jesus, in Matthew 7:15-23, warns us of false prophets and our ability to recognize them by their fruits (7:16) and in Matthew 12:33-35 uses good and bad trees as a metaphor to express that all men will bear fruit consistent with the condition of their heart. The point here is that bearing fruit is not a monopoly of the righteous. Simply put, people’s works cannot be considered a reliable barometer for sincere conversion and any confidence placed in these types of things is absolutely presumptuous.

People’s works can be misleading signs on the pathway to paradise. Jesus proves this, in one of the most distressing portions in all of the four Gospels (Matt. 7:21-23), where He spotlights workers of miracles who, despite their mighty deeds, will be cast into hell (7:23). This should make it obvious that all fruit isn’t acceptable fruit (Gen. 4:3-5) and that “our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment”(Is. 64:6), unacceptable and inadequate to save us.

A KNOWLEDGE OF GOD

“…for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)

How, then, do we going about bearing fruit in good works that is acceptable to God? This is where Paul’s prayer for the Colossians really comes into play when considering how to ensure bearing good fruit. Paul prays that the Colossians would be “filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” so they would “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord (1:10).” The key, then, to producing good fruit is a true knowledge of God, a “knowledge of His will;” it is being “transformed by the renewal of your mind,” so we can “discern what is the will of God” (Rom. 12:2). This isn’t a knowledge that has to do with the direction of our lives but, rather, a deep and unwavering comprehension of the Lord Jesus Christ and everything He means to the cosmos.[2]

In other words, bearing good fruit is dependent upon true conversion. It is dependent upon our eyes being opened through the removal of the veil that obstructed our view (2 Cor. 3:14) so that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,” will be “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).” We have to see Him, we have to know Him. 

It is like when the prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 6, had his eyes opened and saw who God is and who he was in light of God’s supreme holiness. Isaiah didn’t know what to do other than to fearfully fall to the ground in recognition of his complete impotence. But God, who showed him mercy, atoned for his sin and took away his guilt, and freed him to live a life of fruit bearing in everything he would do moving forward. Appropriately, the next verse shows God making the call, “Who will go for us?”, and Isaiah’s response, as a reborn man, was, “Here I am, send me” (Is. 6:8). A knowledge of God, a knowledge that recreates us, will motivate and empower us to walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6), and as we do we will continue to increase in the knowledge of God (Col. 1:10), which perpetuates the process. Divine understanding will fuel holiness, and holiness will deepen understanding.[3]

A MATTER OF THE HEART

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…” (Luke 10:27)

In my first section I mentioned that faith and works go hand-in-hand; that you can’t have faith without works nor true works without faith, and asked what this meant. Answering this question is where the rubber hits the road. I mentioned earlier that what we produce, whether for good or evil, is dependent upon the condition of our heart and I also mentioned that only possible means by which we can bear fruit in good works is through an eye-opening knowledge of God that re-creates us. The place where both these realities connect is that what the knowledge of God re-creates is the human heart, or “the seat of physical, spiritual and mental life…as center and source of the whole inner life.”[4]

God’s real interest is in the proclivity of our hearts, the abdication of the whole man. David writes, “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted…Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God;your law is within my heart’” (Ps. 40:6-78). David understood that the heart is what God is concerned with, a heart remade that, as a result, is disposed (as his was, being a forerunner of the things to come) to delight in God and do His will.

The very promise of the New Covenant is that God would place His law within His people, write it upon their hearts, and that they would all know Him (Jer. 31:31-34). Going back to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:21-23, the most interesting, and deliberate, reason that these workers of miracles didn’t make it into the kingdom is because they didn’t know Him (Matt. 7:23). The sad reality is that people will work their entire lives in the Name of Christ, and maybe even believe it’s for Christ, but in the end will fall short. The questions is, why?  The answer is that they, like the Pharisees and the Israelites in the Old Testament, honored God with their mouth (or in the exterior) but their hearts were far from Him (Is. 29:13; Matt. 15:8). They are, as Jesus said, whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside but filled with death on the inside (Matt. 23:27).

From the text we can see that these miracle workers were placing their hope for salvation in their works. They thought that doing meant being, but they were sadly mistaken. Do we work from the overflow of our delight in God, or do we work to appease Him?

WHAT GOOD FRUIT IS

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:8)

What, then, actually is good fruitGood fruit, as R.C. Sproul puts it, is the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal.5:22-24); it is “the fruit of a changed life, a changed character, a character that is strengthened and nurtured by the source of holiness, Christ Himself.”[5]

Coming full circle, then, within Scripture you will find zero evidence of a sincere convert to Christianity that remains unchanged. There is no such thing as a “carnal Christian” in the Bible. Good fruit is the transformation in a person’s heart by the invasion of God that is evidenced in the practical things of life (good works), and God’s people will do nothing other than continue to bear fruit.

Is there evidence of Biblical good fruit in your life? Are you bearing fruit in good works and increasing in the knowledge of God? Have you even examined yourself with these types of questions to ensure you are truly in the faith?

These are question we can’t afford to ignore.

“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of His calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by His power, so that the Name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified inyou, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
(2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)

[1] N.T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon: An Introduction and Commentary
[2] Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and Philemon
[3] N.T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon: An Introduction and Commentary
[4]
Morris, L. (1992). The Gospel according to Matthew (p. 321). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press.
[5] R.C. Sproul, John

 

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