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Fruit That Remains
I recently heard a message by a wonderful Bible teacher, a very humble man whom I respect immensely. He was teaching on the purpose for our lives, and laid his foundation with two primary principles from the Scriptures: the truth that we were created for good works in Christ, and the truth that we were called to bear fruit, and fruit that remains. His conclusion was that the fruit we are called to bear is the good works for which we were created.
While I wholeheartedly believe that we are indeed called to bear fruit, I found myself questioning this godly man's conclusion. Well, not exactly. I also agree that we were created for good works, because faith without works is dead (James 2:20-26) and a life surrendered to the Lord will result in a love for the people around us that cannot ignore their need. But where I take issue is the idea that the "fruit" we are to bear is defined by "good works.”
While the Biblical principles were correct, there was also an underlying message that because we are called to bear fruit, we have the responsibility to hasten the fruit-bearing process by rushing out and doing good works. Frequently, when we hear a message about bearing fruit, there is an emphasis on producing a result. How many of us have had powerful conversion experiences, then began to attend a local church only to then find ourselves feeling like we are now obligated to "bear fruit"?
Imagine for just a moment a grape vine, planted by the master of the vineyard to bear clusters of succulent grapes. Can you imagine the vinedresser exhorting the plant to produce fruit? The idea of a vineyard worker standing over the plants saying, "Bear fruit, bear fruit, you were created to bear fruit, so go bear it!" is ludicrous! Yet we seem to hear this a lot in many Church circles. Can you then picture this vine becoming totally stressed out because there are no grapes hanging on it yet? Of course not!! In fact, grape vines don't produce any fruit at all for the first two to four years, then the crops take differing amounts of time to mature, depending on the variety. I guess what I'm trying to convey here is that fruit will happen automatically, in God's proper timing, if we will simply stay planted in Him. Could that have been what Paul was alluding to when he mentioned being "rooted and grounded in love" in Ephesians 3:17?
Actually, even when fully mature, very few varieties of fruit-bearing plants always have fruit! And few bear any fruit at all in their first two years. Some take as long as twenty years before they first begin to bear fruit, and even the most mature fruit-bearers generally only have fruit on them for a part of the year. In other words, for a large part of the life-cycle of almost every fruit-bearing plant, there is no visible fruit!
Let's look a little closer at John 15, the chapter in which Jesus said, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you." (John 15:16)
Jesus begins by telling us that He is the vine (verse 1). He then shares that the Father is the vinedresser, and that the Father will prune the vine by cutting away the branches that don't bear fruit (verse 2). As we'll see shortly, we are the branches and we can safely draw the conclusion that if our lives don't bear fruit, we will be separated (taken away) from Him. But this still doesn't answer the question: does this really place the responsibility for bearing fruit on our shoulders?
Verse 3 tells us that we are clean because of the word that Jesus has spoken. This may be a different point altogether, or it may be telling us that because He cleansed us, the initial pruning has taken place and we can now be grafted into the Vine. In any event, verse 4 begins with the imperative, "Abide in Me...". He then states, "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me."
How frequently we overlook the "...neither can you, unless..." part of this verse! I've probably heard 500 messages about bearing fruit in my 34 years as a Christian, but, apart from the five incredible years we spent at Fountain Gate Bible College in Plano, Texas, I've heard very little about simply abiding in Christ.
No matter how you slice it, Jesus has made it clear that His fruit - that is, the fruit that remains, is only borne by branches that are abiding in Him. Further, if we aren't abiding in Him, we are completely unable to bear fruit - no matter how hard we try!
I'd like to suggest that the main emphasis of Jesus' words in this chapter was not really about bearing fruit, but about abiding in His love. If we do that, our lives will be supernaturally transformed. We will be conformed to His image, His love for others will compel us to love those around us, and the fruit will happen - automatically! After all, it is not we who live, but Christ in us (Galatians 2:20), and He is more than capable of moving through us when we don't even realize He's doing so!