Chapter 9 of Saving Faith

Fruit: Evidence of a Saving Faith

by Bernie Koerselman
 
 


Table of Contents

Fruit – An Essential Evidence of a Saving Faith
    "In Christ" Without Fruit = No Salvation
Fruit of the Spirit As a Test
    Three Judges of Our Fruit
    Never Had Fruit of the Spirit?
What Are the Purposes of Fruit in a Believer's Life?
Bear Much Fruit
    Bear Fruit That Will Last
Limited Time to Bear Fruit
    Will Only a Few Be Saved?
    Example from the Jews
If Cut Off, Can We Be Restored?
Summary

It is likely Christ's teachings about bearing fruit were obscure to the Jews.  What did this prophet (as they saw him) mean when he told them they should bear fruit?  Or that they should remain in him?

Fruit – An Essential Evidence of a Saving Faith

Jesus taught that fruit is a necessity in the believer's life:

"I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.1 No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.2  This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."3
This passage of Scripture is one of the tough ones that many seek to interpret in a fashion which is reassuring – to tickle our ears.4  But such interpretations are not true to Scripture.  Consider the relationships and consequences:
We are branches;
Jesus is the vine;
We (as branches) cannot bear fruit by ourselves;
We (as branches) can only bear fruit as we remain in Jesus (the vine);
We (as branches) must remain in the vine (Jesus);
We (as branches) can do nothing apart from Jesus;
We (as branches) are to bear much fruit for the glory of God, showing ourselves to be disciples of Jesus; and
We (as branches) will bear much fruit if we remain in Jesus (the vine) and he in us.
What happens if we don't remain in the vine (Jesus) and don't produce fruit?  There are several results:
God, the Father, is the gardener, who cuts off every branch in Jesus that bears no fruit;
If we (the branches) don't remain in Christ (the vine), we are like branches that are thrown away and wither; and
If we (the branches) don't remain in Christ (the vine), we are like branches which are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
There are critical lessons to be learned from this passage.
"In Christ" Without Fruit = No Salvation

Note the observation above, "he (God) cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit."  Did you understand the full import of that?  These are branches that were in Jesus which are cut off because they don't bear fruit.

To whom could that teaching refer?  How about the millions upon millions of persons who warm our church pews with an easy-believism form of Christianity?  They were taught that all they have to do is believe Jesus died for their sins and they will be saved.  From the first chapters of this book, you know that's not the message of Scripture, but is a widespread message in the twentieth century church in America. Such professing Christians often have no fruit of the Spirit of God in their lives.  They've been taught their passive belief is adequate for salvation.  They neither obey Jesus nor pledge to obey him as their Lord; thus they don't have the Spirit;5 without the Spirit they can't have the fruit of the Spirit;6 without the fruit of the Spirit they will be cut off from Jesus;7 without the Spirit they don't belong to Christ;8 unless they belong to Christ they have no salvation.9

Fruit of the Spirit As a Test

Paul gave us a list of the fruit of the Spirit:  "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."10  Because the fruit is of the Holy Spirit, we won't have it unless we have the Holy Spirit in our lives.  It is a test for the presence of the Spirit.  We will have the fruit if we have the Spirit.11

Without it in our lives, it should be a grave warning sign to us.  What is different about our life?  Have we ceased to be obedient?12  Are we still trusting God in all things?  Has some other activity taken our time and attention away from Jesus?  As soon as we discover the difference, we can take immediate steps to repent of our sin and restore our relationship with our Father and our Lord Jesus.

The fruit we bear is a test for the spirit we have within us, not only for the presence of the Holy Spirit, but also as a test for false spirits. Jesus said:

"Watch out for false prophets.  They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.  By their fruit you will recognize them.  Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.13  Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them."14
There is both good fruit and bad fruit.  The fruit identifies the person; good fruit (of the Spirit) identifies the person who is filled with the Spirit; bad fruit identifies those who are not of the Spirit and not of the kingdom of God.  What is bad fruit?  Paul described that:
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissension, factions 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.15
When I looked at the list of bad fruit, it surprised me how many were of the kind that may be kept in the closet.  The professing Christian may be guilty of them.  How about hatred, jealousy, unforgivingness, selfish ambition, factions and envy?  Aren't all those ones that can be hidden from others and secretly harbored?  If we would belong to Jesus, if we would have salvation, if we would have the Holy Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit, we must rid ourselves of such bad fruit.

But we can't just get rid of it, because it comes from a bad tree.  What then must we do?  That tree (our old sin nature) must die; we must be born again as a new creation with God as our Father and be indwelled by the Holy Spirit.  As a new creation we will be a new tree with good fruit.

Three Judges of Our Fruit

There are three judges of the fruit in our lives.  One is God who sees the heart.  Nothing can be hidden from God.  He sees our motives as well as our actions.

We also judge the fruit in ourselves.  If we harbor secret sins, we can keep these from most people, but we're aware of them.  We know how we really feel.  If we have secret sins, we feel like a hypocrite when faced with a compelling sermon or the convicting word of God.

The third judges are those who know us best, who see our private lives.  Our children are those who judge us by our fruit.  How many children have rejected the Lord because a parent is a hypocrite?  How many people refuse the Lord because of the bad fruit in their spouse's life?  Consider many who refuse any association with the church because of the hypocrites who attend.  Hypocrite equals bad fruit!

This isn't a casual matter, not something to be shrugged off with the thought, "Nobody's perfect."  It's not a case of having a happy or not happy life; it is a case of having or not having salvation.  Paul warns that those who bear bad fruit will not inherit the kingdom of God.16

Never Had Fruit of the Spirit?

What if you've never experienced the fruit of the Spirit?  I can think of two reasons.  The first may be that you are a new Christian who does not fully understand the need to be obedient to Jesus as your Lord.  This can be quickly corrected as you study God's word and commit yourself fully to obey Jesus as your Lord.  In turn, God will give you the Holy Spirit and your life will begin to manifest the fruit of the Spirit.

The second may be that you're a gospel-hardened professing Christian.  You may have sat in churches all your life, having grown up in the church.  You may have heard the gospel so often it long ago failed to make an impression on you.  It isn't something you hungrily seek nor do you allow it to interfere with your lifestyle.  Nevertheless, you may attend church regularly, be a member of the church body, hold office, sing in the choir, even be a pastor.  You don't put into practice God's word or obey Jesus.

Such a person simply doesn't have the Holy Spirit.  That's why he or she fails to have the fruit of the Spirit.  If that be your case, pray to God that he will soften your hardened heart, that he will draw you to the Lord Jesus, that he will reveal and open his Scripture to you, that he will lead you into a life of obedience to Jesus as your Lord, that he will fill you with his Spirit and let the fruit of the Spirit flow in your life.

What Are the Purposes of Fruit in a Believer's Life?

Jesus said it is to the glory of God that we bear much fruit and therefore show ourselves to be his disciples.17   Jesus disclosed two purposes for bearing fruit.  The first is to bring glory to God.  The second is that we are identified with Jesus, showing ourselves to be his disciples.

As to the first purpose for bearing fruit – giving glory to God, Jesus also said, "let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."18  Our light shines before men from the fruit we bear.  When men praise God because of good deeds, that brings glory to God.

As to the second – showing we are disciples of Jesus, he said, "All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another."19  Since one of the purposes for having us bear fruit is so we will be known as Christ's disciples, expressing love for one another is one such fruit.20

I believe we can add another purpose.  When we have the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, we truly have the abundant life.  Mankind craves nothing more than love, peace, and joy.  With those, he is fulfilled.  He no longer needs to strive for money, fame, status, bigger houses, or better jobs.  True love, peace that passes understanding, and inexpressible joy are found only when the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ indwells those who have received Jesus as Lord.

Bear Much Fruit

Let's look again at John 15:8:  "This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."  God will be glorified if we produce much fruit.  We will show ourselves to be Christ's disciples if we bear much fruit.

How are we to bear much fruit?  Jesus told us: "If a man remains in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit."21  If we remain in Jesus as our Lord and he remains in us, we will bear much fruit.  That's a promise!

It is the fulfillment of two conditions.  The first is our duty is to remain in Jesus.  How do we remain?  Jesus told us: "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love.22  The second condition is that Jesus remain in us.  How can we cause him to remain in us?  By loving and obeying him.  Then he promises that both he and the Father will live within us through the Holy Spirit.23  Through our firm attachment to the vine we will naturally produce much fruit.

It's not that hard, is it?  We can produce much fruit by remaining in Jesus.  We remain by obeying him.24  We obey him by learning his commands and teachings, obeying them, and teaching them to others.25  Jesus remains in us when we love and obey him.  We obey because of the obedience that comes from a saving faith.26  Our faith is in Christ the Lord who we confess as our personal Lord.27

Bear Fruit That Will Last

Jesus said further: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.  Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name."28

Before we find out what fruit will last, note that a promise has been attached.  If we bear fruit that will last, God will give us whatever we ask in Jesus' name.

What fruit will last?  Love never fails.29  Paul taught us that in the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13.  After telling about all else that would pass away, Paul concluded:  "These three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love."30

Limited Time to Bear Fruit

If you claim to be a professing Christian, but do not now or have never experienced the fruit of the Spirit, pay close attention to this teaching of Jesus:

"A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any.  So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, `For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any.  Cut it down!  Why should it use up the soil?'

`Sir,' the man replied, `leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it.  If it bears fruit next year, fine!  If not, then cut it down.'"31

Who are the parties to this parable?  God, the Father, owns the vineyard.  We, professing Christians, are fig trees.  Jesus takes care of the vineyard.  When you and I go on and on without bearing fruit, God is about to cut us down (as fig trees) or cut us off the vine.32  Jesus intercedes for us,33 but, according to the parable, even he agrees that a time must come when those who don't bear fruit will be cut down.

Anyone who professes to be a Christian but does not have the fruit of the Spirit in his life has the clock running on him.  According to the parable, a time will come, or has already, when God will seek to sever such a person who does not produce fruit.  Jesus will, or already has, interceded for you as your high priest.

Now is the time to recognize God's requirement to bear fruit and to fulfill it.  Pledge to be a doer of the word and not a hearer only.  Receive Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and pledge with all your heart to obey his teachings and commands.  Live out your pledge as best you can.  God is faithful.  He will provide the power to obey and the fruit to prove that the Holy Spirit dwells in you.

Will Only a Few Be Saved?

As Jesus was teaching, someone asked, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?"

He said, "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.  Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, `Sir, open the door for us.'

"But he will answer, `I don't know you or where you come from.'

"Then you will say, `We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.'

"But he will reply, `I don't know you or where you come from.  Away from me, all you evildoers!'

"There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out."34

Sobering, isn't it?  Salvation is not all-inclusive.  Everyone who says they're a Christian will not be saved.  Again we see that those who have not come to Jesus in the way he said are called evildoers.  Anyone who does not receive Jesus as their Lord is not justified before God, their sins are not forgiven, they are alienated from God and will die in their sins as evildoers.

Example from the Jews

Will God really cut off the branches (us) in the vine (Jesus) who don't produce fruit?  Will he cut down the fig trees (us) that don't produce fruit?  Or is this just rhetoric?

Consider the Jews.  Before Jesus was revealed to them, but in the same generation, John the Baptist warned the Pharisees and Sadducees:  "The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."35  In response to his warning, some Jews repented and were baptized.  Many hardened their hearts and refused.  What happened?

As a nation, the Jews rejected their Messiah.  Indeed, the axe was at the root of the trees. Most of the Jews didn't produce fruit for the kingdom of God; instead they denied the kingdom and killed the King.  In 70 A.D. Rome marched against Jerusalem and destroyed it and the temple, killing tens of thousands of Jews and sending the others into slavery.  The trees that didn't produce good fruit were cut down and thrown into the fire.

Shortly before they crucified Jesus, as he was ending his earthly ministry, Jesus told the chief priests, Pharisees and elders of the people:  "Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit."36

We are living in the age of the Gentiles.  The Gentile Christians and converted Jews who are indwelt with the Holy Spirit are producing fruit for the kingdom of God.

If Cut Off, Can We Be Restored?

Is there hope for any tree that has been cut down or any branch that has been cut off – those who haven't produced fruit for the kingdom of God?  Yes, there is hope.  Paul understood the problem and gave an example using trees and branches.  In it, the branches are the Jews, the wild olive shoots the Gentiles, and the olive root the Lord Jesus Christ.  In Paul's day, many Jews had rejected the Lord Jesus, their King.  Paul explained:

"If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches.  If you do, consider this:  You do not support the root, but the root supports you.

You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in."

Granted.  But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith.  Do not be arrogant, but be afraid.  For if God didn't spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.37

Does the last sentence applies to you?  Perhaps you once believed, but later gave up your belief, or simply failed to grow and produce fruit, or you've fallen into a pattern of continuing rebellion and disobedience.  Paul warned that you may be broken off, as Christ said the Father would do with those who didn't produce fruit.38  Paul continues the warning:
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God:  sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness.  Otherwise, you also will be cut off.  And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again."39
Apparently some of the Gentile Christians were becoming arrogant and boastful that they had obtained salvation in Christ while most of the Jews had not.  Paul took pains to correct their attitude.

The thrust of the passage is that those of us who are Gentile believers were grafted in even though most Jews were cut off from Christ.  Paul says they were cut off because of unbelief.  We are grafted in because of faith.  But, if those same Jews don't persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.

Let me apply that to myself.  God once cut me off because of unbelief.  I once believed with all my heart, but lapsed into complete unbelief, totally rejecting Christianity and all it stood for.  Nevertheless, our gracious God grafted me in again when I no longer persisted in unbelief and once again came to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

For those who claim to be Christians, take heed.  God was faithful to his Word as spoken by Jesus,40 John the Baptist,41 and Paul,42 with warnings to the Jewish nation.43  Will he be less faithful to his Word when his teachings refer to us?  We must consider carefully the warnings of Scripture.  We must bear much fruit for the kingdom of God or we too will be cut off.

Do we earn our way to heaven by producing much fruit that will last?  No!  A thousand times no!!  If we don't produce fruit – much fruit, fruit that will last – and continue in his kindness, we will be cut off.  Will we be cut off for lack of fruit?  No, because fruit comes from a saving faith.44  We will be cut off because of unbelief,45 the lack of a saving faith, evidenced by lack of fruit.

Fruit produced in the lives of those with a saving faith is almost involuntary, exactly as is the fruit which appears on the branch of the vine.  The branch does not decide to produce fruit.  It produces fruit because of its attachment to the vine – Christ.  It is from our firm attachment to him as our Lord that we naturally produce much fruit that lasts for the kingdom of God.  The fruit is evidence in our lives and identifies us with our Lord Jesus.  The "firm attachment" is a saving faith.46

Summary

The same may be true of any of my readers who may have been cut off because of unbelief.  God is able to graft you in again!  But you must not persist in unbelief.  If you haven't received Jesus Christ as your Lord, you are persisting in unbelief.  Bow the knee and pledge obedience to him, repent of your unbelief, submit to his Lordship, and he will lift you up; the Father will give you his Spirit and adopt you as his son or daughter, and you will bear fruit.  Obey Christ's commands and you will bear much fruit for the glory of God, and remain in Christ's love.


Footnotes

1. John 15:1-2.
2. John 15:4-6.
3. John 15:8.
4. 2 Timothy 4:3.
5. John 14:15, Acts 5:32, 1 John 3:24.
6. Galatians 5:22.
7. John 15:2.
8. Romans 8:9.
9. 1 John 5:12.
10. Galatians 5:22.
11. Is this to which the Apostle John referred in 1 John 3:24? "Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us."
12. Paul said we are slaves to sin or to obedience, leading to righteousness (Romans 6: 16). And there is a fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:11). When it is missing in our lives, we may lack the fruit of righteousness when not obedient to the teachings and commands of our Lord Jesus.
13. Note again in this passage that the tree with bad fruit was cut down and thrown into the fire.
14. Matthew 7:15-20.
15. Galatians 6:19-21. Lest there be any doubt in your mind about what it means to be cut off as a branch or cut down as a tree and thrown into the fire, this passage makes it crystal clear: those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. This is not just lacking the abundant life or blessings here on earth, it is not making it to heaven, not having salvation.
16. See also Romans 7:4-5: So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore f uit for death.
17. John 15:8.
18. Matthew 5:26
19. John 13:35.
20. John 13:35 states, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." This is the same result as bearing fruit so that we will be known as Christ's disciples. We know from Galatians 5:22 that love is a fruit of the Spirit. 21 John 15:5.
21.  John 15:5.
22. John 15:10.
23. John 14:23: "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. See also John 14:17 where Jesus was the Holy Spirit will live with us and in us if we love and obey him.
24. John 15:10.
25. Matthew 28:20, John 14:21.
26. Romans 1:4.
27. Romans 10:9,13.
28. John 15:16.
29. 1 Corinthians 13:8.
30. 1 Corinthians 13:13.
31. Luke 13 :6-9. This parable could also refer to the nation of Israel, but the context in which Jesus uses it is to the individuals he's talking to, exhorting them to repent or they too will perish. They were the Jews who had known the law, had the revelation of God, and thought themselves God's chosen people, but Jesus warned them they would perish if they didn't repent.
32. As branches in John 15:2.
33. See Hebrews 7:25.
34. Luke 13:22-28.
35. Matthew 3: 10.
36. Matthew 21:43.
37. Romans 11:17-21.
38. John I S :2. In the one case (Romans I 1:17-21), the branches were broken off because of unbelief, in John 15 :2, they were broken off for lack of fruit. Is that inconsistent? We've learned that fruit comes from a saving faith. If there is no fruit, there is no faith. Instead there is unbelief. Thus, no fruit may equal unbelief.
39. Romans 11 :22-23. Inexplicably, some interpret that passage as saying that Israel may be grafted in again, but don't apply it to the Gentiles. The passage speaks of "some of the branches." It speaks of individuals who were broken off because of unbelief and in Romans 11:22-23, of individuals who can be grafted in again. Are Jews treated differently than Gentiles? No. All are alike before God. See Romans 3:22-23, 29-30.
40. John 15:2: "He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit."
41. John warned, "Produce fruit in keeping with repentanceThe axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matthew 3: 10).
42. Romans 11: 17-24.
43. The Old Testament is a history of a nation who repeatedly broke the commands of God and were punished for doing so. Israel was finally dispersed throughout the nations for its wickedness.
When John the Baptist, Jesus, and the Apostles warned the Jews of their apostate condition, they (as a nation) refused to listen. In 70 A.D. the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, killing hundreds of thousands of Jews and dispersing the survivors, selling them as slaves on the world market until there was such a glut that no one would buy them.
44. See Romans 1:5: Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.
45. They were broken off because of unbelief (Romans 11:20).
46. The person with a saving faith holds tightly to Jesus. To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32). Notice the fruit that resulted from holding to Christ's teaching -- knowing the truth. Another fruit is being set free, all because we hold tightly to Jesus and his teaching.