If you are concerned with the question of whether or not you are bearing fruit, then you already know that you have been called by God to fulfill His will and purpose. You understand that Jesus was crucified for your sins so that you could come into a relationship with God—but that is only the beginning of the Christian journey. Our relationship with God, just like human relationships, requires mutual trust, absolute commitment, and continual effort.
God takes our spiritual growth seriously. It is not only expected but also required of us.
The question of bearing fruit expresses a worry that many of us have: Are we doing enough? When it comes to the critical issue of our salvation, we should make an effort to know exactly where we stand.
Pressure to perform
First let's examine the reason why we experience anxiety about bearing fruit in the first place. Jesus had a lot to say about the necessity of spiritual growth and the consequences of failing to bear fruit.
“A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’” (Luke 13:6-7).
Today, most trees that we see or that we might plant ourselves are either there to provide shade or just to beautify an area. By contrast, a man who plants a fig tree in a vineyard does so for the sole purpose of harvesting its fruit, and that purpose produces expectation. A fig tree that doesn’t produce fruit in a vineyard is not serving the purpose that it was put there for—if it fails to meet that expectation, you are better off cutting it down and planting a productive tree in its place. In John 15, Jesus sheds some light on exactly what the parable means:
"I am the true vine, My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away . . . If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them into the fire, and they are burned" (John 15:1-6).
God takes our spiritual growth seriously. It is not only expected but also required of us. If we are just taking up space and not growing in the way that God demands, then He has no use for us. With such high stakes involved, it's no wonder that we might worry about how we are measuring up!
How do we bear fruit?
We need to be sure that we are fulfilling the expectation for which God has planted us. What does it mean to bear fruit, and how can we be sure that we are doing so?
One sign that we are bearing fruit is that we are endeavoring to walk as Jesus Christ walked. This means actively pursuing obedience to the law of God.
In the broadest sense, to bear fruit as a Christian is to become like Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit" (John 15:5). The word "abide" in this context means "to remain" or "to stay with." So if we are able to persevere, to continue with Him, then we have assurance from Christ Himself that we will bear fruit. This takes us back a step further to a more fundamental question: How do we know if we really are with Him in the first place?
"Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments . . . whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked" (1 John 2:3-6, emphasis added).
Jesus lived a sinless life in perfect obedience to God's law—that is how He walked. We should also strive to obey the commandments of God as Jesus did. It is important to realize that the commandments of God are not just a set of "do"s and "don't"s—rather they teach us the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, holy and unholy. John goes on to say: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3).
In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul famously identified nine broad characteristics that accompany the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is a danger in reducing this message to that of simply “trying to be a good person.” After all, what is good? How is love defined? And exactly what do we need to control when it comes to self-control? It is from the law of God that we learn how to show love, both to God and to others. The law teaches us what kindness is, it reveals the way to live a peaceful life, and it guides us in restraining the desires of the flesh. The fruit of the Spirit that Paul spoke of is not a set of feel-good concepts that are left up to our own imaginations, intuitions, or feelings—rather, it is the revealed wisdom and will of God that is expressed in His commandments.
“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love” (John 15:9-10).
One sign that we are bearing fruit is that we are endeavoring to walk as Jesus Christ walked. This means actively pursuing obedience to the law of God. If we internalize the spiritual principles of the law as we obey, then we will bear fruit by taking on the qualities that Paul described.
We can’t do it alone
Jesus said, "Whoever abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). We cannot bear fruit solely from our own effort, and we are not expected to! In the same way, God cannot force you to bear fruit if you are not willing to, it can only come from a joint effort. Our part in that joint effort, as we have seen, is to commit ourselves to living by God’s laws. However, this leaves us back at square one: How do I know if I'm doing enough?
It is important to realize that this is a journey that we cannot complete on our own.
It is a source of great comfort and encouragement that God is on our side in this struggle, and that He deeply desires for us to succeed in bearing fruit. In Hebrews 11:6, we are told that God “rewards those who diligently seek Him.” If we are seeking out God’s help and submitting ourselves to Him, then we have no need to fear because He is always faithful to uphold His promises.
“I thank My God upon every remembrance of you . . . being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:3-6)
It is important to realize that this is a journey that we cannot complete on our own. The question of whether we are doing enough to bear fruit and assure our salvation is fundamentally flawed because we can never do enough. God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). It is God’s glory to be merciful to our weaknesses and to make us perfect through the resurrection: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown is corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-43).
This is where mutual trust and commitment are necessary in our relationship with God. The fact that we cannot achieve perfect obedience to God’s law does not mean that we should just give up and wait for God to make us perfect. Rather, it means that we should give our best effort and have faith that God is able to make His strength perfect, even in our weakness.
You have a Helper
God’s desire to help us bear fruit is found even in the parable of the barren fig tree. Recall how the keeper of the vineyard said, “Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?” Rather than leaving us to dwell on that discouraging and hopeless prospect, the parable goes on to show the man’s reply: “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down” (Luke 13:7-9).
The parable teaches us that God will give us help, and Jesus explained how to get this help and where it comes from: “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (John 14:15-16).
The Holy Spirit is the gift of God’s power that will empower you to fulfill His purpose in your life. As Paul explains in Romans 8, the Spirit guides us to not only keep the law and overcome sin in the physical sense, but to actually change our attitude, mindset, and who we are at our core to align with God’s will (Romans 8:5-9). It is also a personal sign from God that you are His son or daughter and an heir to the soon-coming Kingdom of God (Romans 8:16-17). It is a “guarantee of our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:13-14), so that we know that God is with us and has not given up on us.
God gives His Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32), and the first step to receiving the Holy Spirit is to repent of your sins. To repent means to admit that you have broken God’s law and to dedicate yourself to obeying Him in the future. Peter, the same day that he himself received the Spirit, said that a person should also be baptized when they repent (Acts 2:38). Baptism symbolizes sharing in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, putting our old life with its sins behind us so that we can begin a new life walking with God (Romans 6:2-4).
If you believe in God and are convicted of following Him, then you should make sure that you receive the help and promise of the Holy Spirit. The United Church of God has congregations and ministers all over the world that can assist you in building your relationship with God; you can find one near you by searching today at ucg.org/congregations.