At the mention of fruit, what are your first thoughts? A snack? A dessert? Your favorite fruits?
The Bible refers to literal fruit—such as olives, grapes and figs—many times. More frequently the biblical Hebrew and Greek words translated "fruit" have a symbolic sense. All crops are considered "fruit of the earth." Children are called the "fruit of the womb." A man's words are "the fruit of his mouth."
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
In ancient and modern times, people have used "fruit" to mean results, products, outcomes, accomplishments and achievements. An employee must be productive to be worthy of his wage. He must work hard, work fast and work smart to get jobs done and done right. In Scripture, "fruit" has similar meanings.
Defining "good" fruit
The Bible at times likens people to fruit trees or grapevines and portrays God as the owner of the orchards and vineyards. The Master knows our character by our spiritual fruits, just as "a tree is known [identified] by its fruit"—either good or bad (Matthew 12:33).
God's number one concern is for all fruit to be good—"the fruit of righteousness" (James 3:18). In fact, Jesus warned, "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and is thrown into the fire" to be destroyed (Matthew 7:19).
And what is good? Only God has the supreme authority to define good and evil. Jesus went on to say, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:21, emphasis added throughout).
And what is God's will for our lives? It is revealed throughout His Word and is summarized by the two great commandments and the Ten Commandments (Matthew 22:36-40; Matthew 19:17).
We must aim high to reach the highest goals. To produce the best fruit requires work, time, patience and perseverance (James 5:7-11).
We are to be fruitful
Closely following God's desire for good fruit is His desire for us to produce a lot of it—to be highly productive. Jesus said, "This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples" (John 15:8, New International Version). Notice, bearing abundant fruit glorifies God and identifies Christ's disciples!
Later, Jesus states the purpose of our calling: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last" (John 15:16, NIV). Hence we must be oriented toward eternal goals and work with all our hearts to bring them to fruition!
The following parable is quite instructive: "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?' But he answered and said to him, '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 13:6-9).
The keeper of the vineyard asked for another year, during which time he would fertilize the soil to encourage growth. This illustrates God's patience with us—how He is "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
A fruitless fruit tree, however, will eventually be "cut down." Professing without producing is no good.
We are to grow
The similar parables in Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19:11-27 illustrate God's emphasis on spiritual growth and accomplishment. In each story, two servants obediently invested the master's money to earn a profit for him. But the third servant merely hid the money for safekeeping. Fear of failure was his excuse for not even trying.
The parable shows that we must obey God with faith and courage even when it may be humanly frightening. The fearful servant is called "unprofitable" and "wicked and lazy" (Matthew 25:30; Matthew 25:26).
To each of the profitable (fruitful) servants, the master said, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord" (Matthew 25:21: Matthew 25:23). May this be what we hear when Christ returns to reward His servants!
We can't bear fruit without God
During His life on earth, Jesus Christ said of His miraculous acts, "The Son can do nothing of Himself" (John 5:19). He explained, "The Father who dwells in Me does the works" (John 14:10).
Neither can we, acting on our own, produce spiritual fruit! It requires a miracle of God through Christ. Let's carefully read and ponder what Jesus explained to His disciples the evening before His arrest.
He said: "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:1-2). "Pruning" includes the Father's loving discipline to correct our faults (Hebrews 12:5-11).
"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:4-5). Rely on God and great things will happen!
"If anyone does not abide in Me," Jesus continued, "he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you" (John 15:6-7). Abiding in Christ includes learning and applying God's Word. And a major key to bearing fruit is praying for help!
Abiding in Christ also includes abiding in His Church, "the body of Christ," as numerous scriptures show (1 Corinthians 12:12-14; 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 1:21-22; Ephesians 4:12).
The essential role of God's Spirit
Jesus said we can bear fruit only if He "abides" in us (John 15:4-5). How is this possible? It is through the gift of God's Holy Spirit dwelling in us.
How do we receive this gift? Peter said, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).
God's Spirit does many things. It imparts spiritual understanding (1 Corinthians 2:10-14). It imparts a willingness to obey—to be like Christ who said, "Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done" (Luke 22:42). It imparts an ability to obey and love far above human ability. It is the Spirit "of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7).
The power to bear fruit
With the Holy Spirit, one becomes spiritually alive, beginning a new life! God's Spirit is like the life-giving sap that flows up the trunk of a tree to all its branches so they can yield fruit!
Notice God's beautiful portrayal of His people as flourishing fruit trees: "Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit" (Jeremiah 17:7-8; compare Psalm 1:3).
The apostle Paul said in Galatians 5, "Walk in the Spirit . . . If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit" (Galatians 5:16; Galatians 5:25). God's Spirit enables us to act according to God's principles—to live a godly life!
Without God's Spirit, we are merely mortal flesh, and the fruits of raw human nature are called the "works of the flesh" in Galatians 5:19-21. After listing these sinful "works," Paul warns that "those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:21).
With the help of God's Spirit, however, we produce something far different: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering [or patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). That is truly good fruit! God wants us to bear much of this fruit!
Spirit-led people have these wonderful virtues of godly character as the result of God's Spirit acting from within. The credit for this fruit belongs to God and Jesus Christ who supply that Spirit.
And God will let us bear this fruit only when we are trying to give of ourselves to others. This fruit is manifested in relationships. God's Spirit is like a river (John 7:38). It will flow into us only when it is also flowing out to others.
In a series of future articles we will examine each of the special aspects of the fruit of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5—to thoroughly understand them, to see how we can cultivate them and to see how we can use them in serving God and one another. We will get a good taste of each one.
As we do that, let's remember to focus on Christ's overall lesson regarding the fruit of our lives: Bear good fruit and much fruit!