(un)worthy chapter five: bearing fruit

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

John 15:8

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.

Col 1:9–10

As I explained in the previous chapter, walking in a manner worthy of the Lord means demonstrating the worth of Jesus. We demonstrate this by the way we live, not just the way we talk about Jesus. Paul refers to this way of life as bearing fruit in every good work.

Living a life worthy of the Lord will include bearing fruit that looks, tastes, and has the aroma of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Faith and fruit go hand-in-hand. A life pleasing to the Lord includes bearing fruit through good works and expanding one’s knowledge of God. Without growth and reproduction, faith is not alive, and it demonstrates that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not any more precious to us than anything else. As James wrote, faith without works is dead.
The term bearing fruit is a common idea in the New Testament. Jesus used the term as a way to tell His followers that He expects them to be productive, or reproductive, as they follow Him. His intention was that those who knew Him on earth would tell people about Him and teach them what He taught, and live with the same vision for life that He had. The mission He gave to His first disciples was to be reproductive.

As I am writing this, it is early spring, which means it is time to get an early start on planting. Currently, I have hundreds of seeds buried in moist fertile soil, in a warm, humid environment in my house. I have commissioned these seeds to produce fruit. To ensure success, I have provided them with the right conditions. I will be constantly watching over this productive process and making adjustments as needed. I have an expectation that, having equipped these seeds with what they need to produce fruit (and vegetables), I will be able to reap a harvest in due time.

That is what Paul is praying for the Colossian believers to have. He is praying, along with the will of God, for the right conditions to be provided for them so that they will be productive. This is the mission of a disciple of Christ: to bear fruit according to the will of God. But, what is it we are to be producing? What is the fruit?

There are several different ways of understanding fruit in the New Testament. In Matthew 3, John the Baptist told the Pharisees to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” In a parable, Jesus referred to fruit as the result of hearing and understanding the word of God in Matthew 13. And in Galatians 5, Paul refers to fruit as the characteristics of someone who is being led by the Holy Spirit. Love, joy, peace, and so on.

In short, God is commissioning us to embody the sort of character that Jesus had, and produce the same sort of results that Jesus did. We are to deny ourselves (John 12:24), take on the humble attitude of Jesus (Philippians 2:5–11), be witnesses of the gospel of Jesus and teach others to obey Jesus (Matthew 28:20), and praise our Father in heaven (Hebrews 13:15).

Bearing fruit, in the way Paul describes it in Colossians 1, means responding appropriately to the gospel. Bearing fruit begins with the call of God to Jesus, then continues with us putting our faith in Jesus. The various types of fruit described in the New Testament will be the result of this faith. This is not automatic—as it does take effort—but bearing fruit follows that order. This is the right order because the only way we will be able to bear the sort of fruit God wants us to bear is to be connected to the One who provides the environment (the right conditions, as with the seeds) we need to produce fruit. There is no other way.

Jesus told his disciples, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4–5).

Does this all sound just a little too much like religion to you? If so, it’s possible that you are thinking of bearing fruit as a means to an end. Too often, believers will get bogged down with religious duty and find it burdensome. However, a life of following Jesus is not burdensome—it is freeing. There is, indeed, a responsibility we have as believers in Christ, and it can be very difficult at times. But, our good works—our fruit—flows out of a love and affection for Jesus, not out of a need to perform.

Any attempt to bear fruit without being connected to the vine will result in bitter, or bad, fruit. One thing about bad fruit is that it can look very similar to good fruit on the surface. Good works can flow out of a heart that treasures Jesus, or it can be forced out of a heart that is proud and treasures recognition or praise. In order to bear good fruit, we need a mental shift in what we consider to be important in life. Our good works, our accomplishments, our successes are not means to an end, but the result of knowing who we are and what is truly important in life.

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