Bear Fruit (John 15:1-11)
Audio Recording of Sermon: https://qbc.org/sermons/605683--bear-fruit
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 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. 5 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. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. – John 15:1-11
You must bear fruit
The seriousness at which Jesus stresses the need for fruit in the life of His disciples could not be more severe. His Father is the vinedresser who cuts out branches that do not bear fruit and those branches are then gathered and thrown into the fire (John 15:2, 6). If we do not bear fruit, we are not really Jesus’ disciples (John 15:8). Thus, “fruit bearing” is not optional—it is a life and death matter.
What is this “fruit” Jesus is referring to? Time will not allow an exhaustive explanation, but it will suffice to simply say that this fruit refers to the new actions and dispositions of a person who has been genuinely converted. So, we think of the fruit of the Spirit Paul lists in the book of Galatians (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control—dispositions of the heart) , or we could think of the multiplying fruit in the parable of the sower that seems to refer to fruit being thought of primarily in the terms of evangelism. It is an expansive term to refer to the sum total of the work of the Holy Spirit in transforming someone’s life from being centered on sin and themselves, to being centered on God.
This is why bearing fruit is not an optional add-on for a Christian—when the Holy Spirit indwells you and you are given a new heart, you must change. Hear James’ classic warning, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead,” James 2:14-17.
Jesus likewise warns of false teachers in Matthew’s gospel: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits,” Matt 7:15-20.
The genuineness of our faith can be discerned by our fruit. And our fruit isn’t merely a veneer of Christianity. False teachers look like sheep—they play the part, show up on Sunday, listen to Christian radio, and have all the necessary trappings to appear godly, but inwardly their desires are entirely opposed to Christ. And if false teachers can be discerned by their fruit then certainly Christians should be identified by theirs. Friends, do you bear fruit? Does your life demonstrate that something supernatural has happened to you? If your co-workers or relatives were to find out that you were a Christian, would they be surprised? Children, if your parents are Christians it might be tempting to think that you have inherited their faith the same way you inherited your eye color. But don’t think that you are a Christian just because your mom and dad are. Do you bear fruit? When your friends are around, do you ever talk to them about Jesus? Do you hate your sin, not just because of the consequences you might receive from your parents, but because you are sinning against God? Do you love God, forgive others, and confess your sins? Or do you hide, cover up, and blame your sins on other people? If you were to be tried in court for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
You cannot bear fruit
So, a Christian is one who must bear fruit, but here is the dilemma: in this text we are that you cannot bear fruit. Left to yourself, you can, in the words of Jesus, “do nothing,” (John 15:6). This obviously is not a complicated, nuanced point I am drawing out of the text; it is pretty plain--but it is critical to think about. The image Jesus is using is that of a branch connected to the vine, and thus bearing fruit. A branch cut off from the vine cannot grow anything. A branch does not first grow fruit and then be connected to the vine—it is the exact other way around. It is only by first abiding in Jesus that any fruit is born—apart from being united with Christ, we can do nothing of spiritual significance whatsoever. Why does this matter so much? Because the order of our salvation (first: saved, then: bear fruit) is what any many respects set Christianity apart fundamentally from every other world religion—this even sets Christianity apart from many false versions of Christianity.
In every other religion, your relationship with that god/life force is a relationship similar to a start-up company with an investor. You know how start-up companies work—you develop a product that you think will sell well, you approach some venture capitalist and demonstrate why your product is worth them investing in, and if they think it is worth the risk, they will give you the capital you need, but with a lot of strings attached—they want to see a return on that investment. So, you work like crazy to try and prove why you and your product are worthy of the investment. Friends, that is true of the Hindu, of the Mormon, of the Jehovah’s Witness, of the Muslim; it is even true of those who would basically say, “You just need to be a good person.” The question then, of course, is “How good must one be? As good as you could possibly be? How do you know when you have been good enough?” It is also true of non-religious religions. What is a non-religious religion? It is whatever you live for most—your job, you family, your body, your relationships—anything and everything that you say, “This is my purpose, this is what I must have in my life or I cannot be okay.” So, if your functional god is a relationship, you will do anything and everything to prove that girl or that guy that you are worthy of their love, you’ll bend over backwards, you’ll compromise on things you didn’t think you would compromise on, and you’ll live on pins and needles, afraid that someday they might wake up and realize that you are no longer worth their investment. And you know what happens when you get married in a relationship like that? You get exhausted, and eventually you begin to resent them because no matter what their validation is never enough, never constant. What are you doing? You have put the expectations of God on a human being, and you will eventually crush them with it (because they aren’t measuring up), or you will be crushed (because you don’t measure up) and you start thinking: I need to get out of this. Friends, you can do this with anything.
But the relationship of a investee and investor is not how Christianity portrays your relationship with God. It is true, God is described as our Lord and King, our master to whom we must submit, but that isn’t all. God is also described as a Father, a husband, and a friend. What parent in this room sits their child down and says: Okay Bobby, here is what your mother and I have invested in you—we are willing to give you five years to prove that you are worth that investment; if you do, you can continue to be our son; if not, then we will have to let you go. Friend, maybe you are not a Christian here today; maybe you are here with a friend, your parents; I wonder what your understanding of Christianity is? Or maybe you have supposed you were a Christian, but now as I have contrasted other religions and Christianity, perhaps now you realize that what you have believed in actually wasn’t Christianity at all? Have you imagined that Christianity claimed to be the religion for those who think they are better than other people? I also wonder how you have felt about your own religious pursuits—are you tired? Have you proven your worth yet? Does your self-talk of acceptance (I love me) satisfy you? Or are you hungry for something more?
Entertain this thought for a moment, this is what true, authentic, Biblical Christianity teaches: God is infinitely wealthy in holiness, glory, and beauty, and He is looking for individuals to share Himself with. Not only do you lack something profitable to offer God, to benefit Him, you actually are spiritually in debt and have robbed God of the glory due Him. God, with all of His heavenly authority and power is angry with you for your sin. But, wonder of wonders, God, this high and holy God whom you and I have offended, sent His own Son who was infinitely rich, to take on your debts and bear them away on the cross. And now, by your faith and trust in Him, He has adopted you as children and you now are inheritors to His great riches! “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich,” 2 Cor 8:9. Friends, where else will you find a Savior like that? Where else will you find a God who will come to you—not when you are well off, not when you have something impressive to offer, not when you are proving that you are worth it—but in your utter poverty, when your hands are empty and stained with the filth of your sin, and say, “I want you! You are my child and I will pay whatever it takes for you to be brought into my family.” Oh dear friends, come to Jesus today.
Christians, does your relationships with others mirror God’s relationship with you? Is your love conditional? Do your children sense that your love for them is constant? Does your spouse know and experience this kind of constant love? Do your friends, your co-workers, your enemies, know that there is an open door of love available to them?
You will bear fruit
So, Jesus gives us the command that we must bear fruit and so prove to be His disciples; then He reminds us that apart from Him, we can’t bear fruit. But He also comforts us with this promise: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit,” John 15:5. If you abide in Jesus, you will bear fruit. Not optional. It will happen. How can Jesus know this? Is it just that Jesus knows the future so He knows ahead of time that we will bear fruit? Is His certainty resting on His knowledge of fruit being born? Well, that is somewhat true—Jesus certainly does know what will happen in the future. But that isn’t what Jesus is referring to. His certainty is resting on a knowledge of the future alone, but is resting on the effective power of abiding in Jesus. Jesus is the vine, we are the branch; the vine knows the branch will bear fruit because the vine is supplying the vitality needed for fruit to be born! Jesus knows that if we are abiding in Him we will bear fruit because He is supplying the power needed for spiritual fruit!
This is the new covenant promise of the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Listen to Ezekiel foretelling of that day: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules,” Ez 36:26-27. So God is commanding you to obey, but promising that He will supply the means to obey. I’ve cited it before, but the classic prayer from Augustine hits the nail on the head: Command what you will, Lord, and will what you command! God does not command we bear fruit, and then sit up in heaven tapping his toe, waiting for us to measure up. He supplies what we need and promises we will persevere to the end. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” Phil 1:6.
But how does one access this power to bear fruit? One way that the text examines is through the Father’s pruning work, through suffering and difficulty, which we will examine next week. Another way, which ties in with what we considered last week: prayer. Jesus explains, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples,” John 15:7-8. The logic of that verse works this way: If you abide in Jesus and His words abide in you, your prayers will be answered, and when your prayers are answered, God is glorified because you will then bear fruit and so demonstrate that you really are a Christian. So, how do you bear fruit as a Christian? Well, one very simple way is: pray. Prayer for a friend;
In closing, let’s look at how this works with one verse and see how prayer:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Paul wants prayers to be made for (1) all people, and especially for (2) people in positions of authority. Why? Because when we do it will result in a “peaceful, quiet, dignified, and godly life.” This is good because God desires more and more people to be saved—so, pray for everyone you meet that they may be saved. Pray for people in positions of authority that God would lead them, rebuke them, correct them, save them, and help them. And when we do this—what happens? We have a life marked by peace, quietness, dignity, and godliness. We may be left to assume that there is so little peace and dignity in our public discourse today because there are very, very few people praying. So let us be diligent in prayer and so bear fruit! God will sovereignly bring about the fruit of the Spirit into our life as we seek him earnestly in prayer.