Monday, June 16, 2008

Abiding in Christ and bearing His fruit!

"By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples." John 15:8

There is much talk around me these days of bearing fruit - fruit for Christ. As followers of Jesus we all desire to bear fruit and we want nothing more than for Christ to be glorified in our lives as we bear fruit in and through Him. We want our lives to reflect Jesus and His glory and we want the world to see Jesus through our lives, attitudes and actions. But I have yet to hear a good, Biblically grounded definition of fruit. The word fruit is thrown around without much thought given to what God Himself actually considers fruit. I long to bear fruit; fruit that will last and fruit that will glorify my God and savior Jesus Christ. To that end, I hope to do a quick little study on what Jesus Himself means when he speaks of fruit.

As the verse at the top shows us, Jesus desires for us to bear fruit. When we bear fruit we glorify the Son by proving that we are His disciples and we glorify the Father because the Son glorifies the Father. This issue of fruit is profoundly important and is the subject of a long section of Jesus' conversation with His disciples in the Gospel of John. It is imperative that we understand what Jesus means by fruit so that we do not erroneously think we are bearing fruit when we are indeed not bearing fruit. At the same time, it will be encouraging to our faith if we see that we are indeed bearing the fruit that Jesus speaks of.

Starting in verse 15 of John 14, Jesus begins to speak of love - love for Him and love for the Father:

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (verse 15)

"Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him." (verse 21)

"If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I." (verse 28)

"If anyone loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." (verse 23)

"...but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father." (verse 31)

(As a side note, all of Jesus' discourse here is in the context of the Holy Spirit, Whom He is promising will come to the disciples.)

Immediately following this lengthy speech on love for Him and love for the Father, Jesus introduces the concept of a vine and its' branches to His disciples and we get our first glimpse of this fruit that we are to bear.

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." John 15:1-2

It is not immediately clear from this text what Jesus means by fruit, but I hope to show that as the discourse moves along Jesus is building on His discourse in chapter 14 to climax at verse 17 with a clear statement of what He means by the word fruit.

"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

Notice that what Jesus is getting at here is that we can in no way bear fruit apart from Him. It is an unequivocal statement of our inability to bear the fruit that He desires apart from Him. He is the vine that nourishes the branches so that they bear the fruit that He has designed them to bear. It is His fruit, not our fruit. It is His work, not our work. Additionally, notice how Jesus moved from speaking clearly of love for Him and the Father in chapter 14 to a language of "abiding" in Him here in chapter 15. Jesus is using the analogy of a vine and its' branches to show the disciples that abiding in Him is like a branch that is part of a vine, bearing the fruit of the vine. The fruit is not the fruit of the branches but it is the fruit of the vine itself. This may become more clear a little later in the text, so let's move along.

"By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love. 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." John 15:8-11

Now we begin to see a little more clearly what Jesus is getting at. He commands the disciples to "abide in His love." Abiding in Him and abiding in His love seem to be one and the same thing. This same text begins with Jesus saying that the Father is glorified when we bear much fruit and so prove to be Jesus' disciples. The Father is glorified as we prove to the world that we are followers of His Son who love Him, abide in Him and abide in His love. But the question still remains: what fruit will we bear when we love Him, abide in Him and abide in His love? It is the resulting fruit of our love for Jesus, our abiding in Jesus, and our abiding in Jesus' love that glorifies the Father. The Father desires for our loving and abiding to produce something so that others' may see Him and His glory. What is the fruit?

"This is my commandment. that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends." John 15:12

So toward the end of this great discourse on love, fruit and abiding, Jesus ges to the crux of what He means by all of this. He wants the disciples (and that includes us) to love one another as He has loved us. When we love Jesus we will obey what He has commanded us and here He tells us what He commands us: love one another as I have loved you. When we abide in Him, we will bear the fruit of love for each other. This is not a love that is from us; it's a love that is from Him. It is His love for us manifested as fruit in those who love Him. The imagery of the vine becomes very clear all of a sudden. This entire section is speaking of love - love for God in Christ and love for others. The love of Christ for us is the nourishing sap that feeds us and strengthens us ("abide in my love.") The fruit that we bear in Him is love for each other.

If you still struggle to see this, please go with me to verses 16 and 17.

"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another." John 15:16-17

There can be little doubt that the fruit Jesus is speaking of here is that of love for one another. It begins with Jesus' love for us and as we abide in Him and His love, we bear the fruit of love for others. It's as if Jesus has designed everything so that His love for others should be manifested through us - as fruit borne from Him, through us, for others so that they might glorify God the Father. The fruit is love! As usual, it is from Him, through Him and to Him.

The fruit Jesus wants us to bear is love. It's not lots of children, or large ministries, or massive church buildings, or thousands of converts. Not that those are bad in and of themselves, but they are not the fruit that Jesus is speaking of here. The children, large ministries, massive churches and converts are all something that flows out from Him as we bear the fruit He wants us to bear - love.

It is dangerous and unwise to try to redefine fruit as anything other than what Jesus defines it as. No, it's more than dangerous and unwise, it's sin. If Jesus defines fruit as love and we define it as something else we have just called Him a liar and do not obey the very command found in this text. We are to bear the fruit of love in increasing measure, thereby proving to the world that we are ineed Jesus' disciples.

Let's look at three more texts before we end.

If you doubt that the fruit Jesus is speaking of here is love than I encourage you to take a look at 1 John 4:7-21 first, then at Galatians 5, and finally 1 Corinthians 13.

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God send his only Son into the world, that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us."

This first part of the section of 1 John I listed is incredible. It reads almost indetical to John 14 and 15 and shows exactly the same concept: God bears His fruit of love through us in order that others might see Him. No one has seen God, but if we love one another God is abiding in us and people will see Him.

Verse 16 is a real clincher: "God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God." Isn't it amazing to see? If we abide in love (God's love) then we are abiding in God and we will bear the fruit of His love. We don't bear fruit FOR God because it is His fruit and He needs nothing from us. No, we bear fruit IN and THROUGH Him and the fruit He bears through us is TO Himself.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23

Remember in John 14 how Jesus spoke of Him being in us? "I am in my Father, and you in me and I in you." (John 14:20) In previous posts I have shown that Jesus living (or being) in us is none other than the Holy Spirit. And here in Galatians we again see the concept of fruit and love together. This time, it is Paul showing us what the fruit that is from Jesus looks like. This is most likely not an exhaustive list but what is curious about it is that the first on the list is love and every single one after that is related to love. Genuine love is accompanied by joy. Genuine love brings peace and is peaceful. Genuine love is patient. Genuine love is good. Genuine love is faithful. Genuine love is gentle. Genuine love is self-controlled.


"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and can understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends." 1 Corinthians 13:1-8

Love never abides. Love can be described in all the ways that Paul wrote in Galatians 5. Love is the fruit that Jesus speaks of in the Gospel of John. God is love and if we abide in Him we will bear fruit that will prove to everyone that we are His disciples, that we are in Him and that He is love.

When we speak of bearing fruit we must be ever so careful to define fruit the way Jesus defines fruit. It is not the number of converts we's not the size of our church's not the reach or influence of our's not the number of children we's not the number of friends we's not the amount of money we's not anything other than what Jesus says it is: love. We love God because He first loved us. As we abide in His love we will love one another and prove to the world that we belong to Him. If you want to assess yourself to see if you are abiding in Christ, see if you are growing in love. If you are not growing in love, you are neither abiding in Him nor are you bearing His fruit. And love like that of Jesus is love that is willing to die for ones enemies, not at all a love that loves those who love us.

This is a sobering truth for us all, but all praise and glory be to Him that we need not strive to bear fruit but only abide in Him and He will bear the fruit of His love in and through us. And the best part is that it is all FROM Him, THROUGH Him and TO Him - all for His glory and our glorious joy!


Monday, June 9, 2008

The cross of Christ, The Spirit and the Father!

It's been a very long time since I last posted anyting on my blog. One of my goals for this month was to finally get something written and to finally get into a good rythm by posting once a week. My wife has also encouraged me to shorten my posts a little and this I will do but I will likely start a separate blog where I post shorter thoughts and keep this blog for more in depth stuff.

"For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to you who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father."

Ephesians 3:14-18

I have posted here before that Christ died not only for our sins to be forgiven, but to bring us to the Father. This section of Ephesians, a book that both my wife and I have been studying at length in the past few weeks, makes this very clear. The cross of Christ is the epitome of the glory of God in that it reveals His love for us and that "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." His glory shines forth on the cross as the Son willingly becomes the sacrifice for the sins that you and I have committed, are committing and will commit in the future. Such love has never been displayed in all of creation and it reveals the glory of God for our joy to worhip and thank Him for all eternity. Jesus dead on a cross, a willing and obedient servant of God who laid down His life for His sheep is the most clear display of the glory of God. But as I'm sure you can guess, there is more to the cross of Christ than what I just stated and it becomes clear as we move further along in Paul's discourse on what the cross accomplished.

"For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father." The act of salvation is a trinitarian act and is not accomplished by Jesus alone or to Jesus alone. Jesus died and rose from death to accomplish something - something for us. Notice what Paul says concerning Jesus that through Him we both (being Jews and Gentiles) have access in one Spirit to the Father. Paul is saying that there is something one the other side of the cross that is important and that the most glorious event in all of history is not glorious apart from what it accomplished for us. Jesus' death for sin loses all meaning unless it accomplished more than gain us forgiveness for our sins. What the death of Jesus for our sins indeed accomplished is to open the door for the Spirit to be poured out so that we could have access to the Father. Isn't it curious how easily we forget this? We can become so focused on the cross of Christ itself that we forget what it actually accomplished and the purposes for which God the Father ordained it.

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he migt bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit..." 1 Peter 3:18

It is true that we are to always point to Jesus and that we are to preach in such a way that the cross of Christ may shine and God's glory may be seen in it. But we must never forget that Jesus never pointed to Himself exclusively but pointed to the Father. Jesus rules and reigns over all creation and is seated at the right hand of God the Father. Through Jesus, we have access to God the Father by the Holy Spirit which was poured out after Jesus laid down His life and took it back up again.

It's a difficult nuance and some people easily mistake talk like this for trying to diminish Jesus. But rest assured, the cross is a doorway to God and is not the end point for believers - it is the beginning of a relationship with God where we can boldly approach His throne and by faith live for His glory and our joy. This does not negate a "cross centered life" or the truth that we will behold the slain lamb in the Kingdom of God. But it does remind us that we can easily sit back while focusing on the cross and forget that the cross is meant to get us something and somewhere.

Praise God for the cross of Christ and praise the Lamb of God Who took away the sins of the world. Praise God for providing us with a way into relationship with God through His Holy Spirit!

Blessings to you all!