The Big IF: Fruitfulness

The Big IF: Fruitfulness

The Big IF: Fruitfulness.

Sometimes our eyes just skip over small words in Scripture when we are reading in a hurry. In other words, if we’re not careful, if we find ourselves skimming the Bible, we will miss what might be the most important word in our relationship with God. We might be blind to a little word that quite possibly is central to our discipleship of Jesus. The word is “IF.” If is not a word to skip over, because it is often followed by a “Then.” Jesus makes many promises in the Gospels, and many of them have an “If” attached. If you do this, then I will do that, says Jesus. He seems to offer many conditional promises, what seem to be promises with strings attached. Conditional promises highlight the fact that we need to do our part in our relationship with Christ. We need to accept our responsibility as we cooperate with Him. We are active participants in our walk with the Lord. God offers us unconditional love, but we do have obligations if we expect to receive what He has promised. When we do our part, we are not earning salvation. We instead are putting forth effort as we live into our life of deliverance. We are doing our part in order to receive God’s promises. Obedience to Christ often translates into actively fulfilling on the “IF” so that God can fulfill the “Then.” This is another way we are working out our own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in us both to will and do for His good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12-13).

“I am the true Vine, and my Father is the gardener. 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. If anyone does not abide in me, 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. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be my disciples.” (John 15:1-8).

Abide in Christ: to remain vitally united to Him; to continue living in Him; to dwell in a life-union with Him; to stay attached to Him; to connect intimately with Him; to be as tightly joined with Him as a branch is to a vine; to be dependent on the Vine for the sap of the Holy Spirit flowing from Vine to branch; to be thirsty for live-giving sustenance from the Vine, the Source of life; to stay constant in one’s vital connection to Christ.

The Father-Gardener plants the seed in the earth in which the Vine-Son can grow and produce fruit-bearing branches. The fruitful branches are those who remain connected to the Vine. And what is the evidence that the branch is in life-giving union with the Vine? Fruit. Fruit is the evidence of a healthy connection between Vine and branch. The Vine sustains the branch so that the branches can bear fruit that glorifies the Father-Gardener. The sap from the Vine brings water, minerals and nutrients to the branches, all that the branches need to grow and be healthy. The Sap is the Holy Spirit. So it makes sense that the fruit that is produced from each branch, from each of us, is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

“The fruit of the Spirit is LOVE, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23).

The Fruit is Love. In Paul’s phrase “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5, the word for fruit is singular. The passage does not say “fruits.” One fruit, one product, one result of the Holy Spirit’s effect on our life. It’s as if there is one cluster of grapes, the cluster of love, the first fruit on the list. And every delicious grape in that cluster points to aspects of that love. Another way of thinking of it is that Love is indeed the one, singular, unifying fruit of the Spirit, and the list of virtues following are all aspects of Love. Just like aspects of a fruit might be aroma, taste, color, shape, size, texture, nutrition, ripeness. Just as those are qualities of a fruit, the list of virtues are qualities of Love. The fruit is love, and the elements of love are mentioned in that passage: lovingjoy, loving-peace, loving-patience, loving-kindness, loving-goodness, loving-faithfulness, loving-gentleness and loving self-control. Those are the products of the Spirit’s work in the garden of our heart. Those qualities are what love looks like, the outworking of love. Love is this cluster of virtues produced by the Holy Spirit in believers as they abide on the nourishing vine of Jesus. That is the only way to stay fruitful in the Christian life, the only way to grow in the fruit of the Spirit. Paul says much the same thing in Colossians 3:12-14, when, after listing much the same in terms of character qualities, he says, “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (NIV).

Agape Love. The particular kind of love in Galatians 5:22 is agape love. It is the same love that the Father and the Son share. It is the highest form of love, and can only come from above, from God Himself. Agape love is the ultimate expression of God’s nature, the essence of His character (refer to Exodus 34). The most virtuous person on the planet cannot manufacture agape love as if it’s merely a highly esteemed trait. We don’t have it in us. We aren’t born with the ability to show agape love. It is impossible for us to demonstrate agape love on our own, because it can only derive from God, and not from human nature. Agape love is the supreme fruit of the Spirit, and can only be produced in us through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. “For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with love; God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us; We can now experience the endless love of God cascading into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who lives in us!” (Romans 5:5, various versions). This divine love being poured into our hearts is meant to be demonstrated to others through acts of kindness and compassion. This love, this affectionate regard of others, is deliberate and intentional. Agape love spills over from our hearts only after being poured into our hearts. Through the Holy Spirit, agape love can realistically become second nature to us and in us, by displacing the old loves in a Christian’s life, the love of money and things, of pleasure and self, of power and attention. In some beautifully mysterious way, the loyal, unconditional love from above in us is somehow completed when Christians love others. Agape love is the means by which God’s love may reach the world. Agape love is an eternal virtue, and it lasts forever (1 Cor. 13:8). Agape love is the primary fruit of the Spirit, the divine love offered to us to spread God’s love to others. Love poured into us, love splashed out to others.

What Agape Love Looks Like.  “Love is patient under stress, gentle and consistently kind. Love refuses to be jealous or envious. Love does not brag or strut, inflate its own importance, or seek its own advantage. Love is never rude, and does not traffic in shame or disrespect. Love is not easily irritated or overly sensitive. Love is not quick to take offense, or keep score, or store up grievances. Love is always ready to make allowances. Love joyfully celebrates honesty and the truth, and finds no delight in what is clearly wrong. Love is a place of shelter, not exposure, for it always believes in the other person. Love never takes failure as defeat, for it never gives up. Love remains loyal to the end.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, various versions). Does this level of self-giving love come naturally? No, only through the Holy Spirit. This kind of love can only be a fruit of the Spirit.

The Heart that is Fertile. Wax fruit might look good, but don’t try to bite down on an apple made of wax. Artificial fruit is for decoration and thus is useless. The fruit of the Spirit, though, is real, is experiential, is useful. If we aren’t careful, our good-looking fruit may be pleasing to the eye, it might look good, practically a masterpiece, but it nonetheless could be useless in the eyes of God. Think of the real fruit’s usefulness: Beautiful to behold, delicious to the taste, fragrant to smell, nutritious to eat, and a point of pride for the gardener. Our spiritual fruit is likewise attractive to people, healthy for people to experience, likely to encourage repeat customers, and reflects well on the gardener. A healthy crop of fruit causes others to appreciate and laud the efforts of the gardener. But if the fruit is left to itself and is unpicked, it has no outward purpose and it rots. Ripe fruit brings a satisfying joy to the gardener, and healthy enjoyment to the person eating the fruit. There is no limit to the usefulness of the fruit of the Spirit in the spreading of the kingdom of God. Good grapes come from a strong branch growing from a healthy vine cultivated in fertile soil, nurtured by a gifted gardener. The fruit of the Spirit is like that. The spiritual fruit in Galatians 5 is the clustered elements of love growing in union with the vine Jesus, rooted and grounded in the fertile soil of the submissive heart, bringing glory to God and life to the people. And nothing could bring greater joy than for our garden to bring pleasure to the Lord of the harvest. One thinks of Creator God strolling in the garden of our heart in the cool of the day, being pleased with what He sees.

Fruit is the Point“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples… You did not choose me, but I chose you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” (John 15:8, 16). Fruit generally is a usable product of something, an outcome, a result of a process. So spiritual fruit, the fruit of the Spirit, implies there is an outward purpose to the inner life of the heart. Our spiritual fruit is meant to be useful, qualities produced within to be used outwardly. The fruit of the Spirit are not merely abstract virtues to be appreciated, they are tangible aspects of our spiritual personality, our temperament, to be lived out. Rev. Jurgen Liias once said in a sermon that the gifts of the Spirit represent the abilities of Jesus, and the fruit of the spirit describe the personality of Jesus. And the Holy Spirit intends to multiply His personality to all believers. For Jesus wants His kingdom to spread, to expand in love, to give life and more life.

Following Jesus and living in His Spirit naturally produces ripe fruit in your inner heart that will be outwardly useful in spreading His kingdom of love and vitality. The fruit of the Spirit is how Jesus operates with people, it’s what He looks like as He interacts, it’s His personality and temperament. The Holy Spirit wants us to develop a winsome Family resemblance. As productive branches, we are to bear useful, spiritual fruit in the garden of the heart.