Our Father is seeking spiritual fruit. The fruit He looks for are the fruits of the Spirit, listed in Galatians 5:22,23. These are the attributes, or character, of His Son. Jesus told us that His Father, as the vinedresser, takes away the branches that bear no fruit, and those which bear fruit He prunes so they will bear even more fruit (John 15:2). The secret to bearing much spiritual fruit is to remain, or abide, in Christ. What does that mean? It means that our relationship with Christ is the primary source of all things for us and we should be continually growing in the knowledge of Christ (as opposed to knowledge about Christ). As John the Baptist put it: He must increase but I must decrease (John 3:30).
There was a day when Jesus, seeking to quench his hunger, came across a fig-tree covered in leaves. On closer inspection, however, there was no fruit on the tree. Jesus pronounced judgment on the tree, saying “May no-one ever eat fruit from you again!” The fig tree withered and died (Mark 11:20-21). The issue here was not that Jesus was in a bad mood that day. The issue was that the fig tree was displaying itself as something it was not. Normally, leaves on a fig tree were an indication of fruit, as leaves and figs grew together. This particular tree, however, made a great leafy display of itself but bore no fruit whatsoever. It failed to deliver on the very purpose for its existence. He who is Life therefore judged that the tree would have no more life.
It is possible for someone to look and sound like a true disciple yet bear no spiritual fruit. Such a one is not a disciple, because Jesus said His disciples would bear much fruit so His Father would be glorified (John 15:8). Jesus did not say you are my disciple if you are a charismatic speaker, a great street evangelist or you plant so many churches. He did not say you are my disciple if you prophesy, you feed the poor or run the Sunday School. He said you are my disciple if you bear much fruit. He even told his disciples to discern others by their fruits (Matt. 7:15-20).
Where the character of Christ is being formed there will be growing evidence of the righteous fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. None of us can claim to have fully ‘arrived’ in bearing spiritual fruit, but the test of a true disciple is growth in these attributes as they follow closely after Christ. The New Testament also associates the development of Christ’s character in us with tribulation and perseverance (Rom. 5:3,4).
What should be our heart’s attitude towards God as we seek to bear fruit that pleases our Father? I suggest the New Testament gives us two clear directives:
Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship (Rom. 12:1).
We are to present ourselves to God, taking the position of a servant, worshiping Him with our bodies in acts of service to others (as the Spirit leads us). This works to our decrease and Christ’s increase. Such an attitude keeps us close to the Cross and crucifies our flesh life.
…but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead, and your body’s parts as instruments of righteousness for God. (Rom. 6:13b)
We are also to present ourselves to God as those who are alive with resurrection Life, having risen with Christ from the dead, now seated in the Heavens with His righteousness our righteousness and all of his spiritual riches available to us (2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 1:18, 2:4-7). This too works toward His increase and our decrease. We are aliens and strangers in this world and, if we are walking closely with Christ, increasingly the world will treat us as such.
Here’s the thing: we cannot present ourselves as alive from the dead if we have not first presented ourselves as a living sacrifice. How can we be alive from the dead if we have not first died with Christ, spiritually speaking? And why should we die, again spiritually speaking, except to be resurrected with Him? There is no contradiction here – we are called to present ourselves to God, identifying with Christ’s sacrifice and His resurrection simultaneously. This is only possible as our life in the flesh is laid down and His resurrection Life is continuously being taken up through the Holy Spirit.
John the Baptist had a large ministry. People from all over Israel flocked to hear him and be baptised by him. But when he saw Jesus, he said ‘I must decrease’. The overwhelming tendency in organised Christianity, however, is to go bigger with larger crowds, larger buildings, larger influence. Spiritual growth is so often assessed by external, physical evidence rather than the fruit of the Spirit increasing in individuals.
In its natural state fruit goes through a maturing process. So it is with spiritual fruit. The apostle Peter was one who walked in miracles, signs and wonders but was unwilling to minister to Gentiles until he had a vision from God. He had to decrease by laying down his reliance on Jewish tradition and the Law, and increase in Christ by expanding his understanding (Acts Chapter 10). The apostle Paul said he had suffered the loss of all things in his quest to know Christ (Phl. 3:8). He was greatly decreased even as Christ increased in him. His longing was to see Christ fully formed in those to whom he ministered (Gal. 4:19). By the way, every true leader has this as the deepest desire for the people they serve: that Christ be increased in them. This is true apostolic leadership.
Increasing in Christ is not something we can do for ourselves. Our part is not to strive, but to abide in Him. It is the Holy Spirit who is at work in us conforming us to the image of Christ. It is God who gives the increase. Let us therefore present ourselves to God as living sacrifices, alive from the dead, bearing fruit to His glory.
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