Bearing Fruit

by Mike Ratliff

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15-20 ESV)

The fruit of a ministry in God’s economy is not the number of people “converted” under it. No, the fruit, which will be what God will use to judge, refers to the effectiveness that ministry has in leading and developing within those who are ministered to by it unto a Christ-like life produced by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23). What is it that those God uses in these ministries do that achieves this? They teach their flock sound doctrine from God’s Word. The Holy Spirit takes these truths and applies them to the hearts of the flock. It is not emotion or feelings. It is being transformed by the renewal of their minds because they are being living sacrifices unto God (Romans 12:1,2). 

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32 ESV)

31ελεγεν ουν ο ιησους προς τους πεπιστευκοτας αυτω ιουδαιους εαν υμεις μεινητε εν τω λογω τω εμω αληθως μαθηται μου εστε  32και γνωσεσθε την αληθειαν και η αληθεια ελευθερωσει υμας (John 8:31-32 WHNU)

The words “abide in” in v31 are the two Greek words, μεινητε εν, which literally says, “might stay in.” There is the conditional truth laid out here by our Lord that makes it very clear who are truly His disciples. The first condition is that they remain, stay, or abide in His word. This is referring to holding to His teachings. He taught nothing but the truth, those who are truly His, the regenerate, will have been lead to that truth, and this has freed them from slavery to sin. The words translated in the English as “set you free” are ελευθερωσει υμας, which literally says, “will free you.” The word ελευθερωσει refers to a freedom that is the result of redemption. That is, this is a freedom being declared because of ones sins being paid for by another. So what is our Lord saying here. Those who are truly His disciples are the ones who abide in His truth and are declared righteous by God.

Knowing the truth is an integral part of this. No one is saved through a false gospel. No one is saved by a gospel that points to religiosity or good works or any thing else as a means of salvation. The gospel that saves is based on believing in Christ who is the truth. They will not only believe it, but also know it. Christ will then declare them righteous and they will be seen as righteous in God’s eyes, but they will also be changed by the work of the Holy Spirit in them so that they will be new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17).

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 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.” (John 15:1-2 ESV)

Notice that there are two kinds of branches in Christ who is the true vine in this metaphor. All branches are professing Christians, but there are two types. There are those who bear fruit and those who do not. Those who bear fruit are true disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ while those who do not bear fruit are taken away because they are not genuine. No branch in Christ can be wholly fruitless. All branches that truly belong to Christ will bear fruit. This will cause them to undergo the pruning necessary to increase. The lack of fruit, which is described for us in Psalm 80, Isaiah 5:1, and Jeremiah 2:21 is failure to be obedient to God. If we take those Old Testament passages that refer to the vine and its fruit then combine it with our Lord’s discourse in John 15 then we see that fruitfulness is a mark of genuine believers who love another and obey God as He develops Christ Jesus’ own character in them. This is a work of the Holy Spirit.

Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 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. 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. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 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 have I 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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:3-11 ESV)

The Greek word used here that is translated as “abide” is the same one used in John 8:31, which is μεινητε. The genuine believer remains in Christ just as Christ remains in them. Growing in godliness and Christlikeness is the fruit spoken of here and the only way believers can increase in this, that is to bear fruit, is to abide in Christ. However, there are false professors who cannot remain in the true vine and, therefore, prove that they are not genuine believers. Those who truly abide in Christ will become more and more like Him. It is the Father’s will that each of us bear much of this fruit and, therefore, prove to be our Lord’s disciples. These true disciples abide in Christ’s love and keep the Father’s commandments while abiding in His love. Those who abide in Christ and grow in Christlikeness will be given the full joy of the Lord. In v5 above, we read that outside of this relationship and being full of the joy of the Lord, we can do nothing. This is referring to the total inability of the unregenerate to obey God’s commandments. Saving grace enables the believer to grow from the beginning of spiritual development unto the completion of their salvation at their glorification.

Genuine believers bear godly fruit. They are disciples of the Lord Jesus and obey the commandments of the Father. On the other hand, the unregenerate are unable to do any of this and prove that they are not true disciples of the Lord by not having a Christlike character. Of course, none of us are perfectly doing this. That is for the time of our glorification. In this life, God will continually prune us in order to make us more and more Christlike. How is that going for you my brethren?

Soli Deo Gloria!

17 thoughts on “Bearing Fruit

  1. Thank you, Mike, for one of the best and simplest explanations that I have ever read. Hard to mistake the truth in your words!

    May God continue in your ministry. You are a blessing to many!

  2. Hi Mike,
    You asked how the pruning is going for me. :-) The more He cuts out and prunes the more dead I look and feel. Those things He removes that displease Him and entangle me and put me in places that only intend destroy me He then replaces with God glorifying things. It seems the same dead branch keeps trying to grow back and He faithfully cuts it back a little deeper and farther. It is awful sometimes, but He is a merciful Father and gives us strength to bear it.
    God bless you today and strengthen you and give you faith to believe Him.

  3. Amen Diane! I have pretty much the very same thing going on. The pruning hurts, but it takes away what is standing between us and being what God desires for us to be. For me, God uses this to show me how how susceptible I am to the world and its ways unless I walk in repentance and obedience. This is a daily battle for me and I rejoice as I hear the voice of the comforter warning me away from the flesh and its ways while guiding me into the truth.

  4. Yes, in this giving of our lives to Him I sometimes think, Lord, you didn’t really mean to cut that thing off, did you? :-) Surely you are mistaken and I can have that.
    The not knowing why something is being removed is hard when you see others having it and it in itself is not necessarily an evil thing to want. But it is excess baggage, I guess. Perhaps something that will trip us up quite badly in the future and we don’t realize it.
    Still, as you said last week, a lonely and alone place.
    Thanks, Mike.

  5. Diane, yes it is a lonely and alone place, however, He also allows those in this place to fellowship occasionally, which is like a refreshing cold drink on a hot day. Those Christians who are shallow and not doing this think we are crazy or fanatics or legalistic, but God has made it plain to me that those called to this place are like the prophet Jeremiah who was allowed to see and hear the truth, but very few would listen to him and most even hated to hear it. Others can do what they do, but we cannot. We serve Him no matter what and to HIm goes all the glory!

  6. Do we dare trust Him to take it all and rest in the promise that He will bless us with joy and peace unspeakable? Can I take my eyes off of what seems normal in this world and ask Him to take it all and do with me what He will? And all the while not having a hint as to why? His grace will do all that for us, glory to His name.

  7. Again Mike, thank you for everything you do. My life seems to be one pruning experience after another lately. I fix my eyes on the Author and Finisher of my faith, remembering where my real treasure is, but part of me thinks wouldn’t God would be much more glorified if I were stronger, and less weary; victorious rather than trudging? Then I remember that His standards are not the world’s standards and He is made perfect in my weakness. Joy is the fruit of the spirit; the fruit coming sometimes months after the pruning. The pruning itself is pretty hard but I thank God for the evidence of his favor. -k

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  9. Hi dear Mike :-)
    A few years ago, my then church, did a series of Bruce Wilkinson’s courses, one of which was Fruit of the Vine (think that was its name). When we came to the part in your passage above in John 15:3-11, where the branch that does not produce fruit would be burned and cast out, I was so gutted and afraid – terrified in fact! It made me in an instant, want to both give up and run away, but also run towards the Lord, but not knowing really how to. But then Bruce went on in his video to tell us that it does not mean what it says and that what it really meant was that we will be lovingly picked up and tied back to the vine just like the real husbandmen do with the real grape vine branch that is not producing. I was totally relieved and lulled for a while into believing this deception. I believed it because at the time I really wanted to believe it and the alternative was just too frightening to face. Not one elder in the church who was watching with us knew the truth themselves and corrected it afterwards.

    One of the awful things about this ‘ministry’ is that so much of how the ‘other’ gospel is taught, is it is us doing the fruit producing, instead of God. By believing this, you are left feeling full of condemnation when you can see that the fruit is not quite the right sort, but you have absolutely no idea how to make it the right sort and so you continue in a downward vicious cycle of either no hope of making it or you are filled with a self-smugness that you are doing just great and the superior self-righteousness becomes utterly revolting to say the least. I have been in both of these places and both are sickening.

    To read what Kate and Diane have shared here fills me with great joy – how I could have used their love and insight back then! But God in His mercy and grace took me out of that environment, being the Sovereign Lord that He is, and began the true pruning process that is indeed both an alone and lonely place as you have said, but one I am sure none of us would ever swop for anything. Period.

    How needful this discipling teaching is!!! How pitifully little we hear of this. How needful to open the Word of God so that others might hear the Holy Spirit and live. How pitifully little we really hear of this happening…

    When once you understand how the pruning process really works and you see the results in your life with the Lord, even when it is painful, you are able to say with utter clarity, “Do it Lord.” and go through it with Him regardless of the pain or difficulty.

    He really does know what He is doing with each one of us.

    Bless you
    Steph

  10. Amen Steph! Very well said my sister.

    I have been receiving quite a few warnings lately that have the theme of the evil of this world taking away all of our rights, et cetera. How are we to react as Christians abiding in Christ and submitting to the pruning about these things? I am praying about that. All I know now is that my trust is in God alone not my government. One of the warnings I saw actually blamed Christians submitting to what the Bible said of submission to the government as actually what allows our rights to be taken away. Up to that point I was really being drawn in to the message, but it was as if God opened my eyes and then I saw that the Christian who is being pruned to become more and more Christlike must react to these things that our Lord would have. We are not to be rebels. We submit to the government God has placed over us in every way EXCEPT when it commands us to disobey God. Then we obey Him and it will be costly. I see that this is part of our pruning.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  11. I agree so much with what you have said here.:-D

    I have never had any belief or trust in my government here and never will. What goes on here day to day is both revolting and corrupt beyond words, yet I will still pay my taxes, obey the rules insomuch-as it goes along with what the Lord requires of me. Here, one can still be a Christian without much difficulty. You won’t get arrested for saying grace publicly.. yet.

    I so desire to really grasp the full truth of what it is to submit to God alone. I had to take a stand in my family a few years ago in this area and it cost me terribly. Only now, ten years on has the Lord begun to really restore the broken relationships, but not back to what they were, but better – with my parents in particular. It showed me so clearly that God is Sovereign and what others think of me, even my own parents, count for nothing in His view of things. I have been a people pleaser my entire life and this shift that the Lord has brought about in me, (for I could never have done it myself – it would not have been possible) has changed my understanding of who I am in the Lord and in my life itself, entirely. It took me wandering about in a fog (wilderness) without any real understanding of their reactions for years, before the Lord brought me out. All I had during that time was His hand to hold and His word to comfort.

    The main thing that God is out to ‘get from us’ is forming His beloved Son in us and that more often than not, take severe pruning. We may look to Him in utter bewilderment as He prunes, not even recognising what is left and feeling only deep wounds, yet knowing deep inside that He is the Master Gardener.

    It is very difficult when first faced with this as most people are taught by the church to blame the devil for all their problems and difficulties, not knowing themselves that God’s pruning shears that are both surgically sharp and accurate, never missing the mark. I have heard a youth Pastor’s wife blaming the devil for all sorts of stuff going on in their lives at the time, when it was glaringly clear that God was busy. When I mentioned this to her, she looked at me as if I had just dropped in from another planet. This thought is so alien to our flesh that we do what I did mentioned in my previous posting and pretend it is not possible and shut it out denying an incredible blessing and growth towards maturity to take place.

    I praise God that He opened your eyes to the real message that was missing as you shared in your last comment. It is incredible how when He does that, we can hardly believe that we did not see it to begin with as it is suddenly so glaringly obvious. :-D What a Mighty God we serve!
    Bless you brother
    Steph
    p.s. I will email you an article regarding being in the Refiner’s fire, which is akin to pruning in a different way – it is too long to put here.

  12. Amen Steph, yes, the Master Gardener is amazing. It is a mistake to always see our difficulties as nothing but evil from Satan. God is allowing us to suffer so He can change us. He is removing the impediments in us that keeps us from seeing the truth and living according to it if it remains. Yes, let us rejoice. This is why I pray for wisdom and discernment every day. This life in the flesh is so horribly addicted to the world and its ways. What we desire and lust after through it is worthless eternally. Look forward to the email Steph!

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