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!