Thus you will recognize them by their fruits

by Mike Ratliff

6 Μηδεὶς ὑμᾶς ἀπατάτω κενοῖς λόγοις· διὰ ταῦτα γὰρ ἔρχεται ἡ ὀργὴ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐπὶ τοὺς υἱοὺς τῆς ἀπειθείας. 7 μὴ οὖν γίνεσθε συμμέτοχοι αὐτῶν· 8 ἦτε γάρ ποτε σκότος, νῦν δὲ φῶς ἐν κυρίῳ· ὡς τέκνα φωτὸς περιπατεῖτε 9 — ὁ γὰρ καρπὸς τοῦ φωτὸς ἐν πάσῃ ἀγαθωσύνῃ καὶ δικαιοσύνῃ καὶ ἀληθείᾳ — 10 δοκιμάζοντες τί ἐστιν εὐάρεστον τῷ κυρίῳ, 11 καὶ μὴ συγκοινωνεῖτε τοῖς ἔργοις τοῖς ἀκάρποις τοῦ σκότους, μᾶλλον δὲ καὶ ἐλέγχετε. (Ephesians 5:6-11 NA28)

6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do no be joint partakers with them; 8 for you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 ( for the the fruit of light is in all that is good and right and true), 10 proving what is will pleasing to the Lord. 11 And to not participate in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. (Ephesians 5:6-11 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

In the passage above is the the word “fruit.” It is a translation of the Greek word καρπὸς or karpos. This word appears some sixty-six times in the New Testament. In most cases, it is used in reference to the the fruit of plants as in Matthew 21:19 or the produce of the earth (James 5:7, 18). However, its extended meaning in the New Testament is one in which we should pay special attention as well as to its opposite, ἀκάρποις or akarpois, which is translated in this passage as “unfruitful.” In this form, ἀκάρποις is the dative, plural of ἄκαρπος or akarpos. The dative plural simply means that this part of the phrase is an indirect object of the action of the sentence. In any case, this may be more significant than it first appears.

The usage of  καρπὸς when referring to its extended meaning, not literal fruit, expressly indicates that it is not a question of deliberate, self-determined action on man’s part. Instead, it is that ‘fruit-bearing’ which follows from a believer turning to God and the power of the Holy Spirit working in him or her. When I lived in Kansas I had three Pear Trees, one Crab Apple Tree, two Maple Trees, and one Oak tree on my property. Their fruitfulness was unique to their nature. In the same way, spiritual fruit is automatic in the Christian. We do not  produce fruit because of our effort, but because of the Holy Spirit working in and through us. God has changed our nature from what we were before regeneration to what we are now. This is why our Lord said in Matthew 7:20:

Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:20 ESV)

Now let’s look at unfruitfulness. I am sure that you noticed that ἄκαρπος, “unfruitful” is the same word as καρπὸς, “fruitful” or “fruit,” with a ἄ prefix. This the same thing we do in English by putting a prefix of “a” on a word to make it mean the exact opposite. So, if we put the “alpha-negative” on the front of καρπὸς, which means fruitful, we have a word that means “unfruitful, fruitless, barren, or unproductive,” and that is exactly how ἄκαρπος is used in the New Testament. It is found eight times in the New Testament. In the parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 it refers to the “thorny ground hearer.” In the book of Jude it is used to refer to apostates who are “clouds…without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withers, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots…”

So, as I stated above that a believer’s fruitfulness is part of his or her nature, so is the unfruitfulness part of the nature of the unbeliever, especially those who think they are Christians, but are only deceived. These are the ones who wreak havoc in the visible church with their unfruitful works of darkness. This unfruitfulness is natural behavior for the unregenerate. This is why our Lord was so positive about that statement in Matthew 7:20.

In Ephesians 5:11, The Apostle Paul warns believers to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose or rebuke them as we bear fruit for God’s glory.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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