Several years ago, a friend gave my wife a plum tree for her birthday. I think I was as excited about the gift as my wife, as I had memories of my grandmother’s plum jam and anticipated spreading that succulent delight on fresh-baked bread.
With eagerness I anticipated the first year’s crop. And there was nothing. My wife told me it often takes 2-3 years before a tree will bear fruit. I waited. Somewhat impatiently, but I waited. We got past those years, and — nothing. No fruit. A couple of years the tree produced some blooms. They were beautiful and covered the tree. But no fruit set. Then one fall we told the tree, “If you don’t produce any fruit next spring, you will become firewood in the fall.” And the next spring, there were blooms again. And then they set. And we had fruit! We picked plums and ate them in the garden fresh off the tree, and we put them in salads, and we made jam! (And the tree was spared its demise, though I am confident our conversation with it had nothing to do with the fruit production a few months later.)
The essential thing to remember about fruit trees is that they are created by God and designed to produce fruit, just as believers in Jesus Christ are also designed to bear fruit. A plum tree produces plums, because that is its nature, and a Christian looks like Christ, because that is his nature.
The New Testament asserts this truth in many places and in many different ways, but consider this morning one verse in the middle of Romans 7 — “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.”
The believer is joined to Christ for the purpose of bearing spiritual fruit for God, that is fruit that honors and exalts Him and points people to Him and that is a gift of service from us to Him. The very purpose of our salvation is that we bear fruit. In fact, the next verse asserts that before our salvation, we bore fruit for death, that is the product of our lives revealed our spiritual deadness. So everyone produces some kind of fruit — it is either fruit that is given to God and for God or it is fruit that is dead and fully unproductive.
Paul would use this same phrase, “bear fruit” in his letter to the Colossians, where it is also evident that producing spiritual fruit is the constant activity of the spiritual life (Col. 1:10) that begins on the day of salvation, from the moment we have heard and responded in faith to the gospel (1:6). This fruit is the natural product of the gospel. When it is believed, the gospel transforms lives.
This fruit is produced when the believer listens to the Word of God (see Mt. 13:23; Mk. 4:20; Lk. 8:15). Not everyone produces the same quantity of fruit, but there is always evidence in the life of the believer that he has been changed by the Word of God and the gospel.
What is the fruit that is produced? Romans 7 indicates that it is freedom from sinful passions (v. 5) and service and obedience to the Spirit of God (v. 6). In more specific terms, we might say that spiritual fruit is transformation in our character and actions that can be attributable only to the work of God in our lives. We are different in our heart attitudes and character (e.g., Gal. 5:22-23) and in our activities (e.g., evangelistic efforts, regular worship, sacrificial giving to and service of others — Rom. 1:13; 1 Cor. 16:15; Heb. 13:15; Rom. 15:26-28; 12:3ff) not because of our efforts of self-will and self-improvement, but because of submission to and love of the Word of God. We are changed from the inside out. Our desires change because of the transforming work of the Word and then our actions change in accordance with our new desires.
This is what always happens in the life of the believer. There are different kinds of fruit in different believers and at different times, and there are different quantities of fruit among various believers and at different times in one’s own life. But a believer always produces fruit in keeping with his relationship with Christ.
So here are two questions for me today:
- Am I living my life to be as fruitful as possible? Do I love and embrace the Word and desire its transforming work in my heart?
- What are the attitudes and actions that might be inhibiting my fruitfulness as a pastor/employee, discipler, counselor, teacher, husband, father, student, friend, and evangelist?