When Jesus calls a man, He bids him come and die. This is how Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes the conversion experience. Jesus calls it the new birth, where we gain Spiritual life added to our physical life. When we meet Jesus, and are given Spiritual life, our Spiritual walk becomes an ongoing battle between our flesh and spirit: we are dying to our sinful habits and sinful ways, while growing in Spiritual and godly ways. Paul says that the two are always at war with one another:
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”
– Gal 5.16-17
Paul and Jesus clarify this by defining our actions as “fruit”. Jesus says that a tree is known by its fruit – good trees bear good fruit, and bad trees bear bad fruit. A bad tree cannot bear good fruit and a good tree cannot bear bad fruit (Matt 7.18, Luke 6.43). Paul goes on to explain what the different (good and bad) fruit are:
“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are:immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
– Gal 5.20-21
The deeds of the flesh, or the bad fruit are those things that come naturally to us and are displeasing to God. The fruit of the Spirit, however, are the exact opposite:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
– Gal 5.22-23
The person who is Spiritually alive, and being made more like Christ will be marked by all of these characteristics. We will struggle with and fight against the deeds of the flesh, but we are not marked by them. When we are tempted to envy, to fight, to go out and get drunk or give in to any worldly pleasure, the Holy Spirit convicts us and even if we give in on occasion we will repent of those sins and fight against them.
Jesus says that He is our source and our life. He uses the imagery that he is a vine, and Christians are branches that grow off of the vine. We are extension of Him, and we depend on Him for our sap, structure and support. Without Jesus Christians cannot survive. He provides everything that we need to survive and thrive. Interestingly enough, however, He paints a grim picture in terms of our fruit production:
“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 bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”
– John 15.1-2
This teaching echoes the sentiment of the parables of the sower and the seeds. The seed of the Gospel will be sown in four different types of soil: the hard road which cannot receive it at all, the rocky ground where it will grow but be scorched by the sun, amongst the weeds where it will grow but be choked out, or the fertile soil where it will grow and produce fruit. The rocks in the soil are the persecution that cause some to turn away from the faith and the weeds are the cares and pleasures of the world that cause others to turn away. Those people who hear the Gospel and receive it, yet are either distracted by a love for the world or chased off by persecution cannot bear fruit. They were never true believers with deep roots and productive lives. They were branches that were seemingly connected to the vine, but proved themselves dead by not producing fruit.
Therefore Jesus says He will cut them off and throw them into the fire.
This simple fact teaches us that we can text ourselves by our fruit. Sometimes people ask, “How do I know if I am saved?” or “How can I know if I was born again?” The answer is simply, “Are you Spiritually alive?” We can know if we are Spiritually alive by examining the fruit of our lives. Are we marked by love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control? The term utilized in the Scripture is the singular form of fruit. Therefore, all of these characteristics are necessary. We cannot have just one or two, we must have them all. Or are we marked by the deeds of the flesh (plural, therefore any of them)?
Our cultural love affair with tolerance and acceptance has tempted the church to make peace with sin. Gross sins that Jesus says will render us fruitless, therefore dead, therefore unsaved. We believe that since we are better than some, that since we have trained one another to placate ourselves, that we are all “ok”. I went on a prayer walk this weekend with some friends and we got into conversation with two men. We told them that we were out praying over the neighborhood and asked if there was anything we could pray about for them, and they said, “No thanks, we will be fine”. Unfortunately, apart from Christ, none of us will be fine. The standard is not societal acceptance or creature comforts, it is Godly perfection. We cannot attain Godly perfection, therefore we need to be covered in Jesus’ righteousness and through His enabling, produce the fruits of the Spirit.
The point is simple. Fruit is not optional. A healthy branch will produce fruit, and a branch that produces no fruit or bad fruit is already dead and will be cut off. Let’s check our fruit today. How would people characterize you? How would God identify your heart and driving passions? Are you at war with your flesh and dying to sin? Or are you coasting, assuming that you will be ok? Let’s not toy with eternity.