How Can We Grow Spiritual Fruit?
Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1:9-14 strikes home. We want to live a life that brings glory and honor to our God. “Yes!” the Spirit within us cries, “Bear fruit! Fulfill the purpose for which you were saved!”
But when we examine our lives, we walk away disappointed.
What if you found out that a great-aunt had just left you a 10-acre orchard in her will? It’s September, and you hurry out to the mountains to taste one of your apples. There must be thousands out there, hanging red and ripe on the trees, waiting to be picked!
When you arrive, you run to the nearest tree and search for the biggest and best only to find that there is none. Not one. Nor does the next tree seem to have a single apple, but no, there’s a little half-grown one up in the branches, a worm-eaten one over there, and a shriveled, misshapen one to the right.
Not a tree in all those acres of land is producing a bounty of sweet, crunchy fruit. You would drive home with dashed hopes and a heavy heart.
What Is Spiritual Fruit?
Sometimes, our disappointment comes because we’re looking for the wrong kind of fruit. We’re looking at statistics like we’re basketball players. How many verses have we memorized? What’s the total number of people we have personally led to Christ in the last week? What’s our ratio of prayers prayed to prayers answered with a yes?
While Scripture memory, witnessing, and prayer are all good things, the things God calls spiritual fruit can’t be measured with numbers.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Sometimes, we think of this verse as a checklist and find that we don’t measure up. Love? Sure, I love people, most of the time. Joy? Well, sometimes. Peace? Hmmm…. Patience? Oh, boy. Need to work on that one.
How do you bear that kind of fruit?
When Jesus teaches about spiritual fruit, He doesn’t give His disciples a 5-step plan. He doesn’t admonish them to exercise their spiritual muscles or work harder or set concrete goals.
Jesus teaches that good fruit comes from good trees and bad fruit comes from bad trees (Matthew 7:18 and 12:35). Trying to tape apples on a bad tree won’t make it fruitful.
What Makes for a Good Tree?
In Jeremiah 17:5-6, God says that the person who trusts in people is cursed and will be like a bush in the wastelands, dwelling in a parched desert.
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8).
The good tree isn’t fruitful because it tried hard enough or did enough good things or even because it is a better kind of tree than the bush in the desert. Its leaves are always green and its fruit always bountiful because its roots are nestled down close to the stream, drinking the life-sustaining water.
The sun can blaze down. The winds can tear at its branches. But it will stand, green and fruitful, even if the rains fail to fall from the sky. Its source of life is dependable and unchanging.
A Well That Never Runs Dry
Jesus stands up in a public place in John 7:37-39 and cries out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within them.”
Jesus offers to be the stream into which we send our roots.
Go back to Jeremiah 17:7. The blessed one, the fruitful one, “is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.” Have you been striving to grow love, joy, peace and patience in a parched desert? Jesus invites you to come to Him and drink living water. Fruit is the natural product of a well-watered tree.
And then Jesus takes it to another level.
In John 15:1-17, Jesus gives us a word picture in which we’re not even a tree – we’re branches.
Now branches can bear abundant fruit, but not on their own.
“’I am the vine,’ He says, ‘you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing’” (John 15:5).
What Does it Mean to Remain?
The Greek word translated “remain” here can also be translated abide or dwell. The branch bears fruit because it is firmly attached to the vine, from which it receives water and nutrients – life.
Jesus is our source of spiritual life, of living water. Spiritual fruit is the natural result of being attached to the Vine.
Returning one last time to Jeremiah 17:7, the fruitful one is the one who trusts the Lord, whose confidence is in Him, not in themselves or other people. This remaining, abiding, dwelling is a quiet, restful trusting in Jesus alone.
Jesus Wants You to Live
Jesus’ desire for us to remain in Him is strong. Over the course of 7 verses, He uses the word “remain” 11 times to urge us to abide with Him. Listen to Him.
“Remain in me, as I also remain in You. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (John 15:4).
A branch that is not joined to the vine is dead, right? Jesus says, “If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6).
Seeking to drum up love for others, to create joy in our own hearts, to summon peace when life is stormy, to practice patience in our own strength – these are futile efforts. A dead branch can’t bear fruit by sheer will-power.
How Do We Remain in Jesus?
Look at a grapevine. The vine itself is strong, thick, and stable. The branches are thin and weak, but they are bearing clusters of juicy grapes because they are joined to the vine.
We cannot even abide in our own strength. We tend to focus on ourselves, to wonder whether we’re a good branch, if people like our fruit, if we look like we’re remaining in the vine.
We wander off in search of satisfaction from our work, our ministry, or any number of hobbies and substances.
We get wrapped up in the world around us, worrying that the sun will burn too hot, the winds will blow too hard, and the rain won’t fall.
We fret that the bills won’t get paid or our children won’t know that they’re loved, that our country will destroy itself because the politicians can’t get it right, that World War III is imminent, and that our loved ones are going to die.
All of that might happen. But our source of life will not change. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
The only way to remain in Jesus is total surrender, total trust. The catch is that while choosing to surrender to Jesus grants you new life, how you live that life is a choice you make moment by moment.
In Abide in Christ, Andrew Murray puts it this way, “Each time your attention is free to occupy itself with the thought of Jesus – whether it be with time to think and pray, or only for a few passing seconds – let your first thought be to say, Now, at this moment, I do abide in Jesus. Use such time, not in vain regrets that you have not been abiding fully, or still more hurtful fears that you will not be able to abide, but just at once take the position the Father has given you: ‘I am in Christ; this is the place God has given me. I accept it; here I rest; I do now abide in Jesus.’”
Don’t wait until you have all your ducks in a row. Don’t try to paste fruit on a dry, dead branch. Jesus calls you to come now and abide in Him, that you may live and bear fruit.