Old Testament believers (7)

We are looking at salvation with reference to Old Testament believers. In this seventh study we are going to look at the subject of fruit-bearing.

A solemn warning

'I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will 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.

'I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.' (Joh 15:1–6)

If you had a message to give to someone, you might begin with the most important point first and then fill in the details afterwards. That is what Jesus did in his discourse on the vine and the branches.

In order for us to understand this passage, we have to realize who Jesus was speaking to. He wasn't speaking to the world but to his disciples, at the passover meal, on the eve of his crucifixion.

After comparing himself to a vine and his Father to a gardener, he came straight to the point. He said that his Father will cut off every branch in him that bears no fruit. He then revealed who the branches he was talking about were: they were his disciples. 'I am the vine; you [my disciples] are the branches (v5a).'

Christians who believe a person cannot lose their salvation try to get round this statement by claiming that the unfruitful branches are not true believers. They say they are those who have merely professed Christ but have not put their faith in him.

But that is not what Jesus said. He said: '…every branch in me…'. These are people who are 'in' Christ. They are true believers; true disciples of Jesus. Think about it. How can you be cut from a vine you haven't been attached to? It's impossible. You have to be 'in' Christ before you can be cut off from Christ.

Those words were part of the final message Jesus gave to his disciples before his death. They were a solemn warning to them and to us. We must bear fruit for the Father otherwise we'll be cut off from the vine. Those who believe otherwise are deceiving themselves. Fruit-bearing is neccesary for salvation.

Fruit in keeping with repentance

The Greek word translated 'fruit' in Joh 15 is karpos. It's used throughout the New Testament to signify godly living.

John the Baptist told the Jews to produce fruit (karpos) in keeping with repentance. When they asked what they should do to produce the fruit, he said, 'The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same (Luk 3:11).'

To the tax collectors he said, 'Don't collect any more than you are required to.' And to the soldiers: 'Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely—be content with your pay (Luk 3:13–14).'

In Phi 1:11 Paul prayed that the believers at Philippi would be filled with the fruit (karpos) of righteousness. Righteousness is doing what is right in the sight of God (1Jo 3:7). And in Eph 5:8–9 he told the believers at Ephesus to live as children of light, 'for the fruit (karpos) of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth'.

But by far the fullest description of fruit in the New Testament is found in Gal 5:22–23. It is the fruit (karpos) of the Spirit, which consists of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Apart from me you can do nothing

So now we know what fruit the Father wants us to produce in our lives, how do we produce it? V5 of our opening text gives us the answer:

'I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.'

None of us can bear fruit by ourselves, we must remain in the vine. The Greek word translated 'remain' is meno. Its basic meaning is to remain in one place, but it can also mean to abide or to dwell.

If we abide in Christ, he will abide in us by his Spirit. And it's his indwelling Spirit that will produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, together with all godly living. Jesus will live his life in us and through us, to the glory of the Father (Joh 15:8).

Remain in me

Jesus said that the Father will cut off every branch in him that bears no fruit. Did he mean every branch that has never borne fruit, or every branch that no longer bears fruit? We don't know, but he probably meant the latter.

I would say that every true believer will bear some spiritual fruit initially, because a changed life is the proof that we've been born again (1Jo 3:9–10).

Jesus said that if a man remains in him he will bear much fruit, so how can those who are in Christ fail to bear fruit? The answer is that they don't remain in him.

'Remain in me, and I will 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.' (v4)

That is a conditional statement. Jesus remaining in us depends upon us remaining in him. That truth can be seen in the lives of backsliders.

Do you know any backsliders? They no longer spend time with the Lord in prayer; they no longer meet with others to worship him; their Bibles gather dust in a corner. Consequently, the flame that once burned so brightly within them, if it hasn't gone out completely, is now no more than a flicker.

Where is the love, where is the joy, where is the peace they once had? It's all but left them; God's glory has departed from their lives. Is that the Lord's fault? No, it's their own fault: they haven't remained in him. Jesus said:

'If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.' (v6)

If we don't remain in Jesus, ie if we don't continue in our relationship with him, we will shrivel up, spiritually, and die.

Does the Lord want that to happen? No he doesn't. He said that we haven't chosen him, but he has chosen us and has appointed us to bear fruit for the Father (Joh 15:16). Jesus wants us to bear fruit, showing ourselves to be his disciples (Joh 15:8).

The key to fruit-bearing is remaining. Jesus used the word eleven times in Joh 15 in the space of only seven verses (v4–10). If we continue in the relationship we had with the Lord when we were first saved—loving and worshipping him, and studying his Word—then we will bear much fruit: he's promised that. But if we don't, we won't.

It's our responsibility to remain in the vine and to draw the nourishing sap from the vine so we can produce fruit for the Father. Without him we can do nothing (v5).

David's backsliding

If fruit-bearing is necessary for salvation we should be able to find Old Testament believers who bore fruit for God, and we can. King David is a good example, not only of fruit-bearing, but also of backsliding.

During a bout of backsliding David committed adultery with Bathsheba. Then, when he learned she was pregnant, he arranged for her husband to be killed to conceal his sin (2Sa 11:1–17).

If we stop walking with the Lord we begin to return to our pre-saved state. We lose awareness of what is right and wrong and find we no longer have the power to resist sin. It's the start of a downward spiral which, if left unchecked, results in death (Rom 6:23).

Fortunately for David, he came to his senses, repented of his sin (Psa 51:1–17) and the Lord forgave him. That shows the extent of our Lord's forgiveness, and that backsliders can be restored, even from the darkest of depths (Jam 5:19–20). He then returned to walking with the Lord.

Why has God put this into his Word? He's put it there to show us that if David, who otherwise lived a godly life, could fall into sin, then any one of us can and we must guard ourselves against it (1Co 10:12). How do we do that? By staying close to Jesus. The power to resist sin is found in God alone. If we walk away from God we lose that power.

David's fruit-bearing

We sometimes refer to the fruit of the Spirit as the fruits of the Spirit (plural) but, according to the Bible, there is only one fruit (singular) with nine separate parts. The gifts of the Spirit (1Co 12:7–11) are manifested instantaneously in our lives, whereas the fruit (as in the natural world) takes time to grow.

All nine parts of the fruit were produced in David's life:

Because David was born again and indwelt by the Spirit of God he bore fruit for God. Every child of God will do the same, providing they remain in the vine.

Michael Graham
March 2010

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

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