Staff & Sling

Joseph E. Hébert, Ph.D.

98119 N 3745 Rd
Okemah, OK  74859
918 623 3078

Bearing Fruit & Evangelism

My wife forwarded me an email message that she received from someone who received it from someone who ..., you get the idea. It was a list of Christian one-liners, many of which were quite amusing if poignant. One stuck out, to me at least, as being particularly pertinent to this article. It said, "God loves everyone, but probably prefers 'fruits of the Spirit' over 'religious nuts!'"

In John 15, Jesus tells us that He is the vine, we are the branches, and that the Father is the husbandman. He warns that if we do not bear fruit the Father will take us away. This is indeed a dire warning. Any Christian who does not bear fruit will be taken out of this world. They will die. He then goes on to promise that if we do bear fruit He will purge us so that we will bear more fruit, but that is another sermon.

I want to make one quick point before going any further, simply because I would be remiss if I didn't. This is not a warning about losing your salvation. In verse 2 we read that if a "branch in me" (a branch in Jesus) does not bear fruit, the Father will take that branch away. Jesus didn't say that God would cast them away, but take them away. It's a distinction of direction. When one takes something, one brings it in to oneself, the opposite of casting away.

Compare the language of verse 2 to that of verse 6. This time Jesus is not talking about a branch that abides in Him. In verse 6 Jesus is explicitly referring to one who does not abide in Him, someone who is not saved. These are the people who are cast away. Pay attention to note that they are not cast away for failing to bear fruit. Instead, these people are cast away for no reason other than not abiding in Jesus. These are the people who are cast into the (lake of) fire and burned. Thus it is clear that to abide in Jesus is to be saved, and to not abide in Jesus is to be lost.

Now let's look more closely at verse 5. There Jesus says, quite explicitly, that "He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit ...." He leaves open no possibility that the Christian might not bear fruit. But just three verses earlier He was clear that some might abide in Him and not bear fruit. How then can we reconcile these two verses? By noting that in verse 5 Jesus adds the caveat "..., and I in him, ...."

Wait just one minute! How can one abide in Jesus, how can one be saved, without Jesus abiding in him? It may be counter to our intuition on the matter, but the passage referenced above makes clear that it is possible nonetheless. Moreover, it's plainly clear that this is a condition wherein Christians can find themselves in trouble. In this condition Christians can find themselves literally in mortal danger. That's not to say they're in danger of eternal damnation. They're not in danger of losing their salvation, but they're certainly in danger of losing their corporeal life. And more importantly, they're in danger of disappointing God. So this, then, is the answer we must seek, an understanding of just how one can abide in Jesus, how one can be saved, without Jesus abiding in them.

Since the principle difference between these two states is the bearing of fruit, let's begin by looking at just what bearing fruit means.

Most Christians think of bearing fruit as a metaphor for leading others to Christ. It is not. We will find that leading others to Christ is not bearing fruit directly, but instead it is a direct consequence of bearing good fruit. Oh, we are certainly all called to lead others to Christ. That is, after all, the Great Commission, that we are to evangelize all the nations (Matthew 28: 19; Luke 24: 46 - 48). But if leading others to Christ is not bearing fruit, and since bearing fruit is so important, just what is it that we're supposed to do? How, exactly, are we supposed to bear fruit?

First, stop asking "How do we bear fruit?" The vine doesn't ask how to bear grapes. Neither should we ask how to bear fruit. Besides, we just read the passage where Jesus tells us how we will bear fruit. If we abide in Him, and He abides in us, we will bear fruit. We'll just do it and we won't have to worry about how. So instead of asking how, ask "What fruit should I bear?" God tells us that we are to discern people by the fruit they bear (Matthew 7: 15 - 20), so we should know what fruit to look for. What fruit should we bear as Christians?

Scripture tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (Galatians 5: 22, 23), basically all goodness and righteousness and truth (Ephesians 5: 9). And as we have just read, scripture also tells us that if we abide in Jesus, and if Jesus also abides in us, then we will bear this fruit. It's as simple and straightforward as that. So I ask you, is this the fruit that you're bearing?

Now before anyone leaps to any errant conclusions, and at the risk of being redundant, I want to reiterate this point plainly! The Great Commission was given to all of us. Each and every Christian is called to evangelize the lost. Do not believe for one minute that if you're bearing fruit, the fruit of the Spirit, that you don't necessarily have to evangelize the lost. Though leading people to Christ may not be bearing fruit directly, it is absolutely a consequence of bearing fruit that you will lead others to Christ. In other words, if you aren't leading people to Christ, then you aren't bearing fruit either. So while it is instructive to note that there is a distinction between bearing fruit and evangelizing, and while noting this distinction will help us to understand the larger picture, it is important also to understand that they are mutually inclusive activities. You can't do either without doing both.

Unfortunately, too many Christians think that evangelism is something akin to telemarketing. They think the Gospel message is a high-pressure sales pitch and the idea of bearing fruit means achieving some sort of "sales quota." Those who think this are wrong on all three counts. We are not high-pressure salesmen, our divinely ordained role is not to convince people to do something they otherwise wouldn't, and "closing" the deal is not bearing fruit. Far from bearing fruit, this approach to evangelism is what Jesus termed "casting your pearls before swine," (Matthew 7: 6).

How then do we evangelize? By our witness. By our testimony. Read the Great Commission again (Luke 24: 46 - 48) paying particular attention to verse 48. We are witnesses. Think about a trial. It isn't the witness's responsibility to convict the accused. The witness' only responsibility is to provide testimony of those facts with which he has personal knowledge. Likewise, as Christians, it isn't our responsibility to convict the lost. That's God's role. The Spirit will convict the lost, each in their own turn as God calls them. It is only our role to bear witness to the truth (truth being one of the fruits of the Spirit) of which we have personal knowledge.

This, then, is how we are to evangelize. We evangelize the lost by our testimony, by our witness, not by trying convince them to recite a prayer on the back of a Gospel tract.

To better understand this, let's consider two passages in scripture. The first will be John 3: 1 - 8, in particular verse 8. And since John 3: 1 - 8 is poorly served by literal translation, because of the use of metaphors, we'll then look to Ecclesiastes 11: 1 - 6 to help ensure that we really do understand.

In John 3: 1 - 8 we read about the Pharisee Nicodemus who came to Jesus by night confessing some measure of faith that Jesus was sent by God. In other words, Nicodemus was implicitly telling Jesus that he believed Him to be the Messiah. But the Jews (even Jesus' own disciples at the time) assumed this meant He was there, as the conquering Messiah, to set up His kingdom on Earth. Understanding this reveals the continuity of Jesus' response to Nicodemus, wherein Jesus told him that in order to see the Kingdom of God one must be born again. To us this reads as a non sequitur,  but it made perfect sense to Nicodemus. Well, no it didn't really. It actually confused Nicodemus too, just not for the same reason it confuses us.

Jesus went on to explain to Nicodemus that it was necessary to be born of water (repentance) and the Spirit (saved) in order to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus then told Nicodemus (in verse 8) that, "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit."

This was, to both Jesus and Nicodemus (and anyone else listening) a well understood metaphor. What Jesus told Nicodemus was, "The Spirit (The wind) speaks (bloweth) where it pleases (listeth), and you hear His voice (the sound thereof), but can't (canst not) tell where it comes from (whither it cometh), or where it goes to (and whither it goeth): so it is with (is) everyone that is born of the Spirit." Jesus explained to Nicodemus (and the rest of us too) how something spiritual works by using a physical example that he (we) was (are) familiar with. Unfortunately, understanding something and believing it are two different things. This is why, in verse 12, Jesus exclaimed to Nicodemus "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?"

So, to paraphrase, the Spirit convicts, or calls if you prefer, whom He pleases, when He pleases, and where He pleases. And we can not know when or whether He is convicting anyone. This is why, in the parable of the sower and the seed (Matthew 13: 1 - 9), the sower sowed his seed indiscriminately, on all types of soil. And this is why we are to do likewise with our testimony. We are to bear witness to the Truth, which is to say Jesus (John 14: 6), as we have personal knowledge thereof, and we are to do so indiscriminately, never knowing who the Spirit is convicting.

Now read Ecclesiastes 11: 1 - 6. Beginning in verse 4 the passage cautions that whoever worries about which way the wind is blowing (which way the Spirit is moving), that person will never sow. And in verse 5 scripture makes the metaphor explicit by stating that we can not know how the Spirit is moving. Finally, in verse 6, we are told to sow in the morning and in the evening alike. We are not to try and discern when the Spirit is moving in someone, or when He is not. We are to bear witness at all times, in the normal course of our daily lives, with everyone we encounter. The passage tells us plainly that we can not know which, if either or if both, will prosper.

To reiterate, this is how we are to evangelize. In our daily lives, to all around us, we are to testify, to bear witness to the Truth (Jesus) of which we have personal knowledge. This is not to say that we should act like telemarketers, bent on manipulating people into doing something they otherwise wouldn't. We are expressly told not to cast our pearls before swine (Matthew 7: 6). But we should speak of Christ, the Word, in all of our daily conversations. We should speak of Jesus and scripture, not like a preacher giving an invitation but as naturally as others speak of ball games and weather. And then, when someone asks for more, we are to "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you ...," (I Peter 3: 15).

If you do this, then maybe some day you will be privileged to lead someone to Christ, to hold their hand as they pray the prayer of repentance and salvation, though not usually. Usually you will be unaware of how or whether the Spirit used your testimony in the conviction of anyone. Usually you will have no idea how many people you helped evangelize, this side of Heaven at least. And if you are ever honored with the privilege of being there when a lost soul finds the Lord, if you should be privileged to be the Christian a lost soul finally asks for help, know that you are only the last in an innumerable chain of Christians who have evangelized that lost soul.

Unfortunately, too many Christians will never be asked about Jesus because they do not bear witness to Him in their daily conversations. Too many Christians never mention Jesus or God or scripture outside of church. Too many Christians concern themselves with the way the wind is blowing before speaking and thus, as was foretold in Ecclesiastes 11: 4, never sow. Why? Because too many Christians think that if they talk about Jesus then others might not like them.

And they have good reason to think this. Jesus told us that the world would hate us (John 15: 19). So if you're trying to close big deals with new clients, you can expect some (perhaps many) of them to reject your services if you speak of Jesus. But scripture also tells us to rejoice when this happens, when men hate and reject us and treat us like outcasts for His name's sake (Luke 6: 22, 23). And before I continue, just as a mental exercise, pretend for a moment that you are discrete, that you hold your tongue concerning Jesus, and you land that big new contract. Now read verse 24.

Doubtless many are thinking that it is easy for some to speak of Jesus all the time, but not for themselves. It's different in their case. They just don't know how to talk casually about scripture or Jesus or God with people who aren't Christian. And they are right. It is different for them. They can't speak naturally about Jesus, or matters of scripture, in the course of secular conversation. When they do speak of Jesus, it feels as forced as it sounds. But take heart. This is a condition that is easily remedied.

Instead of asking why it's so difficult to speak about Jesus to people in the world, ask yourself why it's so easy to speak to them about sports scores or television shows. You might think it's because those are subjects that are of interest to you both, and sometimes they are. But the relevant fact is not that those other subjects are of interest to you both. The relevant fact is that those are subjects that are of interest to you. If they weren't you wouldn't talk about them. Sometimes the interest is shared, but other times it is not. Often conversation is directed by the application, the imposition if you will, of your interests onto the conversation of the person you're talking to. In general, when you speak, you speak about the things that interest you. You speak about the things you know. You speak about the things you think about.

And this, then, is the time to remind ourselves of the principle question we sought to answer when we began. How is it possible for one to abide in Christ (to be saved) without Christ abiding in them? In order to answer this question, I refer you to John 1: 1, 14. Jesus is the Word. I don't claim to understand this, anymore than I understand how God is triune. But it is nonetheless true. Thus, when you learn scripture, when you study and deliberate the Word, you literally take in Jesus to abide in you.

Look again to I Peter 3: 15. This is the well known passage that admonishes us to "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh ...." But this time, pay particular attention to the first thing this verse commands us to do, that thing we must do before we can be ready to give that answer. "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts ...." Think about the word "sanctify." How can we sanctify God? The word is a verb form of "sanctuary," so we sanctify God in our hearts when we give Him sanctuary there. We sanctify God in our hearts when we take Him in to abide in us, when we study and meditate on His Word.

So this is why it is possible to abide in Christ without Him abiding in you. They are two different things. If you repent your sin, and accept Christ as your Lord and savior, then you are saved and you abide in Christ. But when you study the Word, when you learn scripture and meditate on it throughout the day, then Jesus truly abides in you. And then as you grow in Christ, as He promised in John 15: 5, you will bear much fruit, the fruit of the Spirit, without question or exception and without having to think about how. The more you sanctify God in your heart, the more Jesus abides in you, the more you will be changed. You really will become a new creature (Ephesians 2: 10). And when the Word is what you think about throughout the course of your day, then the Word will be what you naturally talk about in your normal conversations.

No, you won't start accosting strangers with dire warnings that the end is near. Nor will you feel compelled to aggressively confront strangers on the street for no reason but to tell them that God loves them. But you will speak to those with whom you interact about the Word. He will become part and parcel of your conversation, and you will be amazed, both at how often, and at how naturally it happens. You won't need to steer the conversation to matters of scripture. It will just be germane to whatever conversation you're having, because you will begin to see the world and everything in it through the prism of scripture. The person you're talking to will make a comment and a particular verse will just be the appropriate response, perhaps a verse that the person would never have heard but for your sharing it with him (and don't let it go unnoticed that since the Word is Jesus, you will have shared Jesus with that person). And as you learn more, as Christ abides in you more, it will happen more and more often.

Jesus warned that as you grow in the Lord, as you bear more fruit of the Spirit, as God and scripture become more prominent in your person and speech, many people will no longer want to talk with you. Some will no longer invite you to join them for lunch, or come over to your house to visit, and some of your clients may take their business elsewhere. But do you know what? The same thing will be true if you talk about football, or fishing, or sports cars, or woodworking, or your kids or whatever other interest occupies your mind. Some people just won't share your interests. Still, and make no mistake on this point, in none of these other cases will people shun you to anywhere near the same degree as they will for Jesus' sake.

So you have a choice to make. Are you going to study the Word, and deliberate on it throughout the day? Are you going to sanctify God in your heart, and take Jesus in to abide in you? Are you going to make Him so much a part of yourself that He will just be a natural part of your daily conversations? Are you going to bear fruit?

Or are you going to continue devoting your days, your life, to the cares of the world (Matthew 13: 22)? Are you going to continue exercising discretion when speaking with people who aren't Christian, for fear of what they might think (Matthew 13: 20, 21)? Before you decide, I would caution you that Jesus wasn't bluffing, He wasn't just trying to frighten you when He said, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away," (John 15: 1, 2).

John 15: 1 - 6    1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. 2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. 3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. 6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

Matthew 28: 19    Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

Luke 24: 46 - 48    46 And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: 47 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 And ye are witnesses of these things.

Matthew 7: 15 - 20    15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

Galatians 5: 19 - 23    19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Ephesians 5: 9    9 (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)

Matthew 7: 6    Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

John 3: 1 - 8    1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. 3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? 5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

Matthew 13: 1 - 9    1 The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. 2 And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. 3 And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; 4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: 5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: 6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: 8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. 9 Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

John 14: 6    Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Ecclesiastes 11: 1 - 6    1 Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days. 2 Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth. 3 If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be. 4 He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap. 5 As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all. 6 In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.

I Peter 3: 15    But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:

John 15: 19    If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

Luke 6: 22 - 24    22 Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake. 23 Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets. 24 But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.

John 1: 1, 14    1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

Ephesians 2: 10    For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Matthew 13: 18 - 23    18 Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. 19 When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. 20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; 21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. 22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. 23 But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.