Thursday, July 26, 2018

What Is Fruit?: How It Betrays Whose We Are

In my previous post, I wrote about an idea I have considered for several years (off and on). The Bible uses a metaphor about our works being like fruit on a plant. Since God says everything with a purpose, there’s a reason He used this example. The fruit of the plant is not what gives the plant life. The life in the plant brings forth fruit. It is not our works that save us, but they come out of a new life already changed.

Here we examine another purpose of this metaphor. The importance of works in the life of a Christian cannot be missed. This is easy to overlook in churches that preach the gospel by repentance and faith, because there is a downplaying of works to avoid appearing as if we believe they are a part of our salvation.

But works are a product of our salvation. Just as fruit is a sign of a healthy plant, works are a sign of a healthy Christian. A plant that isn’t producing fruit is either not healthy or not alive at all.

If plants could claim they are plants like people can claim they are Christians, they would, as James said, show us their fruit. People who claim Christianity must demonstrate they have Christ in them through their works:
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. –James 2:14-26
This can be an extremely confusing passage because it seems as if James is saying works play a role in salvation, which would then conflict with Paul’s writing in Ephesians 2 and other passages. I have previously written extensively about why these two passages actually harmonize with each other.

James was dealing with people who claimed Christianity but lived a life outside of God’s commands. His point is that works are a product of faith, and if there is no sign of works, there is not actually faith. Works demonstrate (the other meaning of the word “justify”) that we have faith, and James calls upon his readers to live it out.

Once again, fruit is not what makes the plant a plant, but it is what naturally occurs in a living plant.

A similar message is seen in John the Baptist’s harsh message to the Pharisees and Sadducees while he was baptizing in the Jordan River:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance… –Matthew 3:7-8
Paul says the same thing in his preaching:
But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. –Acts 26:20
Here the word translated “meet” is the Greek word axion, which has the meaning of “fitting” or “worthy.” John doesn’t accept the unsubstantiated profession of faith, but instead tells these men that they need to bring the works fitting for repentance. Repentance is a reversal of path, a change in behavior. Repentance is a part of salvation, so if there are not works that show that we have repented—if there is no difference in who we were before our “salvation” and after—there is no salvation. Because there is a wrath to come, we have to be honest with ourselves and others.

This is not to mean that committing any sin is proof that we are not actually Christians. But there has to be a demonstration of works fitting for our repentance. If those are totally absent, there’s an issue.

Good works do not inherently mean someone is born again, but a lack of good works is a demonstration that someone isn’t.

I John gives a sort of litmus test of security that we are born again, and each item on the list involves examining our works:
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. –5:13 
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. –1:6-7 
And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked. –2:3-6 
He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes. –2:9-1 
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. –2:15 
We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. –3:14-15
Notice it does not say, “We know Him if we keep His commandments.” It says, “We know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.” Keeping God’s commandments is a product of salvation, but it will be there if there is new life.

I should mention that not all fruit is good. There is evil fruit that demonstrates that an individual belongs to the darkness, and not God:
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. –Matthew 7:15-20
What makes fruit a good indicator is that the good fruit and evil fruit are so easy to distinguish, and there is no way a good tree can produce evil fruit or a corrupt tree produce good fruit:
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 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. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. –Galatians 5:19-24
The Bible lays out what is evil fruit and what is good fruit. Fruit betrays whose we are, based on the kind of fruit we produce. We should be living in a way that makes it obvious who we belong to.

This is not a new subject. People who have spent much time in church have surely heard this before. But in mentioning that works are not what save us, it cannot be missed that they are still a part of the daily life of the Christian. It is my challenge to myself and to the reader that we examine the fruit in our own lives and find areas in which we are not producing. We do not obey God to have a relationship with Him. We obey because we have a relationship with Him that involves Him sanctifying us to be more like Him every day. Lack of production of fruit doesn’t make a plant cease being a plant, but it is a sign that something is wrong, that it is unhealthy, and that there is no growth occurring. Without production, the plant has no practical purpose.
Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth. –Psalm 90:5-6
Works demonstrate who we belong to. They are the fruit of our relationship with and growth in Christ. While not life-giving itself, it indicates that we have life. That’s important for our reassurance of our salvation. It is also important in reproducing new Christians:
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. –Matthew 5:14-16
Third Post: What is Fruit?: The Patience and Time Required for Germination

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

What Is Fruit?

I believe the phrasing the Bible uses is very measured and purposeful. After all, it was God who inspired the words that are written. Sometimes the full meaning is missed because it had to be translated. Even so, we have to recognize that an omnipotent God is not just going to throw words on a page.

The Christian is repeatedly referred to in the New Testament as a plant that bears fruit. Jesus uses the metaphor several times:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. 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. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. 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. 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. 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. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. –John 15:1-8 
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. –Matthew 7:16-20 
For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. –Luke 6:43-44
"I am the vine, ye are the branches..."
The same metaphor, though less directly, is used in Galatians:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. –Galatians 5:22-23
This, of course, implies that we are the plant that produces fruit. Mankind also has the natural ability to produce the “works of the flesh,” mentioned earlier in Galatians 5.

This is all very fascinating, and widely known to Christians. What’s the point?

Allow me to pose a seemingly obvious question: What is fruit?

Fruit is what is produced by a healthy plant. The Bible compares our works to the fruit on that plant. “(B)y their fruits ye shall know them.” “(T)he fruit of the Spirit.”

But is fruit what makes a plant a plant? Or is it a sign that a plant is a plant?

There is a plant in existence before fruit is ever produced. An unhealthy plant may not produce any fruit. But that does not change the plant’s identity. It is still a plant. But a good plant produces fruit. describes the process of seed germination:
After the seed has made it to a new location and is covered with dirt, it can begin germination. Germination is the process of seeds developing into new plants. First, environmental conditions must trigger the seed to grow. Usually, this is determined by how deep the seed is planted, water availability, and temperature. When water is plentiful, the seed fills with water in a process called imbibition. The water activates special proteins, called enzymes, that begin the process of seed growth. First the seed grows a root to access water underground. Next, the shoots, or growth above ground, begin to appear. The seed sends a shoot towards the surface, where it will grow leaves to harvest energy from the sun. The leaves continue to grow towards the light source in a process called photomorphogenesis.
It starts with a seed, and the seed goes through an experience to create new life. So it is with Christians. We go through a salvation experience of repentance and faith, and new life begins.
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. –I Corinthians 5:17
What comes first? The germination, or the fruit?

The battles rages on between sects under the umbrella of “Christianity” as to whether or not works are a part of what leads to salvation. If we believe that God uses this fruit metaphor for a reason, we need to look at what happens in nature. Fruit does not make a plant a plant. But fruit being produced is a sign that a plant is a plant, and that it is alive and healthy. It is the plant’s nature to produce the fruit.

Another example would be nationality. (It is not a perfect example because one can renounce his earthly citizenship but not his heavenly citizenship.) I do a lot of American things and have a lot of American qualities. I carry an American flag camping to put in front of my tent. I go to a friend’s house and eat two pounds of meat. I sing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” when “God Save the Queen” plays. I wear tanks like “Back to Back World War Champs” and ones with Abraham Lincoln riding a grizzly bear. I carry a gun. I shop for clearance items at Walmart. And I make fun of Canada. All those things I do because I am American.

I do not do American things to become American. I already am. Likewise, no one from outside the United States can become American by doing those things. I am sure there are non-citizens that do some of those things and look more American than some Americans. But, they are not made American because that is not their identity. They only become American by the legal process of gaining American citizenship.

No amount of good works will make someone a Christian, no matter how much he looks the part. It is not his identity. He must do what God’s law establishes as the way to gain heavenly citizenship.
No amount of works of the flesh will make someone not a Christian. But, a healthy Christian will produce fruit. John the Baptist preached this:
Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance… –Matthew 3:8
This means that our fruit, or our works, should be consistent with our claim of repentance. If we really have repented, we should show it. More on this next time.
What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. –Romans 6:15
Works are important. But it is an eternal mistake to miss the biblical order. The fruit does not come first. A seed must be germinated, and it is that life that already exists that produces fruit. Life must come through salvation, and that life produces works. Fruit demonstrates that a plant is a plant and helps reproduce other plants. Works demonstrate that a Christian is a Christian and helps reproduce other Christians.

Second Post: What is Fruit?: How It Betrays Whose We Are