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