In February 2020 we posted an article titled, “The Lost Art of Waiting.” In this, we described how while living overseas we developed a taste for papaya. Since the varieties sold in the USA are so expensive and somewhat tasteless, we decided in September 2019 to plant our own papaya trees from seed.
It’s been almost a year now since we planted our papaya seeds, and we’re happy to report that patience has paid off. The image above was taken this morning. It shows the first fruit of the papaya seeds we planted in containers, weeded, watered, and carried into the covered porch during high winds. The fruit still has some maturing to do, and the five other papaya trees have yet to catch up with this one, yet it’s so gratifying to see one of the trees we’ve cared for so long finally bear fruit.
The word “fruit” appears many times in the New Testament. The Greek word used is karpos. Translated into English, this means the same thing as the word we use. It refers to the fruit that’s born by trees. An example is found in John 15:1-5, which in the ESV reads:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
I often reflect on this passage. When I do, I usually focus on the call to abide in Jesus. This refers to the desire to live one’s life in God’s presence. To do so is my passion, the objective of my life, and I long to abide more closely to Jesus tomorrow than I do today. It’s interesting, however, every so often to think about what Jesus means here by fruit.
I recently watched a documentary titled “American Gospel: Christ Alone.” This film highlights the dangers associated with what’s become known as the “prosperity gospel,” and the negative theological issues associated with it and similar doctrines. I highly recommend this film, and yet there were a few things that gave me slight pause. One was how they spoke of fruit. At about 21 minutes in the following statement is made, “A life that has been saved, a sanctified, regenerated heart, produces fruit – the fruit of good works.” Again at 37 minutes in an individual states, “The gospel produces faith, and faith produces love, and love produces the fruit of good works.”
I’m not suggesting that these statements are theologically incorrect. It’s simply that my view of fruit has more to do with the result of abiding in Christ, and less to do with works. In other words, the more we abide in Christ, or seek to live life in God’s presence, the more we change. The more we change by abiding in Jesus, the more fruit will be evident in our lives. This fruit will be evident to us, and to others. So I see fruit as the result of dwelling with God as opposed to the result of our own efforts, or works, that we undertake.
The distinction might seem insignificant, yet it might make more sense when we read Luke 10:38-42 (ESV). This reads:
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.
Certainly such a sentiment can be taken too far. Jesus does not call us to abide in him to the degree that we do nothing else in life and ignore responsibilities. And yet, a distinction remains. As we face trials, and all that must be accomplished in life and ministry, are we striving to work in our own strength, or is the fruit born through our lives the result of our relationship with Jesus? There are a few ways that may indicate which is the case.
Those striving to please God in their own strength often also strive to please other men and women as well. There’s great freedom in avoiding this. As the Lord leads, and as his direction is confirmed through the Word, prayer, and the counsel of fellow Christ followers, we can serve him without being anxious about the results. Failure in the sight of men and women can, at times, be very pleasing to God.
Those who serve in their own strength are also prone to guilt. This is so because in our own strength we can’t bring about fruit that truly pleases God, and so we are disappointed with the results even if they appear spectacular to others. Remember that in the passage from John quoted above Jesus says, “apart from me you can do nothing.”
This brings us to the final thought that we’ll consider here about fruit verses works. As just quoted, Jesus says that apart from him we can do nothing. This is true in a limited sense. Men and women who are very far indeed from God can, and do, produce some amazing things. For example, I constantly marvel at those who in many ways curse God, and yet who demonstrate great discipline and results at things like losing weight and being in incredible physical shape. This is amazing to me because I, who love God and have the Holy Spirit, struggle in this area.
It’s also the case that many Christ followers struggle with anxiety, while some who pursue Eastern religions seemingly have such peace. What are we to make of this? The answers to these issues are complex. One factor is that those who curse God and those who pursue other God’s do not face the enemies faced by followers of Christ. As Paul says in Ephesians 6:12 (NIV):
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
I take absolutely nothing away from those who don’t follow Christ and yet who accomplish great things through hard work and discipline. In fact, I admire their incredible work ethic. And yet, it is the case that as they pursue their life goals they generally don’t need to struggle against spiritual enemies in the process. In fact, it likely benefits the spiritual enemies of God when those who rebel against God succeed while they walk this earth. These individuals will, of course, at some point realize the truth, and we pray that they do so before it’s too late.
Finally, the difference between results by those who deny Christ and those who abide in Christ has everything to do with eternal value. Much of what’s valued on earth has no eternal value whatsoever. And much of what pleases God has no value to those who rebel against him. Psalm 12:8 speaks to this. It highlights the fact that the ungodly freely strut about during the times when that which is vile is honored by the crowds.
So what about us? To what degree are the results of our lives, the fruit, based on our own efforts, or on the changes that are taking place within us through drawing ever closer to our God and King? Will the fruit of our lives carry over into eternity, or perish on earth? The great news is that it’s never too late to make a change if necessary.
Only this week I heard an account of a woman who came to Christ in her 90s. As she drew closer to God those around her noticed many changes. Their lives were impacted with eternal value as this fruit was born. This woman died a few weeks ago and is now with God. I can only imagine that as she looks back on her life she is rejoicing at the fruit that resulted from her growing relationship with Jesus. May it be so for us!