I enjoy fruit. I enjoy pineapple, strawberries, blueberries, apples, and oranges—the list goes on and on. I just enjoy fruit. But I don’t always like to think about fruit from my life, because I rarely consider it correctly.
For instance, when I finish preaching to an audience my pride jumps up and wants to know if I did a good job. Someone, tell me it was good! I want to know that I produced good fruit.
But in John 15:5 Jesus says, “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” (ESV). It’s a statement. Not, maybe you will bear fruit. You will bear much fruit. So why do we need to know if it was good fruit?
I read the other day that a pastor was named Most Humble Pastor in America. His congregation gave him the medal. The next Sunday he wore the medal to church, and they took it away.
Our pride wants the credit, the approval, the pat on the back, the “Atta boy!”—for doing what Christ produces in us and through us.
My New Testament professor, John Kilde, once said in a seminary class, “If I knew the fruit I was producing, my flesh would eat it up!” In other words, I would take all the credit when the real credit goes to Christ. It is not my fruit. It is not your fruit. Because without him we can do nothing!
In other words, without him we bear no fruit for the kingdom.
Now, I’d like you to tell me which of these branches will bear more fruit?
The answer is neither one! Neither one is connected to the tree! Neither one is living. One branch appears to have more life in it, but it is just a matter of time until both look the same—dead! Neither one will bear any fruit. And neither will anyone who is not connected to the vine! Jesus says, “Apart from me, you can do nothing. But connected to me you will bear much fruit!”
Now, does either of these pictures describe you?
The cut branch with no leaves is like being spiritually dead. Dried up and ready for the fire. Jesus says, “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6). This branch is you if you have not been connected to Christ, have not believed in him, have not received the forgiveness of sins from him, and are not dwelling in his Word or bearing his fruit.
Or maybe you are like the second branch that was freshly cut. It still has leaves, but know that you are withering away. At one time you were full of vitality—of the Lord’s Spirit—but lately it’s as if you are dying!
Maybe you are like a third tree. One that looks beautiful from a distance. But as you draw closer you discover it’s just ornamental, plastic, fake!
In all three cases, there is no fruit. Faking fruit for Christ is not bearing fruit at all.
Praise the Lord! He causes us to see how much we need to be with him and abide in him. He brings about a confession of sin from within us.
He alone is able to graft us back into the vine, so that his life-giving blood covers our sins, and he grants us his life and hope.
What does your branch produce when you are growing from the true vine?
If I do produce fruit for the kingdom while still living in this body, it’s really not mine! It’s really not yours. It’s fruit of his vine! “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit…”
Thus, any good fruit is not mine, but only produced from his vine!
When Pastor John Juhl served with me in Lutheran Brethren Fellowship Church in Williston, I would often tell him after he preached a sermon, “John, that was way too good to be you!” Which is really the highest compliment a pastor can receive. That sermon was just way too good to be you! In other words that was fruit from the Vine!
Consider what this fruit is like.
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). Our prayer, and how we pray, is a fruit born by abiding in Christ. As he lives in us and we in him, he changes our prayer-life from self-centeredness to alignment with his will.
When I was in my late teens and early twenties, my prayers were all about winning the sweepstakes—something like winning the lottery today. I filled out more applications than you can imagine, and I prayed and prayed for God to let me win. And finally… I did! I won a set of pots and pans.
Today I thank God for that “victory” because it turned me from silly self-centered prayers to alignment with Jesus in prayer. He taught us how to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, not my will but yours be done!”
That kind of prayer is related to another fruit of abiding in Christ—love. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love” (John 15:9).
The love of God was fully displayed when the Father sent his Son Jesus Christ as the sacrifice for sinful human beings like you and me. That is amazing love! And that love is now in us as we abide in Christ. It is love that sacrifices for our neighbors.
In Acts 7, Stephen is preaching about Jesus to the Sanhedrin. As Stephen finishes his sermon, he says, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).
In response, the Jewish leaders become furious and throw stones at him in order to kill him. But, filled with the love of Christ, Stephen cries out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!”
Remember Jesus’ own words from the cross: “Father, forgive them they do not know what they are doing!”
The love of Christ is flowing through Stephen both as he preaches the Word, and as he seeks the salvation of his opponents, right to the end. This is the fruit of being connected to Christ the vine.
The fruit of the vine definitely isn’t our doing! So remain in him and he in you, and you will bear much fruit, but apart from him neither you nor I will do anything for the kingdom of God.
Rev. Ron Erickson is Pastor at Lutheran Brethren Fellowship Church in Williston, North Dakota.