Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The purpose of God in saving a church is that there may be fruit. Although the Bible speaks of the fruit of plants and the fruit of the womb or of the loins, most often it uses the word fruit metaphorically, as that which originates and comes forth from something as the effect or result. Especially is it the case that Scripture uses the figure of a tree or a vine to teach concerning a spiritual fruitfulness in the lives of the saints. Not only is the purpose of God that the redeemed bear fruit now and in eternity, it is also true that every single child of God is involved in this – “every good tree bringeth forth good fruit” (Matt. 7:17). And every child of God does this from the first moment of conscious faith until the time of his last breath. “Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing” (Ps. 92:13, 14). There we find the reason why many children of God live into their eighties and nineties; let them not think their life is without purpose and vain!
Sometimes we read of spiritual fruits in the plural (Phil. 1:11; James 3:17), and at other times we find the word in the singular (John 15:2; Eph. 5:9). We ought to notice that for a few moments. In the classic passage on fruitfulness,Galatians 5:19-26, the apostle Paul contrasts the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. The plural works indicate that these sinful actions find their source in the fallen human nature, are rebellious, divisive, contradictory, and destructive, and have no unifying principle. That there is a fruit of the Spirit emhasizes that when a person is reborn and indwelled by the Holy Spirit, that person brings forth all the manifestations of the Spirit, not merely some of them. There is an internal unity and moral homogeneity to all that the child of God does. The grace of God in Christ is not divided; if you have Christ, you have all of Christ. Nor is the Holy Spirit’s work parceled out to us; if He be working in us, He brings forth a full Christian life, a fully developed fruit. The fruit of the Spirit may be in different measure, but in every child of God He brings forth love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (self-control).
The fruit that may readily be observed in the Christian’s life is the result of Christ working through us. In catechism we learned that Christ worked for us (payment of sin at the cross), in us (regeneration, justification), but also through us (sanctification). The good fruit that the child of God brings forth can only be traced back to his union with Christ. Scripture speaks of this union as faith, as the living bond of ingrafting (John 15:1-5; Rom. 11:17-20). Branches are grafted into the vine and live out of the vine; branches are grafted into the olive tree and partake of the root and fatness of the tree. Faith as ingrafting sets forth to us Christ as our perfect salvation, as the repository of every spiritual good. He has merited and become the storehouse of every aspect of salvation. And faith is the living bond, the pipeline if you will, that connects us to Him and through which the unspeakable riches which are in Him flow to us. The will to be fruitful and the activity of producing fruit is of His Spirit.
The requirements for a life of fruitfulness, requirements that God is faithful to fulfill in us, are: 1) Living union with the vine Jesus Christ, a union God establishes in regeneration; 2) Receptivity to the preaching of the gospel (Matt. 13:23) in which God makes our hearts soft as tilled soil; 3) The mortification of the old man of sin, for there can be no spiritual living until the old man dies (John 12:24); 4) The pruning of the Husbandman (God’s chastenings) in order that fruitful branches might be more fruitful (John 15:2); and 5) Abiding in Christ our life-source even to the end (John 15:5).
Unfruitfulness is not taken lightly by God; there must be fruit! The Baptist warned in Matthew 3 that “the axe is laid unto the root of the tree; therefore every tree which bringeth forth not good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” Jesus cursed the barren fig tree. Unfruitfulness is brought about by the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, discontent, and apostasy. The end of unfruitfulness is destruction. We are to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but we are to reprove them (Eph. 5:11). And we are to make friends only of those who manifest the Spirit’s presence, for they can be known of us by their fruits (Matt. 6:44).
God voices a complaint against Judah in Isaiah 5 for her lack of fruit after all the care He had bestowed upon her. He planted a vineyard of the choicest vine, fenced it, gathered out the stones, built a tower, made a winepress. But when God came to look for the grapes, it brought forth wild grapes! Then verse 4: vineyard, that I have not done in it?” “What could have been done more to my The fault for lack of fruit, in an individual or a church, can never be laid at the door of God. Consider the care and goodness of God to us and our churches! We have a rich heritage of biblical truth set forth in our Reformed Confessions. We have a steady diet of sound, expository preaching. We have our own schools in most of the areas we have churches. We have the presence and working of the Spirit and Christ’s promise never to forsake us. What more could have been done for us, that God has not done?