Rev. Dick is pastor of Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Standale, Michigan.
Last time we addressed the subject of “doctrine fruit.” This fruit is either absent from many so-called Christian and church vines, or hanging there, altogether rotten—doctrine which gathers flies.
Lest you think this writer is declaring doctrinal doomsday when in actuality this year and the last decades will be known by connoisseurs and historians as vintage years of truth, allow just one example. A preacher I know was confronted after a worship service recently by a person who happened to be visiting that morning, and who took offense at the preacher’s message. In the sermon the New Age movement was condemned. The offended party condemned the condemnation with words something like this addressed to the minister:
“Your understanding of the Reformed faith is so outdated. No really intelligent person would subscribe to those ideas anymore. Our minister has often said that the more in depth he studies the New Age ideas the less difference he sees between them and the Reformed faith. In fact, he firmly believes, and has proven it in his sermons, that New Age thinking is Reformed thinking which has finally, after all these centuries, arrived at theological maturity…. Haven’t you come to see this yet? This is the New Age of Enlightenment!”
Need I say more?
But on to another subject….
True believers, and true churches, will bear doctrine fruit. Sound doctrine. Much doctrine. Doctrine which is the revealed truth of the Bible. There will also be other fruit. Much more other fruit. It is fruit which comes out of the doctrine fruit. Fruit which, together with doctrine-fruit, comes out of the vine. This much more fruit, and the Vine Himself, is the focus of our study today. As we enter into this, think on Jesus’ words: 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. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples”(John 15: 5, 8)!
For Study, Meditation, Discussion & Much Fruit!
1. The nature and manifestation of the fruit of believers.
List the various fruits mentioned in John 15 (don’t miss joy, v. 11; prayer, v. 16; and witnessing, v. 27!). Find at least ten other fruits of the Spirit of which the Bible speaks. What kind of fruit is this? Do all Christians bear all the fruit of the Spirit?
2. The source of good fruit
Show from John 15 and elsewhere how the triune God is the Author of the good fruit in the lives of His people. What is the Father’s role? What is the role of the Son? What is the role of the Holy Spirit? There is something about the human race which makes the husbandry of God necessary for anyone to produce fruit. This “something” is called “total depravity.” What is this doctrine, and what are some texts which teach it? What is there about a person’s lineage, and what is true about Adam, which explains our natural fruitlessness, our depravity? Proof? Is it correct to say that an unregenerated, unbelieving person, though he may not be able to do a spiritually good work, yet can do some good in the eyes of God? Why or why not (cf. Rom. 14:23; Heb. 11:6; Canons III/IV, 4)?
3. The way fruit is produced.
From one very important point of view good fruit in God’s people is an absolute given. They produce fruit necessarily, just because they are in the Vine, Jesus Christ. It is impossible that they do not, for they are a work of God. What do Psalm 130:4, John 15:16, Romans 6, Ephesians 1:3, 4, and the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 32 teach regarding this?
At the same time that we say that fruit is a given we must be clear that God produces fruit in our lives not in a mechanical way, but in a living, personal way, in and through our persons. God does not work fruit in us as if we were machines—as if He pours in the gas and starts our engine and away we go! Rather, He works in us a response which is a decidedly human reaction, a moral reaction, a willing and thinking and heart activity. He works in our heart, and through our person, and that, to involve us in the fruit-bearing. That is why Jesus can say we bear fruit, and even much fruit (John 15:8)! Reflect in this connection on the relation between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man, or the two “parts” of the covenant of grace. How does Philippians 2:12, 13 bear on this?
The God who works necessarily and personally to produce fruit also works mediately—He uses means. As the farmer works the soil and uses fertilizer, tractors, trellises, and whatnot to produce fruit, so God uses various means to produce the spiritual crop. How do John 15 and the rest of Scripture show how the following are means God uses to produce fruit: faith; preaching; chastising; our abiding in Christ; doctrine? Other means?
God works also to produce fruit in His church increasingly. He does this by “purging” certain branches, and by “casting forth” others (John 15:2, 6). What is this purging and casting forth? Does this passage teach that there is a possibility that true believers will fall out of Christ, out of salvation? Why or why not, in light of Scripture? Have you been purged lately? Are you being purged now? How does God do this?
4. Strange fruit.
By “strange fruit” I refer to persecution. Jesus speaks of this in John 15:18ff. Such fruit is not, of course, something the disciples themselves bear. Rather, persecution is something that “crops up” as a result of believers’ bearing good fruit. It is the unbelieving world’s throwing rotten tomatoes (and worse!) at a good act. Why? What is there in the believer that occasions the wicked world’s wrath? Find several passages in the psalms in which the psalmists speak of this persecution. How do the psalmists react to it? Some of the psalms are “imprecatory”—in them the psalmist calls down the wrath of God upon His enemies (e.g., Ps. 69:22-25). Would this be proper for us? What does the inspired John say in John 15, and what do the following passages say about the fact of persecution for the believer: II Corinthians 11:23-27; Philippians 1:29; II Timothy 3:12? How can James say we ought to rejoice in the various trials, which would include persecutions which come upon us (James 1:2ff.; cf. these references in I Pet. 1:6, 7; 2:19, 20; 3:14; 4:13, 14)?
5. Comfort for heavy-laden battered branches.
Both fruit-bearing and the fruit of persecution are reminders to the church of its connection with Christ. Christ bears fruit, Christ was persecuted, and therefore His people, His body, His branches shall blossom and be heavy-laden with good fruit. They also, because of Christ in them, shall be whacked at by the brutish. For the wicked recognize, in the fruit of the church, the virtue and presence of the Son of God whom they continue to hate. In order to ensure the comfort of His body Jesus sends the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. How, according to John 15:26, 27, does the Holy Spirit comfort?
6. The purpose of fruit.
What does John 15:8 say is the purpose of fruit-bearing? What do Matthew 5:16 and I Peter 2:9 say about this?
7. Perspective: John 20:31.
The secret of the fruit is the secret of the vine, Jesus the Christ. When Jesus reveals Himself as the vine (John 15:1ff), He utters the last of the “I Am” statements in John. (The others are found in the following passages: 6:35; 8:12; 10:9, 11; 11:25; 14:6.) How is Jesus’ statement “I Am the Vine” further revelation of Himself as the Son of God our Savior?
This revelation of the Vine and the fruit of the Vine is written so that we might believe on the Lord Jesus and have life through His name. Certainly this is written so that we might have abundant life, bear more (and more) fruit (John 15:2), and much fruit (John 15:8), and that our fruit might remain (abide: John 15:16). Do you bear much fruit? During what seasons are we supposed to be fruitful? How might we be more productive? How do we measure, and ought we to set goals for productivity: as individuals, families, congregations, denominations? Three kind words a day? More time with the children? Twenty-five new members a year? Four hundred thousand by the year 2000?