Jesus' Two Great Commissions
Part One


CHAPTER FIVE

The Fruit of A Christian?

In the desire to accelerate evangelistic activity in the church and to motivate Christians to a higher level of evangelistic responsibility, some teach that the conversion of another person is the act of Christian fruit-bearing. In their words, "The fruit of a Christian is a Christian." They declare that a Christian bears fruit when he or she is directly responsible for another person being converted to Christ. Any Christian who cannot verify that he is responsible for someone's baptism is unfruitful and is in danger of being severed from Christ.

The proof text for this position is John 15:1-6, Jesus' lesson based on the vine and the branches. The passage is taught without regard for its context. The failure to study any passage in its context will invariably result in an abuse of the passage.

John 15:1-6

John 15 is the mid-section of a conversation Jesus had with eleven of the apostles (Judas had left) at some point between the beginning of the last supper and their arrival in the garden of Gethsemane. The sequence began in John 13:1 and concluded in 17:26. Please remember that there were no chapter divisions when this document was written; all the material from 13:1 to 17:26 belongs to the same occasion, the same discourse.

The teaching in this discourse comprises Jesus' final pre-death instructions to His apostles. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are quite specific that only Jesus and the apostles shared this occasion.1 Some of these statements were made exclusively to these men to be fulfilled explicitly in their lives, mission, and work.2

In John 15:1-6 Jesus made the following points. (1) God is the gardener. (2) Jesus is the vine. (3) Disciples are the branches dependent upon relationship with Jesus for life. (4) Branches which produce no fruit are cut off. (5) Branches which produce fruit are purged (KJV), cleansed (ASV), pruned (RSV, TEV, JB), and trimmed clean (NIV) to stimulate increased fruitfulness. (6) The apostles have already been cleansed, pruned by Jesus. (7) They must abide, dwell, and live in him to bear fruit, for no branch can produce fruit unless it remains part of the vine. (8) Whoever remains in Jesus and allows Jesus to remain in him will produce much fruit. (9) The one who does not remain in him withers, is cut from the vine, and is gathered for burning.

Take care to note that the primary emphasis is not on bearing fruit, but on remaining in Christ. The person who is in Christ and allows Christ to be in him will be fruitful. The natural result of that relationship is fruitfulness. Jesus' primary point was: Do not seek to live and work independently of me.

Throughout their physical relationship with Jesus during His earthly ministry, the disciples would have considered the idea of working independently of Jesus unthinkable. They clearly understood their dependent roles: He was the Master and they were followers. Without Him the work of their discipleship would be impossible.

However, in a matter of hours Jesus would be physically dead. It was essential that they realize His death would not change their basic relationship with him. Though He was physically absent, He still was Master or Lord in a much higher sense, and they were still disciples, followers. His death must not lead them to the conclusion that they were capable of achieving God's will independently of Him.

The parable does not indicate that they needed to be anxious about bearing fruit. If (a) they lived in Him and (b) were pruned, the natural result would be fruitfulness. Fruitfulness was the natural result of relationship with Jesus, not the forced result of human achievement.

The view that fruitfulness is properly defined as being responsible for a sinner's baptism presents many problems.

Problem One

The first problem is found in the fact that the concept does not fit the fruit analogy of the parable. In Jesus' parables, the point Jesus made always "fit" the natural illustration used. Simply stated, fruit does not produce fruit. If the fruit of a Christian is a Christian, then every Christian is the fruit of someone. However, Jesus said the disciples were branches, not fruit.

It is the fruit which attracts a person to the seed. It is the fruit which convinces a person to plant the seed and cultivate the resulting vine/tree/shrub in order to possess and enjoy the fruit. The fruit creates the desire to plant and cultivate; seeds, unimpressive of themselves, do not motivate one to plant and cultivate.

The message of a crucified Savior in the first-century world was not an attractive message.3 How could deity be hideously executed in the most shameful manner possible?4 Why should anyone wish to commit voluntarily to a life of sacrifice or to renounce earthly pleasures in order to accept as Lord one who was rejected and disgraced by His people and shamefully executed by His enemies?

In the first-century world, the gospel "seed," of itself, apart from the fruit it bore in converts' lives, was most unattractive. However, the fruit it produced in a believer's life could create the desire in an unbeliever to plant and cultivate that seed in his own life. The liberation resulting from forgiveness of sin, the peace resulting from the destruction of guilt, the hope which sustained in the face of persecution and death, and the confidence which reached beyond the grave were powerful, beautiful, desirable attractors to an unattractive "seed."

In a materialistic world characterized by despair and hopelessness, many would find such "fruit" irresistible. These eleven, that very night, would become classic examples of lives ruled by fear, disillusionment, and self-preservation. They would not demonstrate one desirable, inspiring characteristic in the next 24 hours. Yet, 50 days forward, they would become men of courage, faith, conviction, purpose, and self-sacrifice who could not be intimidated by death itself. Their transformed lives would give evidence to Jesus' power, and demand an explanation.

When a branch, a Christian, was sustained by the vine, Jesus, he could produce the fruits of the spirit5 and the Christian graces.6 Such fruitfulness in the face of Jewish and pagan hostility and repression would motivate unbelievers to ask about the hope which sustained the Christian. Thereby it presented the Christian an opportunity to explain the reasons for that hope.7

The fruit of a Christian is not a Christian. The fruits of a Christian are those qualities of life produced through his relationship with Christ which attracts people to the hope of the gospel.

Problem Two

Other passages in the New Testament do not use "fruit" to refer to a baptized person. Jesus did not use it in that manner. He used it in reference to personal deeds which verify repentance.8 He used it in regard to one's conduct which verifies him to be a good or evil person.9 Jesus said the kingdom of God would be taken from the Jews and given to a nation who would produce fruits of the kingdom.10

Observing the villagers of Sychar coming to meet Him at Jacob's well, Jesus told the disciples that the fields were white unto harvest.11 He also clearly distinguished between the sower and the reaper. He said (a) the sower and the reaper were two different individuals, (b) the sower and reaper, though having done different tasks, rejoiced together, and (c) His disciples would be harvesting another's labor.12 Obviously, all who contributed in any manner to the receptivity of the moment were blessed, and no one individually credited.

Paul did not use the word fruit in that manner. He did not even keep a record of baptisms, clearly indicating that the significance of the baptism event itself involved only the convert.13 He wanted to visit the church in Rome to "have some fruit in them," but the fruit, in context, is associated with imparting to them a spiritual gift to establish them, and their being of mutual comfort.14 The monetary contribution of Gentile churches to aid the churches of Judea was called fruit.15 The fruits of the Spirit are Christians' characteristics (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control).16 Christians as children of light produce fruit of light expressed in goodness, righteousness, and truth.17 He wanted the Philippians to be filled with the fruits of righteousness,18 and declared that their physical assistance sent to him in prison would produce fruit to their account.19

Hebrews states praise (worship) is the fruit of the lips.20 However, no passage, in context, specifically refers to the baptism of a sinner as the fruit of another person.

Problem Three

The parable of the sower creates a particular problem for the view that the fruit of a Christian is a Christian.21 The same sower planted the same seed on all the soils. Neither the sower nor the seed was blamed for crop failure in some soils or received credit for the fruitful response of the good soil. The harvest was determined by the soil, the hearer himself. One was hardhearted, refusing to allow the seed to penetrate. One responded with joy, but lacked the depth of conviction to withstand tribulation or persecution, and stumbled. One had a fertile heart, but allowed the cares of the world and deceitfulness of riches to choke the word and make him unfruitful. The productive soil was the one producing a crop.

It was the hearers, not the sower, who were responsible for the differing results. The problem was not the quality of the seed, but the quality of the hearts. The sower had no control over the hearers' hearts. He had no liability for their rejection and no special blessing for their response.

Problem Four

Conversion is the response of an individual's will and heart to his Savior. The will and heart are controlled only by that individual, and only he can choose to respond. If a response is produced in a manner which bypasses the decisive action of the individual's will and heart, it is not a faith response and conversion has not occurred.

A Christian can teach another, but he is powerless to force or program a human heart and will to respond to the teaching. Conversion is a process wherein one becomes convicted, not a process wherein one is manipulated.  It is God and only God who gives the increase.22 The Christian can teach and encourage, but he cannot quicken the potential spiritual life within the hearer. The God who quickens life in a physical seed is the same God who quickens life in the spiritual seed.

When a Christian has communicated the love of God and the hope in Christ clearly, understandably, and effectively, and when a hearer reaches a knowledgeable, understood decision to reject Christ, the teacher still succeeded. He has done all that is within his power to do. He has with love and concern given the hearer a knowledgeable opportunity to respond to his Savior. Regardless of the decision of the hearer, the teacher has fulfilled his responsibility. The fact that one rejects Christ does not mean the teacher has failed. However, the teacher must not "close the door of the heart" by alienating the person who says no--he must leave the door open hoping another might successfully water that which he has planted.23

One must teach because of love for the lost and concern for the salvation of his fellowman. The salvation of others must matter to him; it must never be a matter of "doing his duty." When he teaches with such love and concern, and when the hearer understands from the heart, the teacher has done all he has been commanded to do and is capable of doing. A rejection of Christ will never bring the teacher joy, but never should it bring him a sense of personal failure.

Problem Five

Every Christian does not have the ability to teach. Never have all Christians of any generation possessed the ability to teach. To affirm that everyone possesses the ability to evangelize effectively stands in contradiction to other clear teachings of the Scriptures. Romans 12:4-8 states plainly that the congregation is like a body composed of different parts which have differing functions and abilities. All Christians belong to each other, and each functions within his role and ability to the mutual benefit of all. Of the seven roles/abilities listed, teaching is but one, and it is not exalted above ministering, exhorting, giving liberally, leading, or showing mercy.

First Corinthians 12 explains the role and function of spiritual gifts in a congregation by using the illustration of the body to make the same point in an expanded manner. Strong emphasis is given to the fact that not all function in the same roles, and no ability/function is to be exalted above another--there are no unimportant functions. Eight roles are listed, three being apostles, prophets, and teachers, and it is clearly stated that no one functions in all capacities.24

Ephesians 4:11-16 notes that some roles in the first-century church were divinely appointed. Of the five listed, one is evangelists. Four are teaching related, and one is principally an oversight role. Interestingly, the primary stress of the passage is not focused on the conversion of the lost, but upon the nurturing, maturing, and strengthening of the church.

Congregations composed of well-educated, upwardly mobile, middle-class members may have many members possessing teaching skills and abilities--the ability to communicate knowledge, promote insights, and generate understanding. Such congregations commonly exist in the segment of urban society which contains many unbelievers in the same social/educational strata. Such congregations easily, naturally build their outreach around these unbelievers. Their process for determining serious prospects naturally focuses their energies primarily upon these individuals. Thus, they often form evangelistic conclusions which are invalid in other strata of society.

In most congregations there are men and women who are faith-filled, devoted to Jesus, and genuine in their love and commitment to God and people. They have abilities to serve Christ in various ways, but they do not have the ability to teach. They do not possess the abilities required to communicate knowledge, to promote insights, and to generate understandings--not in a private setting, not in a small class, not in a public class. They can state their beliefs, but they are not skilled at communicating their understandings.

Effective teaching, necessary for converting people, requires specific abilities--the ability to study in depth, to communicate clearly, and to use language skills effectively. Good intentions and zeal will not compensate for the ability to develop study, communication, and language skills. If the gospel is reduced to oversimplified laws and ordinances, if conversion is defined as submission to imposed requirements and relationships, one might state that most should be able to teach. However, that person is substituting indoctrination in facts for teaching the gospel. He also (a) holds a poor, inaccurate concept of the gospel, (b) substitutes rote submission "to God's authority" for the education of the mind and heart, and (c) fails to recognize conversion as a heartrending, often time-consuming process.

The converted are liberated from guilt by reeducation; they are not controlled and manipulated through guilt.

Problem Six

Problem six is found in a missionís reality. If the fruit of a Christian is a Christian, and a Christian will be severed from Christ if he is not responsible for conversions, no Christian dare ever commit himself to a difficult mission field.

A hardworking, sacrificial, faith-filled family goes to a Moslem population to teach them Christ. They work with great effort, with a multitude of discouragements, and with powerful opposition. They learn the language, become knowledgeable of the Moslem religion, and take care to respect the culture. It takes weeks, perhaps months to find one serious student. After years of effort they succeed in establishing a small, struggling congregation with far more problems than opportunities. After working themselves into exhaustion, they have little "fruit" for their efforts.

Another family locates in a third world country which is highly receptive to the gospel. They use an interpreter rather than learn the language. They learn little of the animistic religions of the people. They learn little of the culture. Though living conditions are only tolerable, teaching opportunities defy description. They never have to seek contacts--people came to their door asking to study. They are welcome in the villages, and crowds of 300 will gather on short notice to study. Congregations spring up so quickly it is impossible to provide regular teaching to all of them. Within a couple of years young converts are establishing congregations in areas the missionary has never visited. They cannot count all their "fruit."

Are the souls of the family working with the Moslems in jeopardy because, after harder work, greater weariness, and greater personal sacrifice, their lack of "results" condemns them as unfruitful branches? Are they destined to be "cut off and burned"? Is the other family to be eternally rewarded when, with less effort and sacrifice, they have "achieved" greater "results"?

Conclusion

Trying to motivate Christians to be evangelistic on the premise that "the fruit of a Christian is a Christian" is erroneous, unbiblical, and spiritually harmful. The soil determines the fate of the sown seed. All the sower can do is plant and water. God alone can give the increase.

Not every person in the world is a candidate for conversion. The majority will always love sin more than they love God. The church could not convert every person in the world within one decade or ten decades if each Christian earnestly sought to convert a person a year because every person in the world is not open to conversion. Not even Christ and the apostles could stimulate that quality of receptivity. As good a man as the rich young ruler was, with full knowledge and understanding, he sorrowfully rejected eternal life.25

There are far, far more people open to conversion than the church is reaching. One can never know whose heart is open until he reaches out with the gospel. The church must learn to do all those things which will produce a more effective outreach!

Teach! Don't indoctrinate, manipulate, and alienate! Be as patient as God has been and is! Never close doors! Never be so naive as to believe you can teach others in five days or three months what it took you years to understand, with advantages they have never known.

Questions

1. What is the basic teaching of the "fruit of a Christian is a Christian" position?

2. After reading John 15:1-6, state the basic points Jesus made.

3. In context, what was the primary point Jesus was making to His apostles?

4. There are at least 6 problems with the position that "the
fruit of a Christian is a Christian."
a. State and discuss problem one.
b. State and discuss problem two.
c. State and discuss problem three.
d. State and discuss problem four.
e. State and discuss problem five.
f. State and discuss problem six.


Thought Question

The primary objective of the position that "the fruit of a Christian is a Christian" is to motivate Christians to evangelize. Why is that a poor means of motivation?
 

ENDNOTES

1 Matthew 26:20; Mark 14:17; Luke 22:14.

2 All promises made concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17,26; 15:26-27; 16:7-13) were explicitly made to apostles. These promises are not repeated in any other context within the New Testament.

3 1Corinthians 1:23.

4 In Acts 2:23 Peter recognized the necessity of answering this question in the first presentation of Jesus as Lord and Christ.

5 Galatians 5:22-23. F. F. Bruce in Paul: Apostle of Hearts Set Free (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, 1977), p. 120, observes that what Paul says about the ministry of the ascended Christ can be paralleled by what he says about the ministry of the Spirit.

6 2 Peter 1:5-8.

7 1 Peter 3:14-16.
 
8 Matthew 3:8.
 
9 Matthew 7:16-20; 12:33.

10 Matthew 21:43.

11 John 4:35.
 
12 John 4:36-38.

13 1 Corinthians 1:16,17.
 
14 Romans 1:11-13.

15 Romans 15:28.

16 Galatians 5:22,23.
 
17 Ephesians 5:9.
 
18 Philippians 1:11.

19 Philippians 4:17.

20 Hebrews 13:15.
 
21 Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23.
 
22 1 Corinthians 3:7.

23 1 Corinthians 3:5-9.

24 1 Corinthians 12:28-30.

25 Mark 10:17-22.

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