Jesus' Two Great Commissions
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 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.
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 TwoOther 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
Problem ThreeThe 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.
Problem FourConversion 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.
Problem FiveEvery 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.
Problem SixProblem 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.
ConclusionTrying 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.
Questions1. What is the basic teaching of the "fruit of a Christian is a Christian" position?
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.
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
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
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.
Chapter 4 Chapter 6
Link to a summary of other books by David Chadwell
Link to David Chadwell Home Page