"But the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control." Galatians 5:22-23
Opening Prayer: Father, I know that Your Holy Spirit is willing and able to bear fruit in my life. Please help me to become more fruitful, I pray.
This lesson is not about apples and oranges. It's about you and me.
Even in this computerized world, we all understand the concept behind fruit trees. The farmer plants seeds in prepared soil, and nurtures the trees to maturity. Then, for a period of years, the farmer is able to harvest crops of fruit from these mature trees.
God uses this familiar concept to illustrate how we should live. He plants some type of seed in our hearts and obtains some type of harvest. In the rest of this lesson, we will explore both the seed and the resulting fruit crop.
Before you can bear the fruit of the Spirit, you must first have the LIFE of the Spirit. The preceding lessons in the Transformed Life series have carefully explained how the seed (the Scriptures -- the Word of God) can be planted in your heart to give you eternal life.
Jesus described this in Matthew 13:3-8:Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: "Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 "And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them.
5 "Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. 6 "But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.
7 "And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them.
8 "But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty."
Which one of these represent YOU?
- If your heart is hardened to the Gospel, then the seed of the Scripture never has a chance to take root in your heart. Barring a radical change, you will die a bitter, hardened person and spend eternity in hell.
- The second part of the parable is easy to understand, but very sad. At one point in your life, perhaps in your school years, you recognized the truth of the Gospel and had a temporary, superficial response to it. But as the years went by, you found other treasures to occupy your heart and mind. Now there's no trace of your initial enthusiasm, and the Gospel is a distant childhood memory. You are not necessarily a "bad" person, but you are essentially a dead person. If you return to Jesus with all your heart, you can recapture the joy and live with Him eternally. Otherwise, you might spend eternity in hell.
- The third part of the parable is familiar to us, and is also sad. Perhaps you came to the Lord at a Harvest Crusade or a Billy Graham meeting, and have been attending church more-or-less regularly since then. But your heart and mind are very full of other stuff. You admire the people who intimately know the Scriptures, and perhaps have read parts of the Bible. But the Lord Jesus Christ is not the ruling passion in your life. "Maybe someday" you'll take a class or something. You are saved (I hope), but your life is not bearing any fruit helpful to others.
- The fourth part is my favorite. Regardless of when you received and responded to the seed of the Word, you have made a conscious decision to make Jesus the Lord of your life. You have given the Holy Spirit permission to rule your heart and change it from the inside out. The Holy Spirit, in turn, has made your life fruitful. Maybe you wasted 5 or 10 or 20 years of your life following other priorities. But NOW you are living a mature commitment to Jesus, and your life is a fruitful blessing to those around you.
Which of these apply to you? Are you a fruitful blessing to your Christian brothers and sisters?
Leave me alone, teacher! It's too late for me. I'm too old and hardened to change now.
That simply isn't true. You might have wasted more years than most. But the God that raised Jesus' body from the grave can change your heart -- IF YOU SUBMIT TO HIM. On the other hand, if the ruling passion in your life is to remain a stubborn fool, God will respect your decision.
Oh. I see. Well, where do I start? Will I ever be able to catch up to everybody else?
My friend, the minute you submit to the Lordship of Jesus, you are already halfway there. Now let's look at some practical steps to help you become fruitful.
First of all, recognize that your life is already bearing some type of fruit all the time. You have no choice in the matter. It's how God designed you. The key issue is to ensure that you're bearing the right type of fruit.
God introduces the concept of bearing fruit in the very first chapter of the Bible, in Genesis 1, verses 11-12:Then God said, "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth;" and it was so.
12 And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
There are several important points in these two simple verses:
- Some plants are like grains and grasses. If cultivated, a portion of the crop must be held back as seed for the next year's harvest. The plants themselves die out after the growing season. These crops must be planted, cultivated, harvested, and replanted in an annual cycle.
- The planting, cultivating and harvesting of grains and grasses are a picture of Christian service. We must continually do certain types of work: evangelizing, helping the needy, participating in missions activities, serving in child care, teaching Bible classes, etc. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to us to enable us to do these works. The gifts of the Holy Spirit empower us for service.
- Fruit trees are a picture of the hearts of believers. It takes some amount of time (weeks, months or years) for a Christian to reach maturity and bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
- The fruit of the Holy Spirit is a changed heart. A heart changed by the Holy Spirit has the attributes mentioned above in Galatians 5:22-23: Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control.
- Note what God teaches us about seeds: every herb "yields seed according to its kind." Likewise every fruit tree "yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself." Every plant yields seeds according to its kind. Jesus said a tree is known by its fruit, whether good or bad. You can't harvest figs from thorn bushes.
- If your heart is a thorn bush, it is yielding a continual harvest of thorns and seeds without your conscious knowledge or control. You are continually reproducing what is in your heart, whether good or bad.
The good news is that you are not a helpless spectator in this process. Your conscious decision to receive the free gift of salvation by faith enabled you to receive an implant of eternal life in your heart. Your ongoing submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ enables the Holy Spirit to nourish this new nature and bring it to fruit-bearing maturity.
Psalm 1 clearly describes the importance of making good choices:Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
3 He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.
The first good choice is to reject the bad counsel, the bad habits and the scornful attitude of people who don't know God. This isn't rocket science: you already know the individuals in your life who continually sow the the weed seeds of bitterness. Don't be a weed eater.
The second good choice is to get good input. Delight yourself in the Scriptures. When I first started out, reading the Bible was like taking medicine. I had to proceed in faith, trusting God to keep the promise that in His presence is fulness of joy. Within a few weeks, reading the Bible at lunch was more fun than joining the guys playing cards. God GAVE me delight in studying Scriptures. That was a miracle. God can do the same for you.
The third good choice is to be consistent. "And in His law he meditates day and night." The word "meditate" in the Hebrew means to walk around muttering things under your breath continually. Memorize certain key verses. Repeat them to yourself. Spend time morning and night feeding your heart with Scripture.
The fourth good choice -- implied but not specifically mentioned in Psalm 1 -- is to obey the leading of the Holy Spirit. As you make daily choices to avoid the bad and to feed on Scripture, the Holy Spirit will give you "nudges" every now and then. He will call you to acts of obedience, to be undertaken in faith. He might call you to give up a favorite bad habit or to start attending a mid-week Bible study or an early-morning prayer meeting. Every time you obey His leading, He will bless you and give you even greater delight in your walk.
If you concentrate on these four things, your heart will automatically begin bearing fruit. You don't have to grimace into the mirror and tell yourself to be fruitful. The Holy Spirit is already at work, digging out weeds and cultivating the seed of the Word that you've been planting in your heart.
Wait a minute, teacher! This sounds like pretty heavy stuff. Isn't this mostly for pastors and others in ministry?
Not at all. This is basic stuff. Jesus, Himself, makes it clear that bearing fruit is the distinctive characteristic of being a Christian.
Let's read John 15, verses 1-3:"I am the true vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser.
2 "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
3 "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you."
These are familiar verses, surely. But you must not miss the profound truth within them:
- Jesus takes the concept of fruit-bearing very personally. He considers himself to be the vine or tree, and He considers us (you and me) to be His branches. That is an intimate connection.
- Jesus expects all of us to bear fruit, so it must be very do-able.
- It is normal for a branch to bear fruit if it is receiving nourishment from the vine. If you and I are not bearing fruit, then our connection to the Vine is suspect.
- If you and I are not bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we run the risk of being taken away and burned...somewhere. Take a hint.
- You must expect some pruning to take place in your life. Anybody who has raised fruit trees knows that limbs would break under the weight if every single fruit bud was allowed to grow to maturity.
- Although the disciples had not consciously been aware of it, Jesus had already been cleaning (pruning) the disciples through His teachings. He had already taken away some of their foolish notions of grandeur and self-importance. Before long, the disciples would experience further purging and cleansing.
- Much of the Lord's early pruning will be transparent to us. Yet our family and friends will notice the difference in our lives. More on this subject later.
Take a deep breath and read verses 4 through 6, three of the most important verses in the Bible:"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
5 "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
6 "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned."
Jesus has just told you the meaning of life.
Abiding in Jesus must be the central fact of your life.
This is not a mystical, mysterious concept. It's very simple. Abiding (the Greek word meno) is the common word for staying somewhere. You might VISIT the grocery store, but you ABIDE in your home. You spend quality time there. It is important to you.
Abiding in Jesus is the key to bearing fruit. You must be connected to Him, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, like a branch to its vine.
Abiding in Jesus means spending quality time with Him. The Gospel of John, chapter 1, verse 14 says, "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." We can no longer see His fleshly body, but we can spend quality time in the Scriptures, the written Word. And we can have quality fellowship with Jesus through prayer, praise, and worship (singing).
Abiding in Jesus means having fellowship with other believers. Since Pentecost, the church has been the body of Christ. He is our head. We are members of His body through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. If you are not regularly attending a Bible-believing fellowship, you are not receiving proper nourishment. If you are not in accountable relationship to other believers, you are not properly connected to the Vine. "He who has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches."
Jesus wants to have daily fellowship with you. He wants to bear much fruit in your heart and life. He wants to give you the joy that comes from being in His presence. He wants you to walk in power and love and joy, making His love real for people around you -- people who might go to hell unless somebody shares Jesus with them.
You can't do this in your own strength. Your heart is too corrupt and deceitful without the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit.
The alternative to abiding in Jesus is abiding in hell. Don't let the warm-fuzzy-minded people confuse you. Either Jesus was a liar, or He was God in the flesh. If Jesus is God, and if verse 6 is true, then we must organize our life's priorities around abiding in Him.
Are you ready for another shock? Let's read verse 7:"If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you."
This is simply astonishing. Can it possibly be true? Up to this point, I was already prepared to abide in Jesus -- just because it's the RIGHT thing to do. Now Jesus makes THIS extravagant promise.
What is the limit of this promise?
None. The scope of the promise is unlimited.
What is the key to this promise?
The key is the quality of the abiding. If we are daily engaged in filling our hearts and minds with Scripture, and if we are daily seeking the Lord and His face, the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts. Over time, the Holy Spirit changes our hearts. As we die to our own selfish agendas, we begin to feel the Lord's heart. As we learn to move in response to the Holy Spirit's tender leadings, we become better connected to Jesus, our Head. As we become better connected to our Head, we begin wanting what He wants.
When we reach the point in our lives where we can truly say, "Thy will be done," then we will experience the truth of verse 7. When we know the heart of God, we can pray confidently for His will to be done. When we pray for His will, His own power energizes our lives and our prayers. His will SHALL be done, when you abide in Him and delight to do His will.
Will YOU believe this promise from the Lord? Are YOU willing to yield your will and your plans to God and seek His will and His plans? If so, then "miracles" will become a normal part of your walk with Him.
But why do you think God wants to do miracles through me?
Very simple. God's nature and His will haven't changed since Jesus' day. Likewise, human nature and needs haven't changed since Jesus' day. Yielded vessels, faithful in their abiding, will constantly be directed by God to touch human needs in Jesus' name. The only limitation is in your willingness and faithfulness in the abiding.
Let's continue with verse 8:"By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples."
Don't let the glittering promise of miracles distract you from God's central purpose. He wants you to abide in Jesus and bear the fruit of a changed life.
Sometimes we pray for a miracle of healing, to help unbelievers turn to the Lord. This is an unrealistic prayer. Jesus performed astonishing miracles daily, but the hard-hearted people weren't moved by it. Most of the crowd was just there to be entertained and maybe fed with free loaves and fishes. Miracles don't touch hard hearts.
Likewise Christian sometimes pray for gifts of the Spirit so they can be impressive evangelists or preachers or teachers. "Maybe," they reason, "I can reach more people if I can become an eloquent preacher/teacher!" The apostles were eloquent preachers (and miracle workers), but they were whipped, beaten and stoned by the very people they were trying to help. Eloquent preaching doesn't touch hard hearts.
This verse says that the best way to touch hard hearts is to demonstrate the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life. Your family noticed the difference in your character after you began spending quality time in Scripture and prayer. They might not LIKE the difference, but they must give God the glory for His life-changing power.
- When a hard heart becomes tender by the power of the Spirit, God is glorified.
- When a workaholic husband becomes a loving, attentive spouse, God is glorified.
- When a frenzied career woman becomes a calm, loving wife and mom again, God is glorified.
- When a rebellious, angry young man turns from drugs and becomes a loving son, God is glorified.
- When a hardened prison inmate becomes a real, caring person through the working of the Holy Spirit, God is glorified.
Are there other Scriptures that speak of this concept?
Yes. Jesus began His ministry by reading from the prophet Isaiah. Let's read chapter 61, verses 1-3:“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn,
3 To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” (emphasis added)
Jesus stopped reading in the middle of verse 2 because the remainder of the passage was still future on THAT day. The "day of vengeance" is still future, as is the consolation of Zion in verse 3. However, since Pentecost believers in Jesus have been able to experience "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me." Since Pentecost, believers have experienced the blessings of verse 3:
- Consolation of those who mourn,
- Beauty for ashes,
- The oil of joy for mourning,
- The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness,
- Being fruitful trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, and
- God has been glorified because of the fruitfulness of believers.
When we bear much fruit, through the work of the abiding Holy Spirit, God is glorified.
Let's finish with verses 9 through 14:"As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.
10 "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.
11 "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.
12 "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
13 "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.
14 "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.
Do you REALLY love Jesus? Does it show in your love for your brothers and sisters in Christ? Does it show in your love for unlovely and unloveable people?
Remember the context of this passage. Jesus had just washed 12 pairs of feet. He was careful to include Judas, despite knowing that Judas would soon leave to betray Him. Then He said that we must follow His example in ministry.
Admit it: this is really difficult. Your God-given gift of discernment tells you that the person in front of you is a weasel or maybe just a plain waste of time. But the Holy Spirit tells you to minister to that person anyway. Because if we don't minister to a Judas every once in awhile, then maybe we're not really ministering much at all.
This is too difficult to do in your own strength. The Holy Spirit must first change your heart, and bring forth fruit in response to your faithful abiding in Jesus.
If you truly love Jesus, you will keep His commandment and will abide in His love. Then you will bear much fruit of the Spirit in your heart. And your joy will be full.
Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, I come very short of the example You set for us to follow. I can't imagine that type of love. But I pray that You will change my heart, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, as I abide in You in faith. Amen.