A follower of Christ must bear fruit.
"By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples" (John 15:8).
John the Baptist also emphasized the necessity of fruitfulness: "Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance" (Luke 3:8). He warned unrighteous Jews who trusted in their linage for salvation: "And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Luke 3:9). When the people asked: "What shall we do then?" he told them to share their abundance with the needy: "He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise" (Luke 3:10,11).
Jesus gave a similar warning: "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away" (John 15:2). He also taught the importance of bearing fruit in the parables of the unfruitful fig tree and of the sower.
"A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, 'Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?' But he answered and said to him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down'" (Luke 13:6-9).
When explaining the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:18-23), Jesus said: "Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful" (Matthew 13:22).
Bearing fruit includes all a Christian does to the glory of God.
He who has the wisdom of God is full of good fruits: "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:17,18).
Paul prayed that the Philippians might be "filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God" (Philippians 1:11). Notice that these fruits are by Christ and to the glory of God. The branches can only bear fruit when they remain in the Vine. As Jesus tells His followers: "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. 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" (John 15:4,5).
Paul prayed that the Colossians might "have a walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:10). Through every good work a disciple bears fruit to the glory of God.
Paul told Titus: "And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful" (Titus 3:14). A disciple bears fruit by doing good deeds and helping those in need.
In Romans 15:26-28 Paul refers to the gifts he is taking to the poor saints in Jerusalem as fruit from the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.
Disciples also bear fruit when they support an evangelist. Paul says of the help he received from Philippi: "For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account" (Philippians 4:16,17).
We bear fruit by giving thanks to God: "Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name" (Hebrews 13:15).
When we walk by the Spirit the fruit of the Spirit will be evident in our lives: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:16,22,23).
All must bear fruit, but not all gather fruit.
An incorrect definition of bearing fruit is given in connection with certain coercive and hierarchical forms of evangelism.
One writer states that disciples bear fruit by reproducing after their own kind (making more disciples). This definition for bearing fruit is not found in the New Testament.
In John 15:5,8,16 Jesus says that a disciple must bear fruit, but He does not say what this means. From other passages we learn that bearing fruit includes all a Christian does to the glory of God.
In John 4:36 we read: "And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together." Gathering fruit refers to bringing people to Christ.
Notice the difference between bearing fruit and gathering fruit. All disciples are to bear fruit (do good works to the glory of God) but not all disciples gather fruit because "One sows and another reaps" (John 4:37) but all rejoice together.
As a group we are to preach the gospel to every person in the world (Matthew 28:19,20; Mark 16:15,16). The church, however, is a body with many members. Not every member has the same function (Romans 12:3-8). One brother may teach (verse 7), whereas another gives aid or does acts of mercy (verse 8). One member of the body is not to despise another because his function is different (1 Corinthians 12:12-26).
In certain coercive forms of evangelism it is taught that every single Christian must personally convert someone else. This is contrary to the Word of God. Each one must bear fruit by exercising his own function in the body of Christ. In so doing he contributes to the preaching of the gospel in the whole world. But not every Christian must personally teach and convert others.
Sometimes coercive evangelism is part of a hierarchical system in which each new 'disciple' becomes a disciple of the one who converted him. But Jesus said, "I am the vine, you are the branches" (John 15:5). Each new branch (disciple) is joined directly to the Vine (Christ), not to some other branch (disciple). We sow the seed of the gospel and it produces disciples of Christ, not disciples of our own. Jesus forbade teacher/disciple relationships among His followers: "But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ" (Matthew 23:8-10). Jesus is not referring to teachers in general. The church has been given teachers for edification (Ephesians 4:11). He is forbidding individual rabbi/disciple relationships. A rabbi is a teacher who has disciples. In an attempt to dodge the obvious conflict between their actions and this command, some use the word 'discipler' or 'mentor' to describe their 'rabbis'. We must all be disciples of Christ. We may not have disciples ourselves or become disciples of others.
Certainly we need reapers in the kingdom of God. But the reapers may not despise the sowers since they are building on the work of others: "And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this the saying is true; 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors" (John 4:36-38).
In the most extreme forms of coercive evangelism, someone who does not personally convert others is not even considered to be a Christian. This involves two errors.
The first error is the claim that one must formally teach others to be a true disciple. Not all Christians are teachers, however (Romans 12:6-8). Paul asks "Are all teachers?" (1 Corinthians 12:29) and James even warns: "My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment" (James 3:1).
The second error is to equate evangelism with conversion. It is implied that evangelism is only achieved when someone obeys the gospel, whereas an evangelist fulfills his responsibility when the message is proclaimed, whether it is accepted or not. God gives the increase; we only plant and water. Paul explained to the Corinthians: "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor" (1 Corinthians 3:6-8). Our reward is based on our own service, not on the response of others. There is joy in reaping, but no virtue. The fruits of evangelism are borne by God, not by man. We only sow, water and "gather fruit for eternal life" (John 4:36).
All we do to the glory of God helps to spread the gospel.
Each disciple should certainly do what he can (according to the abilities and opportunities God gives him) to spread the gospel of Christ. We need disciples who sow, water and gather fruit for eternal life. We need disciples who give financially so others can go into all the world (Romans 10:14,15). We need disciples who visit the sick and serve in many other ways that bring glory to God and make the light of the gospel shine brightly as a city on a hill and a lamp on a stand (Matthew 5:14-16).
The gospel must be preached in the whole world (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15,16). This includes countries where people are responsive and countries where people are indifferent, or even hostile to the gospel. In most cases our hearers (who in great numbers are willing to embrace error) reject the truth. This does not indicate that we are unfruitful. Our fruitfulness, as individuals and as congregations, is not measured by the number of people who respond. We are fruitful if we do good deeds to the glory of God according to our own ability and our own function in the body of Christ.
A follower of Christ must bear fruit. This includes all he does to the glory of God. All must bear fruit, but not all gather fruit. When we do good deeds we bear fruit to the glory of God and help to spread the gospel.
The Scripture quotations in this article are from The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers.
Permission for reference use has been granted.