John 15:1-2 – 1 “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 it so that it may bear more fruit.”
Very simply, it is essential that I bear fruit. If I do not bear fruit, I am taken away. And the next few verses tell me that if I don’t bear fruit by abiding in Him, I will be thrown away.
So I really have only two options: (1) Bear fruit by abiding in Jesus and be pruned, or (2) Don’t bear fruit (because I do not abide in Jesus), and be thrown away. There is no third middle option of abiding and not bearing fruit.
But how do I know if I am bearing fruit? I can fool myself into thinking that I am abiding in Christ, when I’m not. I can think that I am bearing fruit because I have had a few calm days, or because my earthly life is going well.
I find an answer to bearing fruit in the parable of the Sower: Mark 4:15-19 - 15 These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. 16 In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; 17 and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, 19 but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
I see that there are three kinds of soil that do not bear fruit. This is even when Jesus, the Great Sower sows the seed, and even when the pure seed of God’s Word is sown. So even if I have the perfect seed sown by the perfect Sower, I can still be unfruitful.
First of all, I noticed that Satan is involved in only 1 of the 3 bad soils. Satan picks off the seed sown when my soil is hard like a road. I don’t think any of us would sow a seed in a road and expect it to bear fruit. So it’s easy to see that God’s Word won’t have any impact if I have an altogether hardened heart. For such people, Satan wins easily.
But for the rocky soil and the soils with thorns in it, the devil and his evil forces are not the ones causing havoc. So I cannot blame Satan or demonic oppression in most cases of not bearing fruit. Rather, I must look at the state of my soil. This is very important for the vast majority of Christians to understand. NO TRUE CHRISTIAN SHOULD BE AFRAID OF SATAN! He and his host of demons were defeated on the cross. He cannot stop me from being fruitful – unless I am totally hardened (like a road) against God.
So in most cases, I must look at my soil.
I will know whether I have rocks in my soil during times of affliction and persecution. So while my heart is soft towards the gospel, it can harden and become like a rock at times of affliction. And why does my soil harden at a time of affliction? I think it’s because I do not like what the seed of God’s Word is telling me to do in a time of affliction.
When I work with a difficult boss or co-worker, it’s easy to receive Isaiah 54:17 (no weapon caused against you will prosper) as God’s Word. But it’s not as easy to receive Matthew 5:44 (Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you) and Do all things without murmuring and complaining (Philippians 2:14) as God’s Words to us. And so, we can harden our soil towards Matthew 5:44 and Philippians 2:14.
Or when I or my family is sick, it’s easy to receive Psalm 91:7 (A thousand may fall.. but it shall not approach you) and John 11:4 (This sickness is not to end in death) as God’s Word. But it’s not as easy to accept and embrace Mark 14:36 (Remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will). And so, I can harden my heart towards God’s will being done, even if it means the sickness leads to death.
I must learn to be very attentive to hear God’s voice, and distinguish between God’s Word and my soulish feelings and intellect (Hebrews 4:12). We can only grow in faith (Romans 10:17) and live spiritually (Matthew 4:4) by hearing God’s Word. Jesus lived by God’s voice all the time (John 5:19) and living every day that way (Isaiah 50:4). So we who follow in His footsteps must learn to grow to be more like Jesus in this.
Soil with thorns:
When we think of thorns, we imagine hardships and afflictions. But this is not what Jesus had in mind. He described the thorns as the worries of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things. Riches and the desire for other things clearly don’t feel like thorns. And we are only worried about losing what we currently have. For example, I am not at all worried about losing a million dollars from my bank account because I do not have a million dollars in my account to begin with! But I can be worried about losing my health, because my health is fine right now.
It’s important to recognize that the soil that allows thorns is altogether soft. It does not have the hardness of rocks in it. So these are Christians who know how to deal with affliction and persecution, and who even trust God through afflictions. But cannot deal with the thorns of prosperity, the thorns of their desires for other things, and the thorns of worrying of losing some of the plentiful things that they have received from God.
For example, we know that the New Covenant is opposed to the prosperity gospel. God is not against health and wealth, but this is not a guaranteed promise of the New Covenant (all of God’s promises are 100% guaranteed). God sent His Son Jesus not to guarantee our health and wealth, but to guarantee a life for us that is increasingly free (saved) from all sin. This is the eternal life that comes from knowing God.
And while many Christians will agree that God doesn’t guarantee us to be wealthy, we may not equally embrace God’s Word that God does not guarantee our health. So when our health or our children’s health suffers, we can start to give in to worry.
We can also look at promotions or career growth as signs of God’s approval over our lives. It is definitely a sign of God’s blessing but not at all a sign of God’s approval. The Father approved of Jesus, and only approves of those people who are seeking to be just like His first-born Son (Romans 8:29). So we must be wise to recognize the thorns that come through the deceitfulness of promotions and bonuses.
Back to what I started with in John 15, it is essential that I bear fruit. The fruit we are to bear is the fruit of the Spirit - of love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control. The dying world is in increasing need of these fruit.
And the trials of affliction and affluence (plenty) are dangerous threats to bearing fruit. So may we be found in Christ, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-12).