Exploring Spiritual Formation: Fruit – Part 2
This is the second of two posts that explore the growth of fruit in the life of a believer. Part 1 presented biblical fruit and focused on the fruit of the Spirit. In Part 2, the post will present three necessary components for bearing the fruit of the Spirit. It will also touch on fruit and disciple making, and fruit and cross-cultural considerations.
Somewhere in the second month after the onset of the Coronavirus Pandemic, I began to notice a slow eroding of my peace of mind. By the end of the third month, I discovered my quotient of joy was diminishing as well. Then, during the fourth month, several incidents severely tested my patience. While any of us may find ourselves with varying quantities of the fruit of the Spirit in a particular month, the decrease of so many in a relatively short time concerned me and prompted me to explore the subject.
Where does love, joy, peace, patience (long-suffering), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness (meekness), and self-control, come from? And how can we bear such fruit, regardless of our circumstances? As I studied God’s Word, I learned that the production of good fruit is dependent on three components: abiding in Jesus, acting in concert with the Holy Spirit, and pruning.
Abiding in Jesus
First, Jesus clearly states that the only way to bear fruit is to abide in him.1See: John 15:4-5. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit when separated from the vine, so are we dependent on remaining in Jesus for both “life and fruitfulness.”2Carson, D. A., The Gospel According to John, in The Pillar New Testament Commentary Series (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 516. John 15:4-5 isn’t speaking of salvation, but presumes the potential fruit bearer is already a believer. And, though the passage nowhere commands us to bear fruit, it states that those who abide in Jesus will bear fruit.3Swindoll, Charles, Insights on John, Series: Swindoll’s New Testament Insights (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 255. See also, Calvin, John, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, Vol.2, in Calvin’s Commentaries, Volume XVIII (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, Reprinted 2003) 109.
The Nature of Abiding
How can we abide? The Greek word meno, translated into the English word “abide,” when used by John in the figurative sense in this passage, refers to “someone who does not leave the realm or sphere in which he finds himself.”4See: “meno” in Bauer, Walter, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Second Edition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979) 504a. Note, The NIV uses the English word “remain.” John uses it often to “denote an inward, enduring personal communion” and here describes the reciprocal, enduring, personal, relationship between Christ and the Christian, as they abide, or remain, in one another.5See: “meno” in Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Second Edition, 504a.
William Barclay points to the relationship Jesus had with his Father to help us understand the nature of abiding. He says, “The secret of the life of Jesus was his contact with God; again and again he withdrew into a solitary place to meet him. We must keep contact with Jesus. We cannot do that unless we deliberately take steps to do it.”6Barclay, William, The Gospel of John, in The Daily Bible Study Series, Volume 2, Revised Edition (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), 176. And the relationship fostered in these solitary times can be nurtured as we commune with Jesus all day long.7Since Jesus never leaves or forsakes us (Heb. 13:5, Matt. 28:20), the point here is for us to consistently, consciously acknowledge his presence and commune with him. This moment-by-moment abiding is equally as important as making time to get away with God for longer periods of time.
The Choice to Abide
While it is God who grafts us into the vine at the moment of our salvation, abiding in Jesus is a choice of the will for believers.8This idea is implicit in the grammar of the text. For a more detailed explanation of the Greek word meinate (from meno), translated as “abide” or “remain,” and the grammar used in this verse, see Michaels, J. Ramsey, The Gospel of John, in The New International Commentary of the New Testament series, General Editor: Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 803. This requires deliberate and active immersion in the Word and in prayer.9Boice, James Montgomery, The Gospel of John, Volume 4 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 1166-1167. See also: Willard, Dallas, The Great Omission (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), 75. The goal is to obtain what we need for life and godliness from Jesus, instead of relying on our own resources or the seeming wisdom of humankind.10See: 2 Peter 1:3-4. See also: Bridges, Jerry, The Fruitful Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006), 6-7. See an expanded discussion of these items in: Koessler, John, True Discipleship (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2003), 19-20.
Abiding in Jesus also involves obedience to his commands, and he is our example in this behavior. As Jesus “obeys and loves the Father; we obey and love Christ.”11Swindoll, Insights on John, 260. In John 15:10, Jesus says that if we keep his commandments, we will abide in his love, just as he kept his Father’s commandments and remained in the Father’s love. The result of this will be “fruit that will last.”12See: John 15:16. See also: Willard, The Great Omission, 75.
Acting in Concert with the Holy Spirit
The second component of fruit production is the Holy Spirit. Scripture tells us we will bear good fruit to the extent that we act in concert with the Holy Spirit, who points us to Jesus. According to Paul, if we are “led by the Spirit,” “live by the Spirit” and “keep in step with the Spirit,” we will exhibit the “fruit of the Spirit.”13See: Galatians 5:16-26. How can we do this?
Dallas Willard says of the Holy Spirit, “This all-powerful, creative personality, the promised ‘strengthener,’ the Paraclete of John 14, gently awaits our invitation to him to act upon us, with us, and for us.”14Willard, The Great Omission, 27. What he does, if we will allow him room to work in us, is help us see, hear, know, connect with, and obey Jesus.15Packer, J. I., Keep in Step with the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 57.
And when the Spirit acts within us, it is our responsibility to actively yield to him, per his direction.16Gerig, Wesley L., “Fruit of the Spirit,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Editor: Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 275. Practically, this involves calling out to God when tempted to sin, actively resisting evil, and, instead, seeking to do good. We make a choice to walk in sync with the Spirit, being led by him away from sin and toward Christlikeness.17MacArthur, John, Galatians, in The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Series (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987), 151-158.
Also, as we partake of the means of grace, the Spirit transforms us from the inside out.18The classical means of grace are found in Acts 2:42, which says of the early church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” These are tried and true ways of abiding in Christ. If there is a “secret” to holiness and the Christian life for the believer, it is in the steadfast practicing of these disciplines. These disciplines, though the power of the Holy Spirit, connect one to Jesus, and enable one to live a life of obedience and fruit bearing. He forms “habitual dispositions” that display themselves in godly ways of “thinking, feeling, and behaving.”19Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, 91. The Spirit’s goal in all this is to make “our Lord Jesus Christ present to us and in us and to others through him.”20Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, 192. This is a key component in disciple-making, as it is Christ in us that draws others to Christ. In the language of horticulture, only an apple tree can produce seeds useful for growing another apple tree.21Boice, The Gospel of John, Volume 4, 1172.
The third component of fruit production is pruning. In John 15:2, Jesus clearly states that the Father prunes every fruitful branch “so that it will be even more fruitful.” The Greek word “kathairei,” translated into the English word “prunes,” in this context, means to “make clean,” and, regarding a vine, to also “clear, prune by removing the superfluous wood.”22See: “kathairo” in Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Second Edition, 386d. See also: Louw, Johannes P. and Eugene A. Nida, et. al., Editors, “kathairo” in Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, Volume 1, Second Edition (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989), 517, 43:12, where Louw and Nida say, “In Jn 15:2 the verb kathairo involves a play on two different meanings. The one meaning involves pruning of a plant, while the other meaning involves a cleansing process (79.49).”
For a vine, this might call for the removal of something as simple as bugs or moss. Or, it could be as serious as trimming part of a branch. In the life of a believer, this might mean a cleansing of thoughts, attitudes, or habits—or a removal of persons, activities, or possessions—basically anything that prevents the growth of fruit in our lives.23Boice, The Gospel of John, Volume 4, 1162.
The picture given is not of a Father carelessly or angrily ripping things away from a child. Instead, we see a loving Father examining the believer, as a gardener examines a vine, then wisely and meticulously removing those things that hinder the growth of fruit.24Bruce, F. F., The Gospel & Epistles of John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 308. This is not to say that the removal is painless, especially when God uses the tool of discipline to remove the things we have grown to love that hamper our holiness.25Carson, The Gospel According to John, 514.
Another tool God uses to cleanse/prune us is the Word of God,26See: John 15:3, 7. Boice, The Gospel of John, Volume 4, 1163. See also: Bruce, The Gospel & Epistles of John, 309. See also: Tenney, Merrill C., “The Gospel of John,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 9, General Editor: Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 151. Of the Word, Tenney says, “It condemns sin; it inspires holiness; it promotes growth.” which Hebrews 4:12 says, is “living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” It is by God’s Word that we discover who God is, who we are in relation to God, and what God expects of us. And, according to Psalm 119:9-11,27See also, Psalm 119:97-104. it is by living according to God’s word that we can live holy lives.
Fruit and Disciple-Making
Since believers are called to make other disciples of Jesus, and since one can only effectively teach what one knows or has experienced, it behooves the discipler to abide wholly in Jesus in order to demonstrate what a disciple of Jesus looks like.28Ogden, Greg, Discipleship Essentials, Expanded Edition (Downers Grove: InterVarsityPress, 2007), 132. Hull, Bill, The Complete Book of Discipleship (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006), 28. It should be noted that, since disciples are also a form of “fruit,” we will be able to make disciples only to the extent that we are abiding in Christ. As we abide and are transformed into the likeness of Christ, we can say to those we are discipling what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”29Hull, The Complete Book of Discipleship, 114-116. See also: Cosgrove Jr., Francis M., Essentials of Discipleship (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1980), 182-184. See also, 1 Corinthians 4:9-16; Philippians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-7.
How can we tell if we, or those we disciple, are growing in Christ? Look for the fruit listed in Galatians 5:22-23.30J. Oswald Sanders says, “A fruitless disciple of Christ is a contradiction in terms.” Sanders, J. Oswald, Spiritual Discipleship (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1994), 33. This is not a list of virtues we are supposed to “do” in our own power. Instead, the fruit is an outgrowth of the believer’s character, which has been transformed by the Holy Spirit into Christlikeness, as the believer has dwelled in Christ.31Wright, Christopher J. H., Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit (Downers Grove: InterVarsityPress, 2017), 21-22.
This fruit should be visible to others. If the fruit is lacking, it’s not because we’re not working hard enough. It’s because we’re not sufficiently abiding in Jesus and/or allowing the Spirit to do his work in us.32Willard, The Great Omission, 28. The choice to not abide has far reaching ramifications since, besides being essential for fruit bearing,33Boice, The Gospel of John, Volume 4, 1163. abiding in Jesus is “the key to the believer’s whole Christian life.”34Erickson, Millard J., Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), 974-975. For this to happen, the believer must cooperate willfully with the movement of the Spirit, which does take effort on our part.35Ogden, Discipleship Essentials, Expanded Edition, 135. See also: Gerig, Wesley L., “Fruit of the Spirit,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Editor: Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 276.
Fruit and Cross-cultural Considerations
It’s tempting to extrapolate from the descriptions of the fruit and create a list of what the fruit of the Spirit “should” look like. However behavior is often learned from one’s culture of origin. So disciples from another culture may experience and display the fruit of the Spirit in ways that are not obvious to us, because of our own cultural conditioning.
Behavioral areas affected by culture include: ethics (right vs. wrong), decisions (the locus of decision making), mores (acceptable and unacceptable), love (acceptable and unacceptable expressions), fairness (justice), and actions.36Kim, Matthew D., Preaching with Cultural Intelligence (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 11-12. And while Scripture does identify behaviors that are considered sinful, there are many that do not fall into the category of sin, but which may or may not be considered acceptable, depending on the culture.37Kim, Preaching with Cultural Intelligence, 11. See also: Elmer, Duane, Cross-Cultural Connections (Downers Grove: InterVarsityPress, 2002), 22-32.
Another area of consideration is the cultural heritage of one’s spirituality. As we read Scripture, it’s necessary to consider the Middle Eastern and Greco-Roman cultures that affected the word usage, style of communication, and practices found within it. We take these things into consideration as we apply the truths of Scripture to our lives. In the same way, as global workers disciple individuals from cultures different from their own, it becomes necessary for each worker to study and understand the “relationship between culture and spirituality” in their culture of ministry, in order to effectively communicate the biblical principles for spiritual growth and fruit production.38Amalraj, K. John, “What Shapes Our Spirituality in Missions?” in Spirituality in Mission, Editors: John Amalraj, Geoffrey W. Hahn, William D. Taylor (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2018), 11-20.
There is no shortcut to this type of learning. Immersion in a new culture certainly can help. But observation, conversations with believers in the culture of interest, and reading books on crossing cultures can also aid the process. A good primer on some of the basic cultural differences found across the world (e.g., relationship versus task orientation, direct versus indirect communication, individualism versus group identity, inclusion versus privacy) can be found in Sarah Lanier’s book, Foreign to Familiar.39Lanier, Sarah A., Foreign to Familiar (Hagerstown: McDougal Publishing, 2000), 5. See also The Culture Map by Erin Meyer. Meyer points out that besides knowing the basic areas of a culture that differ from your own, it is important to understand where both cultures land on the scale of acceptable behavior relative to each other. It is also important to understand the gap between the two positions. Meyer, The Culture Map, (New York: Public Affairs, 2014), 12, 18, 22. Each of these cultural practices can affect how one experiences and displays the fruit of the Spirit.
Four years ago, my husband planted a peach tree in our yard. The first year, it grew only leaves. The second year, the tree produced one, tiny, inedible peach. George continued to care for the tree (doing a little pruning and fertilizing). In year three, it produced three, little, barely edible peaches. Last year, George pruned what, at the time, I thought was too much of the tree. But this year, there are over 100 peaches growing on its branches. By yielding to the hands of its earthy and heavenly gardeners, the tree has gone from bearing little to bearing much fruit.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be like the peach tree? The only way for that to occur is to consistently abide in Jesus, to work in concert with the Holy Spirit as he works in our lives, and to allow the Father to prune us as he sees fit. If we do so, instead of watching our fruit dwindle, we will bear “much fruit.” Fruit that will identify us as disciples of Jesus and that will glorify the Father.
May God give us the wisdom and courage to keep in step with the Spirit as we choose to abide in Jesus. May he enable us to persevere during times of painful pruning, and may he produce much fruit in our lives, to the glory of God.
NOTE: Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica.
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