I was reflecting on the parable of the sower recently and it occurred to me that I subconsciously assumed I was among the fruit-bearing seeds. Reflecting further, I had to ask myself: “how much does the evidence support that assumption?” In this parable, Jesus describes a farmer who went out to sow seeds. Some of the seeds fell on a path and birds picked on them. Some fell on shallow rocky soil, sprang up quickly but died out in the scorching sun because they had no roots. A third category fell among thorns which grew up and choked them to death. Lastly, some fell on good soil. These were the only ones that bore fruit [Matthew 13:1-9].
I think every Christian ought to ask themselves honestly which of the four scenarios best describes them. For instance, how often do we hear God’s word preached and don’t understand it? As Jesus explains, the devil comes and snatches the seed sown in our hearts and we never do understand. Alternatively, how often do we come out of church excited by the message we heard, only to forget all about it by the next morning, without it triggering a change in our lives? Isn’t this the scenario in the parable where the seed falls on shallow, rocky soil, sprouts and dies quickly because it lacks roots?
In retrospect, my Christian walk has been more akin to the third category of seeds in the parable. These are the people who hear the word of God, but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and other pre-eminent priorities such as raising kids, paying bills, jobs, etc. choke the word of God in our lives and it becomes unfruitful. Francis Chan once said, “something is wrong when our lives make sense to unbelievers”. Put differently, you’re doing something wrong when your non-Christian friends don’t see a difference between your life and theirs. The term Christian was coined by unbelievers in Antioch in the first century because followers of Jesus among them were different in conduct, action and speech. These unbelievers could see fruit. Would they have called you a Christian?
In recent weeks, I have written about how to become a Christian and the role of the Body of Christ in helping every Christian to reach maturity, which is being like Jesus. This is a growth process and the evidence of that growth is fruit. Simply put, if you’re growing as a Christian, your life will bear fruit others can see [Matthew 12:33]. As the Holy Spirit becomes pre-eminent in your life, your life will look more like Jesus and the fruit will be obvious [see Galatians 5:22-23]. It’s worth noting that fruit is different from gifts. Every Christian is given a gift by God to serve the Church but fruit comes from knowing and applying the word of God in your life. There are several examples of many gifted pastors, teachers, evangelists, prophets, etc. who have led scandalous lives away from the public eye. It’s to these Christians like these who were doing mighty works that Jesus warned: “Not everyone who calls me Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven” [Matthew 7:21-23]. So, a great ministry isn’t always a sign of fruitfulness in a believer’s life.
So, have you ever asked yourself: “is my life fruitful?” Some Christians don’t like talking about judgment, even though Jesus often did, probably because judgment is antithetical to our culture of self-determination. However, the Bible is explicit that we will all be judged [Hebrews 9:27, 2 Corinthians 5:10]. If Jesus’ parables are anything to go by, then He will ask how fruitful the gospel was in our lives. How will you answer that question? I’ve found that being lukewarm about the things of God is one of the major reasons for unfruitfulness. In the letter to the churches in Revelation, Jesus speaking to the affluent church in Laodicea (which isn’t dissimilar to the churches many of us attend today) says: “I know your deeds, that you’re neither cold nor hot, I wish you were either one or the other….I am about to spit you out of my mouth” [Revelation 3:15-17 NIV].
Are you lukewarm in your faith? Is there any growth or observable difference in your life because of your faith? In John’s gospel, Jesus calls Himself the Vine and us, the branches. He says His Father is the Gardener who cuts off every branch that doesn’t bear fruit and prunes the fruitful branches so that they bear more fruit [John 15:1-2]. We can only bear fruit if we remain in Him and His Word remains in us [John 15:4-6]. To accomplish this, we must have a relationship with Him, one based on utter dependence [John 15:5] and the hallmark of this relationship is doing what Jesus says [John 15:10]. If this is the case, how much of His Word is in you and are you obeying it?
A seed must die to bear fruit. Similarly, we must die to ourselves and then yield our lives to God to be used as He pleases. The extent to which we do this is the extent to which we’ll bear fruit. Jesus says He specifically chose us [John 15:16] to bear lasting fruit to His Father’s glory [John 15:8]. This is the grand purpose for our lives [Isaiah 43:7] and I believe we will be held accountable for how much fruit we bear [Romans 14:12]. Nevertheless, Jesus will not violate our free will. We have to desire to bear fruit and demonstrate our willingness in our actions [Mark 8:34]. When we do, Jesus supplies the grace we need to become more like Him so that we can bear lasting fruit. So, I guess the real question is: are you willing to bear fruit?