When God saves a sinner He begins a new work of transforming grace, which results in the production of good works for His glory. Ephesians 2:8-10 gives this full picture:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
The good works that follow salvation are too numerous to list, but they can all be summarized by one word: Christlikeness. This is God’s goal: to conform us into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29; Col. 3:10).
To be “in Christ” is to be saved. To be “in Christ” is to be a new creature in Him. To be “in Christ” is to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. This connection to Christ, as a branch is connected to the vine, results in the production of fruit. All other fruit bearing is simply the temporary result of having enough willpower to change. William MacDonald writes, “Works are produced by human energy. Fruit is grown as a branch abides in the vine (John 15:5). They differ as a factory and a garden differ.”
The life of Christ working itself out in our lives as new creatures in Him is what Jesus teaches us about in John 15:1-11. In this passage, there are four key truths that you need to understand about fruit bearing.
God the Father is the master gardener, and Jesus is the true vine who provides the new life that is essential to fruit bearing (v. 1).
Jesus begins by making it clear that He is the true vine. Why is that? In the Old Testament, Israel is often referred to as God’s vine. However, each time this metaphor is used the emphasis is upon Israel’s failure to be fruitful for God. In contrast to that failure is Jesus, the true vine who is abundantly fruitful for God. Through His sin-bearing death and victorious resurrection to new life, Jesus brings about great fruit for God. Jesus accomplishes this work through the sending of the Spirit, which He promises in the previous chapter. Under the New Covenant, the center point of the love of God is fully revealed in Christ who has sent his Spirit to accomplish His fruit bearing work. Again, this is why it is called the fruit of the Spirit.
God will judge all false disciples whose lack of fruit bearing gives evidence to an absence of true faith (v. 2a).
In verse two, the “in me” language is for the sake of the metaphor. From the context, it seems clear that any connection these so-called branches have is superficial. In other words, there are branches that appear to be connected to the vine, but internally do not have the vein of life within them. These will be taken away to final judgment. The context supports this interpretation (see verse 6).
Judas is one example of a false disciple. From all outside appearances Judas was a believer; he had everybody fooled. Everyone except Jesus, of course. Though Judas looked like he was connected to the life of God in Christ, he was actually a dead branch who had attached himself superficially. Mixing metaphors, we could say he appeared to be heading in the same direction as the other eleven disciples, but really he was just along for the ride. And when the rode got bumpy, he jumped off the wagon and sold Jesus to his enemies.
God prunes all true disciples so that their fruit bearing increases (vv. 2b-3).
God is not content for us to remain as we are. He works and works in His garden. Not only does He cut off the dead branches and throw them on a pile to be burned, but He diligently and carefully prunes those branches that truly belong to Him, those that are bearing good fruit. Why? Because He longs to see us become more fruitful. The apostle Paul understood this as the will of God for every believer. So, for example, he prayed for the Colossians this way:
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy;
God is glorified by the fruit bearing that grows from cultivating a daily relationship with Christ (vv. 4-11).
Spiritual fruitfulness does not occur without our active participation. Biblical sanctification is cooperative sanctification (Phil. 2:12-13). When it comes to bearing fruit for God, the Holy Spirit refuses to do all the work for us. We are fully responsible to nurture a life-giving relationship with Jesus on a daily basis, so that the life of God which was implanted in us at the moment of salvation bears fruit for His glory. Notice the repetition of the word abide. Ten times Jesus tells us that bearing fruit hinges upon our abiding in Him. Jesus tells us that fruitfulness is dependent upon our walking with Him in a growing intimacy of relationship. This requires prayer and time in the Word of God, at a bare minimum.
All of these truths lead to an end: our joy. Staying closely connected to Jesus in dependent relationship and loving communion will lead to fruitfulness. But we cannot do this alone… and Jesus knew that. He sent us his Spirit to perform the inner work of transforming us into his image, but we must abide in Christ.