“Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.” (John 15:16, KJV)
So said Jesus to his disciples, and to us.
But WHAT fruit? What is Jesus actually talking about here — bringing other people to Christ? (AKA the fruit of “soul winning”?) Developing godly character? (AKA “the fruit of the Spirit” a la Galatians 5?) Supernatural power displays? (AKA “the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do”?)
Thankfully our job is not to make fruit happen. Our job is to abide in Christ — in the vine.
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5, KJV)
We will accomplish nothing by fixating on fruit and everything by fixating on Jesus.
Even so: as I’ve said elsewhere, a whole lot hinges on our understanding of who and what we are. Practically speaking, a huge part of abiding in Christ is a matter of renewing our minds, of seeing as he sees and understanding as he understands so that we may “discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2, HCSB). So I think the question is worth asking.
What kind of fruit does God want to bear in our lives?
I sometimes refer to the gospel of John as “the cosmic gospel.” While Matthew and the other Synoptics are firmly grounded in the context of Israel, John comes at things from a wider perspective, a kind of mind-expanding universal view. Where they are historical, John is mystical.* The long discussion of John 14-17, in which the Vine is central, is a prime example of what I mean.
And I think it also answers the fruit question. Look again at what Jesus says:
“Without me you can do NOTHING.”
Does he mean that?
Rather than seeing this verse as specifically pertaining to ministry, to soul-winning or miracle-working, or to developing godly character and the fruit of the Spirit, what if he really means that without him, we can do nothing?
What if we can’t breathe without Christ? What if we can’t move our little fingers or shift a toe without him? What if without Jesus, our atoms would fly apart?
(“And in him all things hold together,” Colossians 1:17, ESV.)
This is not just Jesus the Messiah of Israel, not just Jesus the king of the universe. This is Jesus the writer of our DNA, Jesus the binding agent of all physical matter, Jesus the source of life. (The one question science cannot answer — where does life come from? — is answered in the gospel of John.) This is Jesus the Speaker of Reality.
(“In the beginning was the Word . . . all things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1, 3, KJV)
That does in fact seem to be what he means, because some who are currently drawing their life from the vine will eventually wither and fall off, and they will be gathered and burned. I don’t believe he is speaking about believers, who by their very belief choose to remain in the Vine, but about those who do not choose to remain, to abide, and so lose their lives eternally.
1 Corinthians 12:6 (NIV) says “There are different kinds of working [or activities, or operations, or effects], but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” The Greek word here is energematon, from the root energeo: if I may, “There are different kinds of energies at work in you, but the same God energizing all that you do.”
The fruit of John 15 — the fruit we were chosen and ordained to bear — is not and should not be limited to the head count at an altar call or how many boxes on the “good character checklist” you can tick.
The fruit of God is whatever flows out of you that comes from the life of God within you. It is literally the life and energy of God manifesting itself in this physical world just as the life and energy of a vine flows into and manifests itself in fruit.
So: that word of encouragement or wisdom you give a hurting soul? Fruit.
The thanksgiving that rises in you at the beauty of a sunrise, a sunset, a laugh? Fruit.
The paycheck you bring home, having worked as unto the Lord and in love for your family and fervent service to your boss? Fruit.
The song you write, the book you pen, the melody you hum, the painting you paint, the dinner you put together and feed someone? Fruit.
The healing that comes through your prayers? Fruit.
The understanding that suddenly clicks as you read the Scriptures — that “aha” moment where everything becomes a little clearer than it was a minute ago? Fruit.
(For that matter — The understanding that clicks as you read history, science, poetry? Chemistry or physics or math? The “aha” the first time you learn what it means to deeply love another? It’s all the life of God in us. Let’s not limit him to the thickness of our Bibles. He fills the universe.)
The confidence you manifest? The joy you feel? The love you show? Fruit.
The trust you display in a time of hardship, struggle, pain, doubt? The prayer you choke out: “Lord, I will trust you; I will surrender; I will love you no matter what?”
Precious, precious fruit.
Everything that comes out of the energy of God in you. Everything that flows out of your relationship with him.
Without him we can do nothing.
With him we can do EVERYTHING, and nothing is so small or so prosaic or so material or so that he doesn’t touch it, claim it, energize it, bear it.
With him everything is sacred.
He is the invisible, intangible life force flowing through this world and manifesting himself visibly and tangibly through us.
That’s what made Jesus’s life what it was.
It’s what makes your life what it is.
“I have chosen and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.”
*I am not saying that John is not also fully historical in its events, nor that John’s gospel does not have a place squarely within the Hebrew context of the entire Bible. Of course it does. But its emphases and teachings have a more mystic and universal bent.