Yesterday I preached a sermon at Victory Christian Fellowship in Lynden, WA. As a closer to that exhortation, I called on people to bear the fruit of righteousness from a heart of repentance.
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
– Philippians 1:11, ESV
The concept of bearing not only fruit, but good fruit is all over scripture, but the concept of “fruit of righteousness” jumped off the page at me this week. Consider the teaching of Jesus wherein he is the vine, and we are the branches of that vine.
I live in the Pacific Northwest. While most think of “wine country” as Napa Valley in California, some of the most excellent cultivated grapes in the world come from the Columbia River Valley in Washington State, from an area known as Horse Heaven Hills, sometimes just called “H3.”
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he trims clean so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
– John 15:1-6, NIV-1983
Changed by the Stock
What I find fascinating about Jesus’ metaphor is this:
Commercial growers of grapes will plant new vines, but what they do far more frequently is graft a new branch on to an old rootstock. By doing this, they get grapes after one year of growth rather than having to wait three years.
But even more fascinating than that is that the branch is altered by the characteristics of the root. The branch will adapt to the flavor of the rootstock. It will literally change the variety of the grape. The branch will also take on the pest and disease resistance of the root – the vine.
Think about what that tells us when you consider we are branches grafted into Jesus, the vine, the rootstock. The implications of that are stunning.
The Source of Fruit
So, the apostle Paul said, above, that the fruit of righteousness comes through Jesus Christ. Jesus, himself, said that we cannot bear fruit apart from him. We already know that life is in Christ,1 and now we learn that it is on in Christ and through Christ that we are able to bear fruit. Jesus said that he chose us specifically to “go bear fruit,” and not just any fruit, but “fruit that will last.”2
In and of ourselves we can produce no good work. So, this is not something we are being called to do so much as we are called to allow it to happen to us. In fact, the prophet Isaiah noted in the strongest language possible that all of our self-produced righteous deeds are like “filthy rags.”3 Rather we need to bear “the fruit of the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:22-23).
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
– Galatians 5:22-23, NIV-1983
Don’t make the mistake of seeing this as fruits (plural) of the Spirit, as though we can pick the ones we like or those that fit us. This list is THE fruit (singular) of the Spirit. These are the Holy Spirit character traits that flow from the vine to us, the branches.
Just as the rootstock changes the nature of the grape, we, being grafted into the vine of God Almighty, are infused with these Holy Spirit traits. This is the DNA of a Christ-follower. If these traits do not mark my life as a disciple, I need to examine whether I am grafted into and abiding in the vine. Only then can we “live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.”4
1. John 1:4, John 14:6, John 10:10, John 6:33, John 6:27, John 6:51, John 6:58, John 6:54, 1 John 5:20, 1 John 5:11-12, Romans 8:2, 2 Timothy 1:1, Colossians 3:4, 1 Corinthians 15:22
2. John 15:16
3. Isaiah 64:6 – He literally calls our righteous works “menstruous cloths.”
4. Colossians 1:10