Leaves are essential to plants. But leaves aren’t fruit. Leaves aren’t what the vinedresser comes looking for. Leaves aren’t what he puts in his basket. Yet, in our Christian lives, I think we often mistake our leaves for fruit.
Let’s say, just for the sake of discussion, that our leaves are all the activities we are busy doing for the Lord—going to church, visiting the sick, helping the poor, writing books, singing on the worship team. These are the things people see when they look at our lives at a glance. And they are good things, signs of health, just as a leafy green tree is apparently healthy. Abundant leaves are a promise of good fruit hidden behind all those leaves.
But leaves aren’t fruit.
In fact, a tree can look very much like a tree, yet be completely useless in terms of bearing fruit. Some trees have lots of leaves, yet the farmer goes home with nothing in his basket:
I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. (Rev 3:1-3)
A bit disturbing, this notion of dead works. You can sing on the worship team without bearing fruit that God will want to pick. You can teach Sunday School that way, too. You can visit the sick, help the poor, and give money to missions without bearing an ounce of fruit.
Consider another alarming statement:
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matt 7:21-23)
What is this “will of my Father” that Jesus is talking about? Aren’t prophesying and casting out demons and doing mighty works in his name God’s will? Why won’t God put these amazing efforts in his basket? What else could he be looking for?
We often mistake ‘getting involved’ with genuine John 15 fruit-bearing. But God isn’t impressed by our acts of righteousness. He’s looking for evidence of his Son’s righteousness coming out in us. We are the branches, the ones being constantly filled with his sap; we are the result of his righteous acts. The fruit he’s looking for is the stuff that could only come out of us if we were connected to a righteous vine.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor 13:1-3)
The fruit God delights in are all of the sweet fruits that flow from the heart of his perfect Son to us through the ministry of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22-23). When God sees these fruits, he knows we are becoming like his Son, which is exactly what he wants (Rom 8:29).
The activities of the day come and go, but the fruit we produce is found not on our calendars but inside our deepest person. Amid all the projects and plans you are accomplishing in the name of Christ, don’t ever take your eyes off what God is doing to change your heart through those activities. Because, when he comes with his basket, that fruit is the kind he finds the tastiest.