Requirements for salvation: Fruit-bearing

'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 prunes [Greek cleans, purifies] 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 you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.' (Joh 15:1–6)

We are looking at the biblical requirements for salvation with particular reference to Old Testament believers. In this seventh study we are going to look at the necessity of fruit-bearing.

A solemn warning

If you had a message to give to someone, you might begin with the most important point first and then fill in the details afterwards. That is what Jesus did in his discourse on the vine and the branches (Joh 15:1–17).

In order to understand this passage of Scripture we must realize who Jesus was speaking to. He wasn't speaking to the world, but to his disciples, at the passover meal, on the eve of his crucifixion.

After comparing himself to a vine and his Father to a gardener, he came straight to the point: he said that his Father will cut off (Greek take away, remove) every branch in him that bears no fruit (v2a). He then revealed who the branches he was talking about were: they were his disciples. 'I am the vine; you [my disciples] are the branches (v5a).'

Christians who believe that a person cannot lose their salvation claim that the unfruitful branches are those who have professed Christ but have not put their faith in him. But that is not what he said. He said: '…every branch in me…' These are people who are in Christ. They are true believers; true disciples of Jesus.

Those words were part of the final message Jesus gave to his disciples before his death. They were a solemn warning to them, and to us. We must bear fruit for the Father otherwise he will remove us from the vine. Those who believe otherwise are deceiving themselves. Fruit-bearing is necessary for salvation.

Fruit in keeping with repentance

The Greek word translated 'fruit' in Joh 15 is karpos. It's used throughout the New Testament to signify godly living.

John the Baptist told the Jews to produce fruit (karpos) in keeping with repentance, and that every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire (Luk 3:8–9).

When they asked him what they should do to produce that fruit, he said, 'Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.'

To the tax collectors he said, 'Don't collect any more than you are required to,' and to the soldiers: 'Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely—be content with your pay (Luk 3:10–4).'

In Phi 1:11 Paul prayed that the believers at Philippi would be filled with the fruit (karpos) of righteousness; and in Eph 5:8–9 he told the believers at Ephesus to live as children of light, 'for the fruit (karpos) of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth.'

But by far the fullest description of fruit in the New Testament is found in Gal 5:22–3a. It is the fruit (karpos) of the Spirit, which consists of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Apart from me you can do nothing

Now we know what fruit the Father wants us to produce in our lives, how do we produce it? V5 of our opening text gives us the answer:

'I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.'

None of us can bear fruit by ourselves, we must remain in the vine. The Greek word translated 'remain' in that verse is meno. It means to remain, abide or dwell. It describes a state that begins and continues, yet may or may not end or stop [1].

If we remain (continue to abide and dwell) in Jesus, he will remain (continue to abide and dwell) in us, by his Spirit; and it's his indwelling Spirit that will produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Without him we cannot produce that fruit.

Remain in me

Jesus said that the Father will remove every branch in him that bears no fruit. He also said that if we remain in him we will bear much fruit. So how can those who are in Christ not bear fruit? The answer is that they don't remain in him. That truth can be seen in the lives of backsliders.

Do you know any backsliders? They no longer spend time with the Lord in prayer, or read their Bibles, or meet with others to worship him. Consequently, the flame that once burned so brightly within them, if it hasn't gone out completely, is now no more than a flicker.

Where is the love, the joy, the peace they once had? It's all but left them; God's glory has departed from their lives. Is that the Lord's fault? No, it's their own fault: they haven't remained in him.

'If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.' (v6)

For Jesus to say, 'If you do not remain in me,' means that it must be possible not to remain in him. If we don't remain in him (if we don't continue in our relationship with him) we will shrivel up, spiritually, and die.

The key to fruit-bearing is remaining: Jesus used the word eleven times in Joh 15. If we continue in the relationship we had with him when we were first saved—loving him, worshipping him, studying his Word—then we will bear much fruit: he's promised that. But if we don't, we won't.

It's our responsibility to remain in the vine and to draw the nourishing sap (the Holy Spirit) from the vine so we can produce fruit for the Father. Apart from Jesus we can do nothing.

David's backsliding

If fruit-bearing is necessary for salvation, we should be able to find Old Testament believers who bore fruit for God, and we can. King David is a good example of fruit-bearing, but also of backsliding.

While he was backslidden David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then, when he learned she was pregnant, he arranged for her husband to be killed to conceal his sin; but he couldn't hide it from God (2Sa 11:1–27).

If we stop walking with the Lord we begin to return to our pre-saved state. We lose awareness of what is right and wrong and find we no longer have the power to resist sin. It's the start of a downward spiral which, if left unchecked, will result in death (Rom 6:23a).

David's restoration

David came back to the Lord, repented of his sin (Psa 51:1–17), and the Lord forgave him. That shows the extent of our Lord's forgiveness, and that backsliders can be restored, even from the darkest of depths (Jam 5:19–20). He then returned to walking with the Lord.

Why has God put this into his Word? He's put it there to show us that if David, who had previously lived a godly life, could backslide, then any one of us can, and we must guard ourselves against it. How do we do that? By staying close to the Lord. The power to resist sin is found in God alone. If we walk away from God we lose that power.

If we backslide and stop bearing fruit, how long will it be before the Father removes us from the vine? We are not told, but Jesus gave a parable about it:

He said that a man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard and went to look for fruit on it, but didn't find any. So he said to the man who took care of his vineyard (the gardener), 'For three years now I've been looking for fruit on this fig tree, but haven't found any. Cut it down. Why should it use up the soil?'

But the gardener said, 'Leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig round it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine. If not, then cut it down (Luk 13:6–9).'

The fig tree in the parable does not represent Israel (God was not going to give them any more time to produce the fruit of his kingdom – Mat 21:33–45), but every born-again believer: we must bear fruit for God.

God is patient with us. He doesn't want anyone he has chosen for salvation to perish, but every one to come to repentance (2Pe 3:9)—initially, when we are saved, and subsequently, if we backslide (Luk 15:3–7).

God will give backsliders time to return to him in repentance (Luk 15:11–32), but the safest thing is not to backslide.

David's fruit-bearing

Jesus said that we haven't chosen him, but he has chosen us and has appointed us to bear fruit (Joh 15:16). He wants us to bear much fruit for his Father's glory, showing ourselves to be his disciples (Joh 15:8).

We sometimes refer to the fruit of the Spirit as the fruits (plural) of the Spirit but, according to the Bible, there is only one fruit (singular) with nine separate parts.

The gifts of the Spirit (1Co 12:7–11) are manifested instantaneously in our lives, whereas the fruit (as in the natural world) takes time to grow.

All nine parts of the fruit were produced in David's life:

Because David was born again and indwelt by the Spirit of God he bore fruit for God. Every child of God will do the same, providing they remain in the vine.

Michael Graham
March 2010
Revised August 2022

[1] The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance, Zondervan, 1999. Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition). Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved.

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