At the beginning of this week, I was reading Luke 3 and trying to come up with a topic to guide this week’s study and become today’s post when I came to these verses:
“Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:8-9)
This passage was particularly striking because I’d just heard a sermon about the phrase “abide in Me” from John 15:4 that relied heavily on the vine/branch and tree/root analogies.
What Shall We Do?
Looking closer at the phrase ” bear fruits worthy of repentance,” I wonder if the sense it means to convey is that we should be producing fruits in our lives that show we are sincerely repentant. The word “repentance” (G3341, metanoia in Greek) means, “a change or alteration of mind .. from evil to good or from worse to better” (Zodhiates).
What John calls attention to as he continues speaking is that people who thought their physical descent from God’s chosen people automatically made them acceptable to God were mistaken. We can make the same mistake today if we think that we’re part of God’s family simply because we’re attending the “right” church group. Like the people John was addressing, we must actually being doing something to show that we 1) recognized the need for change, and 2) are sincere about changing.
So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”
Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.”
Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:10-14)
The specific responses here are based on principles found throughout the Bible: “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2.4); “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6), and the two great commandments (Matt. 22:37-40; Mark 12:29-31).
For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom. 13:9-10)
Now that we have an idea of the kind of fruits we’re supposed to be producing, lets take a short detour from the discussion in Luke 3 and focus on how we can be spiritually fruitful.
How To Bear Fruit
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. … By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:4-5, 8)
The key to being spiritually fruitful is abiding in Jesus. If you look at a healthy vine, every branch firmly connected to the rootstock and main vine will also be healthy. It can’t be healthy by itself, though. The moment it’s disconnected from the vine it starts to wither and is no longer capable of fruiting. Similarly, we can’t do anything by ourselves — all our fruit is produced because of our closeness to Jesus.
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:9-11)
All the fruit that we produce in our lives is a direct result of Jesus Christ’s involvement in us, and it is all for God’s glory. We’ve talked before in the weeks leading up to Pentecost about how closely Jesus Christ’s work in us is connected with the Holy Spirit indwelling us. This is yet another example — we cannot bear the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 unless we are abiding in Him and keeping His commandments.
Let’s return to our imaginary healthy vine, and suppose that there are some branches on it that don’t have a good connection to the rootstock. They may be visibly withering and dying, or they might have great showy leaves that can initially hide the fact that they have no fruit. Those kinds of branches need to be trimmed out so they do not impact the overall health of the vine.
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. … If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. (John 15:1-2, 6)
Like most of God’s instructions and warnings this boils down to a very simple principle. If you do good things (abide in Jesus, obey the commands), good things will happen to you (a relationship with God, eternal life). But if you do bad things (disobey, become arrogant and distant from God), bad things happen (no relationship with Him, death). This brings us right back to John the Baptist’s words in Luke.
And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:9)
This is a warning, and it was also a prophecy of what Paul addresses in Romans 11. In this letter, Paul writes to the Gentile believers who were “grafted in” after so many of the Jews, like the ones John was talking to, refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah.
And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.
You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? (Rom. 11:17-24)
This is both a sobering and an awesome message. God grafted us into Himself when He called us out of the world! He took something which was once opposed to Him (Rom. 8:7-8) and made us part of His church by attaching us to His Son — the Vine — and making us part of Christ’s body (Eph. 1:22-23).
The sobering part is a reminder of how dangerous it is to let our awe of what God has done for and in us slip away. Arrogance takes it’s place, here in Romans 11 and in Luke 3, with the idea that we’re important in and of ourselves. In reality, any importance we have comes from God. He did not choose us because of our own merit, or because of our heritage, or because of what church group we attend. He chose us because He is in the business of redeeming insignificant people and turning them into something glorious through His boundless grace and mercy (1 Cor. 1:26-31). Our response to that should be to cling ever closer to Him, and to be producing fruits in our lives that show how drastically we have been changed by Him.