It’s been a hard summer for gardens. When our trees and garden plants are diseased, we cut them down and start over. However, when plants are fruitful, we water them, nurture them, and share them. Despite the heat this summer, my wife and I have enjoyed several little fruits from our fig trees. There are now many more fruits starting to bud and grow.

The Bible compares human flourishing to fruitful trees. God commands human fruitfulness in Genesis 1:28, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…”  People should have kids, build homes, plant trees, make gardens, build cities, and create culture in a million fruitful ways. I think we know this instinctively, even if we are not Bible readers. However, the prophets in the Old Testament would critique God’s people for fulfilling the call to be physically fruitful but neglecting the call to be spiritually fruitful. Jesus continues this prophetic critique in the gospel of Luke (Luke 6:45-46).

Many in Jesus’ day would judge their life as a success if they had money and babies—which is certainly part of human fruitfulness—but Jesus kept calling them back to love and justice (Luke 11:42). God wants us to not merely be culture creators, but to also practice kindness and self-control. Paul lists these as fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Is your life physically fruitful but not spiritually fruitful?  Jesus recommends a change of heart. Biblical repentance means to turn from self and trust in God.

This is one of the main conflicts Jesus had with the religious leaders of his day. They thought external marks of fruitfulness justified them, but he challenged them to have hearts that were actually surrendered to God. Jesus gives a parable of warning in Luke 13:6-9, “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the worker, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none! Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And the worker answered him, ‘Sir, leave it alone another year, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it bears fruit next year, good; but if not, then you can cut it down.’”  We must not claim affiliation to a religious group as our hope when God is insisting on fruitful character. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:22-23) God demands hearts that belong to Jesus by faith. God demands we no longer trust our own flesh.

This theme shows up at the beginning of Luke through the prophetic critiques of John the Baptizer. He said, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able to raise up children for Abraham from the rocks. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:8-9)

This is a scary warning. We will be cut down if we don’t bear the fruit of turning from our self and trusting in Jesus. And this ultimate fruit of faith is what brings the fruit of the Spirit in our life. Jesus gives a similar warning in his final words to his disciples in John 15. There he warns that unfruitful vine branches will be cut away and burned. But Jesus is more comforting than John the Baptizer. He invites us to find our fruitfulness in Him. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Because, apart from me you can do nothing.” If you are convicted of a lack of the fruit of love, joy, kindness, and self-control; run to Jesus. He was the fruitful tree who was cut down in our place. He is the one whose perfect life of fruitfulness becomes ours by faith. Apart from Him, we can do nothing.

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Dave McMurry

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