A trademark of the IFB is the idea that “good Christians” bear fruit and “bad Christians” don’t bear fruit.
I heard quite a bit growing up that fruit is an indication that you’re a “good Christian”. “You need to be a fruit bearing Christian…” the preacher would boom from behind the lectern. The implications were a tremendous burden to me as I considered the possibility that I wasn’t bearing enough fruit. “What if people don’t see my fruit?” I would worry to myself… “or what if I just can’t bear enough fruit, how much is enough?” You can hear the anguish in my thoughts as a young adult, worried about pleasing God.
And yet another expectation of legalistic righteousness (works based/performance based righteousness) was crammed down my throat. An unattainable mantra of “do this and you will be identified as a ‘good Christian’”.
And they use these ideas to judge people too. They look at others and say “he’s bearing much fruit so he must be doing what’s right” or “she’s not bearing much fruit so she must not be walking closely with the Lord.” This is really a shame because I don’t find anywhere in that passage where it tells Christians to use the concept of bearing fruit to judge other Christians. Nor does it tell us what the fruit looks like.
Twisting of scriptures here is once again the problem. First, this is a metaphor that Jesus was using during this particular time when he was teaching during his ministry. I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think that Jesus really wants us to bear fruit. He’s just using an analogy to help his listeners understand if they are true believers or not.
Second, Jesus never tells us that we MUST bear fruit. He tells us that those who are true believers WILL bear fruit. There’s a huge difference. It’s not our responsibility to bear fruit! We don’t ever have to worry about whether we are bearing fruit or not. Following a list of “fruit bearing” works is legalistic righteousness. Fruit is a natural byproduct of being connected to the vine. All we have to do is stay connected to the vine (Jesus) and we WILL bear fruit.
Third, the distinction is never made about how much fruit a Christian will bear. “Much fruit” is never defined. What does “much fruit” mean anyway? How much is “much fruit”? Are we defining what “much fruit” means or are we allowing God to define what “much fruit” means? To one Christian “much fruit” is bearing fruit every day, while to another Christian “much fruit” is defined by a lifetime of bearing fruit. It’s not up to us to determine how much “much fruit” is. That’s the Lord’s decision.
Finally, “much fruit” is God’s standard not mans. We look at the population and see the Billy Grahams and Mother Teresas of the world and say they are bearing much fruit. But remember the widow’s mite? We never know what one person has to give. Someone who shows a homeless man kindness behind the closed (and, might I add, hardly ever visited by Christians) doors of the homeless shelter with no one around to witness it may also be bearing “much fruit”, we just never know.
I think that “fruit” is a highly individualized area of our walk with Christ. The “fruit” we bear is between the individual and God. What is fruit to one person may not be fruit to another person. God has created us as unique individuals and this is an area where he uses that uniqueness. Again, this is a matter that should be between the individual and God alone!