A Pepper Grinder Post

Fruit Happens

grapes and leavesIn the last post, we looked at how Jesus portrays God as a gardener, pruning his grape vine.  We saw how the choice is not whether or not we will be cut, but whether we will be cut OFF, or whether we will be pruned.  Jesus ended verses 1-3 by assuring his disciples that they were already clean (or already pruned) because of the words he had spoken to them. 

This must have been great news.  They were branches of the true vine.  They hadn’t been lopped off, which meant that God expected them to bear fruit.  They were being pruned so that they could bear lots of fruit.  But if I had been one of the disciples, I think that my next thought would have been something like, “Wait a minute!  I’m supposed to bear fruit, but I don’t have a clue how to do it.”  I might have started to lay out a plan for what I had to do to bear fruit.  Jesus put an end to this before it even started.  He immediately told his disciples what they have to do to bear fruit.  Here is what he said:

Remain in me and I will remain in you.  Even as the branch can’t bear fruit when it isn’t attached to the vine, you can’t bear fruit if you don’t remain in me.  I am the vine and you are the branches.  Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear lots of fruit—without me you can’t do anything.  If anyone does not remain in me, he will be discarded, get dried out, be gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
( John 15:4-6, my translation)

There is one command in this passage.  It is right at the start, and all the rest of the passage is just expanding on it.  It is, Remain in me.  It sounds simple, and it is.  When you look at the Greek word that I’ve translated as “remain,” the main sense you find is that of not leaving.  Does this mean that all a Christian has to do is not fall away from God?  Sort of.

For me, I see times when I am not rejecting my faith but when I am moving away from God.  I have gotten good enough at the Christian thing that at times when I am angry with God or bored or feeling rebellious, I don’t do anything really overt.  I keep having my “quiet time.”  I don’t have an affair or visit a prostitute.  In fact, I don’t break any of the 10 commandments (unless, of course, you interpret them in that annoyingly penetrating way that Jesus expounded in the Sermon on the Mount—see Matthew 5:21-22 and 27-28).  People looking on the outside would probably see very little change in me.  But God sees a heart that is pulling back, that is looking to find its satisfaction somewhere other than in him.

I believe that there is no such thing as a static Christian life.  We may not be moving fast, but we are moving, and if we are not moving closer to God, we are moving away from him.  So, to remain in him, we need to be drawing closer to him.  I am not saying that if there is ever a time when we are drifting away from God, we have blown it and are going to get lopped off.  If that were the case, I can guarantee that I would be on top of the brush pile, waiting to be burned.  The crucial thing, I believe, is that when we realize we are moving away, we turn around or ask God to turn us around and start moving closer again.

cherriesJust as crucial as the one thing that Jesus commands his disciples to do is the thing that he does NOT command them to do.  He does not command them to bear fruit.  It seems funny, in this passage which is so focused on bearing fruit, that he doesn’t just tell his disciples to do it.  I have met some committed Christians who, at least to me, appeared to be living as if Jesus had commanded them to bear fruit.  They prayed and dedicated their lives to Christ, and after that, their whole focus in life seemed to be getting other people to pray and dedicate their lives to Christ, and getting those people to get others to pray and dedicate their lives to Christ, and so on.  It probably sounds as though I’m knocking evangelism, which I don’t mean to be.  The problem, I think, comes when we start running around trying to bear fruit, rather than trying to stay close to the vine and seeing what fruit appears.  For some, that fruit will be big clusters of new believers.  For others, it might be novels or music that touches people.  For others, it might be meeting the physical needs of people.

The point is, it is not the branches’ job to decide what kind of fruit to bear, or even to try to bear fruit at all.  It is not the branches' job to worry about whether their fruit will be eaten or just fall to the ground and decompose. The job of the branch is to stay close to the vine.  When the branch is connected to the vine, it WILL bear fruit without even trying.  I feel like making a bumper sticker which says at the top, “Remain in me and I will remain in you.”  Then down at the bottom, it would say in big letters, “FRUIT HAPPENS”.

bananasI fear that many Christians get tied into knots because they are trying so hard to bear the kind of fruit they have been told they should bear or that they see others bearing.  I am sure there are other examples of this, but, it seems to me that one of the most common has to be Christians trying to be evangelists, who do not have the gifts or calling of an evangelist.  Now, before anyone gets worked up, let me say that I think that EVERY Christian should be living with a view to representing Christ to unbelievers and should be ready to tell people why his or her life is different.  However, I also really believe that some people are just more gifted evangelists than others.  I remember hearing about someone named Rebecca Manley Pippert who used to (and perhaps still does for all I know) work and write for Intervarsity Press.  She had such a gift for evangelism that even when she was deliberately NOT talking to people about the Lord, people were coming up to her and asking her about Jesus.*  I spent years feeling guilty that I wasn’t leading more people to Jesus.  The thing was, my guilt didn’t make me a better evangelist (if anything, it made me worse), and it was something that held me back from doing the things that were my primary gifts and callings.

Going back to the words of Jesus, this is one of those passages where he seems to keep hammering away at the same message, making it more and more plain.  As in other areas of his teaching, Jesus presents two opposite paths with no middle ground.  If you stay close to him, you will not just bear fruit, you will bear lots of fruit.  If you do not stay close to him, you will be unable to do anything and you will be headed for the bonfire.

This may seem strange.  I am sure that none of us have to think too hard to think of someone who seems very devoted to Christ who lives an unobtrusive life without a lot of obvious accomplishments.  I am also certain that we can think of blatant unbelievers who are productive and energetic.  I think that we need to be careful to judge fruit the way God judges it. 

I recently heard an interesting podcast which talked about the growing of commercial tomatoes.  It focused especially on Florida tomatoes, which are the main ones we see in the grocery stores off-season.  The speaker related driving behind a truck full of green tomatoes in Florida and told how some tomatoes fell off the back of the truck and nearly cracked his windshield.  When he pulled off to the side, he found the ditch littered with hard green tomato balls which showed no evidence of having fallen off a truck onto an asphalt road at 60 miles per hour.  Even the ones that had been in the ditch for days were hard and unblemished.  The truck was taking the tomatoes to a warehouse where they were to be “ripened” with Ethylene gas, which turns the tomatoes red though they remain fairly hard and tasteless.

tomatoesMy point is that some people may appear very productive, but their “fruit” may be unpalatable when examined closely.  Others may be like the tomato plant in someone’s backyard.  The plants may be crooked and  may not produce the quantity of tomatoes of the commercial plants, and the resulting tomatoes probably won’t look as good as the ones in the store.  However, anyone who tasted each (unless they are a tomato hater) would instantly dump the store-bought tomatoes in the trash.  In the same way, although God promises we will bear much fruit, I think there are some things that might look like fruit that God would see as tasteless impostors.

It is clear from the verses before this passage that a true branch will bear fruit.  It is just as clear from these verses that there is one and only one way to do that—to remain close to Jesus.  This takes the glory away from us.  We can’t get to heaven  and say, “Look at all this fruit I produced for you, Lord!”  We can only say, “I stayed close to Jesus, and look at the amazing stuff he did!”  What should our goal be?  Always, every day, to be getting closer to Jesus.  Do that and the fruit will come.  Apart from him, we can do nothing.


*I cannot seem to find this story but I do heartily recommend a book of Ms. Pippert’s that I own called, Out of the Salt Shaker.  It is very possible that the story I’m thinking of is in there.

**Photo Credits: grapes by , cherries by , bananas by , tomatoes by

Comments on this post:

Really good article! Congrats! And thanks for the choice of the tomatoes pic :-)
-Samuel   February 26, 2016

Note: Samuel is one of the excellent photographers who post their photographs on and allow people to use them for non-commercial purposes with minimal restrictions. Many of the photos I have used in this blog are posted on rgbstock. If you want to see more of Samuel's photos, you can view them at .
-Pepper   February 27, 2016