We need to be challenged by this type of question. Spiritual fruit ought to be visible. Sometimes we need to be unsettled from our complacency. But it is easy to be cast down when we take an all-too-realistic view of our spiritual progress. It can even make us question the reality of our profession. Encouragement follows for any who take this question seriously.
What sort of fruit should we expect? The Shorter Catechism describes some of the fruit that should be evident. If we have been justified, adopted, and are being sanctified there are certain benefits. There is “assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end”. Increase of grace includes growth in holiness. It also includes the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Notice that it does not speak of intellectual knowledge or outward activity. These have their place but are not spiritual fruit. If this is the true fruit then has this year been a fruitful year for your soul?
There is a common caricature that self-examination is like uprooting a plant all the time to see if it is growing. Spiritual self-examination does not dissect the roots but discerns the fruits. If there is fruit then there is evidence of growth and reality. This is how we are to obey Scripture’s command to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5). This is how we recognise and avoid a mere “form of godliness” which denies its “power” (2 Timothy 3:5).
1. Where Does Spiritual Fruit Come From?
William Guthrie touches on some of these points towards the end of his classic book The Christian’s Great Interest. Guthrie’s book was highly commended by John Owen. He said that it contained more theology than everything he himself had written. Thomas Chalmers said it was the best book he had ever read. It was the favourite book of Scottish homes for many generations.
“Great Interest” doesn’t just mean that the book deals with the matter of greatest importance to a Christian and his chief concern. It is a legal term and means to have a valid stake or share in something to our benefit. Guthrie’s book deals with how the Christian may know whether he has a valid legal claim. The claim that matters is one within the Will and Testament or Covenant that the Lord Jesus Christ graciously makes with His people. Guthrie helps us to put ourselves in a courtroom trial where we are under Scripture as a judge to determine if our claim is true.
As he concludes this book, Guthrie deals with various objections relating to lack of assurance. One of these is the lack of fruitfulness. We are to expect sincerity but not perfection. He says that “these things will keep a man in work all his days”. God’s people have all “had their failings and shortcomings”. Their “backslidings” and “dangerous unbelief” are evident. Even after they had sincerely trusted God in Christ. In the following updated extract he deals with common mistakes in relation to spiritual fruitfulness.
Many look for fruitfulness from themselves. They seek it in their own Christian walk, strength of faith and sincerity in dealing with God. They seek it from themselves rather than from the Spirit of the Lord Jesus. They fix their hearts on their own honesty and resolutions, and not in the blessed root, Christ Jesus. Without Him, we can do nothing, and are entirely vanity in our best condition.
People should remember, that one piece of grace cannot produce any degree of grace. Furthermore, nothing can work grace but the arm of Jehovah. It would fare better with them if they were to lean on Christ alone… If, at least, they would look to Him alone for the suitable fruit.
Blame your unfruitfulness on your unwatchfulness and your unbelief. Blame your lack full assurance on an evil heart of unbelief, helped by Satan to act against the glorious free grace of God…Resolve from now on to abide close by the root and you will bring forth much fruit. And by much fruit, you open yourself to the witness of God’s Spirit. He will testify with your spirit that you have sincerely and honestly embraced God’s offer. Also that the rest of your works are wrought in God and approved by Him.
2. Much Fruit by Abiding in Christ
Further encouragement is available from another great classic on assurance. The Sum of Saving Knowledge by David Dickson and James Durham offers concise counsel. This is drawn from John 15:5 where the Lord Jesus Christ says “I am the vine”. They show that we must abide in Christ and He in us in order for us to bear “much fruit”. What does abiding in Christ involve? The following updated extract answers this question. Abiding in Christ presupposes three things:
- That we have heard the joyful sound of the gospel offering Christ to us as lost sinners by the law;
- That we have heartily embraced the gracious offer of Christ;
- That by receiving Him we have become the sons of God (John 1:12). We are incorporated into His spiritual body. This is so that He may dwell in us, as His temple, and we may dwell in Him as the residence of righteousness and life.
Abiding in Christ also means three further things.
- Making use of Christ in all our dealings with God and in all service and worship to God.
- Being content with His sufficiency. Not seeking righteousness, life, or spiritual resources outside of Christ. Not seeking this in any way or at any time in our own worthiness or anyone else’s.
- Steadfastly believing in Him. Steadfastly making use of Christ. Being steadfastly content in Him, and cleaving to Him. In such a way that no allurement, no temptation from Satan or the world, no terror nor trouble, may be able to drive our spirits from firm adherence to Him. So that nothing may drive us from constantly avowing His truth and obeying His commands. He has loved us and given himself for us. Not only is our life in Him, but also the fulness of the Godhead bodily through the union of His divine and human natures.
Thus, every watchful believer should reason in the following way to strengthen themselves in faith and obedience:
“Whoever makes daily use of Christ Jesus to cleanse his conscience and affections from the guilt and filthiness of sins against the law and enable him to obey the law in love, has evidence of true faith within himself”
“But I do make daily use of Christ Jesus to cleanse my conscience and affections from the guilt and filthiness of sins against the law and enable me to obey the law in love”
“Therefore, I have the evidence of true faith within myself.”
The slothful and negligent believer may also reason in the following way to stir himself up:
“I must be diligent to do whatever is necessary to show evidence of true faith. Unless I wish to deceive myself and perish”.
“But to make daily use of Christ Jesus to cleanse my conscience and affections from the guilt and filthiness of sins against the law and enable me to obey the law in love is necessary to show evidence of true faith”
“Therefore, I must be diligent to do this unless I wish to deceive myself and perish”.
God willing, we have the prospect of another year before us. Here is how it can be a spiritually fruitful year.