First Things First
The starting point, even before looking for Scriptural fellowship, is to get your own life in order. On this subject, you might consider listening to two messages available from Scroll Publishing:* Five Laws of the Kingdom Life and On Being a Radical Christian. Those messages may help you focus on what is important in the Christian life and what is not. They will also point out some grave spiritual traps that ensnare many well-meaning Christians.
Over the past thirty years, I’ve observed that many seekers tend to focus on more minor, outward aspects of the Kingdom life, while ignoring the most important things: faith, love, mercy, justice, and forgiveness. The outward man can be changed overnight, but changing the inward man is a much longer and harder process. You can change your outward appearance through your own strength, but real inward change is impossible without the power of Christ. Sometimes Kingdom seekers begin by focusing on these outward changes. Women might start wearing head coverings, get rid of their jewelry, or dress extremely modestly. Families may decide to get rid of their television. Sometimes these issues become problematic because of how they are handled. For example, if a husband has a conviction for something his wife does not, and he announces one day that they must immediately change their practice, this will have a major impact in the family, and an outward matter may become an enormous issue.
Correct doctrine, head-veiling, abstaining from jewelry, and abstaining from worldly entertainment are indeed important, but by themselves they are not the most significant parts of the Christian life. These are not the things Jesus says will condemn us in the Judgment.
Too often, it is the things Jesus says will keep us out of the Kingdom of heaven which people choose to ignore. They argue and debate endlessly about external things and theological doctrines, and nothing comes out of it that advances the Kingdom of God. Please don’t make this mistake. Instead, focus on bearing Kingdom fruit in your own life. Only when you are bearing fruit can you help others in your family to do the same.
In John 15:1-6, we have one of the central teachings of Christianity. It is a chapter where Jesus explains what the Christian life is all about:
“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. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 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. 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 15:1-6).
In this passage, Jesus says the fruit you bear determines whether you remain as a branch on His vine or not. Plenty of other passages in the New Testament confirm that bearing fruit is what Christianity is all about. In fact, John the Baptist, preaching just before the coming of Christ, said, “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matthew 3:10). Jesus said almost identical words in Matthew 7:19.
Again, as part of the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8:14, Jesus said, “And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.” Again and again, the focus of Jesus’ teaching is fruit. That’s what God is looking for.
In Romans 7:4, Paul says, “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.” According to this scripture, we are married to Christ for the purpose of bearing fruit to God.
What is this fruit? In the New Testament, two different things are spoken of as fruit. The first type of fruit involves our individual character, what most of us might know as the fruit of the Spirit. The second type of fruit involves the work we do for Christ and His kingdom. We will discuss each of these in the next sections.
The Fruit of the Spirit
The fruit of the Spirit describes the character qualities that are part of our new nature in Christ. In Galatians 5:22-25, Paul writes,
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
Abiding in Christ means living in the Spirit, and living in the Spirit means we will be producing this kind of fruit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, self-control. If our lives are not marked by these virtues, we are not bearing fruit. This should be important to us.
Jesus told His disciples, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). And in Ephesians 4:22-32, Paul says:
Put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil. Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
The fruit described in these passages is impossible to produce on our own; Jesus said in John 15 that without Him we can do nothing. However, Jesus did not say we play no role in the matter. He warns that we will be cut off from His vine if we do not bear fruit. If fruit-bearing is strictly up to God, and if we have no part to play, what is the point of His admonition? For Christ’s warning to mean anything, our own choices and actions must have something to do with the process of bearing fruit.
In the passage above, Paul talks about our role in bearing fruit. He says, “Put on the new man.” Certainly, we cannot do this without Christ. We cannot be born again by ourselves. On the other hand, God has chosen not to do His work in us except with our willing participation. God could produce this fruit in us all by Himself—He doesn’t need our help—but He wants people who will freely surrender their own will to His.
Thus Paul counsels us to take action. He exhorts us to “put away” some things, to “put on” other things, to “be kind” to one another, and more. If we live in Christ, surrendering our will to His, we will have the power to do these things.