Bear fruit – or Else!

I've listened to many sermons teaching that if you're a believer and you're not "bearing good fruit," then God will cut you down and throw you into the fire, which is an obvious metaphor for being sent to hell.

The premise with that teaching is that we must appease God, and that means "bearing fruit," which presumably involves doing good works.

Anytime I see a teaching where a believer is in any way justified by works, or made "right" in any way based on what they do, I get what I call "the pinch"—that feeling that either the teaching is wrong or my understanding about God is wrong.

So where do we get this "bear fruit or else" teaching? At the heart of most teachings like this, there's a passage in the Bible that appears to support the teaching:

Matthew 7:19 "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

OK, well there it is. So how can you argue with that?

Here's another passage that appears to support it:

John 15:2 "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.

Looks like a slam-dunk... until you start looking more carefully. Take a look at the term "cut down" in Matthew 7:19. It's the Greek word ekkoptō, which means "to cut out, cut off, of a tree." That seems fairly direct. Now look at the language in John 15:2. You would expect the same word to be used for the term, "takes away," but it's not. It's the Greek word airō, which means "to raise up, elevate, lift up." So every branch in Christ that does not bear fruit, God the Father "lifts up." As in, "so it can get more light and be healthier." Lifted up, away from the cursed Earth. Well that's certainly different than being thrown into the fire.

But there's still the "pruning." The teachings I've heard on this verse lean heavily on that word "pruning." Those teachings try to tell us that God is going to cut off parts of your life, and it will hurt. But it's for your own good. Interestingly, the word for "prunes" in the Greek is kathairō, which means "to cleanse, of filth impurity, etc; metaphorically, from guilt." Cleansing us from our guilt so we can bear more fruit! Now that's good news!

Advanced topic - Grace Aware Strategy:

That same Greek word kathairō is used in one other place in Scripture:

Heb 10:1-2 For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, [and] not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. 2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins.

The underlined word "purified" is the same word used in John 15:2 for "pruned:" kathairō. Also notice that the term "once" purified is in the perfect tense, passive voice. That means this purification is once and for all, and the passive voice means this purification isn't something you do for yourself, but it's something done to you.

{Learn more about Greek verb tenses here}

Look at this result of this "purification:" it makes it so you have no more consciousness of sin! That's the power of being in Christ.

So back to Matthew 7:19—being "cut down and thrown into the fire." How do we reconcile these two apparently conflicting messages? The Grace Aware method is to look for "discriminators," those things which make a difference. In this case it's the audience. In Matthew 7:19 it talks about "every tree." A tree doesn't "abide" in anything—it stands alone. Think, "self-righteous." Those people must stand on their own righteousness, and truly if you're one of them, then you will be judged by your works.

Notice in John 15:2 it's a different group of people: those branches who "abide in Me." Those who are made righteous by the blood of Jesus are "Saved" and they are under a very different deal. Their righteousness is a gift from God. They "bear fruit" because they are in Christ and have been "purified" or "purged" from their guilt so that they may bear more fruit.

We have a video and detailed teachings on this topic in the Grace Aware training.

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