I am from Florida so fruit trees are a familiar sight for me. I used to be able to drive through citrus groves for hours, had I so desired, seeing the beautiful flowers and smelling the sweet aroma of Valencia Oranges. This ability helped me to understand a common picture that Jesus uses to describe Christians: fruit trees.
As with other figures, the imagery is fluid: sometimes Jesus identifies Himself as the tree with Christians as the fruit/branches and in other passages, He identifies us as the trees producing the fruit. In both cases, the “fruit” is what reveals us to be children of the Father. The “fruit” is the chief indicator of whether or not we are of service to God and if we rightfully hope in the reward He has promised – Heaven. I would like to direct our attention to this image and discuss Jesus’ desire for us – namely, that we bear fruit for His cause.
Jesus, the Fruit Tree
An interesting passage that uses this image is found in Romans 11:16b-24. Paul’s thesis in Romans is that whoever wishes to bear fruit for God, whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, is guaranteed that privilege through the inauguration of the new covenant (3:22-23; compare Acts 10:35).
In this passage, Jesus is portrayed as a wild olive tree and believers are portrayed as branches. Paul identifies that some branches (the Jews) were broken off because they failed to bear fruit in accordance with the holy root that they were established from. In response, God grafted in other branches (the Gentiles) because they were willing to bear fruit for God in accordance with His newly appointed system that was no longer weak and corrupted. Paul establishes that none of the branches should become arrogant and fail to produce fruit because of that arrogance. God is the one that decides who is made a part of that tree and has clearly established that unfruitful branches will be pruned.
In John 15, Jesus is identified as the “true vine.” While not a tree, the image has the same concept as Paul’s in Romans 11. In this passage, Jesus is the vine and the branches are all His disciples. Here, Jesus specifically said, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears much fruit, He prunes it that it may bear more fruit” (verse 2). He goes further to mention that unless we are tapped into the vine, we cannot produce fruit (verses 4-5). If anyone is not tapped into the vine, he is thrown away, dries up, gathered, and cast into the fire to be burned up (verse 6). Jesus states that the Father is glorified when His children bear fruit by obeying His commands (verses 8-11).
Disciples, the Fruit Trees
Another fruit tree image is used in reference to disciples. Jesus identified that some plants are planted by the Father and some are planted by the enemy. “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted” (Matt. 15:13).
Jesus uses a parable with the same basic illustration in Matthew 13:24-30. “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away” (verses 24-25). Some were planted by the owner of the land and some were planted by the enemy. While the tares might resemble wheat, the distinction is made clear when the wheat bears fruit (verse 26). As the owner of the field, God will establish the difference by allowing the reapers to bind up the tares at the time for harvest and burn them up, whereas the fruitful wheat would be brought into His barn (verses 27-30).
Are We Fruitful?
Paul made clear in speaking with Agrippa that disciples must perform deeds in accordance with repentance (Acts 26:20). Repentance is a fruitful process, as is a life devoted to God. Disciples of Jesus must bear good fruit or else their works will be burned up (as will their souls). “…Each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:13-15; compare Malachi 4:1). Be careful to ensure that you are bearing fruit for God and that the Enemy is not the one who has planted you.