The Fruit of a Disciple - Apples or Ornaments?

The proof is in the fruit. That’s what Jesus said. But I’ve been thinking lately that maybe it’s not. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not suggesting Jesus was wrong. But if we don’t understand what fruit is, how can we recognize it, let alone prove something with it?

He said it in John 15:8, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples,” but it wasn’t the only time Jesus mentioned fruit. He talked about it frequently – thirty-two times in the Gospels’ eighty-nine chapters. Fruit was important to Jesus. It was a focus of His. He not only ate, but He thought about it frequently. He got upset at the figless fig tree. He foretold of fruitless trees being cut down and burned (Luke 3:9, John 15:6). He understood what the trees needed in order to produce fruit (John 15:5).

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Most Americans don’t understand fruit. Though we buy seedless grapes and oranges and bananas at the grocery store, they aren’t fruit. By definition, fruit must have seeds. Our consumerism has proactively sterilized entire tree species for the benefit of our palate. In other words, we’ve disconnected fruit from its purpose. This change has enhanced our taste buds and hindered our eternal perspective. Most of us have forgotten that a tree bears fruit for its own reproduction not for our own consumption

Disconnecting fruit from its purpose causes us to miss the reason fruit was a focus for Jesus. We’ve confused the foundational reason for fruit. Instead of it being primarily reproductive, we’ve made it primarily decorative. This fruit confusion matters because it causes us to see ourselves as Christmas trees, not apple trees. Let me explain…

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The “fruit” of a Christmas tree are its ornaments and lights. They’re attractive, they draw people in, and they may even bring refreshment to some. Christmas tree fruit is seedless though. Our one-year-old son knocked off a number of ornaments this year, but not one of them fell to the ground and reproduced another Christmas tree. Instead, the hollow fruit shattered, leaving nothing but a mess to clean up. Christmas tree fruit is decorative, not reproductive.

Most Christians are like Christmas trees. They believe the fruit they’ve been called to bear is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). They hang these fruits on the tree of their life in an attempt to attract others to the life of Christ. Sometimes it works. The bulbous ornaments draw someone in and they want to know more. When this happens, Christians are poised to introduce that person to their pastor and to invite them to their church. The Christian feels a sense of pride because it worked! And after all, isn’t the point of a Christmas tree to have others marvel at its beauty?

The problem with Christmas tree fruit is that it doesn’t have to directly impact anyone else. It’s passive. It’s intended for everyone and no one at the same time. It’s ornamental. It adorns the branches of our life and enhances our own attractiveness. If that feels a bit off to you, it should.

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Mature disciples are like apple trees. They too adorn their branches with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. But these “flowers” are a part of the fruit-bearing process, not the result. They too, draw others in with their fragrance and beauty, but the mature disciple then lovingly introduces that person to Jesus’ work in their life. That work doesn’t just include the finished attractive parts, but also those areas that are not yet complete. Just as bearing fruit is metabolically costly to an apple tree, so too, is being Jesus in-the-flesh. Jesus said it was costly to the point of death.

To be clear, the fruit of an apple tree isn’t the flowers or even the apples. The fruit of an apple tree is another apple tree. This is evident when we remember that the tree makes apples for reproduction. God has designed trees so that they willingly pay a high price for reproduction. The culmination of that process is another living organism that’s just like itself.

The difference between ornamental fruit and reproductive fruit is vital to grasp. Apples are born by the internal bringing forth something external. It’s both the proof and natural by-product of the branch’s connection to the tree. It proves maturity because it’s been transformed from immaturity which is marked by an inability to reproduce. But now that it’s mature, it's able to make others like itself.

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We see this principle in all of nature. Just as apple trees bear apples which lead to more apple trees, birds lay eggs that lead to more birds, and dogs bear puppies which lead to more puppies, so too, do disciples make disciples who make more disciples. Disciples are the fruit of disciples. To only bear the fruit of the Spirit is a violation of this natural law. Bearing the fruit of the Spirit is important, but it’s neither the foundation nor the culmination of the process. We reproduce what we are.

All of this leads us to some sobering questions:

  • What are you reproducing?
  • What is the fruit of a disciple?
  • Currently is your tree adorned with fruit intended for decoration or reproduction?
  • Are you sufficiently connected to the vine in order to bear the fruit of a disciple?
  • What steps do you need to take to reproduce your life as a disciple?

Jesus said the proof is in the fruit, not the pudding. He wants your life to overflow with His so that it spills over into others who will do the same. This isn’t a vision for super Christians, it’s the call of each and every follower of Christ.