There have been many discussions over what it means to “bear fruit” in the Bible. Some discussions turn heated, pointed, and abrasive towards another point of view. The two points of view on fruit bearing tend to be (1) the Bible is talking about internal fruit within the life of a Christian, or (2) the salvation of people. The former tend to camp on the “fruit of the Spirit” verses in Galatians 5 while the latter tend to emphasize the verses about the vine in John 15.
It may be that those who like structure and concrete details prefer the definition of fruit being the numbers of people who get saved. It may also be that those who are more “artsy” and creative thinkers prefer the internal fruit view. The same may go for churches and groups of Christians. Those who tend to stress the moving of the Spirit and “inner life” may prefer the “organic” and “living” nature of personal change from the Spirit as the definition of bearing fruit while more structured or “program” oriented groups lean towards the numerical growth definition. Of course these are generalizations and there are plenty of exceptions.
Using a Both/And Approach
There are of course those who demonstrate a healthy both/and approach, but sometimes even those people have a habit of emphasizing one over the other. For example, when the church is growing numerically the thoughts often ascribed to John 15 are talked about. When the church is not growing (or even declining) then it can be “quality over quantity” that is talked about more with an emphasis on Galatians 5. There is certainly a need to emphasize one aspect or the other when handling the topic of bearing fruit depending on the season of the church, but it is wise to reflect on which aspect tends to dominate the talking points over the years.
Missing the Point?
With all the emphasis that tends to be placed on defining “bearing fruit” it can be very easy to miss the greater point of bearing fruit. Have you ever seen a fruit tree or fruit-bearing vine ever cannibalize its own fruit? Does the plant bear fruit for its own sake or for the sake of others? Whether we emphasize the internal fruit-bearing activity of individuals, or the numerical growth of people being saved, or a healthy dynamic of both sanctification and salvation it is important to have the view of serving others and pointing people to Jesus Christ.
If the point of personal sanctification demonstrated through the fruit of the Spirit is not to serve others, feed others, and bring others to Christ, is not the ultimate result going to be a self-centered Christian (and likely a self-righteousness Christian)? In a similar manner, if numerical growth is only for the sake of numbers could not the result be a group of carnal Christians or viewing people as “notches on the belt” rather than people who can be served, people who can be shepherded into a deeper relationship with Jesus, and people who can learn to introduce others to Jesus and disciple others as well?