Good Works or Good Character?

“God’s probably not very happy with me. I need to work on my character and personal conduct. I really need to try harder to be a better person.” Right? Not necessarily.

The idea that a fully mature Christian is one that produces good and bountiful fruit is found in several key Bible passages in the New Testament. But does that mean doing good actions, producing good things, or being a good person?

As discussed in previous Biblical Viewpoints, the Parable of the Sower (in Matthew 8, Mark 4, and Luke 8) highlights the best soil type (one of 4 responses to the seed/Word of God) as the good, rich soil that allows the seed to grow deep roots and produce good and a multiplied yield of fruit. The Gospel of John connects fruit production with the well-known I Am the Vine passage (in John 15). In this context, Jesus is the Vine and the only source of all good fruit production.

So therefore, good Christians grow deeply abiding and connected to the Vine, Jesus. Apart from that deep connection, there is no real substantive fruit.

But what is the fruit? What is multiplied fruit?

Is it Output or Character?
A logical question is whether fruit production is a quantity or output measurement, or is it a matter of personal character. That is, is our personal fruit production about a physical and practical yield of some Christian benefit that can be measured for growth or is it something else related to our own personal life and character?

Actually, Good Fruit can be reflected in Good Works or tangible production of Good Things: feed the hungry, serve the community,  church growth (conversions), money/prosperity (wealth), programs (breadth, reach, and numbers), etc. These, of course, may very well be God’s blessings on Christian ministries and initiatives. God certainly blesses and prospers and moves through His Church.

But in the Biblical context of the Vine/Jesus connection, Good Fruit is related to Good Character and Good Conduct.

Fruit of the Spirit?
How to I get that? In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in Galatia, there is the well-known listing of the Fruit of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

These are actually presented as the antidote to Bad Fruit or the Desires/Acts of the Flesh delineated earlier in his letter:

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires/acts of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:16-22)

Fruit here seems to be a reflection of one’s character; that is, a person spiritually abiding/connecting to Jesus walks by the Spirit and therefore stays clear of the obvious desires or acts of the flesh.

“Okay, So I Need to Try Harder”
When confronted with these lists of Good and Bad Fruit, it is easy to toss up our hands and say:

“Okay, you got me. I’m bad. Well, not all the time, but God’s probably not very happy with me. I need to work on my character and some personal conduct (like jealously!) I need to try harder to be a better person.”

No, you don’t “need to try harder to be a better person.”

You actually can’t. Not in the way the Bible says Jesus would have it. And that’s just the point. Jesus tells us specifically that He is the True Vine and that NO GOOD FRUIT is produced without going through Him:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Jesus makes it clear that we can’t do this alone.

Personal Transformation
No, it’s actually not about personally trying harder. It’s about a personal transformation. Only as we fully submit our will and life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ can we begin to be changed and transformed to a vessel/branch that produces Good Fruit. All our human efforts will fall short or fade away apart from the changing power of the Spirit of God in us through our abiding in the Vine.

So, Good Works or Good Character? Only through a direct abiding connection with Jesus can we manifest good character and good works blessed by God.

Are you producing Good Fruit?
_______________________________
“…every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. – Matthew 7:17-20



Categories: Abundant Living, Calling, Church, Devotion, Discipleship, Faith, Jesus, Marketplace, Prayer, Purpose

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2 replies

  1. Thanks Mike, well said.

    Once I was bemoaning to my wife the fact that there was so little change in my character after being a follower of Jesus for so many years. Her response surprised me. She said, “That’s good that you finally realize that. You are dependent on Jesus for true change. You cannot do it in on your own. You are as dependent on the grace of Jesus and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit for sanctification as you are for salvation itself.”

    Wise advice. My understanding is that sanctification is the process of personal transformation to having a more Christlike character. This is only possible through depending, remaining, abiding in Jesus.

    Like

  2. Thanks, Bob. Interesting that I’ve had the same conversation with my wife. Wise women. Yes, understanding (and accepting) that true personal transformation toward Christlike character proceeds from spiritual sanctification that is a lifetime in the making. Thankfully God is patient and forgiving. As we all should be with each other.

    Like

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