As we traveled to Missouri this past weekend to see my nephew get married we saw a lot of farmland. Some of the soil was ready for planting, but much of it wasn’t. I wondered why. You can’t get a harvest unless you first prepare the soil, then plant, then cultivate, then at the right time the harvest is ready.
As the law of gravity is immutable, so is the law of seed and harvest. In the beginning, on the third day of creation, the Lord God put this law into motion. “And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plantsyielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.” (Genesis 1:11-13) Notice that each plant was to bear fruit according to its kind. Apple tree seeds produce apple trees. Corn seeds produce corn and so on.
God’s law of seed and harvest, however, was not limited to plants and vegetables. God shows us throughout the Bible that spiritual growth can be compared to a seed and a harvest. Here’s one example from the Old Testament. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”(Jeremiah 17:7-8) Bearing fruit is a metaphor which God uses to explain what happens as a result of trusting him. We could say it this way: our faith in Christ grows in much the same way that a plant grows and bears fruit. It doesn’t happen by accident. It is predictable just like when a farmer plants corn he can predict that a few months later he will have a harvest.
Jesus compared spiritual growth to seed and harvest also. But when he talked about it, most of his listeners would have understood it much better than we understand it today. Some of you are farmers or gardeners, and you get it. But for much of the world we live in, food magically appears in the grocery store. That may cause us some problems when it comes to understanding how faith grows.
In Jesus’ famous parable of the farmer who planted his seed, he tells us that three out of four areas where the seed fell did not produce any kind of harvest. The seed that fell on the path, the rocky ground and in the thorns all have that in common: they don’t produce any fruit or harvest. By today’s standards those farmers would be pretty bad, but in those days everybody knew that when a farmer planted he threw the seed from side to side. Some of it fell on the path, and they knew it because they walked on the paths and felt it crunch under their feet. The methods of farming may have improved over the years, but the same principle that God set up at the beginning remains true. In order to get a harvest, you plant seed in good soil.
Some of that seed that Jesus called “the word of the kingdom” produced a harvest. “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:23) This message of God’s kingdom is the gospel – the good news of Christ and his salvation. Everyone in Jesus’ parable hears the good news, but notice that only the ones who understand the word that they hear bear fruit. And let me clarify, it is not the appearance of understanding that matters but the actual comprehension of just what Christ’s message to the world means.
The message to the people of the rocky ground was received with great joy, and I’m sure that they believed they understood Christ’s message. The message to the people in the thorns was received and it appeared to be growing, but then it was choked out by all the cares and concerns of daily life. So then, to understand the message of Jesus is to follow him all the way. He is the only way to life on earth which continues into eternity after this life is over. There is no other way. There is no plan B.
28% of practicing Christians strongly agree to this statement: “All people pray to the same god or spirit, no matter what name they use for that spiritual being.” What do you think? If you find yourself agreeing with that statement, can I offer you an alternative point of view? Here’s what the Bible says in Acts 4:12 about Jesus Christ, “there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
It is clear from this statistic and from personal observation that the message of Christ has not been understood by a large number of practicing Christians in America. That’s roughly 28 million people who have misunderstood why Jesus came to earth but believe that they do understand. Our faith in Christ can only grow if the right seed or message has been planted in our hearts. In the same way that oak trees only come from acorns, true faith and life in Christ only comes from understanding the message of Christ – he is the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through him.
True faith not only comes from trusting that Christ is the only way, it comes from trusting him all the way. Many of Jesus’ original disciples didn’t follow him all the way. They turned back from following him because they were not trusting in him but in their own abilities. But during his life on earth the Lord made it clear that trusting in our humanness is not the way that leads to eternal life. It is actually the path of destruction and ultimately death – both physical and spiritual. No one can bear fruit for God if they are trusting in their own self instead of Christ. We have to let go of the desire and the will of doing it in our own strength and abilities in order for the power of God to work in us.
Paul the apostle tells us we have to die to our natural tendencies of doing things if we want to become like Christ. “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7:4-6) Because of our sinful natures our natural tendency is to go against any righteous law. Paul even says that our sinful passions are brought on because of the law. So our natural, sinful nature sees a sign that says, “Don’t bud in line,” and the first thing we want to do is to bud in line.
Yet, gloriously, when we hear the message of Christ, and we understand it, we begin to bear fruit. God’s righteous laws and standards have not changed, but we have. The old way of the written code is to do what is right because I have to or because if I don’t there will be consequences. The new way of the Spirit is to follow the will and the laws and the ways of God because I want to. There is freedom, absolute freedom, when I submit my life and my heart to the Lordship of Christ. There is a change of spirit on our inside, and that change is because the Spirit of God has come inside and given us His life.
Jesus calls out to us and says, “Follow me.” When we place our trust in him, and follow him wherever he leads, his Spirit that has come to live in us causes our lives to bear fruit. But how does that happen? How do we grow? The key according to Jesus is that we abide in him.
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)
Many people make the mistake of separating their “spiritual” life from the rest of their life. If we are to understand Jesus’ use of this metaphor of the vine and the branches, we realize that there can be no separation of our spiritual life from the rest of our life. Abiding in Him is much more than doing daily devotions, and weekly Bible study, and ministry on Wednesday nights and worship on Sabbath, although all these things are a part of it. It is the reality that my life is connected 24/7 to Jesus. Anything that is life giving and worthwhile for us flows out of this constant connection with our Lord. This is why he said that apart from him we can do nothing. Nothing that we do on our own initiative, of our own will, or our own self-centered nature will produce fruit. Only through him can we grow in faith and produce the fruit of that faith.
In our spiritual life passage, John 15:1-11, Jesus uses the word abide ten times. That means that it is really important. But how do we do that? Using the example of the vine I see at least two ways to practically live out what is means to abide in the Lord. A branch is connected physically to the rest of the tree, and just by looking you can see that. However, if the sap on the inside of the branch is not flowing, the branch will die. Then it’s just a matter of time before the leaves stop growing and eventually the branch falls off. Even though on the outside a branch can be connected to the rest of the tree, it must stay connected on the inside in order to bear fruit.
The same is true with us. We need to stay connected to the Lord in ways that are observable outwardly. Worship on Sabbath, weekly Bible study with others, daily devotions, sharing what God is doing in our life in fellowship with others, serving Christ in various ministries of the church and other ministries of God’s Kingdom. These are all ways that we maintain a connection with Christ.
However, we can stay connected in all of these outwards ways and still not be connected with Christ on the inside. The sap of the Holy Spirit needs to flow. This is where we share our heart with the Lord and allow Him to share His heart with us. It is where we open up our soul and keep it open before Him through regular confession of our sin, through keeping our hearts from being hardened to a real and personal relationship with the Lord. We need to be sappy – to be filled with the Holy Spirit and allow Him to move in our lives. Once we start cutting off the Holy Spirit from moving and doing what He desires to do in us, our hearts start to become hard and we stop growing.
But if we abide in the Lord, we will bear fruit, and the fruit that we bear is the very nature and character of Jesus. We cannot grow this fruit on our own. We cannot work this fruit up no matter how hard we try. We can only watch it grow as we abide in the Lord, and as we stay close to Jesus.