Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Multiply! Three types of biblical fruitfulness.

So what? What does fruitfulness have to do with me and my walk with Christ? The short answer: everything.

After establishing a preliminary foundation for the study of fruitfulness in the scriptures in the last blog post, it is important to note that there are several different types or categories of fruitfulness commonly referred to in the bible.

Maybe the Easter Bunny isn't so bad after all?
The first category of biblical fruitfulness is reproductive fruitfulness--God created a world in which living organisms reproduce and multiply. Fruitfulness is a matter of life and death. Every complex organism, whether an ant, a tree, a bird or a person reproduces through some form of sexual reproduction (don't worry, its just wikipedia). God created sexual reproduction--and it was good. Then he went and made it a command--he commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful, and to help the rest of creation to be fruitful. As noted in the last blog post, this was for the purpose of filling the earth with His image bearers.

As hard as it is to believe, man has actually rebelled against this general revelation command of God on countless occasions. Cain's murder of Abel was rebellion against God's command to multiply and fill the earth with image bearers. The sin of Babel was the desire not to be scattered--rebellion against God's command to fill the earth. Paul in the book of Romans even points to the sin of homosexuality as the result of the fall and the subsequent idolatry--a type of sin that defiantly rejects God's created order. (Romans 1:18-32).

This is also one of the reasons why bareness is seen as such a shameful thing in the Old Testament--and also one reason why barren women having children is so significant to the redemption narrative. Sarah gave birth to Isaac in old age, Rachel pleaded with Jacob for a child, saying, "Give me children, or I'll die!" (Gen 30:1), Hannah wept and made a vow before the Lord, the baby in Elizabeth's womb leapt for joy.

The second category of biblical fruitfulness is discipleship fruitfulness. In the last post we saw how the commission given to Adam was echoed in the Great Commission given by Jesus to the church. Christians are called to be fruitful by making disciples, that is, calling others to put their faith in Jesus Christ and live according to his teachings.

The vine is a symbol commonly associated with the nation of Israel in the Old Testament--vines and vineyards are meant to bear fruit: grapes. In John the Baptists' famous sermon, he commands the Pharisees and Sadducees to  'Bear fruit in keeping with repentance." He then goes on to say, "And do not presume to say to yourselves, "We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." (Matthew 3:8-10)

This prophetic word against the people of Israel also is a beachhead into the understanding of discipleship fruitfulness. John links being fruitful with being a true child of Abraham. Paul will develop this further with his discussion of the olive tree (Romans 11:16-24). He also picks up the theme of Abraham's faith in Galatians and says, "Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith." (Galatians 3:7-9)

The latter passage is exciting in that it says that God preached the Gospel to Abraham through his blessing and promises in Genesis 12:1-3... who has ever heard a Gospel sermon preached from Genesis 12:1-3?! It is the Gospel in that the Gentiles would be saved by faith in God! That the true offspring of Abraham, his offspring (fruit) by faith would include the Nations! (Do you see how I did that)!

Therefore, those that put their faith in Jesus and believe the Gospel are the true children of Abraham and recipients of the promise to Abraham. "For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise." (Galatians 3:27-29 Emphasis mine)

Fruitfulness in in spite of barrenness.
Philip and the Ethiopian. Acts 8:26-40
Therefore, the second category of biblical fruitfulness is linked to discipleship--when we are faithful in witnesses to Jesus and people put their faith in His name, we are bearing fruit for the Gospel! "We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth." (Colossians 1:3-6)

I hinted at the third category of biblical fruitfulness in my last blog post. The third type of biblical fruitfulness is the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 says, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." Simply put, the third kind of biblical fruitfulness is sanctification. Sanctification, being made holy, is the work that the Holy Spirit does in those that have faith in Jesus in order to make them more Christlike.

This brings us full circle--because sanctification is the process by which the Holy Spirit restores the marred image of God that was the purpose of the first kind of fruitfulness. In fact, there are not three kinds of biblical fruitfulness--only one: imagio dei, the image of God.

The first kind of biblical fruitfulness, the one linked with sexual reproduction would have been sufficient had Adam and Eve not fallen into sin. However Jesus had to come and redeem fallen humanity--and faith in Him, the second type of biblical fruitfulness becomes the avenue through which God restores His image in us through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, the third kind of biblical fruitfulness. Ultimately we will be given glorified resurrection bodies in which we perfectly reflect the image of Christ. Therefore fruitfulness has to do with our justification, sanctification and eventual glorification as they all relate to the image of God being restored in us.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 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 15:1-5

In my next blog post I hope to draw out some practical applications from these truths.

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