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 15:5 (ESV)
As we finish these articles on evangelism, I want to conclude with a reflection on the source and motivation of why we should evangelize. It is often stated, and rightly so, that evangelism is an aspect of obedience to God. This is true, but we are also Biblically commanded to obey in so many other areas as well. I am commanded to study God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15), discipline my children (Ephesians 6:4), love my wife (Ephesians 5:25), and shepherd Christ’s church just to name a few examples (1 Peter 5:2). All of these Biblical expectations are important, and I am called to obey both out of duty (Luke 17:10) and love (John 15:10). However, I also thoroughly believe that how much I do or how much I do not adhere to these expectations, including evangelism, is directly related to the magnitude regarding which I am abiding in Christ through disciplines like prayer, Bible study, church attendance, etc. As we abide in Christ, and mature in our relationship with Him, an outflow of this relationship is the producing of fruit. Now, unlike some commentators, I do not think that “fruit” is code for “new converts” necessarily, but I do believe that this passage teaches “fruit” is directly related to our witness for Christ. Consider the words of D.A. Carson regarding this passage.
There has been considerable dispute over the nature of ‘fruit’ that is envisaged: the fruit, we are told is obedience, or new converts, or love, or Christian character. These interpretations are reductionistic. The branch’s purpose is to bear much fruit (v.5), but the next verses show that this fruit is the consequences of prayer in Jesus’ name, and is to the Father’s glory (vv. 7, 8, 16). This suggests that the ‘fruit’ in the vine imagery represents everything that is the product of effective prayer in Jesus’ name, including obedience to Jesus’ commands (v. 10), experience of Jesus’ joy (v. 11- as earlier his peace, 14:27), love for one another (v. 12), and witness to the world (v. 16, 27). This fruit is nothing less than the outcome of persevering dependence on the vine, driven by faith, embracing of all the believer’s life and the product of his witness.
Considering Carson’s interpretation of John 15, please allow me to communicate some implications that relate to evangelism for what I believe to be a result of abiding in the vine, or in Jesus. First, this means that we should encourage others to abide in the vine and further develop our relationships in Christ. Please notice that I wrote the word encourage. I believe that encouraging and leading by example are consistent with the spirit of this passage and are the appropriate ways that we should motivate others to grow in these spiritual disciplines that relate to the expectations consistent with abiding in the vine. Second, if we are developing these spiritual disciplines and abiding in the vine, personal evangelism should be a natural outgrowth of this process. Therefore, if we are not bearing witness or are not evangelizing others, we should check our connection with the vine. Third and finally, let’s not forget that the outcome of all this abiding in the vine and bearing of fruit is joy. Jesus states, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” John 15:11 (ESV) So, obedience in fulfilling the commands or expectations of Christ by being a witness of the gospel message to this lost and dying world should result in joy. It’s even better when lost souls come to Christ, but let’s remember, that part of the equation is out of our control. Only the Spirit can make an individual alive in Christ (John 3:3).
Consider these thoughts, and until next time, this is Pastor Daniel writing, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”