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Clinging to a Counterfeit Cross

Clinging to a Counterfeit Cross

by James P. Shelly


Bear or Burn: The Fruit of Obedience in the Parables of Christ

When Jesus spoke of the parable of the four soils, He said to His disciples, "Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?" (Mark 4:13). It is essential that we understand this parable if we are to correctly interpret many of the sayings of Christ which when misinterpreted can prove as costly as that of the eternal life of the soul.

Therefore hear the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty - Matthew 13:18-23 (emphasis added)

Preceding the explanation of this parable Jesus, in Matthew 13:14, 15, quotes Isaiah saying,

'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.'(emphasis added).

We find that of the four soils, they all hear the word but only the seed sown on good soil "hears the word and understands it." Jesus makes plain in the preceding passages that it is only those that hear the word and understand it that will turn and be healed. In Mark it is stated as, "Lest they should turn, and their sins be forgiven them" (Mk. 4:12). To turn and be healed then has the same meaning as "repent and be saved." Thus, it becomes clear that only the seed sown on the good ground receives the forgiveness of sin resulting in salvation. These alone bear fruit worthy of repentance (Matt. 3:8). In Mark's account we read that the thorny ground seed "yielded no crop," in the King James "yielded no fruit" and in the NIV "did not bear grain" making them of no more use than the tares which are to be gathered and burned in the fire (Matt. 13:30). We find then that the first three of the four soils produced no harvestable fruit and therefore the seed never reaches its intended goal in salvation.

The parable of the four soils, if taken in a straightforward manner, is a simple illustration of the various responses to the Gospel based on the experiences of the typical farmer when sowing seeds in a field. One vital aspect of this parable, which is often not given sufficient emphasis, is that seed is sown with only one purpose in mind—to produce a crop that brings fourth good fruit that is edible and harvestable when ripened and mature. The seed that does so has fulfilled its purpose. The seed that does not has failed, no matter its initial progress or lack thereof. Whatever remains of the unfruitful plants, being of no value to the farmer, are gathered up and thrown into the fire to be burned. In Luke we find that the seed sown among thorns, which is often interpreted as a believer, is described as "bringing no fruit to maturity." The term is used here in the sense of a pregnant women never reaching full term. The implanted seed has as its sole purpose and goal the bearing of a child and if not brought forth to completion by way of a miscarriage, an abortion, etc., no matter the extent of its initial progress, it has utterly failed in its mission as the pregnancy becomes unfruitful, often bringing with it more anguish and despair than having never been conceived. Even so it is with the seed planted among thorns which brings no fruit to maturity. It is one who receives the seed of the Gospel but because the cares, riches, and pleasures of life choke the word there is a miscarriage, its intended aim aborted, and thus it never comes to fruition. And even as in the case of a miscarried child, the subsequent consequence is more dire than if the word had never been sown (Luke 12:47, 48, 2 Pet. 2:20) The seed must either be sown on good ground, an unwavering faith in God, living for the eternal and things not seen, giving birth to spiritual fruit, i.e., a Christian, or it is sown on the poor ground of doubt and unbelief, easily miscarried by the things that are seen and experienced in the temporal and therefore births nothing but the works of the flesh.

Moreover, it is stated in Luke's account that the good soil that "yielded a crop" are those "having heard the word with a noble and good heart" (8:15). The word "good" in this passage is the Greek word agathos meaning "of good constitution or nature." It is the same word used by Christ in Luke 18:19, "Why do you call Me good (agathos)? No one is good (agathos) but One, that is, God" and in Matthew 7:17, "Even so, every good (agathos) tree bears good fruit" and in Matthew 12:35, "A good (agathos) man out of the good (agathos) treasure of his heart brings forth good (agathos) things." These are descriptive of the divinely renewed spiritual heart. They alone have spiritual perception—ears to hear and hearts to understand the words of the Spirit. To suggest that the thorny ground hearer is in a state of salvation is to imply that good fruit is produced only by those Christian's with superior hearts to that of the thorny ground Christians. This is not only repugnant, but would tend to the kind of elitism spoken against throughout Scripture. Those, "Who say, 'Keep to yourself, Do not come near me, For I am holier than you!' These are smoke in My nostrils, A fire that burns all the day" (Isa. 65:5). Rather, "in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself" (Phil. 2:3). "That none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" (1 Cor. 4:6, 7). "Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith" (Rom. 3:27). Likewise, if only the "good soil" hearers are saved because they have naturally "good and noble hearts" then surely they have something to boast of. For this would indeed be a salvation which is predicated on the superior goodness of one's own heart, attaining salvation because they are better than others. However, there can be no such boasting when the good and noble heart is a product of God's grace given to the sinner through faith—"get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die" (Ezek. 18:31)—"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you...and you will keep My judgments and do them" (Ezek 36:26, 27). In other words, repent by recognizing the wickedness and hardness of your own heart and your desperate need of a change of heart renewed by God. Trust in the Lord, calling upon His name that He might grant you a new heart according to His promise; a receptive and compliant heart, a cleansed heart, a heart in which His Spirit abides—the treasure out of which springs forth good fruit; some 'a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.'" If this new heart be not ours we are not saved, however, we cannot earn it by our good works for we cannot perform good works without first receiving this new heart. It would be like a tare trying to become wheat by producing wheat when it would, in fact, have to be created anew and converted into wheat before it could do so. Likewise, we must be created anew, born again for good works, before we can perform them. Ephesians 2:8-10 in the amplified version states;

For we are God's [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live].

Therefore even as God prepared beforehand the grain that would be produced when planting wheat seed, God prepared beforehand the works that would be produced when planting the seed of the Gospel. A Christian that does not produce "good fruit" would be as much of an anomaly as a stalk of wheat that does not produce grain. So then, if we are not producing good fruit the solution is not found in our working harder to produce it but rather to "get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit," "Created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph. 4:23, 24) and this "new man," v. 24, being of Divine origin, will naturally be characterized by holy and righteous fruit. Again, God says "I will give you a new heart." Therefore, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened (Matt. 7:7, 8). If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him! (Luke 11:13). J. C. Ryle writes,

The Holy Spirit is beyond doubt the greatest gift which God can bestow upon man. Having this gift, we have all things—life, light, hope and heaven. Having this gift we have God the Father's boundless love, God the Son's atoning blood, and full communion with all three Persons of the blessed Trinity. Having this gift, we have grace and peace in the world that now is, glory and honor in the world to come. And yet this mighty gift is held out by our Lord Jesus Christ as a gift to be obtained by prayer! "Your heavenly Father shall give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him." There are few passages in the Bible which so completely strip the unconverted man of his common excuses as this passage. He says he is "weak and helpless." But does he ask to be made strong? He says he is "wicked and corrupt." But does he seek to be made better? He says he "can do nothing of himself." But does he knock at the door of mercy, and pray for the grace of the Holy Spirit? These are questions to which many, it may be feared, can make no answer. They are what they are, because they have no real desire to be changed. They have not, because they ask not. They will not come to Christ, that they may have life; and therefore they remain dead in trespasses and sins.

So then, to preach a gospel with the thought that the production of righteous fruit is of secondary importance or optional can be likened to a farmer sowing wheat seed with the thought that producing grain is of secondary importance or optional. Both are equally absurd in that it would contradict the universally recognized purpose of sowing seed. Justification, forgiveness, reconciliation, redemption, etc. are all elements within the seed, but the primary purpose for which it is sown is to bear the fruit of righteousness. To teach that any one of the first three soils in the parable are saved contradicts and perverts the objective of sowing seed, subverting the teaching of the parable, the power of its message, and, indeed, the Gospel itself. Is it any wonder then that such a perversion would result in producing a multitude of "worthless" plants within the professing Church? "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless. They speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the Lord" (Jer. 23:16).

The principle of the necessity of bearing fruit is further illustrated in the parable of the barren fig tree in Luke 13:6-9;

A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, 'Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?' But he answered and said to him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.'

Although this parable primarily speaks in reference to Israel the principle set forth is universal; a fruit tree that remains barren is worthless in that it has not fulfilled its intended purpose. Israel, as depicted by the fig tree, was planted to "bear fruit to God" and having failed in their purpose, if they did not repent, they would be cut down and destroyed. Jesus illustrates this fruit bearing principle again in the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13:24-30). In His explanation He says,

He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! – Matthew 13:37-43

Again, the good seed is sown, but here the seed "are the sons of the kingdom" v. 38. But there are also tares, the sons of the wicked one, sown among the wheat. The tares are, until grain appears on the wheat, next to impossible to discern from the wheat. Alford Edersheim writes;

According to the common view, these Tares represent what is botanically known as the 'bearded Darnel' (Lolium temulentum), a poisonous rye-grass, very common in the East, 'entirely like wheat until the ear appears,' or else (according to some), the 'creeping wheat' or 'couch-grass' (Triticum repens), of which the roots creep underground and become intertwined with those of the wheat. But the Parable gains in meaning if we bear in mind that, according to ancient Jewish (and, indeed, modern Eastern) ideas, the Tares were not of different seed, but only a degenerate kind of wheat. Whether in legend or symbol, Rabbinism has it that even the ground had been guilty of fornication before the judgment of the Flood, so that when wheat was sown tares sprang up. The Jewish hearers of Jesus would, therefore, think of these tares as degenerate kind of wheat, originally sprung at the time of the Flood, through the corruptness of the earth, but now, alas! so common in their fields; wholly undistinguishable from the wheat, till the fruit appeared: noxious, poisonous, and requiring to be separated from the wheat, if the latter was not to become useless.2

So then, unlike wheat, the tares bring no good fruit to maturity even as it is said of the seed sown among thorns. It is also of vital significance to understand that the tares, as representative of the unregenerate living side by side with the regenerate, do not depict those who are living outwardly sinful lives, but rather even as Judas, a tare among the disciples, they would appear outwardly to be faithful followers of Christ. When Jesus spoke of the one who would betray Him the disciples had no suspicion whatsoever that it was Judas He was speaking of; "And they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, "Lord, is it I?" (Matt. 26:22). In other words, there were no discernible outward signs of unfaithfulness or sinful behavior that would single Judas out as the probable offender. This is distinct from outwardly sinful acts which require Church discipline and possibly excommunication, for it speaks of the imperceptible and hidden things of the heart which only God can know and will not be fully revealed until the judgment, "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts" (1 Cor. 4:5). The tares represent those who appear to be "good" outwardly while having none of the good fruit bearing traits which God always produces in the renewed and regenerate heart. They are inward hypocrites, even as Jesus says of the Pharisees, "Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matt. 23:28). The Pulpit Commentary states,

Note the important difference between the tares and the thorns. The wheat and the tares grow together till the harvest; then the tares are easily separated and burnt. The perfected wheat is as easily separated and garnered. But the thorns choke the wheat, and there is never any real gathering at all. Wheat that does not reach maturity is worth nothing as wheat. It cannot be put into the garner. Hence the keeping down of the thorns is every whit as important as the pushing forward of the wheat. If the negative conditions are neglected, the positive conditions are nullified.3

Jesus, once again, illustrates this "fruit bearing" principle in John 15:2-8;

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

Jesus says, "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away." The Greek word for "takes away" in this passage is "airw" (airo) and can also mean to "lift up." In light of this, some have argued that the picture drawn here is that of a vinedresser tenderly lifting up the fruitless branch off the ground in order to help it along in the fruit bearing process. In other words, the fruitless branch is a fruitless Christian which God lovingly "lifts up" that it might eventually bear fruit. However, this would not be an adequate solution to the problem presented in the parable. The cause of the fruitlessness was in that the branch was not abiding in the Vine for Jesus says in v. 5, "He who abides in Me...bears much fruit." In other words, according to Christ, if it were already abiding it would not be fruitless. A branch not abiding would not only be fruitless but lifeless; a branch that never took root. Grafting would be the only process whereby a non-abiding branch might take root and therefore lifting it off the ground (which was generally done to keep the fruit already on the branch from spoiling), would be to no avail. In addition, considering what Christ says of the fruit bearing branch, "Every branch that bears fruit He prunes" stating the purpose "that it may bear more fruit," one would expect He would have done likewise in v. 2 by saying, "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He lifts up," stating the purpose "that it might bear fruit." These few additional words would have eliminated any ambiguity if this was His meaning. However, when translating the word as "takes away" or "cuts off" the meaning is clear with no need of any added clarification.

Jesus was not suggesting, but commanding that his disciples abide in Him that they might bear fruit to the glory of the Father. He says in v. 14, "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you." If they chose not to abide in Christ it would be a severing of their relationship with Him by a willful act of defiance. To refuse to abide would not be a onetime act of disobedience, but an ongoing state of unbelief. A branch does not change its state from day to day; it either abides in the vine or it dies. What possible reason would the disciples have for not abiding in Him if not for a willful rejection of all that He claimed, did and taught? It would be similar to what Paul says in Romans 11:19-22,

Because of unbelief they [the branches] were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue (Grk. epimeno) in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.

The Greek word "epimeno" translated as "continue" in v. 22 is translated in v. 23 in the KJV as "abide." "And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again." If they refused to abide would we expect Christ to respond to such unfaithfulness with tender loving care? Paul says "consider the goodness and severity of God." The goodness of God if they would abide in His goodness by faith or the severity of being "cut off" by abiding in unbelief. It is not left to speculation for we are given numerous examples of Christ's typical stance towards those who remain fruitless. He says cut down the fruitless fig tree (Matt. 13:7)—Cut down and throw into the fire every fruitless tree (Matt. 3:10)—He sends out His angels to gather up and burn the fruitless tares (Matt. 13:30)—He separates the chaff from the fruitful wheat and burns it with unquenchable fire (Matt. 3:12)—He takes the Kingdom away from and destroys the obstinate and fruitless Jews and says He will give it to those who will bear the fruit of it (Matt. 21:43). He says in Luke 12:47, "And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes." Why then in this instance would we think His response to the fruitless branch would be one of tender loving care rather than severity? That the branch would be "cut off" would be in perfect harmony with His general posture toward the unproductive and barren who profess a relationship with God. Christ then eliminates any reasonable doubt as to the ultimate fate of any branch that would remain in a fruitless state in v. 6, "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned." It is significant that not one of the dozens of established Bible translations have ever translated this word as "lifts up" in this text but rather as "takes away," "cuts off," or "removes." The "Net Bible" translators note;

The Greek verb "airw" can mean "lift up"; as well as "take away," and it is sometimes argued that here it is a reference to the gardener lifting up (i.e., propping up) a weak branch so that it bears fruit again. In Johannine usage the word occurs in the sense of lift up in John 8:59 and 5:8-12, but in the sense of "remove" it is found in John 11:39, 11:48, 16:22, and 17:15. In context...the meaning "remove" does seem more natural and less forced (particularly in light of v. 6, where worthless branches are described as being "thrown out"; an image that seems incompatible with restoration)....It seems most likely, therefore, that the branches who do not bear fruit and are taken away and burned are false believers, those who profess to belong to Jesus but who in reality do not belong to him. In the Gospel of John, the primary example of this category is Judas. In 1 John 2:18-19 the antichrists fall into the same category; they too may be thought of as branches that did not bear fruit. They departed from the ranks of the Christians because they never did really belong, and their departure shows that they did not belong (words in brackets added).4

As a result of interpreting "takes away" as "lifts up" in this passage, "abiding in Christ" is also considered as optional for the Christian. Here again we have the teaching that speaks of two types of Christians—One who abides and bears fruit, and one who does not abide, bears no fruit, and yet remains a believer. But what does Scripture say? "Whoever confesses (Grk. homologeo) that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God" (1 John 4:15). Is this not the confession of every Christian? "If you confess (homologeo) with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Rom. 10:9). Whoever does not confess that Jesus is the Son of God is not a believer and so likewise whoever does not abide in God and God in them. Jesus says in John 6:54 "Whoever eats of My flesh and drinks of My blood has eternal life" and in verse 56, "He who eats of My flesh and drinks of My blood abides in Me, and I in Him." In other words, abiding in Him is presented here as no more of an option than believing in Christ is an option in one who receives eternal life. The original Greek points out that the "abiding" v. 56, is a continuous action. We find then that only those who continuously eat of His flesh and drink of His blood, i.e., continuously abide in Him, continue in His goodness, have eternal life. John says in 1 Jn. 3:6, "Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him." In other words, the one who does not abide in Him has neither seen Him nor known Him which is the antithesis of how Scripture identifies the believer (1 Jn. 4:6, 7, 1 Thess. 4:5, 2 Thess. 1:8, Tit. 1:16, 3 Jn. 11, Matt. 7:23).

The sum of the matter is this; abiding in Christ for the Christian is no more of an option than abiding in Adam is for the unbeliever. Those born of the Spirit live and abide in Christ—Those born of the flesh live and abide in Adam. The one being characterized by the "works of the flesh" the other being characterized by the "fruit of the Spirit." The analogy of the relationship between the Vinedresser, the Vine and the branch is a perfect and striking image of every Christians intimate union with Christ under the attentive and loving care of God the Father in salvation. Spurgeon comments,

The vine is constantly used in Scripture as a picture of the nominal Church of Christ; so, like the vine, we must either bring forth fruit or we shall be counted good for nothing....We must bear fruit, or we shall certainly perish.5

The NIDNTT states:

Such an abiding in Christ makes a man Christ's property right down to the depths of his being. It is not confined to spiritual relationship or agreement, but means present experience of salvation and hence life (John 6:57). Therefore 'He who says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked' (1 John 2:6). The indwelling Christ, or life through the word of Christ, demands and forms a life conforming to His Spirit and nature and will and brings about sanctification. 'He who does the will of God abides forever' (1 John 2:17). Abiding in Christ is the same as bearing fruit (John 15:5). If there is no fruit, it is a sign that fellowship has already been interrupted (John 15:6, 1 John 3:6). Where this is true, the wrath of God rests upon the unbeliever (John 3:36).6

The branches in the Vine are pictured in the parable as those grafted into the Vine as a result of believing in Christ (Rom 11:16-24). When a branch is grafted into a vine, by all outward appearances it would seem to be a part of the vine, however, unless it takes root it never bears fruit. Jesus says, "The branch in the vine that bears no fruit is "cast out as a branch" (Jn. 15:6). It is an unsuccessful graft in that comes to Christ in outward expression but not with an inward sincerity of faith, for Jesus says in John 6:37,

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out (italics added).

It is not until the branch becomes one with the vine, with the life of the vine flowing into the branch, that the graft becomes a living, thriving and productive branch. This is the branch in whom the word of God "effectively works" (1 Thess. 2:13). This is when the Word of God becomes, "living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb. 4:12). It is then "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16). It informs us of our purpose in this world, how we are to live while here (1 Pet. 1:17), and of our hope when departing. We hide it in our hearts, we treasure it in our bosom, our eyes are now opened to it, our ears can now hear it, we speak of it with our lips, we meditate upon it with our minds, do what it commands with our hands and walk in its way with our feet. It is our counselor, our wisdom, our comforter, our help, our hope, our joy. It upholds us, teaches us, strengthens us, encourages us, humbles us and exalts us. We embrace its promises with our whole heart (Acts 8:37). It is more precious to us than fine gold and we treasure it more than our necessary food (Job 23:12). We abide in this living Word and it abides and lives in us that we might bear fruit to the honor and glory of our most beloved Father. "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples." (Jn. 15:8, NASB). "That they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified" (Isa. 61:3). This all being accomplished as the life of the Vine flows through and into the grafted branch, working in it for the sole purpose of yielding fruit (Phil 2:13), the type and quality being determined by the type and quality of the Vine itself. In other words, the indwelling Spirit produces the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). And since we could not, and would not, generate this fruit apart from the Vine, the Vine rightly receives all the glory for the "good fruit" which it produces. "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me" (Jn. 15:4). In contrast, "Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted" (Matt. 15:13). To the branch that never takes root the Word is dull, tiresome, tedious, monotonous, unmoving and ineffectual; A lifeless, dead letter and thus the branch dries up, withers, and dies and is taken away and burned. "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (Jam. 2:26). So again, in the parable of the vine, we are taught the principle that we are not saved by keeping the commandments, i.e., bearing fruit, however, if we do not keep the commandments it is a sure sign that the graft of the branch was unsuccessful and never took root (1 Jn. 2:4). "Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us" (1 Jn. 3:26). In Matthew 13:41, 42 it says of the tares,

The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and they will be cast (Grk. ballo) into the furnace of fire.

And in Matthew 7:19,

Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown (ballo) into the fire.

And in John 15:6,

If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch ...and they gather them and throw (ballo) them into the fire, and they are burned [all italics added].

We have no reason to believe otherwise than that the "they" that gather in Matt. 13:41 are the "they" that gather in Jn. 15:6. The "those" who practice lawlessness and are cast (ballo) into the fire in Matt. 13:41 are the "anyone" who does not abide and are thrown (ballo) into the fire in Jn. 15:6. The fire in Matt. 13:41 is eternal damnation and to suppose that the fire in Jn. 15:6 is to be anything less is to pervert its plain meaning. Some who see abiding as optional suggest that the fire here is the loss of reward at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:15) where their works are burned up in the fire. However, the branch represents the person not his works; "he is cast out as a branch" and therefore the person is thrown into the fire; not saved through the fire as it is said of the person in the Corinthian passage.

We see then that the branch appears to be in the vine but bears no fruit—the fig tree appears as any other fig tree but bears no fruit—the tares appear to be wheat but they bear no fruit—the seed that falls on the first three of the soils bear no fruit. The teaching in these passages is unmistakable—The branch, the tare, the tree, and the first three of the four seeds, bear no fruit and as a result they will bear the eternal wrath of God's judgment, establishing the truth that saving faith is a fruit bearing faith. On the other hand a counterfeit, fruitless faith is, even as flavorless salt, "good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men" (Matt. 5:13).

We find this same principle once again, resulting in the same fate, in the parable of "the dragnet" (Matt. 13:47). The net being the gospel cast into the sea of humanity gathering some of every kind,

And when it was filled, they drew it up on the beach; and they sat down and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they threw away. So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 13:48-50 (NASB).

Again we have the "they," which are the angels of God gathering and throwing the "bad" into the fire of eternal judgment (Matt. 13:50). The "bad," whether they are those who, "profess to know God, but by their works they deny Him" (Titus 1:16), claim Christ as Lord but do not the things which He says (Luke 6:46), reject Christ as Lord declaring, "We will not have this man to reign over us" (Luke 19:14), the fruitless professor or the flat out fool who says in his heart "There is no God" (Ps. 53:1), all fall short of saving faith and will suffer the same fate—the fiery wrath of God in judgment.

We come then to appreciate what Jesus said to his disciples about the necessity of understanding the parable of the four soils, for those who misinterpret this parable often misinterpret many of the sayings of Christ (2 Pet. 3:16) resulting in a misinterpretation of the identifying marks of a true Christian. Consequently, many end up deceived, thinking they are what they are not, with a salvation they have not. The parable of the rock and the sand becomes two types of Christians (Matt. 7:24), those who "walk in the Spirit," and those who "walk in the flesh," become two types of Christians, etc. Thus, there are no longer only two ways; a "broad" and a "narrow," but "another way" added which is a mixture of the two. This is a so-called gospel where one can "enter in at the narrow gate" (Matt. 7:13) and then proceed to walk in the broad way. One can "enter" the Kingdom by a profession of faith, however, if they aspire to "inherit" the kingdom, i.e., have a "special" abiding relationship with Christ and receive rewards, they must now become a disciple of Christ and begin walking in the narrow and difficult way. Whichever way one chooses their salvation is secure. While the true sheep are hungering for the deep things of God the so-called shepherds spend much of their time force-feeding the goats who have no spiritual hunger at all. They labor fertilizing and watering the "tares," while the growth of the precious "wheat" is stunted. This is a gospel wherein the Chief Shepherd is so permissive that He actually allows His sheep the choice as to whether or not they will follow Him—giving them the option of being their own shepherd. If they do choose to follow Him He is too weak to keep them from continuing to stray. As King He is so inept and incompetent that He allows His subjects to reject His rule and reign, resulting in moral anarchy throughout His Kingdom; A Master of the house that allows His slaves to serve themselves; A Father that is incapable of bringing his children into reverent submission, which according to 1 Tim. 3:4, 5, 12, disqualifies Him from being a Pastor or a deacon in the Church, much less the Lord of lords. They pray for the revival of backsliders, when in fact it is salvation they need. The so-called "spiritual" Christians, with pride, look down on the "carnal" Christians with a righteousness that does not exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees but is identical to it; "I thank my God I am not like these other men." They are "puffed up" thinking that they excel more than others as a result of the superiority of their own character and innate goodness. Their salvation is not of works, but their sanctification is. In short, they have a form of godliness but deny the power of God in salvation (2 Tim. 3:5). "For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts are always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. 3:7)that all of salvation is of the Vinedresser and not of the branches; That because, "Of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, 'He who glories, let him glory in the Lord' (1 Cor. 1:30, 31). As David Wells rightly says, "A God with whom we are on such easy not the God of Abraham, He is not the God of Jacob, and he is not the God of the true Christian."7

If we have even the slightest concern for the souls of men we cannot leave these erroneous teachings unchecked, no matter how well respected the man who teaches them. For it not only perverts the gospel, but the very nature and character of God. Jesus said, "But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed the tares among the wheat." As we continue to sleep, the enemy's seed continues to be sown, and as we see in the modern day Church, it is indeed producing a great harvest of fruitless and wayward professors. J. C. Ryle commenting on the parable of the four soils writes;

We may listen to a sermon and approve of every word it contains, and yet get no good from it in consequence of the absorbing influence of this world. Our hearts, like the thorny ground, may be choked with a rank crop of cares, pleasures and worldly plans. We may really like the Gospel, and wish to obey it, and yet insensibly give it no chance of bearing fruit, by allowing other things to fill a place in our affections, until they occupy our whole hearts. Alas, there are many such hearers! They know the truth well: they hope one day to be decided Christians; but they never come to the point of giving up all for Christ's sake. They never make up their minds to "seek first the kingdom of God"—and so die in their sins....let us learn from this parable that there is only one evidence of hearing the Word rightly. That evidence is to bear "fruit." The fruit here spoken of is the fruit of the Spirit. Repentance towards God, faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ, holiness of life and character, prayerfulness, humility, charity, spiritual mindedness—these are the only satisfactory proofs that the seed of God's Word is doing its proper work in our souls. Without such proofs our religion is vain, however high our profession: it is no better than sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. Christ has said, "I have chosen you and ordained you that ye should go and bring forth fruit." (John 15:16). There is no part of the whole parable more important than this. We must never be content with a barren orthodoxy, and a coldly maintenance of correct theological views; we must not be satisfied with clear knowledge, warm feelings, and a decent profession; we must see to it that the Gospel we profess to love produces positive "fruit" in our hearts and lives. This is real Christianity. These words of St. James should often ring in our ears: "Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." (James 1:22). Let us not leave these verses without putting to ourselves the important question, "How do we hear?" We live in a Christian country; we probably go to a place of worship Sunday after Sunday, and hear sermons. In what spirit do we hear them? What effect have they upon our characters? Can we point to anything that deserves the name of "fruit"? We may rest assured that to reach heaven at last it needs something more than to go to church regularly on Sundays and listen to preachers. The Word of God must be received into our hearts, and become the mainspring of our conduct: it must produce practical impressions on our inward man, that shall appear in our outward behaviour. If it does not do this, it will only add to our condemnation on the day of judgment.8

Again, Jesus said to the fruitless Jews,

Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. (Matt. 21:43, NASB).

God's Kingdom is depicted throughout Scripture as a vineyard (Isa 5, Jn. 15). A vineyard, including every individual plant in the vineyard, has only one purpose for its existence; the bearing of fruit. A plant that remains fruitless does nothing more than take up the ground and must be plucked up, taken away and discarded. Israel as a people were the rightful heirs of the Kingdom but forfeited their inheritance as a result of their unfaithfulness to God, not serving Him acceptably with reverence and godly fear. With the exception of the remnant, they had become a barren and fruitless nation. "A disobedient and contrary people" (Rom. 10:21), living in opposition to His will; unwilling to faithfully and lovingly submit to His rule and reign as King (Luke 19:14). Appearing outwardly righteous before men but in their hearts they were hypocrites; honoring God with their lips but their hearts were far from Him and their worship of Him was in vain. Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men (Matt. 15:7-9). Their apparent righteousness being nothing more than filthy rags in God's sight (Isa. 64:6). They were, "Foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another" (Titus 3:3). Therefore, the Kingdom was to be taken away from them and given to a people who would bear the fruit of it. The Owner of the vineyard would gather up and destroy the fruitless plants, establish a new vineyard, wherein there would be the fruit-bearing remnant from the previous vineyard as well as new branches grafted in from every nation; Whoever, by faith, would fear Him and work righteousness would be accepted by Him (Acts 10:35); The one, "Who rejoices and does righteousness, who remembers Him in His ways" (Isa. 64:5). For He Himself would put His laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and He would be their God, and they would be His people (Heb. 8:10). They would be productive in that He Himself would live and work in them, abiding in them and they in Him (Ezek. 36:27, Phil. 2:13, Jn. 15:4, 5). For, "if the root is holy, so are the branches" (Rom. 11:16). Even the fruitless branches that had been previously broken off, if they would repent of their fruitlessness, could be grafted in again alongside the newly grafted branches. Fruit being His only objective He shows no partiality between branches for even the new branches would also be broken off if they did not take root and bear fruit (Rom. 11:16-22). Therefore, only the living and fruitful branches would ultimately remain and grow in His vineyard and would bear a bountiful crop; some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred fold, bringing forth the fruit of "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control," "in all goodness, righteousness, and truth" (Eph. 5:1, 9 Gal. 3:27, 1 Jn. 2:6, Gal. 5:22);they would relate to Him as their Lord, be obedient to His teachings, and seek to do His will with love from a pure heart (Luke 6:46, Matt. 7:21, 1 Jn. 2:17, Heb. 10:36, 1 Tim. 1:5). They walk worthy of God who calls them into His own kingdom and glory(1 Thess. 2:12) bearing the peaceable fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12:11). Being slaves of God they are "set free from sin," and have their "fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life" (Rom. 6:22). For, "The kingdom of God is...righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men." (Rom. 14:17, 18). "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Heb. 12:28). "He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Col. 1:13). "Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?" (James 2:5). "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1). Don't be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit (Gal. 6:7, 8, NLT). Dear reader, let no one mislead you with empty words, the thorny ground hearer was lost—The tare was a child of the devil—The barren fig tree was cursed—The branch without fruit was dead—The "bad" in the net condemned. Do not be deceived in believing that a professed relationship with Christ would exempt you from the necessity of doing the works of Christ anymore than the Jews were deceived in that they thought their relationship with Abraham would exempt them from doing the works of Abraham; "If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham" (Jn. 8:39), walking in the steps of the faith which Abraham had (Rom. 4:12). Likewise, those who claim a relationship with Christ are to walk just as He walked (1 Jn. 2:6), imitators of God as dear children (Eph. 5:1). The fruitless depict those who hear the Word but it never lives and thrives in their heart. "Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word [bear good fruit], and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves" [like the first three soils]. (Jam. 1:21, 22, brackets added) Albert Barnes writes;

It is implied here, that by merely hearing the word but not doing it, they would deceive their own souls. The nature of this deception was this, that they would imagine that that was all which was required, whereas the main thing was that they should be obedient. If a man supposes that by a mere punctual attendance on preaching, or a respectful attention to it, he has done all that is required of him, he is laboring under a most gross self-deception. And yet there are multitudes who seem to imagine that they have done all that is demanded of them when they have heard attentively the word preached. Of its influence on their lives, and its claims to obedience, they are utterly regardless.9

We read in Jeremiah 17:7-10,

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.
The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?
I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give every man according to his ways,
According to the fruit of his doings. (emphasis added)

We find then this central and vital truth throughout Scripture;

A good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil - Luke 6:43-45

Lest we be deceived we need to ask ourselves the following questions; have we truly understood with our hearts the Gospel? Have we repented of sin and turned to Christ that He might heal us? Have we received a new heart, a good and noble heart, out of which comes forth good things or are we so caught up in the cares, riches and pleasures of life, that the word is choked and brings no fruit to maturity? Are we lovers of pleasure or lovers of God? Are we seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness or do we first seek the kingdom of this world and sin. Do we live for ourselves doing what pleases us or are we living for Him doing His will, for His good pleasure. Are we about our own business or the Father's business. Are we abiding in Christ and does His Word abide in us bearing much fruit to the glory of the Father; a hundredfold, sixty, thirty? Is the fruit of the Spirit or the works of the flesh that which characterizes our daily lives? Has the Word of God become living and powerful, effectually working in our hearts, cleansing us from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God, bearing the peaceable fruit of righteousness and of holiness or is it to us a dead and lifeless letter having little effect on the sin in our lives. Do we truly have ears that hear being doers of the word or are we dull and hard of hearing in that we hear and do not obey? Are we good trees bearing good fruit, trees of righteousness planted by the Father, or bad trees bearing the fruit of our sinful flesh? Are we slaves of righteousness or slaves of sin? Are we the bad in the net or the good? Wheat or tares? Are we Christians or not!? For,

The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, [every tree that does not bear good fruit, every branch not abiding in the Vine, all who call Christ Lord but do not obey His teachings, the tares among the wheat, the goats among the sheep, the chaff, the bad, the unrighteous], and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! - Matthew 13:40-43 Matthew 7:19, John 15:6 Matt. 13:48-50 (brackets and emphasis added).

Saint or Sinner?


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1. Luke (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels), J. C. Ryle, Luke 11:13 (Banner of Truth, 1986).

2. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Volume 1, Chapter 23, Alfred Edersheim D.D. (Aeterna Press, 1953)

3. The Pulpit Commentary, Jeremiah 12:13, (Hendrickson Pub, October 1, 1985)

4. Net Bible, John 15:2 (

5. Charles Hadden Spurgeon, Qouting Spurgeon (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994), p.63

6. New International Dictionary of N.T. Theology, Edited by Colin Brown (Zondervan: 1986)

7. God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams, David F. Wells, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994) p. 93

8. Matthew (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels), J. C. Ryle, Matthew 8:14 (Banner of Truth, 1986)

9. Barnes Notes on the Old and New Testaments, Albert Barnes, James 1:22 (Baker Books; 19th edition 1983)

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