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The Fruits of Righteousness

Which are by Jesus Christ

Fruit

by Dennis Pollock

As you spend time in the Scriptures, specific passages, verses, and even phrases will stand out to you. You will develop certain favorites which seem to grab your attention in a special way each time you read them. In this study, I want to share with you one of my favorites. This is not a favorite verse; it is rather a simple phrase which seems to captivate me every time I go over it in the little epistle of Philippians. First, I will share the passage from which the phrase comes, and then I will share the particular phrase. The passage is this:

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

This is Paul’s prayer for the Philippian believers, and it is certainly a prayer we should pray for ourselves and our loved ones. But the particular phrase which stands out most to me consists of these words: “the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ.” For many, many years I have sensed that there is a profound truth here, that these simple words contain an infinite measure of life, truth, and insight.

First let us consider the idea of “fruits of righteousness.” Paul didn’t have to mention fruits. He could have simply said something like, “I pray that you may see righteousness in your life through Jesus Christ.” But he wanted us to see (and the Holy Spirit wants us to see) that righteous attributes in the lives of believers are essentially fruits. So what exactly does this mean?

End Result

The thing we must see about fruit is that fruit never comes first. You cannot place a bunch of apples on the ground, and then see interconnecting branches grow out of them, joining them together, and a trunk supporting all the branches and apples. Fruit is always a byproduct of the growth and maturation of a healthy tree (or vine). A seed is planted and roots grow into the earth. A tiny shoot eventually appears, bursting through the ground. Over months and years, the tree grows taller, and branches and leaves grow out from the trunk. After a suitable period of maturation, finally the first apples appear. Apples, or whatever fruit a tree or vine may produce, are always the last link in the chain. They are the sure and inevitable conclusion of a healthy tree and a normal growth process.

Paul is saying in this passage that righteous attributes in the lives of believers is a normal and expected outcome of a walk with Christ. These fruits would include things like kindness, love, patience, honesty, gentleness, self-control, diligence, and so forth. These are not merely the result of a sincere effort to be good and do the right thing. These are, as Paul puts it, “fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ.” They are the outcome and are byproducts of a relationship with and a walk with Jesus Christ. They are “by Jesus Christ” – not by transcendental meditation, or positive thinking, or by meditating on the sayings of Confucius, or focusing our attention on Mohammad, Buddha, or Moses. Nor do they arise from wishful thinking. They are “by Jesus Christ.”

As we consider these fruits of righteousness, we are reminded of another passage of Paul where he describes “the fruit of the Spirit.” In Galatians Paul writes:

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

These sound very much like what we would suppose would qualify as “the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ.” But in Galatians Paul calls them the fruit of the Spirit. So where do they come from – Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit? The answer is a resounding YES! These fruits come through a living relationship with Jesus, and are produced by the Holy Spirit Who is given to everyone who puts their faith in Him. It is the same as with a grapevine. When grapes appear on the vine, we could say they are the fruits which are by the grapevine. We could also call them the fruits which have come from the life and nourishment that courses continually through the vine, into the branches, and then into the budding grapes. Our relationship with Jesus is the means by which the fruits appear in our lives, but it is the Holy Spirit’s constant and continual life-giving flow which makes these fruits both possible and natural. Thus they are “the fruits of righteousness by Jesus Christ,” and they are also “the fruit of the Spirit.”

Universal Fruits?

Should we expect these fruits in every single Christian? The answer is an unqualified yes! Honesty, compassion, kindness, gentleness, and self-control (to name a few) are not attributes granted only to a few “super-saints.” From the most eloquent preacher to the church usher, from the beautiful young lady who attracts thousands to her Christian concerts to the wrinkled granny who never could sing a note, every believer is expected to produce these fruits. They may not all arrive or develop at the exact same time or at the same speed in our lives. Certain fruits have longer ripening periods than others. Some people are already nice, sweet folks when they first get saved, as a result of good genes. Others come to Christ in a rougher, less gentle state. Some will start the race far behind others. And we are all totally accepted once we are in Christ. Jesus will be content for you to grow at your own particular pace. But He does expect you to grow, and He does expect these “fruits of righteousness” to appear in your life!

What about those who show little evidence of these fruits, but are still believers? This depends upon one’s age in Christ. If in those early days after salvation, a believer is still rough and perhaps a bit obnoxious, it may not be as bad as it seems. As mentioned earlier, fruit does not appear immediately; it is the byproduct of the life, growth, and maturation of the tree. When we are born again certain things should change immediately. If we have been a thief, our stealing should come to a screeching halt. We don’t have to wait years before ceasing our stealing. If we have been fornicating regularly and heartily, all of that should come to an immediate standstill. The Bible tells us that fornicators and adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of God, and those who experience the power of the new birth through faith in Jesus Christ will not be able to go on in their sins after receiving Christ, as though nothing had ever happened.

On the other hand, your basic personality does not change so easily. If you have been a loud-mouthed, insensitive person before Christ, you may still be somewhat loud-mouthed and insensitive after asking Christ into your life. The Holy Spirit will start working on you in this area, for sure, but personality change is one of those gradual processes, and we can expect that, although God is the God of miracles, turning sow’s ears into silk purses takes a bit of time.

However, if one has been calling himself or herself a Christian for years, and still there is almost no evidence of kindness or compassion, and furthermore, impatience and anger seem the norm more than the exception, one must suspect that genuine grace has never been at work here. Not all that glitters is gold, and not everyone who says, “Halleluiah,” “Praise the Lord,” and “God bless you,” is necessarily born-again. If you plant what you suppose is an apple tree, and after fifteen years you have yet to see a single apple, you have every right to suspect that what you have is not an apple tree at all. It may look like an apple tree, it may have come with a label around its trunk that said “apple tree,” but it most surely is not an apple tree.

Apple trees may not produce apples their first year, but they will surely, eventually produce apples. Hence the name: “apple tree.” In Jesus Christ we are “righteousness trees.” The fruits of righteousness are supposed to appear in our lives, as a result of our ongoing relationship with Christ. Isaiah prophesied of a people who would be given: “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3). Surely this was fulfilled through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Know Them by Their Fruits

apples on treeWithout these fruits, we would clearly be suspect. Jesus put it this way:

You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them (Matthew 7:16-20).

Why are some believers stronger in certain fruits than others? The simple answer to this is that people are different. We all come to Christ with different starting points, different personalities, different histories, different baggage, different unresolved conflicts, and different strengths and weaknesses. We must resist the temptation to compare ourselves with others. It would not be difficult for most of us to find some Christians who are nicer and sweeter than we are, and others who may be not quite as nice or as compassionate or as gentle or as self-controlled as we. Comparisons always lead to either discouragement or pride. The one person we may compare ourselves to is… ourselves.

Although I am not the nicest believer in the world, neither am I the most obnoxious. But there is one thing of which I am absolutely certain: the Dennis Pollock you see today is a whole lot nicer and more compassionate and more honest, and morally superior in every way… to the Dennis Pollock you would be seeing had I not put my faith in Jesus Christ over forty years ago. I still have a long way to go, to be sure, but I know Christ has taken me quite a distance from where I was when I bowed my heart to Jesus at the age of nineteen. And the great thing is, throughout the journey I have been justified and fully accepted by God the entire way.

Jesus First

We must never forget that these fruits of righteousness are “by Jesus Christ.” Therefore, we must always emphasize getting people connected to Jesus ahead of the production of the fruits. When I preach as an evangelist, I never preach merely the moral attributes. I do not give invitations to unbelievers to commit themselves to righteousness, kindness, humility, and honesty. I challenge them to believe on Christ, fully surrendering themselves to Him. To attempt to pressure people to behave, apart from stressing a faith relationship with Jesus, would be entirely counterproductive. The best way to encourage more stealing in your community is to go around preaching on the evils of stealing. The most efficient means to encourage sexual immorality is to set up a platform on the major intersection of your city, and preach for hours through a loudspeaker about just how wrong it is to engage in sex apart from marriage.

The Bible tells us: “When we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death” (Romans 7:5). No, the greatest need of men and women is not moral reformation. It is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. After that will grow the “fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ.” Paul writes, “Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another–to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God” (Romans 7:4).

To the unbelieving, we preach Jesus Christ, and our great need to be forgiven and receive new life through faith in Him. To the believer, we declare the need to abide in Jesus. To so walk with Him, meditate upon Him, and trust in Him, that divine life flows continually in us. And as that life flows, fruits will begin to appear. Perhaps small at first, but they will grow and grow, until we truly become “trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that God may be glorified.”

 

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