At Issue Index
by Arnold Valentin Wallenkampf
9. The Fruit of Justification
A certain woman attended our church regularly. She came not only to the preaching service but also to the Bible study period before the Sabbath sermon. She seemed to appreciate the discussions and even participated in them. But she was not a member of the church. One day the minister, who had greeted her and talked with her on several occasions, invited her to be baptized and join the church. She answered, "I have thought of it, but my neighbor is a Seventh-day Adventist, and she screams at her children just as much as I do. So I dont think Ill join your church."
This non-Adventist had failed to find the virtues of self-control and patience in her Adventist neighbor. Evidently she had expected her Adventist neighbor to possess something that she herself did not have. Concluding that her neighbors commitment to her Saviour and God had not helped her to control her temper, she was not interested in joining her church.
Jesus does hope that you and I, as members of His family, will be climbing Peters ladder and come to possess and manifest the different facets of the fruit of the Spirit (see 2 Peter 1:5-7; Gal. 5:22, 23).
Jesus expects His followers to bear fruit. In John 15:8 He says:
"By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples." As a good fruit tree or vine bears fruit, so His genuine followers also bear fruit. Abundant fruit bearing pleases Jesus.
Through justification by faith, the heavenly Husbandman grafts the returning sinner into the Vine and imbues him with the Holy Spirit. The believer becomes a branch or twig of the True Vine, which is Christ. As such he shares the very life of Christ, just as the branch or twig of a tree shares the sap and life of the tree. The believers connection with Jesus is not casual, but vital. He is not an isolated tendril; he is part of the True Vine.
Being grafted into the Vine, he cannot help but produce fruit of righteousness. The new life within "is testified to by righteousness without."1 "When we accept Christ, good works will appear as fruitful evidence that we are in the way of life, that Christ is our way, and that we are treading the true path that leads to heaven."2
The fruit that the believer bears is not his own; it owes its existence to the nourishment the Vine supplies. It is thus fruit of the Vine rather than fruit of a particular branch. The life-giving sap comes up through the vine stalk and flows out into the branches. Only through this connection are the branches able to grow grapes. Even though the fruit grows on the branches, it is not the branches that furnish the nourishment that produces the fruit. It is the vine stalk. If the branches are not connected to the life-giving vine stalk, they produce no fruit. So "all our good works are dependent on a power outside of ourselves."3 Although fruit is produced in our lives, it is the fruit of the Spirit, not your fruit and mine. "The heart renewed by the Holy Spirit will bring forth the fruits of the Spirit."4
But fruit may not appear immediately after a person has given his life to God. Jesus Himself said, "First the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear" (Mark 4:28). The leaven in the dough does not instantly change the consistency of the entire lump of dough. But if the yeast is alive, it will gradually affect the entire lump.
If a leafy tree is alive, it will sprout leaves in the spring. So in due time will a living Christian bear fruit of righteousness. The "works of the flesh" (Gal. 5:19-21), performed by the person while he was "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1, KJV), will gradually disappear.
By our front porch we have a small oak tree that stubbornly holds on to its leaves, dead though they be, when most trees shed their leaves in the fall. This tree retains most of its leaves throughout the winter. But when spring comes and the sap begins to flow up through its trunk and out into the branches and twigs, the leaves that have tenaciously hung on all winter fall off. In the same way, the "works of the flesh" will begin to fall off when the new life of the Spirit surges within. If a person claims to have been justified by faith and does not gradually experience ethical change and begin to produce good works, there is something radically wrong, for salvation is by grace through faith "for good works" (Eph. 2:10). Fruit bearing is precisely the end product God had in mind from the very beginning for every genuine Christian.
In the graceful words Jesus spoke to the embarrassed and shamed woman taken in adultery, there was a promise of victory over sin, with fruit of righteousness. Victory was implicit in the words, "go, and sin no more" (John 8:11, KJV). To the sinner who receives forgiveness, Jesus speaks the same words and imparts overcoming power for victory.
As we accept the gift of salvation by faith, the resultant friendship relationship with Jesus will bear fruit in good works. "True faith trusts wholly in Christ for salvation. . . . Faith is manifested by works."5
In Old Testament times a bitter curse rested upon Meroz because its men did nothing in Israels warfare against its enemies (see Judges 5:23). In the parable of the great separation (Matt. 25:41-43), we are again told that those who do nothing will be among the damned. Jesus condemned the unfruitful fig tree (see Matt. 21:18-20). And the apostle James said that "faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead." "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead" (James 2:17, 26).
There is no compulsion in a justified persons fruit bearing. Jesus does not say, "You must bear fruit." Rather, He says He prunes the vine "that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:2). In the Sermon on the Mount, He does not say, "Make your light shine." Rather, He says, "Let your light so shine" (Matt. 5:16). The fruit bearing, like the light, is spontaneous, not forced. It is the result of imparted Christian love, an integral part of the new life. And Christian love is action, as genuine Christianity is love in action. Good works are our response to Gods love as manifested to us on the cross. Thus "the lives of those who are connected with God are fragrant with deeds of love and goodness."6
Gods gracious acceptance of us, His placing every believing person into a right, life-giving relationship to Himself, produces a love response in the saved sinner. Christs acceptance stimulates the believers powers of mind and body, resulting in the fulfillment of Gods will in daily living. It generates in the converted persons heart and mind a desire to believe what God says, to accept what God offers, and to do whatever God wishes, in glad-hearted obedience. Nathaniel Emmons says, "Obedience to God is the most infallible evidence of sincere and supreme love to Him."7
As the mind grasps more and more of the depth of Gods love, it grows also in knowledge and understanding. Thus the converted person will gradually bring his life into conformity to Gods will to the extent of his knowledge. But in his readiness to exemplify the gospel, the Christian depends constantly upon the grace and the sustaining power of Christ. The apostle Paul expressed it well when he said, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). And an inspired commentator says that a justified persons "understanding is under the control of the Holy Spirit, and his character is molded after the divine likeness."8
Let us think of a home with children. The parents are anxious that the children shall grow physically, spiritually, socially, and mentally. Accordingly, they want them to do well in school and receive good grades. At the end of a term, one child brings home a report card that is not as good as the parents had expected. The parents show their dissatisfaction. During the entire ensuing term, the parents put this child on probation. He has to do well or at least better than he did the last term to merit his parents acceptance and approval.
Such a parental stance could be disastrous. Living under such conditions, children tend to become edgy and experience constant stress and fear. In such circumstances, even mentally alert children, fully capable of doing work meriting good grades, often fail to achieve their goals. Consequently, their achievements will be subnormal or well below what they could have achieved with unconditional parental love and acceptance.
Other wiser parents accept their children as they are, irrespective of some not-so-good grades. In this more relaxed environment of parental acceptance, these children are able to do their very best and bring home better grade cards. Their parental acceptance furnishes a favorable climate for scholastic achievement. The children achieved their potential in their work and studies when the parents love and accept them. Acceptance precedes fruit bearing.
God does what He prompts wise parents to do. Through justification by faith, through the sacrifice of Jesus, He accepts us as His own. In the surety of unconditional acceptance, they grow. Freed from anxiety, they will inevitably produce fruit in the form of works of righteousness, to the glory of God.
Luther said that if a believer "is alive and righteous and saved by faith... he needs nothing further except to prove his faith by works. Truly, if faith is there, he cannot hold back; he proves himself, breaks out in good works.... For where works and love do not break forth, there faith is not right, the gospel does not yet take hold, and Christ is not rightly known." "It is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire."9 Calvins position was the same: "For we dream neither of a faith devoid of good works nor of a justification that stands without them. This alone is of importance: having admitted that faith and good works must cleave together, we still lodge justification in faith, not in works."10
We are not justified by works, nor will our ultimate salvation depend on them. Our salvation will always rest on Gods free grace through faith in the shed blood and the righteousness of Jesus. On the other hand, the omission of works, or fruits of justification by faith, may cause one to forfeit eternal life. This is illustrated by the rejection of the one-talent servant in the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30); by the damnation of the designated goats in the parable of the great separation (Matt. 25:31-46); and by the parable of the two sons (Matt. 21:28-31).
The son who initially promised to go and work in his fathers vineyard but neglected to do so was rejected, while the son who at first refused to go but later repented and went and worked was accepted and commended. Justification by faith, in contradistinction to mere temporary universal justification, will produce fruits of righteousness. But our good works, the fruits of righteousness, even when performed because of love for our Maker and Redeemer, will never earn us salvation. It is only through Jesus, who took our place when we were all condemned to eternal death, that we receive the gift of eternal life. Thus John said, "He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life (1 John 5:12).
As speed enables the water-skier to glide on water, so saving faith enables a Christian to produce works of righteousness. It was by faith that Noah built the ark (see Heb. 11:7). All the other heroes in the hail of faith in Hebrews 11 produced fruit. They "wrought righteousness" (Heb. 11:33, KJV). Those living in the end-time will be like the people in Noahs day (see Matt. 24:3 7). Even though the righteous have made wrong choices, as Samson had, ultimately they will choose to serve God, as did Samson, and produce works of righteousness (see Heb. 11:32; cf. Judges 16:28). It is unthinkable that a person who has been justified and transformed by Gods grace through faith—put into a right and amiable relationship to God by accepting Him as his Lord and Saviour—would go out and ignore Gods will or work wickedness by deliberately breaking His law. That would be just as impossible as for an apple tree to produce not apples but wild grapes.
In order to be with God in His kingdom, we must be alive in Christ. And where there is life, there is growth. Growth is the evidence of life. So works of righteousness are the fruit, or evidence, of our new life in Christ. Those who produce fruit, will therefore be found in the kingdom of God.
Probably most of us have seen an old foundation for a house on which a house was never built. When I see such a foundation, I feel a tinge of sadness because I know that someones hopes and dreams were never fulfilled. The foundation for a house is not an end in itself. The sole purpose of a foundation is the erection of a house on it. Likewise, justification by faith is not an end in itself. Through it a believer is pardoned from all past sins and accepted by God as His child so that he might grow in grace and bear fruit.
"How can we come to God with full assurance of faith if we bear no fruit that testifies to a change wrought in us by the grace of God, no fruit that shows that we are in fellowship with Christ? How can we approach God in faith and be abiding in Christ and He in us when by our works we show that we are not bearing fruit?"11
Every natural, human mother was once pregnant. But if no changes took place in her appearance during the alleged pregnancy, people would know she is not telling the truth in spite of all her protestations. Neither is a babys birth the final goal; we want to see it live and grow normally after birth. But pregnancy must precipitate changes—it causes changes in appearance. The same is true of life in Christ. There will be no transformation of life unless a person is converted and justified by faith. Thus justification by faith, or regeneration, which is the divine counterpart of conversion, is paramountly important. It is like the mythological Atlas, who carried the whole heavens on his shoulders. The entire evangelical knowledge of saving grace rests on justification by faith, founded on the atonement of Christ. Hence, we must never minimize the importance of justification by faith or even subordinate it to sanctification.
Some time ago I built a small storage shed near the woods in our backyard. It resembled an authentic Swedish barn—red with white corners, fascia boards on both the sides and gables, and trimmings around the door. Even though it is small, its design is, as nearly as I can recall from my youthful years in Sweden, genuinely Swedish. Both my wife, Mae, and I and all our neighbors and visiting friends look at it with pleasure. But my joy did not begin with its completion. Every moment I found to work on its construction was sheer delight.
As Christians we will joyfully respond to the pleadings of the Holy Spirit by working in accordance with Gods will. Good works, performed in joyous gratitude to God for the infinite sacrifice He made on our behalf, will thus appear in our lives as the fruit of living faith. By remembering Gods graciousness in putting us right with Himself through justification by faith, a Christian will more devotedly commit his life in grateful service to Him who died to make this new life possible.
At Simons feast in Bethany, Mary anointed Jesus with expensive ointment (see Matt. 26:6-13). She did this not because she had to, but because she loved Jesus and wanted to do something for Him. When Judas murmuringly accused her for her extravagance, Jesus just said, "Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me" (Matt. 26:10).
The works of righteousness, done from love for what God has done for us, are beautiful
in His sight. May there be many patches of beauty in our redeemed lives.
1 White, in Review and Herald, June 4, 1895. [back]
2 Ibid., Nov. 4, 1890. [back]
3 _________, Christs Object Lessons, p. 160. [back]
4 _________, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 372. [back]
5 The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen C. White Comments, vol. 6, p. 1073. [back]
6 White, in Review and Herald, Jan. 2, 1879. [back]
7 Frank S. Meade, The Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations, (Westwood, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1965), p. 320. [back]
8 White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 391. [back]
9 Luthers Works (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1958), vol. 35, pp. 367, 371. [back]
10 John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, chap. XVI, sec. 1. [back]
11 Ellen C. White manuscript 8a, 1888, in A. V. Olson, Through
Crisis to Victory (Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn.,1966), p. 272.
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