From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 1 – What it means to be a disciple and how Christian character is formed
If life as a Christian was not already complicated enough, with our own flesh and the ungodly world system to deal with, it is made much harder by the involvement of the Devil and his demons. They are all fallen angels who were thrown out of Heaven long ago, before this world was made. They have already been judged and have been sentenced to spend eternity in the Lake of Fire. Indeed, it was created for them.
However, their sentence has not yet been carried out. Until it is, most of the demons are free to go where they wish and to interfere with us and oppose us. God actually permits them to do so, albeit within certain limits. Their primary objectives are to tempt us to sin, to get us to be afraid and discouraged, and to render us ineffective as disciples. They especially want to prevent us from telling others about the gospel. Our battle against the Devil and his demons, is a purely spiritual one:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.Ephesians 6:12 (ESV)
The demons are well aware of the other two battles we already face, against our own flesh and against the sinful world system. They are watching us fight those battles and they make full use of both of those struggles in their attempt to further undermine us. So, these three battles are each distinct and separate. Yet, they are all being waged simultaneously and in many ways they are all inter-connected.
God wants disciples to bear fruit and do good works. That involves dying to oneself, which we do to ourselves, and being pruned, which God does to us. Both processes are painful, but essential if we are to be fruitful.
Being a disciple is not only about fighting battles. God also wants every Christian to do good works for Him. That is one of the reasons why we were created. God wants each of us to fulfil the purposes He has set for us and to make a difference in the lives of other people:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)
We are also meant to bear fruit in the sense that the people around us benefit from our lives, and especially from our good works. Paul makes clear that that is what God wants from us:
9 And so, from the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.Colossians 1:9-10 (RSV)
9 And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.Galatians 6:9-10 (RSV)
Before we can become capable of bearing fruit of the right kind we first of all have to change. We are not able to produce anything good in our own strength, or from our own carnal nature. The things that come from us naturally are just works of the flesh. The Bible uses some agricultural analogies to describe what therefore needs to happen to us if we are to become fruitful.
Firstly, we are told that we need to die to ourselves and to all that our flesh nature stands for. Jesus Himself spoke of this and likened each of us to a grain of wheat falling to the earth and dying. Apostle Paul also spoke of putting to death all that is earthly or carnal in our nature. In effect, we are called to be the ‘executioner’ of our own flesh nature. God does not do it for us. We have to do this to ourselves:
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.Colossians 3:5 (RSV)
As we deny ourselves, and put our flesh nature to death, then we are like a grain of wheat dying in the ground. As a result it is able to produce far more grains of wheat than the single grain that it was to begin with. So, each believer must deny their own flesh by refusing to give it what it wants. We must be so severe in our self-denial that it is as if our flesh was being “put to death”. If we are willing to do that to ourselves, like a seed which dies in the soil, then we will bear fruit:
24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.John 12:24-26 (ESV)
Another agricultural analogy which the Bible uses is to speak of pruning. A rose bush or a fruit-bearing shrub needs to be cut back every year in order to produce the maximum harvest the next year. Cutting back the branches enables that which remains to grow more vigorously and to be far more productive. The same applies to us. If we want to bear fruit in our lives we have to be willing to be ‘pruned’. That involves having certain things within our lives cut off, or at least cut back. Jesus compares Himself to a vine and says that we are the branches and that God the Father is the vinedresser or farmer who does the pruning:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.John 15:1-2 (RSV)
Those branches that bear no fruit at all are cut off completely. So they have no future role. But even the branches that do bear some fruit are still pruned. That is done to cause that branch to grow back again and to be even more fruitful next time. So those branches that are pruned do have a future. God wants to take away all those parts of our life, character or possessions which would make us less fruitful if they were allowed to remain.