Quite often lately, I have heard the phrase, “God calls us to be faithful, not fruitful.” Working as a campus minister in the Midwest, we can pull that statement out to make us feel good about ourselves when moralistic college students don’t respond to the gospel. There are two ways to interpret this sentence. One is biblical; the other is not. The non-biblical interpretation says, “Just do what God calls you to do, but don’t worry about results. You don’t have to bear fruit.” The biblical interpretation of this phrase is simply this: “Our faithfulness to God’s service will produce eternal fruit, proving that we are truly God’s people.” This has to be the case, because after all, God does call us to be fruitful.
Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit [my Father] takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit…By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
– John 15:2, 8
John makes it pretty clear. If you don’t bear fruit, you will be cut off. In other words, if you don’t bear fruit, you prove yourself to not truly be in Christ. However, who is the one actually causing the fruit to sprout, blossom, and mature? It’s Jesus.
[Jesus said,] 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
If we look in Paul’s epistles, we see this same theology of faithfulness and fruitfulness. Paul would say, “God has called me to be faithful. If I am faithful to his kingdom’s work, he will bear much fruit in and through me.” Look at how he puts it in 1 Corinthians 3:5-7:
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives growth.
If you are a sower, then plant. If you are a sprinkler, then water the ground. Be faithful in your work, then expect with faith, in the power of the Spirit, that God will give the increase. He will grow the fruit and he will credit that fruitfulness to your account and not cut you off. In this, God is glorified and it proves you to be a true disciple of our Lord and Savior.