How to Grow Good Fruit: Evaluating Our Lives and Impact

Transcript from Ps. Nathan Bell’s sermon Fruitful: Connected, preached on the 3rd March 2024.

We started this year with a look at our four mission statements and they would glorify our mission statements, glorify God, embrace people, plant seeds and make disciples. And I hope that you hear through that that session. series, but we finished on that last one disciples as in students of the teacher, Jesus.

And we finished on that and I asked the questions, is my quality and depth of my Christian life, you know, if it’s represented by a growing plant, because that’s what Jesus does, it gives us an image of. a plant. He likes agriculture as good examples.

You know, how’s the fruit looking in my life? Because according to Jesus, the fruit may be a good measure of that discipleship journey, of the depth of that. It’s a measure of our spiritual maturity and dare I say also our emotional maturity, because God’s working on integrity and character. as well.

You know, the fruit can be a measure of these things. It’s a measure of the life that we bring into the world around us for the kingdom. One might say the fruit could be a measure of our success, but hopefully, ’cause you were here last week, right when you heard Dr. Omar speak on this, it’s the right measure of success. that we’re looking to. And our fruit can point to these things.

Well, here’s the words of Jesus. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit. And a bad tree can’t produce good fruit.

A tree is identified by its fruit. And he’s talking about us, and he’s talking about people. It’s the right measure of success that we’re looking to.

And so I ask myself, how’s my fruit looking? As there’s always when the next message pops up, I want to start with me before I speak to you. Have a look. Evaluate, how’s my fruit looking? And so I’m going to ask you to do the same thing today.

Same question, how’s your fruit looking? looking? Because the fruit points to the quality of the tree. And that’s us, and the quality of the tree points to the depth and the quality of our discipleship. The very fact that Jesus makes this point means that his hope for you is quality fruit.

His hope for you is a healthy tree. You know, deep, deep roots, blossoming, flourishing. flourishing, he’s talking about being that committed student disciple that he’s often talks about.

There’s lots of branches coming out and there’s hopefully some good fruit coming off those branches as well. So what does good fruit look like? This is, so much of the teaching of the New Testament, Paul in particular likes to hone in a little bit and be very direct with with us and saying, hey, these are the things this is what good fruit looks like in the life of a disciple, a student of Jesus, because the transformed life brings good fruit. And that at its core, you know, we’re trying to bring redemption into the world through Jesus brings redemption, but we’re channeling that through our good fruit the same way that Jesus did.

So what does it look like? You know, and he’s a few thoughts. thoughts that I jotted down. When people experience Jesus in me, where people experience love and care like the people around Jesus did, when they experienced that from me, like that’s just one example of good fruit.

Like they feel it. It’s not just me saying I’m a good person. and I’m good, you know, no, no, people feel love genuinely, like a warmth, and hey, I’m not, so I’m evaluating myself.

I see, as I think about this, I think, well, maybe there’s times I don’t do that very well or they’re not getting the healthy fruit from me, but that is good fruit. Right? When people in need. Oh.

or you know maybe there’s someone who’s oppressed or neglected or suffering or someone who’s lonely, when they get when they get my help and support and my love to lift them up, that’s good fruit, good fruit. When I’m generous instead of selfish, when I’m grateful instead of thankless, when I’m joyful instead of grumpy, and I can be a little grumpy sometimes. When I’m not and when I’m thankful instead and people experience that, that’s good fruit.

When I’m patient with people, remember last week we were reading make allowances for people’s faults. Sometimes it’s hard to do that, isn’t it? But when I do, because I want them to do the same thing for me, that’s good fruit. When I extend forgiveness and someone’s hurt me, that’s good fruit.

That’s good fruit. Or when you, perhaps the other one, the other side is, when I go to people to ask forgiveness when I’ve hurt them, that’s good fruit. When I resist the temptation to talk negatively about someone, you know, to not be so judgmental, Because we do that as humans.

That’s, that really is the, that’s where the sin condition comes out, doesn’t it? Judging people, condemning them. You know, sometimes it feels like hate. That’s, that’s not good fruit, but when I resist that, and the opposite comes through me, that’s good fruit.

When I, when I take the command to point people to Jesus seriously, when I’m actually praying for the people who I know aren’t walking with the Lord and I maybe even have the boldness to hand an invitation. ‘Cause that’s how Alpha works, by the way. Would you like to come to Alpha? That’s it.

That’s it. You don’t have to stand on the street corner and hand them out or door -dock or anything. But when I take that command seriously, seriously, that’s good fruit.

When God helps me move on or overcome is a good word. That thing in my life, that addiction, that thing that doesn’t align well with His Word, you know, with God’s ethics, when I realign with His Word, you know, with God’s ethics, when I realign with His Word, you know, with that’s good fruit. When we worked for peace, remember we did a whole series on how we fight, when we overcome evil by doing good, that’s good fruit.

And I’m sure you can think of many other things. But do those things sound good to you? Good. Because I want you to know, good food is satisfying.

Who likes a really good juicy apple or something like that? You know, pink lady, right? They’re the best. Oh, good mango. go I should have brought something and that would have that would have really enhanced the sermon illustration today but we you’ve got you’ve had a you’ve bitten into a bit of bad for you as well right that’s us too sometimes that’s what they could it can feel like for people sometimes they experienced that or maybe God does Good food is satisfying all those things I was just talking about on the others.

I didn’t even think about that. You can think about, you know, it kinda, it starts to sound like the life to the full in a way. ‘Cause that would be, that’s a satisfying life that leaves me with less stress and less anxiety.

you know, all the stuff, the full life that the world wants us to go for, it can give you a little thrill and a rush and it doesn’t last very long and you go looking for the next thing. It’s this kind of life Jesus knows what he’s talking about. He goes for the things that produce good fruit all around us.

Imagine if everyone started doing that, that’s the idea of the church. So what’s the, how do we go about this? You know, because you’ve heard a hundred sermons on this and so have I, you know, is it just do better? Is it more willpower needed? Well, I want to show you an answer in just one verse. Remain in me and I will remain in you.

This is Jesus speaking for a branch cannot produce fruit if it is seven. severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in him.” Most of you are familiar with John 15. Jesus kind of switches from this plant thing to more of a vine analogy now.

And here’s the key to discipleship and growth and good fruit. The key to discipleship and growth and good fruit, the key to discipleship and growth and good fruit. to being fruitful.

The key to transformation, holiness, sanctification, whatever you want to call it, the key to the lack of joy in our life, the lack of contentment is this connection. It’s the quality and the quality the longevity of your connection to Jesus that leads to fruitfulness. And I don’t just say it because Jesus said it, and that makes it right, firstly.

I say it because that’s been my own experience. You know, where’s the fruit in my life? Connection is probably your problem. And that’s the problem for Christians.

Christians is that too often it’s a poor connection. That poor connection is the source of so many of our struggles, can’t seem to get over anger and pride. Often we’re filled with fear or greed or lack of contentment and often lack of love.

Connectedness or lack of it is probably our problem. There’s a connection problem. The quality and consistency of our connection to the vine, quite frankly, is our ambition in life.

That’s what we’re about first and foremost. The quality and connection to Jesus the vine is one of our ambitions in life. That’s why we often come together, to think about that and talk about it and work on it.

And I say consistency because we’ve all had those seasons where we’ve been connected well. You know, do you know what I’m talking about? You feel close to Jesus for, gee, six, 12 months or something like that and you’re like, “This is it. I’m on track.” Take your focus away with the devil tempts us with something.

we don’t even realize it, and that connection loosens and weakens and is poor again. It’s not that we’re actually bad at connections, by the way, church, because I’ve noted, for me personally, I can be connected to the TV for hours. (audience laughing) I know I can connect, not saying that’s wrong, but I’m just point making the point.

We can scroll on our phones endlessly. I can be connected to my phone But when it comes to our connection with the source of life to the full Yeah, but pastor, I don’t really feel like Jesus entertains me Like Netflix does I don’t get that same hit from the prayer meeting that I do from that favourite show I’ve got. And I say that’s no kidding because Jesus brings you real life to the full, not a dopamine hit, not a fuzzy feeling that we get addicted to.

to. He can bring fuzzy feelings, but he’s about life. Now, it’s challenged by what Omar said last week when he said he’s no longer on social media because it does damage to his soul.

Is he right? Hmm, got me thinking. So what’s the answer? So if you can. can tell a good Christian by their fruit and their fruit comes from their good connection? How do I get this good connection? Because if the vine analogy is true and it is the better the connection, the better the flow, this is the point of grace through the vine, through the branches, us.

The better the flow of grace and the longer and consistent that connection. connection is, the stronger we are, the more mature we are, the more fruitful we are. And it’s no secret, but the pathway to a better connection, in my opinion, is that one.

Spiritual disciplines. It needed to be the same size. But you know what I mean.

Spiritual disciplines. And if you just yawned and decided to shut off and go to sleep, please. please wake up.

I do note occasionally that happens in my sermons. I shall name no names. But you heard the word “disciplines” and you went, “Not them again.

I don’t like them. You’re going to ask me to do something. You’re going to ask me to do more.

You’re going to ask me to do better.” Well, I’m saying, wake up for a second because you’re gonna miss out on life to the full. You’re gonna miss out on knowing Jesus in the most satisfying way. There is a trove of lessons and experience from our Christian forefathers that we can learn from.

But more importantly, literally experience what Jesus is saying connectedness to God. and have a strong branch with good fruit. Now if you’re worried I want to tell you what spiritual disciplines are not.

The first thing is they’re not boring because you thought they were so stop thinking like that because only we can make them boring. They don’t have to be. There should be joy and wonder in the journey of transformation and relationship with God.

with our King. This is the point. It’s not boring when I overcome something, when something changes in me and it brings life to me and the people around me.

It’s not boring when the Holy Spirit comes alive in us. It’s not boring. I came home the other night after Rachel had met with the young adults and she was all smiles.

They’d started a new study series and Rachel was telling me that there was enthusiasm. enthusiasm for this small group of young adults to go deeper and experience the transformed life they wanted to hear from God. What’s his plan? What’s his purpose? Live for him.

There’s expectation and joy. It’s better than Netflix. Yeah.

It’s time with the Creator God. who’s like, “I’m waiting to hang with you, to be connected to you.” I’m like, “Oh God, could you do some more “to make that happen?” He’s like, “Well, I did. “I did die, done quite a bit already.” But he’s waiting to give us more of his grace.

The thing is they’re also not about earning God’s favor you know and they’re not laws either by the way. Don’t hear more laws this morning. I’ve got to do more things to please God.

You’re missing the point. I’ll get to that in a second. They’re not about twisting God’s arm.

God I’ve fasted for four Wednesdays. Why haven’t you answered my prayer? You know, okay, I’ll fast another Wednesday. I’m just going to twist your arm a little bit more.

That’s flat out wrong. That’s not what they’re about either. It’s not about demanding anything from God.

Fasting, by the way, is mostly about connectedness and centering ourselves with Him and hearing His will for us. We may cover fasting in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. But I’m saying that we’re not trying to get into God’s good books by doing something, okay? I don’t want you to hear that message today.

It’s the wrong motivation and the wrong purpose, and you won’t see fruit from that. And also, they’re not a formula. We do this a little bit in Christianity.

I got to tick a few boxes because if I do A and B on my get C. If I pray with certain words, if I can just match the exact same words that was prayed in the New Testament, God will heal me or answer my prayer. You know, I’ve got to pray those exact words.

It’s not a formula. You know, if I take communion and get baptized, I’ve done enough to be saved. That’s not true because it’s not a formula.

It’s about heart, commitment and transformation. That’s not true because it’s not a formula. to God.

If I attend church once a month, maybe I’ll just appease God enough that I’m still good and on track with Him. He’ll let me into heaven. How many times do I have to get a church in a year to get into heaven? Like, you’re probably smiling on the inside, but that thinking happens, just appease God.

Twist His arm a little bit. That’s not what the disciplines are about. If I read my Bible every year, year, all the way through, man, God’s going to give me a huge gold star for that one.

No doubt about it. He loves it when you do it. It’s not a formula.

It’s about the heart. If I go to such and such a church, they’ve got the perfect music and the better preaching and among them, then I’ll encounter the Holy Spirit. You can encounter the Holy Spirit in any, in fact, in your bedroom, but in any church.

None of that is what the spiritual discipline is about. You don’t have to take boxes. They’re not about a formula, so here’s what they are about.

The spiritual discipline. are a doorway to God’s grace. Wesley would often use the term “a means of grace.” It’s actually really important for us just to think just for a few minutes about grace.

Because we shouldn’t mix it up with mercy. mercy. Mercy is God’s pardon for what we’ve done.

You know, mercy is not giving us what we deserve. You know, he doesn’t give us what we deserve, he pardons us. Jesus received what we deserve on the cross.

God shows us mercy in that way. way. Grace is what we do receive.

So actually he is receiving, Grace is receiving from God what we don’t actually deserve. Yet he sends it anyway, abundantly. Abundant grace.

Grace is not so much a covering. Sometimes I think we, perhaps we think of it like that. Grace is covering up my, oh my God.

stuff so that I’m good with God. It’s not so much about that. God, he grants us mercy, then he gives us his grace.

Grace is God’s divine favor to us for salvation. Firstly, so he gives us salvation, so saved by grace. And this part of grace we most often think about.

It’s free and undeserved for all who receive it, but there’s a second part to grace. It’s his ongoing purpose. powerful work in our life.

The things he gives us and brings to us to live the life that he’s called us to is his grace, undeserved grace. It’s grace for holy living. But this is the one I think that we don’t tap into because of a lack of grace.

connectedness. This is the means of grace that we’re talking about today, that we can uncover through spiritual disciplines. Sometimes God gives this in powerful moments, like he gives us grace in powerful moments of instantaneous transformation.

That does happen sometimes, but most often it’s through the disciplines and the connectedness that we talk about. into. His ongoing lifelong means of grace or a doorway is another way to think of it.

This is the time when we open the door and we allow the grace of God to actually do the work that he’s wanting to do in us. This is why Jesus said before, you know, he said, “Behold, I stand at the door and I’m knocking.” He’s talking to the church, he’s talking to Christians. Would you open it and let me in so that I can come in? And so this is the point.

The disciplines can be that doorway in the sense that we often just leave shut. I mean miss out on his grace. It’s no wonder we get stuck.

I mean find ourselves withering on the vine with barely any fruit. We desperately read books, we search for better preaching and music and retreats and and quick fixes. You know, how can I fix the way I’m feeling right now? And Jesus said, “Would you open the door to the grace I have for you for my presence?” He here is a doorway.

The second thing is, it’s an opportunity for alignment with God. The disciplines give us the time and the space to see where we’re at. a step with Him that often happens through connectedness, just spending time with God.

And we’re gonna go through what that looks like over the coming weeks. We find ourselves actually on a wide path that leads somewhere that I think Jesus refers to as destruction. And we realize we’re not on that little narrow path anymore.

It’s kind of rocky and hard and difficult that leads to life. And that kind of leads to life. that kind of enlightenment can’t happen if we’re not spending time with God in the disciplines.

It doesn’t happen by chance. It’s inside these disciplines that the Holy Spirit reveals blind spots and weaknesses and sin. It’s in these times that we give Him the space to do His work in us.

It’s not the actual disciplines themselves that fix things for us. It actually gives God the the space to do what He wants to do in us. This is the key point.

This is where anger fades and grumpiness declines and judgment and negativity towards others switches to encouragement and care and real genuine care for people. It’s in the disciplines we feel the conviction of sin, you know, and we come to the beautiful gift of confession and repentance that God takes us on that journey of change. You know, I’ve shared my story several times with you, but let me remind you, I’ll give you the short version.

It’s about 15 years ago. It was a difficult time for Shelley and I. Shelley had Ross River fever and then years of depression.

And it just felt like life was crashing down. Have you been in those moments? Maybe that’s for you today. It’s a much longer version of this story.

but it was the discipline of, I’m not trying to pat myself on the back ’cause I didn’t realize that at the time that this was gonna be the answer, but it was the discipline of weekly prayer walks for years. And finally, God realized me. After all my prayers and requests for change that seemed to go unanswered, and he finally, finally I heard his voice clearly, and he said, “I want you to change.” change.

You’re the selfish one.” “No, I’m not. Look at all the bad husbands I see around me. “I’m good.

I’m not…” “Yes, you are. Here’s where.” That was a pivotal moment for me and it was only… I believe this.

It was the connectedness of those Monday morning walks around the Oval of Tramside West there for years, that God re -aligned. me and it was the beginning of life for us, not instantaneous, but it was the start. Richard Foster says, I forgot to put it on there, here’s what he says, “The purpose of the disciplines is liberation from the start.” slavery of self -interest and fear.

Can I say it again? The purpose of the disciplines is liberation from the stifling slavery of self -interest and fear. So I’m not trying to give you a law this morning to tie you up and bind you and give you more things to do. I’m inviting you into something that’s life -giving and liberating that requires our discipline.

The third one is an opportunity to draw into loving union. And like any good relationship, time spent together draws us into that deeper relationship without the disciplines. When and where does it happen, church? When and where does it happen? It can’t just happen for an hour and a half on Sunday.

When and where does the loving union happen? We’re just hanging by a thread onto the vine. We barely know Jesus let alone receive the good stuff and the grace that He’s to sit in there flowing through the vine, waiting to come to us if we would just be connected. Here’s what He said further down in chapter 15, “I have loved you, even as the Father has loved me, remain in my love.” There’s a little love there.

But he says, “Remain.” Other translations say, “Abide.” You know, it’s connect. How are you going to give time to your relationship with Jesus for that relationship? And if I read these words of Jesus correctly, He loves me the same way that He loves His Father. Do you see it? That’s a lot of love, isn’t it? In fact, if you go to chapter 17, I’m not going there today because this is a long discourse from Jesus from 14 to 17 in John.

If you go to chapter 17, Jesus says there that the Father loves us. the same as he loves the son. So Jesus loves us the same as he loves the father, the father loves us the same as he loves the son.

I mean, we draw one into that, that connection, that love relationship, it’s close, isn’t it? As much as he says to us, remain, abide, connect, let there be love between us. Not even Aaron again. again nor the Easter and Christmas or just occasional Sundays.

It’s every day remain there. That’s what remain means Don’t leave Don’t leave remain remain every day Don’t leave his love Remain there the spiritual disciplines are the doorway to that relationship. It’s not about the mechanics We’re going to talk about that just to help us, but the mechanics of the disciplines are there to provide the opportunity, the doorway.

It’s my heart connected to the heart of Jesus. Now apart from Easter which is coming up fast and Alpha Sunday, we’re going to spend seven more Sundays looking at specific disciplines that you should seriously consider. You’re thinking, how do I add seven more things into my day or my week or whatever.

No, no, no, it’s okay, don’t worry, trust me. Just like you’ve got to be disciplined in how you eat well and exercise and look after your kids, you’ve got to be disciplined and outright and study and educate yourself and work on your marriage and friendships and all that sort of stuff. of stuff.

All these things require discipline. So who does he walk with the Lord? It’s all very achievable. So the other pastors are gonna join me in this series, and I’m gonna invite you to join us.

Because if my preaching today is correct, the potential outcomes when we take some of these things seriously and apply them are life altering. -altering. The seven we’re going to speak on at this stage anyway, subject to change includes prayer, simplicity, study, solitude, confession, worship and celebration.

Others that we’re not touching on but are mentioned in some places. Meditation, fasting, submission, service and guidance. That’s the list anyway from Richard Foster, who’s a little bit of a guru and an expert in this particular field.

Thank you. if you want to read his book, I bought five of them and put them at the information counter. You can buy them today for $25.

It was a life -altering book for me. It’s not the Bible, but it’s worth reading. I encourage you to buy one, and if we run out, I’ll get some more.

The other helpful resource is John Mark Comer. He has a great podcast called Practicing the Way. I believe that some small groups are doing that.

Is that correct? And he’s been really speaking to Mark. Mark through this series, practicing the way by John Mark Comer. I encourage you to have a look at that.

But I wanna invite you into this adventure of discipleship. I need to learn more myself. I know from my own experience, the discipline of personal and corporate prayer, daily devotions, my 12 years of study.

I didn’t want to do 12 years of study. And yet, yet, I know it was kind of forced into it in some ways. No, I chose it.

But anyway, it’s helped me. That discipline has helped me. Personal spiritual retreats, when I started implementing them into my life, huge difference to my connectedness.

A mentor, someone that I do confession with, someone who holds me accountable this Sunday. Sunday worship with you, that’s a disciplined communion, which is what we’re gonna talk about in a second. These are things that have opened the door to God’s grace in my life.

And without them, less of His power, grace, and transformation. There’s a long way to go. 15 years ago, I was weak.

The fruit was lame. I’m a slow learner, but the discipline and persistence has changed me. I’m not saying…

saying that I’ve got there. I’m not saying that my fruit is healthy enough or in enough abundance, but I believe that there has been an increase bit by bit, year after year, some fruit here, some fruit there. I’ve got a long way to go, but there’s no turning back.

You’ve got nothing to lose. You’ve got lots of game. You should jump in, embrace the disciplines.

work on the connection, experience the blessing of grace and fruitfulness. I’m going to ask you to stand with me. Can the elders and those who have asked to help prepare the communion please come and do that now? We’ll all stand together now.

The team’s going to come. We’re going to finish with communion today. I don’t want to use the word discipline, but in a sense it is because Jesus said you should do this regularly.

And it’s in this as well as a lot of those things I just mentioned that we can encounter Jesus and his grace. This is also a means of grace. And so as we take communion today, please don’t just think of it as a little piece of bread and a little bit of grape juice that I’m doing to tick a box, all right? Before you take it, you take a moment to quietly prepare your heart if you have to confess to God anything, anything.

We’ll do that first. Then we’ll partake. And I invite you to receive His grace again today.

Perhaps you need, I don’t even know, I’m not gonna pretend to know what God wants to do. so on the night He was betrayed he took the bread and you broke it and he said do this in remembrance of me And likewise he took the cup and said drink this in remembrance of me What I want to pray that you would consecrate now the bread and the cup that have been been prepared and I pray you Lord this morning that as we come to you with repentant hearts we ask Father that you likewise would sing your grace and we may receive the spiritual benefits today of your broken body and shed blood.

Watch the full sermon here