Evangelism, Converts, and Bearing Fruit

Apple Orchard

Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, that they are white for harvest. Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together” (John 4:35-36).

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2).

In many different passages, the Bible talks about the importance of bearing fruit. While there are many ways in which we bear fruit as Christians, it is common to connect this to the work of evangelism. This idea can be represented by the following statement:

Evangelism + Conversions = Bearing Fruit

According to this idea, if we are engaged in the work of evangelism and are converting souls to Christ, then we are bearing fruit. The opposite of this would be that if we are not converting souls to Christ, then we are not bearing fruit. If this is the case, then the passage above which describes the Father taking away “every branch…that does not bear fruit” (John 15:2) would seem to indicate that we are not being faithful to the Lord if we are not making converts.

However, if there are no converts over a period of time, does that necessarily mean we are not bearing fruit? If we are not bearing fruit in this way, does that mean that we (either as individuals or as local churches) are wrong or are unfaithful? If so, is the solution to pressure or compel brethren to engage in the work of evangelism?

It might seem like the answer to that last question should be “yes.” It can be tempting, if we see no conversions, to assume that brethren are not bearing fruit because they are not evangelizing. I have seen some brethren seem to make this assumption and do more than just encourage, but strongly pressure – almost to the point of compulsion – their brethren to be more active in evangelism. However, there are some important points that we need to consider.

  1. It is possible to faithfully engage in evangelism and have no converts. Noah was “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5), yet no one outside of his own family was saved. The same thing could happen today.
  2. We are responsible for planting and watering the seed of God’s word in the hearts of others, but God will give the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6). Therefore, we are to focus on the work, not the results. This is why Paul said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel…” (1 Corinthians 1:17). He needed to focus on the work (preaching) and realize that the results (baptisms/conversions) were not in his control.
  3. We can and must bear fruit whether anyone else is converted or not. This is done by developing a certain character – the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23) – and by “bearing fruit in every good work” (Colossians 1:10).
  4. If a plant does not bear fruit, it is because it is unhealthy. Bearing fruit is natural. Therefore, if we as Christians are not bearing fruit, then it means that we are not spiritually healthy. When it comes to bearing fruit in the work of evangelism, if the reason we are not converting souls to Christ is because we are not engaged in the work of evangelism (not because we are spreading the gospel but people are uninterested – see point #1), then we need to get back to focusing on that work (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:17; 3:6). This is not done by compulsory evangelism, but by fixing whatever is spiritually unhealthy in our lives. Unhealthy Christians being compelled to evangelize is not a recipe for success. When the Hebrew writer addressed those who “ought to be teachers” (Hebrews 5:12) but were not, he did not pressure them into teaching anyway; instead, he instructed them to grow in their spiritual maturity (Hebrews 5:13-14). This is the solution today – not by pressuring brethren to teach others when they are not ready, willing, or able to do so; rather, by leading them to greater spiritual maturity.
  5. We need to be careful about judging the “health” of others in this regard. We do not know what “planting” and “watering” others are doing. Therefore, we should not assume that they are doing little or nothing to reach the lost when we do not see conversions.

If the above points are true, what do we need to do – especially if we are not seeing the conversions we would like to see?

  1. We need to make sure we are healthy spiritually. We “cannot bear fruit” unless we abide in Christ (John 15:4). We abide in Him as we “walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:6). John also wrote, “The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him” (1 John 3:24). We need to be sure we are following the example of Christ and are obeying His word.
  2. We need to be engaged in planting and watering (1 Corinthians 3:6). This may lead to conversions or it may not. It could be that the visible results are seen after we are gone. When Jesus talked about the fields being “white for harvest” (John 4:35), He spoke of those who sowed and those who reaped. The ones who reaped saw the visible results while the ones who sowed may not have. However, both were necessary and both were faithful servants of the Lord. We may not see the visible results of conversions, but we can still be planting the seed that will bear fruit later.
  3. We are to “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). If we do not see the visible results of conversions from the brethren around us, that could mean two things – either they are not doing the work of evangelism or they are planting and watering and people are just not responding. In either case, brethren need to be encouraged to either begin or continue the work of trying to reach people with the gospel. Compelling one who does not want to evangelize will do no good. Shaming one who is already discouraged because there are no visible results despite his diligent efforts can be dispiriting to him. Rather than assuming we know others’ hearts, we should “encourage one another” (Hebrews 3:13).

All faithful Christians want to bear fruit in their service to the Lord and encourage their brethren to do the same. Yet we need to be careful not to make assumptions or to become discouraged when one way of bearing fruit – converting souls to Christ – is not readily apparent. Let us encourage one another – and be encouraged ourselves – to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).

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