In Gal 5:22-23, Paul tells believers to produce the fruits of the spirit. These are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. Paul says the fruits of the spirit are a product of walking in the spirit and not the lust of the flesh in Gal 5:16-23. Where do fruits come from? Fruits come from trees, and trees come from seeds.
Paul also writes in Galatians 6:7-8 that those who sow into the spirit will reap eternal life and those that sow into the flesh reap corruption. Essentially, when we produce the fruits of the spirit the outcome is eternal life, and we get fruits of the spirit from sowing into the spirit. We sow into the spirit by receiving the seed for this fruit which is God’s word, and our hearts represents the ground in which that seed is planted.
Jesus explains this in his Parable of the Sower (Matt 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, & Luke 8:4-15). In Mark 4:13, he says the parable was the key to all parables, which means it is the most important parable. In this parable, Jesus compares people’s response to the gospel with seed being planted in four types of ground.
Mark 4: (NLT) 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. 4 As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. 5 Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” 9 Then he said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”
Jesus gives the explanation for this parable in Mark 4:13-20. The point of this parable is that the word of God is like a seed planted in our hearts, but the type of ground determines receptiveness. If we don’t put in the work preparing that ground of our hearts, we will be like a hard pathway that can’t receive the seed of God’s word, or like the malnourished dried out stony ground, or crowded out like the thorny ground filled with weeds. Hebrews 6:4-8 uses this same analogy of thorny ground in reference to people that are saved but go back to living in sin and allowing distractions of the world to move them away from God. God uproots and destroys trees that don’t produce fruit and we can see Jesus do this when curses the fig tree and it withers in Matt 21:18-22 and Mark 11:12-25. In the first three examples from the parable of the sower, no fruit is produced so God is not pleased with people who have hearts like those kinds of ground. However, those that “sow into the Spirit” (Gal 6:7-8), are good ground and will get 30, 60, or 100-fold return in fruit. Jesus explains this concept in the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree in Luke 13:6-9. In the parable, a man had a fig tree planted in his garden but after 3 years it produced no fruit and he asked the gardener to cut it down. The gardener insisted on giving it another year to produce fruit. The gardener said he would give it extra attention with fertilizer and water and if it fails the next year, then he will cut it down.
When we do produce fruit, how much we produce depends on how much we nourish ourselves spiritually. Then we can multiply from 30 to 60 to 100 yield when we take good care of the ground so that the tree of our work will be well nourished. The principle of sowing and reaping is at work and the measure we give is the measure we get back (Luke 6:38). The way God multiplies more fruit for those who are good ground is by removing fruitless branches and pruning the ones that produce fruit so they can produce more fruit.
This is explained in John 15:1-8, when Jesus references Psalms 1, by saying he is the vine and we are the branches:
John 15:1 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. 5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. 7 But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.
This is a slightly different analogy since he is a tree and we are its branches but it still follows the same teaching. He is saying that the branches that produce fruit represent the righteous, but God will remove the branches that don’t produce fruit because they are wicked. Those that follow his commandments are righteous, those that don’t are wicked and will be removed, and wither and be burned.
Some tangential analogies to plants and fruit-bearing are made throughout the bible. In Matt 13:24-30, Jesus is talking about the final harvest of the wheat (the righteous), and the weeds/tares (the wicked).
Matt 13:24 Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. 25 But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. 26 When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew. 27 “The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’ 28 “‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed. “‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked. 29 “‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’”
He explains this parable a few verses later in Matt 24:36-43. The wheat is stored in the barns (eternal life) and the weeds are burned (condemnation). He repeats the idea that those that follow his commandments are righteous, those that don’t are wicked, and they will wither and be burned.
Matt 24:36 Then, leaving the crowds outside, Jesus went into the house. His disciples said, “Please explain to us the story of the weeds in the field.” 37 Jesus replied, “The Son of Man is the farmer who plants the good seed. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. 39 The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the devil. The harvest is the end of the world, and the harvesters are the angels. 40 “Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!
This same thing is said by John the Baptist in Matt 3:10 & Luke 3:9 when we are first introduced to Jesus as an adult:
He says to the crowd, “Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”
John the Baptist even uses this wheat vs weed analogy in Matthew 3:11-12 and Luke 3:16-17:
He says “I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.”
Ps 80:14-16 speaks about Israel’s exile with a similar analogy, and Isa 33:11-12 speaks about the Assyrian Empire in the same way.
This is echoed by Paul in his olive tree analogy (Romans 11:13-24) and when he mentions the fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:22-23). In Romans 11:13-24 Paul explains how the Israelites were like a unique olive tree in a garden and the Gentiles are represented by wild olive trees. He says the Jews that rejected Jesus were ripped off from the tree of their covenant and were replaced with Gentiles who accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Paul then warns the grafted Gentile branches that they too will be ripped off if they fail to commit themselves to God’s covenant, so they must not become arrogant about being grafted into the covenant tree. He finishes by saying in verse 24, “You [Gentiles], by nature, were a branch cut from a wild olive tree. So if God was willing to do something contrary to nature by grafting you into his cultivated tree, he will be far more eager to graft the original branches back into the tree where they belong.”
Jesus and Paul both say that the branches that don’t bear fruit will be torn off. When applying this Parable of the Sower from earlier, one could infer that for those who produce 30%, the Holy Spirit offers to cut away the other 70% of branches that don’t produce fruit. Likewise for those that produce 60%, 40% of branches are to be cut away. The goal is 100% production for each disciple of Jesus. The Spirit is given to believers to cut away the non-productive branches and fertilize and nourish the ground (our hearts) like the gardener with the barren fig tree in the Luke 13:6-9 parable. If we allow the Holy Spirit to do this then we will produce more 100% fruit. remember the Holy Spirit is God’s spirit and God is the gardener who cuts branches according to John 15:1.
God wants us to produce fruit but not just any old fruit. Good fruit comes from following the spirit of God and bad fruit comes from rebellion against God.
Jesus said this concerning false prophets in Matthew 7:15-20 “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. 16 You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. 19 So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. 20 Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.”
Even in Deuteronomy, the Israelites were given specific instructions concerning the trees when they conquered Canaan. Deut 20:19 “When you are attacking a town and the war drags on, you must not cut down the trees with your axes. You may eat the fruit, but do not cut down the trees. Are the trees your enemies, that you should attack them? 20 You may only cut down trees that you know are not valuable for food. Use them to make the equipment you need to attack the enemy town until it falls.
This lines up with what Jesus says above in Matt 7:19 about non-fruit-producing trees being uprooted. Interesting note, the whole story of humanity in the bible starts with a decision to take fruit from a forbidden tree, the decision to rebel against God is what leads to the desire to produce bad fruit. The very first command to humanity was to “be fruitful and multiply…” (Gen 1:28). We must submit to God’s teaching, receive his spirit, and make sure to be fruitful and produce good fruit, otherwise, we shouldn’t expect to be a part of his eternal kingdom. The message is loud and clear, that we must bear fruit for God or else we will be disconnected/uprooted. This is vital to understand.