“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.” (Colossians 1:3-8)Bearing fruit is the natural and necessary result of the work of the Gospel if it has genuinely been heard and understood.
No fruit? No root.
This should go without saying, but Christians are at different places in their sanctification, their progress in becoming more holy, more set apart from the world for God’s glory. But if a person has supposedly walked with Christ for a few years and is not bearing good fruit, then something is wrong. We should love one another well enough to address the concern at the risk of offending.
But this raises a question: are good works necessary FOR salvation? No. And yes.
No, good works are not necessary to bring about salvation. Before you were made alive together with Christ, you were dead in your trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-3). Dead men are not only incapable of doing enough good to justify themselves, they are incapable of doing anything at all! That includes generating faith within themselves. This is not to say that an unregenerate person cannot do things that are kind or generous. They can and do every day. What it does insinuate is that when a person who has been set right with God does a good work it is the fruit of the work of the Holy Spirit in their life as an inevitable result of faith in Christ. Faith, as Paul says in Ephesians 2:8, is a gift. If it were something we could manufacture it would itself be a good work. So not only are good works not necessary to bring about salvation, good works which correspond to salvation are impossible.
But yes, good works are the necessary result of salvation, and therefore go hand-in-hand with the sanctification aspect of our salvation. When we speak of salvation we’re not referring only to our justification, but also our sanctification (increasing in holiness) and our glorification (resurrection bodies!). So when a person has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit he is immediately and fully set right with God by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). But our sanctification is ongoing for the remainder of our time this side of the resurrection. What part do good works play in our sanctification? Louis Berkhof offers some help here:
Sanctification and good works are most intimately related. Just as the old life expresses itself in works of evil, so the new life, that originates in regeneration and is promoted and strengthened in sanctification, naturally manifests itself in good works. These may be called the fruits of sanctification. (Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 540)
The Bible does not teach that no one can be saved apart from good works. At the same time good works necessarily follow from the union of believers with Christ. (ibid., p. 543)
As believers, we have a new way of understanding God’s law. When we far from God, the law served only as a curse for us, showing us that even if we obeyed perfectly in the technical sense, our hearts were divorced from our actions. If we obeyed the law at that time, it was in seeking to justify ourselves. But we couldn’t. Our so-called “good works” apart from Christ were nothing more than filthy rags (Isa. 64:4-9). Then someone told you the good news: there is One whose good works can save; Christ Jesus. And you were called to repent. And the Holy Spirit stirred you from your grave and drew you to faith in Christ. And you confessed and trusted Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.
Now, that law that once stood over us to condemn us serves as guide to show us how we ought to live. Yes, Jesus fulfilled the law perfectly on our behalf. But how could we go on living however we feel like living, doing whatever we feel like doing, sinning whenever we feel like sinning? Living a life of holiness is not only a response of thanksgiving, but it is also the certainty for those who are truly in Christ. This does not mean that we won’t have a battle to fight. We will war with our flesh until we’re given our resurrection bodies, but if we walk in the Spirit, we will daily be crucifying the desires of our sinful nature (Gal. 5:16-26). Will we do so perfectly? No. But our desire will be the law of the Lord (Psalm 119:16), and holiness will be the fruit.
If our lives are not bearing good fruit, it should at the very least give us serious pause to consider whether the gospel has truly taken root in our hearts. If indeed it has but we are not bearing good fruit, it may be time for some serious pruning to occur.
SOME QUESTIONS FOR CONTEMPLATION:
1. Is my life “bearing fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8)?
2. Has the gospel truly taken root in my heart?
3. What in my life may need to be pruned? / What have I allowed to become an idol in my heart? (social media, TV, attitudes, etc.)