Is it possible for Believers to have NO fruit, ever?

February 24, 2013
By dreiher2


I just recently listened to a message by Zane Hodges, called, “Once Again: James 2.” Here is the link in case you are interested in listening to the whole message (Once again: James 2) . Here is a link to part 4 & 5 in which just the Q&A is (part 4 Q&A). If you are new to the Grace view, I would strongly encourage you to listen to the entire message, and not just the Q&A.  (By the way. . . woudn’t it be nice if Preachers, Bible teachers and Speakers would speak for 30 minutes and give 15 minutes for Q&A in church?) In the Q&A time, Bob read the following question which was submitted by the audience:

Bob: Would you say that faith is externally manifested at some point in every believer’s life?

Zane: No.

Bob: Would you like to elaborate on that?

Zane: No.  (laughter)

However, I will. This is closely related to the long running question, Is there such a thing as a believer who never, ever does anything as a result of his faith. My answer to that? What I have gone into print as saying is, I don’t think there is any such thing as a believer who never, ever does anything at all as a result of their faith but I cannot prove it, from Scripture, so it cannot be a fundamental doctrine. But even if a person does one or two things as a result of their faith, that is certainly not grounds for assurance of Salvation. The really important issue is that works are not indispensable to assurance of eternal life. What is indispensable to that is the promise of God and our conviction that that promise is true.

Bob: OK, you just segued into another one of the questions. Can we ever be sure of someone else’s salvation, I am sure by that they mean regeneration. If so, based on what?

Zane: 1 John 5:1 says, “Whosoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” And it says it in the context where it is trying to identify the brother that we are trying to love. I think that has to be understood in the light of Johanine theology, which was, to believe that Jesus is the Christ, is to believe He is the one who gives eternal life to the person who believes in Him. And personally, I don’t think there is grounds for doubting the Salvation of someone who apparently with all sincerity and understanding says “that is what I believe.” Now I admit that I’ve met a few people who told me that and I didn’t think that was really what they believed, so I had some doubts about that. But most of the people that I meet, and interact with, can easily convince me they are saved by saying, “yeah I know I am going to heaven because I believed in Christ, that He has given me eternal life,” unless they are the best liars in the world I think they are brothers.

Bob: Just to follow up on that, what would lead you to question if someone affirmed that, what would lead you to, what in those situations made you question that?

Zane: Well, I knew a little bit about the person and the circumstances under which the person was talking to me. So I had suspicion. (Bob: They were mollifying you?) They were telling me, I think, what they thought I wanted to hear. (Bob: And that does happen) That does happen, people are capable of that. But, you know, how often does that happen. To me it hasn’t happened very much, but it has happened a couple of times.

****** End of transcript

I am not sure, but I think that the Bible may not explicitly state it, but I think it strongly implies that a born again person may have no “fruit.” I think Zane was referring to “a believer who never, ever did anything as a result of their faith.” A new believer may thank God, but tell nobody they just believed in Jesus, which is “something,” but it is different from “fruit” in my thinking. When we read John 15:1 and 2 I think we are supposed to think about some visible things God is trying to do in the life of a new believer, or in the life of an older believer that has not been growing. Not to get too sidetracked, by the NIV rendering of “cutting off” violates the whole flow of the context of the previous few chapters. He is talking to disciples. They will not get “cut off” and thrown into hell. People see “fire” in John 15:6 or anywhere else in the Bible and think “lake of fire.” That is simply not true. (Get a copy of Bob Wilkin’s book, “The Ten Most Misunderstood Words in the Bible.”) The whole context in John 13, 14 and 15 has Jesus predicting his death, and the failures of the disciples such as Peter who would deny Jesus 6 times. Jesus is trying to comfort them that their failures will not mean they go to hell (i.e. 14:1,2). He continues that theme in chapter 15. His goal is to move believers, no matter how badly they fail, to a state of fruitbearing. Throwing fruitless so-called “false professors” into hell would not accomplish that goal. Who knows how long the Vinedresser will have to lift up the fruitless branches before they bear fruit? Maybe a long, long time. Notice, that no time frame is mentioned. In other words, (1) it is possible to be “In Him” and to (2) have no fruit, and that God will “lift up” that branch to try and make it bear fruit. However, in my thinking, we still have free will. In other words, isn’t it possible for God to lift a branch for years and years and years and still have no fruit? I would say, yes. I think it is very comforting to know that God is willing to work with us, no matter what state we are in, and that we are not to fear hell. We are to do all we can to “Abide in Me” (15:5) in other words to remain in fellowship with God in order to bear fruit, or even “much” fruit. Without this fellowship we can do NOTHING. Then, right at the end, Jesus states, “These things I have spoken to you that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” (15:11)  How would the threat of being hacked off and thrown into hell be encouraging? I think the whole “inevitability of fruit” fruit checking test of regeneration argument goes against the context here.

In the parable of the 4 soils, the 2nd soil is the stoney ground, and the plant springs up (i.e. it represents a born again person) who withers and dies. Of course you cannot carry a metaphor too far, but the point is that it is feasible that there will be no visible fruit. In reality, God gives us lot of “second chances.” In other words, failure in the Christian life is not always permanent, and if we live, we may eventually start growing in the Lord and produce fruit. The point? We may not.

A lot of people build their whole theology around this inevitibility of fruit argument, and most of them are in the Reformed and/or Lordship camp. I was just thinking, which is more likely.  (1) A person in a Reformed and/or Lordship church, who has never heard anything but a muddled “faith that works” “test yourselves to see if you are in the faith” Gospel, who is discouraged, and not sure they are elect or born again, and not sure whether or not they even have the Holy Spirit, and they fall into sin and show no visible “fruit.”  Or, (2) A Person in a Free Grace Church, who is 100% sure they have everlasting life, that they will never lose, no matter how they behave, but does nothing constituting “fruit,” out of gratitude and love for that unconditional promise made to them.  I would say #1 is much more likely. I did not say that #2 could never happen. I am saying that if a person is covered over with confusion and doubt because of a completely confused saving message, they are not likely to be born again, let alone grow in the Christian life. Unless, of cource,  they got born again by the Free Grace saving message sometime in the past (perhaps at Awana), and later got Reformed and/or Lordship teaching, and completely lost their assurance.  Because of this I would affirm, very strongly that the Reformed and/or Lordship churches are causing the problem they blame us for, that is, lack of Spiritual growth, and people who are not really regenerate in churches today.

I cold mention other passages like 1 Cor 3:15, where it talks of a believer’s “works” being burned up at the Bema seat. That seems strong. It implies that maybe all or the majority of works being burned up.

In either case, the teaching of the Reformed and/or Lordship camps is not from the Bible and it is not from God.

- Don

For further study on the “lifts up” view of John 15:2, see Dr. Earl Radmacher’s posting here.

One Response to Is it possible for Believers to have NO fruit, ever?

  1. diane on June 24, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    Don, I appreciate so much your postings on this blog. Hope you NEVER REMOVE any of them. I enjoy having your blog articles available for study. Thank you for them.


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