When we see good fruit, we rejoice at the work of God's Spirit in our lives, and we cheerfully continue to serve Him, producing more and even better fruit day by day.
But what happens when we don't see good fruit?
Don't get me wrong. We should be sorry for our lack of fruit. But this sorrow, when arrived at through faith-fill self-examination, should lead to repentance and growth. Guilty despair is not godliness. When we see rotten fruit or a lack of fruit in our lives, it should lead us to a godly sorrow over our sin which produces "repentance without regret" (2 Corinthians 7:10). In other words, the Christian is aware of and sorry for his sin, but the Holy Spirit uses this sorrow to cause spiritual growth. The Christian who is always joyfully rejoicing in God's mercy and repenting of his sin is a fruitful and effective Christian.
Though we use our fruit as a means of self-examination, we should never put our confidence in the fruit itself. In fact the more we place our faith in our own works, the less useful we become to the kingdom of God.
Lately, the topic of assurance of faith has been coming up in our Wednesday-night men's Bible study in Read. Where does our assurance come from? And what do I do when I don't have assurance?
One of my favorite authors is J. C. Ryle, and one of the most helpful books I've ever read is his most famous work, Holiness. And one of the most helpful chapters in this helpful book is a chapter called "Assurance." Here's what Ryle says about where we place our faith, what assurance looks like, and what its effects are in the life of a Christian (read the whole thing):
Let us remember, for another thing, that assurance is to be desired, because it tends to make a Christian an active working Christian.
None, generally speaking, do so much for Christ on earth as those who enjoy the fullest confidence of a free entrance into heaven, and trust not in their own works, but in the finished work of Christ. That sounds wonderful, I dare say, but it is true.
A believer who lacks an assured hope will spend much of his time in inward searchings of heart about his own state. Like a nervous, hypochondriacal person, he will be full of his own ailments, his own doubtings and questionings, his own conflicts and corruptions. In short, you will often find he is so taken up with his internal warfare that he has little leisure for other things, and little time to work for God.
But a believer, who has, like Paul, an assured hope is free from these harassing distractions. He does not vex his soul with doubts about his own pardon and acceptance. He looks at the everlasting covenant sealed with blood, at the finished work, and never-broken word of his Lord and Saviour, and therefore counts his salvation a settled thing. And thus he is able to give an undivided attention to the work of the Lord, and so in the long run to do more.
Take for an illustration of this, two English emigrants, and suppose them set down side by side in New Zealand or Australia. Give each of them a piece of land to clear and cultivate. Let the portions allotted to them be the same both in quantity and quality. Secure that land to them by every needful legal instrument; let it be conveyed as freehold to them and theirs for ever; let the conveyance be publicly registered, and the property made sure to them by every deed and security that man's ingenuity can devise.
Suppose then that one of them shall set to work to clear his land and bring it into cultivation, and labour at it day after day without intermission or cessation.
Suppose in the meanwhile that the other shall be continually leaving his work, and going repeatedly to the public registry to ask whether the land really is his own, whether there is not some mistake, whether after all there is not some flaw in the legal instruments which conveyed it to him.
The one shall never doubt his title, but just work diligently on. The other shall hardly ever feel sure of his title, and spend half his time in going to Sydney or Melbourne or Auckland, with needless inquiries about it.
Which now of these two men will have made most progress in a year's time? Who will have done the most for his land, got the greatest breadth of soil under tillage, have the best crops to show, be altogether the most prosperous?
Anyone of common sense can answer that question. I need not supply an answer. There can only be one reply. Undivided attention will always attain the greatest success.
It is much the same in the matter of our title to "mansions in the skies." None will do so much for the Lord who bought him as the believer who sees his title clear, and is not distracted by unbelieving doubts, questionings and hesitations. The joy of the Lord will be that man's strength. "Restore unto me," says David, "the joy of Thy salvation, then will I teach transgressors Thy ways" (Ps. 51:12).