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How to Test Your Spiritual Character
Good News Magazine
January 1981
Volume: Vol XXVIII, No. 1
Issue: ISSN 0432-0816
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How to Test Your Spiritual Character
Richard J Rice   
Church of God

Born: 1935
Died: July 5, 2003
Member Since: 1954
Office: ACE - Evangelist

Director, Mail Processing Center

   What is the true test of your conversion? How does God Measure your spiritual growth and maturity?

   How does God evaluate the depth and quality of your character? Ultimately, how does God know that you love Him — that you are deeply loyal to Him and headed toward His Kingdom?
   Jesus Christ summarized the answer when He said, "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples" (John 15:8).
   But just as nature produces both good and bad fruit, so humans can produce fruit that may or may not be acceptable to God. And God wants Christians to bear good fruit!
   "Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt. 7: 16-20).

A biblical theme

   The Bible has a great deal to say about bearing spiritual fruit.
   Christ Himself used many examples from agriculture and nature to emphasize the need for Christian growth: "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit" (John 15:5).
   God inspired David to write: "And he [the man who fears God] shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper" (Ps. 1:3).
   Paul tells us: "Now he [God] that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness" (II Cor. 9:10).
   Christ also used the term good works to express the importance of spiritual growth. Notice Matthew 5: 16: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
   Clearly, then, God desires that we do good works and bear holy, righteous fruit in order to glorify Him to the world.

The growth process

   But how does this growth process work? How can we bear the kind of fruit God wants? To understand the spiritual parallel more clearly, let's consider for a moment the marvelous process of how fruit develops in nature.
   First, a blossom is pollinated. After a few days, a tiny green bud of fruit appears. It is then supplied with nutrients, in the form of sap, from within the plant or tree. As the fruit continues to receive nourishment, it slowly grows, develops and matures. Finally, after many days, weeks or months of growth, it ripens and is ready for harvest.
   In the Christian life, a similar thing happens. But remember that until we are truly converted, faithful members of God's Church, we cannot bear the kind of good fruit that really pleases Him (Rom. 8:9, Heb. 11:6). You can read more about how to become a profitable servant to God in Dibar Apartian's article in the October / November, 1980, Good News.
   Once we are begotten of God and placed in His Church, the Holy Spirit begins to work in our minds to produce spiritual fruit. As the "fruit" develops and grows, it is nurtured through the inflowing of God's Spirit. "Abide in me, and I [Jesus] in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me" (John 15:4).
   As God's Spirit flows into our lives — like the sap of the tree it motivates us to think and act like God. The Holy Spirit stimulates our growth. In reality, then, it is God who produces the fruit.
   When we act on the Holy Spirit's promptings, our "spiritual buds" of fruit are energized — they start to change and grow. As we continue to act and respond to each new stimulus (showing love, gentleness, meekness and the other fruits of God's Spirit), we begin to form habits of obedience to God and His way of life.
   The fruits of God's Spirit ripen and mature from use, practice and experience. Given time they become ingrained habits of righteous character. The development of perfect, holy, righteous character was what Christ wanted when He commanded, "Be [become] ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48).
   God created a variety of fruit for us to enjoy in the natural world — apples, oranges, peaches, pears, figs, grapes. Since this physical world is a type of the spiritual (Rom. 1:20), it follows that God intends for us to produce a variety of spiritual fruit.
   Galatians 5:22-23 lists nine specific fruits of God's Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. When we're tuned in to God's wavelength and act on the influence of His Spirit, these fruits — habits, reactions or patterns of conduct — will characterize our lives. They will be part of our every thought, deed and action, causing us to become more like God.

Your fruit is to remain

   In speaking to His disciples about the necessity of bearing fruit, Jesus said, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain" (John 15:16). A similar exhortation is found in Revelation 3:11, "Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown."
   An important lesson can be drawn from these two verses. If our bearing fruit is to continue, we must keep up the effort! The fruits or qualities of character God is building into our lives must be maintained.
   The Bible commands, "Let brotherly love continue" (Heb. 13:1). Like some trees that bear fruit continually — among them lemon, orange and grapefruit — the fruit produced by God's Spirit should be never ending. Even though hundreds may "eat of your fruit," the supply should never run out. In other words, you are to produce a perpetual harvest of rich spiritual fruit.
   Sometimes we get discouraged because we do not grow as quickly as we think we should. We become frustrated because we do not see tangible fruit being borne.
   One reason might be that we start to respond in a given direction but stop too soon — short of completion. We may become bored with routine or even weary with well doing!
   Remember, it takes time for fruit to grow. An apple tree doesn't bear fruit overnight. It may take years of cultivation, pruning and nurturing before the results begin to show. And, even then, the first year of harvest may not be the best. It may take several years before the best fruit yields are seen.
   The same is true in a Christian's life. The fruit we produce in the first few weeks or months after conversion may not be as much — or of the same quality — as we will bring forth later. This does not mean we can ever let down — but that we should be constantly redoubling our efforts!
   Remember that in the parable of the sower some of the seed sown produced thirtyfold, some sixtyfold, some a hundredfold (Matt. 13:23). It all depends on how diligent we are — how much we strive to become godlike, how much we respond to the inner working of God's Spirit.
   Like a tree, each of us goes through various stages of growth. The amount of fruit we bear depends on our rate of progress. God is the "husbandman" who is working with each of us, watering, nurturing, dunging, cultivating to bring forth the fruit He wishes us to have.
   Don't give up or be discouraged. Give God time to work His purpose in your life. As a tree grows, it adds more fruit. In like manner, the more we zealously practice the way of God and do good works, the more fruits of righteousness God will be able to produce.

A lifelong process

   Before it is fully ripe, a peach is tart, green and inedible. In order for it to become ripe and ready for use, it must go through a lengthy process of development.
   The Christian's goal is to become perfect. The word perfect, according to the original Greek used in Matthew 5:48, means to become mature, whole, complete or entire fully developed. In some places, such as Luke 8: 14, the Greek word translated perfect even means "ripe."
   Becoming perfect becoming mature, whole and complete — is a lifelong process. It may take years from the moment we are begotten until we are fully mature and ready for the Kingdom. However, in order to attain this high calling, we must become-more mature — ripen, so to speak — a little each day.
   This means our fruits of righteousness are not just one-time acts. The fruits of God's Spirit are to be expressed again and again in our daily lives until we actually take on God's likeness.
   Thus, as we continue to allow God's Spirit to motivate our behavior, we will take on, little by little, "the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:19).
   "But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day" (Prov. 4:18). True righteousness is not attained quickly, but involves intense effort over a long period of time.
   Some in God's Church show only the appearance of a healthy tree, but they have never borne fruit. Others produce blossoms and buds, but through neglect allow the flow of the Holy Spirit to stop, and the fruit withers and drops off. Still others let the cares of this world or persecution drain their spiritual strength so that they become barren and fruitless.
   Jesus Christ warned about these conditions. In one instance, He cursed an unproductive fig tree (Mark 11:12-14, 20).
   He also cautioned: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. .. . If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned" (John 15: 1-2, 6).
   It behooves us to examine our lives daily to be sure that we're connected to the vine — tied to Jesus Christ and God the Father in a vital relationship of love, so that we will have the continual strength to produce the rich, abundant crop God desires.

The true test

   What, then, is the true test of a Christian's character and his right standing with God?
   Jesus said, "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt. 7:20). The final test of a person's character is his fruits — how he lives, what he says, what he does. It involves the totality of his being.
   What kind of fruit tree do you represent? If you're newly baptized, you may be only in the blossoming or budding stage — your fruit-bearing process has just begun.
   But if you are an older Christian and have been in God's Church for many years, your branches should be laden with many beautiful varieties of spiritual fruit.
   Are you a barren or productive Christian? This is the true test!

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Good News MagazineJanuary 1981Vol XXVIII, No. 1ISSN 0432-0816
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