Jesus told his disciples, “I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit.” He then quickly added these solemn words: “And that your fruit should remain” (John 15:16).
Christ’s words here apply to all of his disciples, in every age. He is telling us, in essence, “Be sure that your fruit will endure the Day of Judgment.”
The word “fruit” means doing the work and ministry of Christ here on earth. As a believer, I am chosen and ordained to go into all the world and preach the gospel of Christ. Moreover, as a minister of that gospel, I am called to make and train true disciples.
Now, there is such a thing as false conversion. Jesus warned the Pharisees, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves” (Matthew 23:15).
These are strong words, but they come from the Lord himself. And Jesus directed those words to zealous, proselytizing Jews. These were Bible scholars, men who knew the Scriptures.
You may wonder, “How could what Jesus said here be possible? How could those who seek to convert cause the lost to be put in a worse condition?”
Jesus answers this. When he cried, “Hypocrisy!” he was stating to the Pharisees, “Your fruit is evil.” And he warned them, “Ye shall receive the greater damnation” (23:14).
The Pharisees that Jesus addressed were more concerned with numbers than with seeing a true work of conversion take place in people’s hearts. Jesus said to them, in effect:
“You’re shutting up heaven to your so-called ‘converts.’ And it’s happening because you have no word from God in your own life. You go to such extreme labors in planning to make converts. Yet, in truth, you’re shutting up heaven to the people you reach.”
Tragically, we see the same spirit driving too many in the church today. I wonder if Jesus would say something similar to many of the shepherds in charge over God’s house:
“You roam sea and land for new concepts, ideas, programs. And it’s all to get people into your church. You’ve been bitten by the hypocrisy of numbers. You measure success by how many bodies fill your seats.”
I can tell you that not everyone in our church who calls himself a Christian is a truly converted, saved believer. At the same time, I can assure you that if such people come here and end up being a twofold child of hell, it won’t be because of what they heard from the pulpit. It won’t be due to an incomplete gospel message. No, it will be because they rejected convicting, Holy Ghost truth.
I ask you: where are shepherds who won’t soften their message for the high and mighty? Where are preachers who are so given to Christ, they preach the same message to kings that they do to the poor and despised?
I tremble to think that it’s possible for me, or any other preacher of the gospel, to shut heaven and cause “converts” to become twofold children of hell. Yet it’s happening today, all because of some ministers’ need to be loved and praised by others. They compromise truth in order to be accepted by the world.
Jesus addressed this. He called together his disciples, and “in the audience” of all the people, he gave a scathing rebuke to the religious scribes:
“Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts” (Luke 20:46).
In short, he was telling the people, “Beware of shepherds who love the praises of men. Look out for Bible men who seek the affection and applause of the people. Be cautious of church leaders who want the approval of society.”
A church that’s accepted and approved by the world is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. It’s an impossibility. According to Jesus, any church that’s loved by the world is of the world, and not of Christ:
“If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19).
My life has been greatly influenced by the writings of George Bowen, a Presbyterian missionary who labored in India from 1838 to 1879. Bowen gave up all his missionary support to move into a slum and live as the natives there did. He led a very frugal existence, in near poverty. Yet because of that choice, he left behind a testimony of the true power of living in Christ.
This godly man warned of an antichrist spirit to come. He identified this antichrist spirit as being “the spirit of modern society.” According to Bowen, this antichrist spirit would infiltrate the Protestant church with the mindset, methods and morals of the larger society.
The antichrist spirit would continue its influence until society and church couldn’t be differentiated. Over time, the world would lose its hatred for Christ’s church and true believers. It would stop its persecution, and the church would be loved and accepted by the world. Once that happened, Bowen wrote, this antichrist spirit would have taken the throne.
Several months ago, as the doors to Iraq were about to be opened to Christian relief organizations, the New York Times ran a derogatory article. That is to be expected from a liberal, secular press. They might applaud the distribution of food in Iraq, but certainly not the preaching of Christ.
Yet the article quoted an evangelical scholar, who was critical of the whole effort. He completely denounced it, saying the church should mind its own business. This Bible man was actually embarrassed that the church would be evangelizing. That is a worldly mindset!
We’re going to find enemies everywhere — people who oppose us on our job, in our neighborhood, even in some churches — because we’re fulfilling Christ’s mission.
Again Jesus warns, “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! For so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). Let me ask you: is the world praising you? Are you the toast of the town? Are you given high praise at secular events? Are you politically correct in your interactions? Are mayors, dignitaries and the famous comfortable in your presence? Then hear Jesus’ words to you: “There is something false about your testimony.”
Jesus himself makes it clear: if any church is moving in the power of the Holy Spirit and fulfilling its mission as he commanded, that church is going to be hated and persecuted by the world. Like Paul, the pastor will be considered the off-scouring of the earth. And the church will be hated by ungodly politicians and ungodly leaders of society. It will also be despised by homosexuals, pornographers, and most of all by backslidden religious leaders who are spiritually dead.
Yet, Jesus tells that church:
“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:10–12).
A true Christian is loving, peaceful, forgiving and caring. Those who obey Jesus’ words are self-sacrificing, meek and kind.
Now, common wisdom tells us it’s not natural to hate those who love you, bless you and pray for you. Rather, people hate only those who abuse, rob and curse them. So, why are Christians so hated?
Jesus says simply, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you…. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18, 20). Why is this so?
The church, and every minister and believer in it, is hated because of its mission. You see, our mission is much more than telling lost people, “Jesus loves you.” It’s more than trying to accommodate and appease people.
You may draw back in surprise when I remind you of what our mission is. Simply put, our mission as Christians is to take back from the ungodly what is most precious to them: self-righteousness. It is to translate them into a freedom they think is slavery. It is to separate them from damning sins, a blessing they see as only ending in boredom and sadness.
The most precious thing to a worldly person is his self-righteousness. Think about it: he has spent his whole life forming a good opinion of himself. He’s built an idol to his good works. He praises himself that he’s really good at heart and kind to others. Simply put, he’s built his own Tower of Babel, a monument to his own goodness. He is sure that he’s good enough for heaven, and too good for hell.
This ungodly man has spent years beating down his conscience and searing it. He has taught himself to still every voice of conviction that comes to him. And now he enjoys a false peace. He has become so deceived, he actually believes God admires him!
And now, just when he has shut down the voice of his conscience, you, a Christian, come along. And the truth you bring speaks more loudly than his dead conscience: “Unless you’re born again, you can’t enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Suddenly, you’re a threat in this man’s mind. You’re someone who wants to deprive him of his assurance that all is well with his soul. All this time, he has thought he is okay. But now you’re telling him that all his good works are as filthy rags.
I tell you, this man doesn’t see you as someone who’s bringing good news. No, in his eyes you’re a tormenter, someone who’s out to take away his peaceful sleep at night.
Such people think they’re in God’s good graces simply because they show up at church. Yet they’ve created their own concept of who Christ is. Their christ is someone just like themselves. And that christ isn’t formed by God’s Word, but by their own blindness.
Now you come along and tell them that without repentance and a true life-change, they’re rebels. You tell them their self-made integrity is an abomination to God. And, rather than being in God’s favor, they’ll be under his wrath if they continue in their sins.
You’ve come preaching the blood of Christ, a new birth, separation from the world, a walk of submission and obedience. Yet you’re saying all of this to people who are convinced they’re in need of nothing. They can’t conceive how such changes could possibly bring peace and happiness. To them, it sounds like a dry, empty wilderness.
Some preachers reading this may object, “That isn’t my mission at all. I would never be that confrontational.” Others may claim, “I’m called to bring the gospel of love and grace. Therefore, I preach a non-controversial message.”
I can’t speak for other pastors; I can only speak what I know. And for fifty years now, I’ve preached to some of the hardest, most wicked sinners on earth: drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes. Yet, I tell you, these sinners are much less resistant to gospel truth than many who sit in church pews and are blinded to their condition.
Thousands of so-called believers across America are more hardened than anyone on the streets. And no suave, soft-spoken, half-truth gospel is going to break down the walls of their wickedness.
Saul of Tarsus was just such a hardened religious man. A Pharisee among Pharisees, an upright figure in a highly religious society, Saul had it all together. So, did Jesus come to this man taking a poll, asking what he’d like to see in a synagogue service?
No! Saul was struck to the ground by a blinding light, a full blast of the presence of Christ. It was a piercing, confrontational meeting that exposed Paul’s heart, pinpointing his sin.
As a minister of the gospel of Christ, I am to do likewise. It’s my business to convince men and women of their sin. I’m to warn them of the danger that awaits them if they continue their ways. And no amount of flattery, or subtlety, or getting them to like me will change their condition.
In plain terms, I am called to lead people to forsake everything to follow a Christ whom they find unattractive. Only the Holy Ghost in me can accomplish that.
Don’t mistake what I’m saying here. I preach the mercy, grace and love of Christ to all people. And I do it through tears. But the only thing that’s going to pierce the walls erected by hardened people is a blast of the presence of Jesus. And that has to come out of the mouths of contrite, praying pastors and parishioners.
This verse strikes at the very heart of why we are hated. When we were saved, we got “out of the world.” And we accepted our mission to insist that others “get out of the world.”
“Ye are not of the world…therefore [because of this], the world hateth you” (John 15:19). Christ is saying, in essence, “The world hates you because I called you out of your condition. And that means I called you out of their fellowship. Yet, I didn’t just call you out. I then sent you to call everyone else out.”
The Protestant antichrist spirit works to hinder this separation of Christians from the world. It makes it seem possible for believers to stay in the world and yet still regard themselves as Christians.
You may ask, “What exactly does Jesus mean when he says ‘the world’?”
He isn’t just speaking of ungodly lusts, pleasure madness, pornography or adultery. No, “the world” Christ refers to isn’t some list of evil practices. That’s only a part of it. Many Muslims have “come out” of all these things by sheer willpower and fear of destruction.
“The world” that Jesus speaks of is an unwillingness to surrender to his Lordship. In short, worldliness is any attempt to co-mingle Christ with self-will.
You see, when we surrender to the Lordship of Christ, we cleave to Jesus. And we’re led by the Holy Spirit, step by step, into a walk of purity and uprightness. We begin to appreciate godly reproof.
I realize this truth every time I stand up to preach. As I gaze out from the pulpit into our congregation, scattered among the faithful believers I face non-believers each week who’ve walked in for the first time. Some are successful business people, self-made and hard driving. Others come from all kinds of walks of life. Yet all are laden down with secret sins. These people are living as they please, not under any spiritual authority. But they’re empty and disillusioned. They’ve become sick of pursuing pleasures that never satisfy.
I could preach to them all kinds of sermons about principles and rules of behavior, or how to cope with stress, or how to deal with fear and guilt. But none of this kind of preaching gets anyone “out of the world.” It doesn’t change anybody’s heart.
I simply have to tell the non-believer that his self-will, self-reliance and stubborn struggle to do everything his way will destroy him. And in the end, it will bring him everlasting torment.
If I don’t give him this message, then I have forever shut up the heavens to him. And I have made him a twofold member of hell. His condition will be worse than before he came through our doors.
I have to bring that man face to face with the message of being crucified to his independence. I have to show him that he must come out of his deluded world of self-goodness. I have to tell him there’s no way to peace in this life except through full surrender to King Jesus.
Otherwise, I have deceived this man. And I’ve committed the horrible sin of the worst kind of pride: I have counted him as a “convert” to make myself look good. May it never be!
As a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I am obligated to speak his truth to everyone who truly repents: “You will be hated and persecuted from now on.”
With these awful words, Jesus gives us the litmus test of a true church and a true disciple. I wonder how many churches and Christians these words could be spoken of today: “The world cannot hate you.”
Christ is saying, in essence, “You have so brought the world into the church — you’ve so diluted my gospel — that the world embraces you. You’ve become a friend to the world.” James gives us this warning in his epistle: “The friendship of the world is enmity with God…whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4).
Of course, Jesus was a friend to politicians and sinners. But it is also written that he was “separate from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26). He ministered to sinners, yet as one under submission to his Father. Like him, we are called to be in the world, but not of it.
“Remember the word that I said unto you… If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). You don’t have to look for persecution. It won’t come because of your job performance, or your race, or your appearance. No, it will come simply because you make Christ your Lord.
God have mercy on any Christian whom the world doesn’t hate. And God help the politician who takes a stand for Christ; the world will hate him and demonize him.
Now let me give you a word of encouragement. Even though the world hates and persecutes Christ’s true disciples, we find a growing love and godly affection among the members of his church. Indeed, that which causes the world to hate us causes our righteous brothers and sisters to embrace us all the more.
In the days ahead, the love in God’s house is going to become more precious. We’ll be hated by the whole world, mocked by the media, ridiculed by Hollywood, scoffed at by coworkers, made a laughingstock by society. But when we come into God’s house, we’ll be entering a place of incredible love, as we love one another as Christ loves us.
It won’t matter what persecution we’ve faced. We’ll be received with these words: “Welcome home, brother, welcome home, sister. Here is where you’re loved.” We’ll be built back up, to continue going out as our Lord commands us, with his true gospel.