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FF Chong—London, UK

Late autumn trees without fruit.” This is one of the images Jude used to drive home the depravity and doom of the apostates, those who abandoned the true faith (Jude 12). This illustration has its root in the agriculture of the land of Israel. Late autumn is when fruit trees produce their fruit. Every farmer relies on this last harvest of the year to sustain themselves until the next harvest. This late autumn crop is crucial to the survival and expansion of the farmer’s agricultural enterprise.

A poor harvest is a painful and disappointing experience for any farmer, because of the subsequent hardship he will have to endure. If this happens, the farmer will do all that he can to reverse the barrenness of his trees. This ranges from the medical examination of the trees to using fertilizers. Such an endeavor costs more time, money and effort. It is a painstaking, but necessary, process to bring the trees back to full health. By doing this, the farmer hopes to reverse his situation and, by next spring, see his trees bearing fruit again.

One main cause of a barren tree is disease. When a tree becomes galled—a condition in which unhealthy growths are found on the tree—its fruit is in danger of failing to ripen. Gall can be caused by parasites, bacteria and fungi. The infected tree may go through the blossoming process, and at times even bear fruit. However, the abnormal growths block the free circulation of sap around the tree. This prevents the fruit from reaching maturity, causing it to dry up and eventually fall off the tree. Hence the expression: “Late autumn trees without fruit.”


Late autumn trees without fruit” is one of many metaphors Jude used to highlight the danger apostates could inflict upon the community of God. These metaphors, found in the Book of Jude from verses 12 to 13, were commonly known and understood during Jude’s time. He used them to describe the attempted destruction of God’s community, a community which is built on amicableness, a spirit of sacrifice, truth, productiveness, honor and order. Such destruction, if successful, would be utterly unforgiving and consumes all goodness that would otherwise nourish the church.

In Jude’s mind, apostates are destructive elements who expressly corrupt all who follow them, promoting wickedness over the goodness of God. Instead of having love for the brethren, they instigate hatred and antagonism; instead of speaking the truth to one another, they fabricate lies; instead of resolving differences, they blow things out of proportion; and instead of creating an ambience of reverence, they speak against God and His church. They are the instruments of the dragon (Rev 13:5–6).

Such false prophets are able to corrupt the innocent to their own advantage, turning them against one another. This is intended to destroy unity amongst the brethren, making it easier for the apostates to work heretically against the establishment of the church. With ease, they build up walls and instill hostility. Following Jude’s line of thought, they are like the abnormal growths on a tree, retarding the growth that would otherwise be enjoyed by a healthy and vibrant tree.


To fend off attacks from false prophets, we have to understand the importance of bearing fruit. First, it is Jesus who commissioned us to bear fruit. Being chosen by God comes with the mandate to bear fruit:

You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain. (Jn 15:16a)

This command cannot be ignored; it must be carried out. The word “appointed” indicates the divine authority and sovereignty of the One who appoints. No servant in God’s house can violate his appointment without facing the wrath of God’s judgment.

At the same time, being “appointed” implies the honorable status that we have in Christ Jesus. This appointment is granted only to those who are baptized into Christ. We are placed in a privileged position to bear fruit for God. In  fact, God empowers us to bear fruit; hence, nothing can stop us from bearing fruit for Him. God has not given us a task that is beyond our strength and capability, but a duty that all who believe in Him can fulfill.

Jesus instructs us not only to bear spiritual fruit, or perform good deeds, but to ensure that the fruit remains. This is a challenging task. In a physical sense, every ripe fruit will eventually perish. Likewise, for a good deed to remain, under all circumstances, would prove to be impossible for most. In the majority of cases, the good deed fades away. And if the situation turns volatile, the person who bore the spiritual fruit will be worn down until their ability to bear fruit is diminished (see Gal 6:9).

If there is sin and animosity, the durability of spiritual fruit is shortened; a good deed can rarely be done in a hostile environment. For instance, the act of care can hardly be performed when the carer is subject to abuse. As with a fruit-bearing tree, when the environment is good, the tree will bear much fruit. However, no ecosystem can remain absolutely plague-free. Natural disasters can strike at any time. When the tree fails to fight against the onset of disease, its fruit will certainly fall off prematurely.

But God has shown a way for His chosen to overcome such circumstances—by removing the gall. There are two parts to this. On our part, as God’s chosen, it is imperative to have the will to bear fruit and to keep the fruit sustained. In the context of John, the will to bear fruit is the will to love one another (Jn 15:17). On God’s part, He is love, the source of and motivation for all good works. With the power of love, we are able to surpass and overcome any adverse situation in which we find ourselves. For love cancels out differences, defuses animosity, and tears down walls of division. It enables the continuous performance of good works—bearing fruit unceasingly.

To maintain a perfect state is virtually unattainable, but God empowers those who have the will to do good. Even when the desire to perform good works seems to subside and wane, God will strengthen us, as long as it is in line with His will. This is why we should be confident not in ourselves but in God. It is comforting to know that the Lord will always aid us in our good works. This thought drives us on, believing that whatever we do for His delight will bear fruit worthy of the Lord.


The church is featured prefiguratively in Isaiah’s vineyard song (Isa 5). Here, God works on the vineyard tirelessly. He expects the entire vineyard to bring forth good grapes. God desires the whole church, not just a few people, to bear good fruit and reach the standard He expresses in the Bible. This is the underlying principle of God establishing His church. He calls for all to put off the old nature and attain to the level of Christ, who is all and in all (Col 3:11). This is a case of bearing the fruit of light (or Spirit) in abundance (see Eph 5:9).

Since the body—the church—is one, whatever we do has a direct bearing on the rest of the body. Each member of the church must be conscious that his actions can damage the good works that the entire church has done. An action that damages the church is a rotten apple that spoils the barrel. It is like a dead fly that putrefies the perfumer’s ointment (Eccl 10:1). It tarnishes the good works in which the church has toiled. Instead, of bringing glory to God’s name, it brings shame.

We are often totally unaware of the workings of our mind, and we cannot comprehend why we are inclined to the deeds of the flesh, especially when we do not receive a swift reminder. One reason is our resistance to correction, which removes the fear of the Lord (Prov 15:32–33), giving rise to wickedness. When this takes place, it stifles the good work that we have done, sending out negative signals that detrimentally impact upon the church. What good work can come from such a state?

Since we, believers and ordained ministers alike, have human shortcomings, keeping watch over one another’s spiritual wellbeing becomes even more important. Our life in Christ cannot be lived in isolation. To reach maturity, the state of bearing abundant fruit, we must accept constant correction. This practice creates a spiritually healthy church, providing a strong base for all to know their own spiritual state. Through genuine reflection, we come to know our own heart and motive with greater clarity, which gives us the opportunity to eliminate any corruption. Step by step, the church will bring forth the virtues of God in believers’ lives.


If we are not alert to false prophets, the good works of the church are in danger of being destroyed. The work of false prophets is, however, often subtle. In exposing the work of false prophets, Jesus states that their fruits must be carefully observed. The reasoning Jesus gives is that grapes cannot be gathered from thorn bushes or figs from thistles (Mt 7:15–20). The grapes and figs, though they are types of fruits, must not be taken solely to mean charitable deeds or actions of love. False teachers are more than capable of showing charity, pretending submission and faking humility. Jesus’ words provide another shade of understanding: thorn bushes and thistles represent a state of being cursed. They represent falsehood and heresies.

For us today, it is not so much about despising teachings, but more about learning to be discerning (1 Thess 5:20f). The words uttered by a person reflect his character. Likewise, the teachings of a person provide a good indication of his beliefs. If we compare these teachings to the pattern of sound words that we have received in the Bible, we can discern whether he is a true or false teacher. For instance, love rejoices in the truth (1 Cor 13:6b). Some would boast that love, being the greatest (1 Cor 13:13), is more important than truth. However, love and truth cannot be compared on the same level. Truth is a modifying attribute that qualifies virtues such as love. Thus, it is not that love is more important than truth, instead it is whether one has true love, true faith and true hope. “Love,” unqualified by truth, cannot be placed above the truth in the church, since the action of love cannot, and must not, exceed the boundaries of the truth.

Paul has elaborated on the various aspects of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22): the fruit is borne with the power of the Spirit. We know that the Spirit is the truth and the truth is the Spirit (cf. Jn 6:63) because the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of truth (Jn 14:17, 16:13). Therefore, the divine attributes of the Spirit’s fruit cannot be separated from the truth. One is able to exercise self-control by the work of the Spirit, simply because he has been taught in the truth, and will not blatantly go against the commands of the Lord.

When Paul listed the works of the flesh, which defy those of the Spirit (Gal 5:17, 19–21), he included “heresies” (the last element stated in verse 20). Heresies directly contradict the work of the Spirit, which is outlined by the truth. The conclusion is indisputable: he who preaches falsehood or tampers with the truth does not have the fruit of the Holy Spirit. When Jude warned of the infiltration of heresies into the church, he unreservedly stated that those who divide the church do not have the Spirit (Jude 19).

The Spirit’s fruit contains three key elements: “the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth” (Eph 5:9). “Goodness” refers to the essence of God, as only God is good (Ps 34:8; Nah 1:7; Mt 19:17). It sums up the virtues that Jesus has shown on the cross. “Righteousness” is used as a contrast to sin (1 Jn 3:7f). Every manifestation of righteousness, or portion of work for God, must have nothing to do with the work of the flesh and sin. ”Truth” is the standard of Christian practice. Furthermore, it is the foundation of the church.

With this overview of the Spirit’s fruit, we can see that the work of false teachers goes against the very essence of the Holy Spirit. In evilness, they divide. But in God’s goodness, Jesus unites all who believe in Him. To achieve their goals, false teachers seek to eliminate the unity within the church, using every perverse means possible. But, through righteous means, by dying for all, the Lord saves from perversion those who believe in Him. With falsehood, the false teachers infiltrate the church to lure believers away from the path of God. In truth, Jesus leads man to God for salvation. The apostates destroy the good works of the church, but Jesus instructs that the fruits must remain.


Jesus prophesied there would be an unprecedented rise in the number of false teachers spreading falsehood before His second coming (Mt 24:5, 11, 24). This is because Satan knows that his days are limited (Rev 12:12, 17). Satan creates confusion in the church and blinds the spiritual eyesight of believers, to distract them from following the right path of salvation. In most cases, the falsehood is promoted in a way that is difficult to distinguish from the correct gospel.

The gospel is the power of God that transforms the nature of believers. When the true gospel is blended with falsehood, our God-given nature will turn corrupt. It becomes impossible for us to have good and godly behavior. The reason is simple: upholding the truth (the correct gospel) ensures the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in our life. When the truth is deserted, the Spirit of truth will not work in us, but the spirit of error will. Our fruits will not remain; and more crucially, we shall be deprived of the capacity to bear fruit.

There are three aspects to the fruit of light, or the Spirit, namely goodness, righteousness, and truth (Eph 5:9). These three qualities are inseparable. Together they form the essence of good fruit. From Paul’s arrangement of the three qualities, the truth is the foundation for bearing fruit. When the truth is replaced with falsehood, we can no longer live righteously before God. Our life is, in effect, far from the governing authority of the truth. Our deeds can never be right before the Lord—we can no longer bear good fruit.

Straying from God’s righteous principle has only one consequence: the good that we have cultivated in the truth of God will gradually fade away. Thereafter, what comes out from us is nothing but evil. Any goodness we show is done in pretence, with a view to deceive. We are no longer capable of doing good works. Every simple deed has evil at its source (cf. Lk 6:45). Surely, these are not good fruits but bad ones, which go against the very nature of God.


A real Christian bears fruit (Jn 15:1–9; Gal 5:22–24; Eph 5:8–11). However, if he is “diseased,” his capacity to bear fruit will diminish. This is like a diseased fruit tree, whose fruit withers and drops prematurely. The consequences can be doubly severe when a Christian is confused by falsehood, since he leaves the foundation of the truth in exchange for an aberration. This, in effect, renders a person incapable of good behavior, since the absence of truth in his life has also caused God to depart from him.

The harm caused by false prophets can be devastating. The church is therefore tasked to teach her believers not to fall into any deceptive traps. These apostates have barren lives, when they should be fruitful. They are like the barren fig tree (Lk 13:6–9). By their fruit we will recognize them (Mt 7:20). They feign goodness, but their good deeds cannot pass the test of goodness, righteousness and truth, the constituents of the fruit of light. By the truth, their deception shall be fully exposed.