I have heard many Christians cite verses such as Psalms 37:4 and John 15:7 as evidence that if we believe in Jesus, God will promise to fulfill our every desire.
Psalm 37:4 New King James Version (NKJV)
4 Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
John 15:7 New King James Version (NKJV)
7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will[a] ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.
Is that claim true? Yes; but there are strings attached that many overlook or ignore (a common mistake when pulling a single verse out of context and using it to make your point) and doing so invalidates the promise.
John 15:7 is a seemingly odd verse stuck into an allegory that uses a grapevine to illustrate the relationship between Jesus and His followers. John 15: 1-8 is Jesus telling his disciples that He is the vine, they are branches. Branches that bear no fruit are snipped away and discarded. Those that do bear fruit are pruned to make them more fruitful. The passage ends with “8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” And in between is that, seemingly out of place, passage offering believers the fulfillment of their wishes. Many will pull that sentence out and turn it into an All You Can Eat admission into God’s candy Store: but this is an abuse of The Word.
The conditional statement, “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you refers back to the rest of this discussion. This does not say, “If you go to church, pray and read your Bible you may ask anything you want of God and He will grant it.” Those are all good things, but that’s not what he’s discussing here. By referring back to the allegory Jesus is saying, “If you bear much fruit, you may ask what you will and it shall be done for you.” So, what does “bear much fruit” mean?
In the old testament, God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and increase in number (Genesis 1:22, 9:1, 17:6, 35:11, and Exodus 1:7) clearly here God is talking about their progeny: is this what Jesus is telling His disciples? Is He saying if we spawn many children we may ask whatever we will of God and expect it to be fulfilled? No. While some families would appear to be pursuing that thought, that does not fit into the overall theme of this illustration.
Many churches claim this refers not to biological progeny but to theological progeny: converts. The more converts we produce the more trips into the candy store we may have. Is that the correct interpretation? I don’t think so.
The illustration clearly identifies believers as branches. Producing more believers would be sprouting more branches, not fruit. Fruit never turns into branches. Fruit is something special and separate that grows out of healthy, vibrant branches.
Also, the illustration clearly says that unproductive branches are cut away and burned in the fire. Is it Biblical to say that believers who are not effective in evangelism will be cut out of the family of God and destroyed? No, absolutely not. That is contrary to multiple passages that assure us that if we have truly accepted Jesus and are following him that we are saved and sealed: our sins forgiven and promised eternal life in Heaven. Salvation is not an on-again, off-again proposition. The vine being discussed is not representing salvation, but discipleship. The dictionary says “A disciple is a follower and student of a mentor, teacher, or master.” It implies being dedicated to learning through an intimate connection with the teacher. When we accept Jesus our sins are forgiven and we are given the Holy Spirit to guide us. From there it is our decision whether we will pursue discipleship or coast along as a believer. We are saved, but there is more awaiting us if we are willing to work for it.
I have gone through two management training programs with two different corporations. To make it to “manager” I studied under a training (upper level) manager and had to apply myself diligently to learning every phase of the business from ground floor to executive suite. If at any point I found I could not master the next step, I would be out of the program and go back to being a regular employee. I think that is (loosely) what is being talked about here. To be effective as a disciple of Jesus, you must bear fruit. Again we must ask: what is fruit?
The New Testament talks about fruit as being products of the Spirit not of our loins. The Holy Spirit is the Comforter and Teacher who was sent by Jesus after His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension into Heaven (John 14:26, 16:7, Acts 1:8-10). Through His guidance the Word of God is opened to us and we are given access to the understanding of Jesus. The term “fruit” or “fruitfulness” is often portrayed as the product of a vine or tree and illustrate the qualities of a believer’s life (Matthew 7:16-17). Fruits of the Spirit are readily defined by the Bible:
Galatians 5:22-26 New King James Version (NKJV)
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
It is my assertion that this passage illustrates the process where as I develop the above traits in my life, God prunes extraneous worldly bits from my life to make me more abundant in fruits of the spirit.
Matthew 7:16-17 New King James Version (NKJV)
16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.
If others identify me by the love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, etc. in my life then I am bearing good fruit. If others identify me by grumpiness, anxiety, gossiping, a hot temper, meanness, etc. than I am bearing bad fruit and am not presenting an accurate reflection of Jesus. As these traits manifest themselves in my life, others will take note of my life and glorify God because it is well known that I am a follower of Jesus. This is known because I say so. As I develop these fruits of the Spirit, meaning I am in compliance with God’s will for my life, God is more disposed to grant me the desires of my heart.
Does this mean that if I accomplish this and ask God for a new Maserati He will make that happen? If you think this, you have missed the point. As we become more Christ-like and Spirit filled, our desires will change also. If having a Maserati would fulfill God’s plan (and not taint my thinking) then yes, I’d get one. But if this is a fleshly passion or desire born of pride and greed, then: no, that desire will not be fulfilled.
If I am spirit-filled and genuinely studying Jesus in my pursuit of discipleship, my desires will be more along the line with the life of Jesus: filling the needs of others, healing for the sick and injured, teaching the confused and; yes: saving the lost of the world. Thinking that the verse in question throws open the doors of God’s candy store to me, in terms of worldly possessions and relationships, only proves that I am not worthy of the promise.