Don’t Be Too Quick To Look For Fruit In New Believers

A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench… IS 42.3

In pursuing his calling, Christ will not quench the smoking flax, or wick, but will blow it up until it flames. In smoking flax there is only a little light, and that light is weak, as being unable to flame, and that little is mixed with smoke. The observations from this are that in God’s children (especially when they are first converted) there is but a little measure of grace, and that little is mixed with much corruption, which, as smoke, is offensive, yet Christ will not quench this smoking flax. – Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed

When we believe in Jesus we have eternal life. We can’t lose this life. But this grace of God in believers often seems to be little more than a spark. Sometimes it takes a long time for Jesus to fan it to a full flame. And as Richard Sibbes says, that small “measure of grace” is often mixed with “much corruption” and like smoke, can be offensive. Yet Christ will not quench that faintly burning wick.

This means we shouldn’t be too quick to look for fruit in new believers. Yes, some people come out of the gate like gangbusters, turn wholeheartedly from sin, and begin to share the gospel like zealots. But others, like myself as a young believer, though they have the spark of grace, put forth a lot of smoke and change very slowly.

I believed in Jesus before I prayed my first sinner’s prayer. I’d been raised Roman Catholic and believed Jesus was God who had become a man, born of a virgin. I believed he never sinned. I believed he died on the cross for my sins (though I probably could not have really explained that to you). And I believed he rose from the dead. Though I believed, I knew little else. I didn’t know I had eternal life.

I didn’t know that because believers are one with Jesus and have died to sin, they should put sin to death and no longer let it reign in their bodies. So I just kept sinning, becoming more and more mired in it. There was a spark there, but it sure was mixed with a lot of smoke. I was beginning to pray (grace), but even so, would curse as I prayed – I figured God knew I cursed so I wanted to be real with him (grace mixed with much corruption).

Then I went to a Christian meeting and said a prayer to “invite Jesus into my heart.” Still, no one told me anything about becoming a disciple, or putting sin to death, or not sowing to the flesh. But I began going to prayer meetings. There was a spark. There was spiritual life in me. But you probably wouldn’t have seen much because of all the smoke. After the prayer meetings I’d go to the bar where I’d get drunk every night. Every morning I’d be racked with guilt, wondering how Jesus could possibly love me, and having no clue I could have victory over sin.

I went a year like that. But Jesus never let the tiny flame go out. For some reason, I kept reading the Bible and going to prayer meetings. Then a friend invited me to a Bible study at a local Presbyterian church. The pastor taught about turning from sin and it began to make sense to me. I made a decision to begin to follow Jesus wholeheartedly and quit getting drunk. I had to quit drinking alcohol altogether at the time and quit placing myself in tempting situations. I was beginning to put sin to death. Jesus was beginning to fan the smoldering wick into a small flame.

Little by little Jesus kept changing me. Eventually I quit the rock band I was in because God convicted me about some of the unsavory places we played in. I quit swearing when I prayed. I quit swearing altogether. I began to fight sexual temptation. I asked my parents forgiveness for my rebellion and dishonoring them. Jesus was on the move.

So my encouragement to you is this. Don’t be discouraged if you know someone who has professed faith in Jesus but seems to be bearing little or no fruit. Keep praying for them. Keep encouraging them. Don’t withdraw. Don’t assume they didn’t really believe. If they say they believe, then encourage them to turn from their sin and become a disciple of Jesus. Don’t correct them every time you’re with them, but keep loving them, despite all the smoke that gets in your eyes.

Hang in there with your teen who said he believes in Jesus, even if you see little growth. Love him, pray for him, talk to him, encourage him, warn him, cultivate your relationship with him. I was a faintly burning wick and I’m so glad Jesus was long suffering, patient and forbearing with me. Jesus never let the flame of his life in me go out. He can fan the faintest flame into a blaze.

Mark Altrogge

I’m a pastor at Saving Grace Church in Indiana, PA. I’m married to Kristi, have 5 kids, and a growing number of grandkids. I enjoy songwriting, oil painting and coffee, not necessarily in that order.