Distinguishing Root and Fruit.

fruit

We all know the golden rule:  do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Most of us know that this comes straight from the Bible:

“Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.”

– Luke 6.31

If you have spent much time in the church or if you have read much of Jesus’ teaching, you will also know that He was cornered by some pious men and asked which of God’s commandments was the greatest.  Without blinking, Jesus responded:

One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.’  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

– Matt 22.35-40

The greatest commandment of God, that on which the entire Bible is established is the commandment to love God with everything we have – and let that love overflow in such a way that we love everyone around us in the same way that we love ourselves.  The commandment to love is a strange one, however.  What exactly is love?  We talk about our different love languages – the ways that we express and receive love.  We talk about different cultures and how they perceive, feel and express love.  We talk about how people should treat one another when they love each other…but it is quite difficult to nail down what exactly love is.  Webster’s defines love as:

  1. a (1) :  strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties <maternal love for a child> (2) :  attraction based on sexual desire :  affection and tenderness felt by lovers (3):  affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests <love for his old schoolmates>
    b :  an assurance of affection <give her my love>

  2. warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion <love of the sea>

  3. a :  the object of attachment, devotion, or admiration <baseball was his first love>
    b (1) :  a beloved person :  darling —often used as a term of endearment (2) British —used as an informal term of address

  4. a :  unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: as (1) :  the fatherly concern of God for humankind (2) :  brotherly concern for others
    b :  a person’s adoration of God

In summary of these points, it is primarily an affection that results in putting someone else before one’s self.  Strong’s Concordance defines the Greek term used for love (ἀγαπάω, agapaōas:

 – To be full of good will and exhibit the same;
– with acc. of the person, To have a preference for, wish well to, regard the welfare of

As we enter into marriage and as we evaluate the prevalent flippancy of our culture, we regularly discuss the commitment involved and the choice to love even when our emotions fail, but we all must and do recognize the simple fact that there is and must be at some level an emotional side to love.  Miserable is the marriage that goes through the motions of matrimony without any care or affection.  Sad is the child who receives dutiful care from a mother but no emotional engagement or nurture.  Yes, there are times that we choose to do those “duties” that our love requires when our emotions are not there, but in general we recognize, expect and hope for the emotional side of love to accompany the dutiful.

Unfortunately, emotions are not quantifiable and we turn to actions hoping to gauge the presence and proof of that love.  This is not only a good thing to do, but a Biblical guideline:

“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him’.”

– John 14.23

Jesus Himself stated that anyone who loves Him will obey Him.  He said it multiple times and in a variety of ways in this one discourse (John 14.15, 21, 23, 24).  We also see in other passages that the fruit of the spirit is love for one another and the keeping of Jesus’ commandments:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

– Gal 5.22-24

If we love God, then we will love one another and exemplify joy, peace, patience, and all of the other fruit of the Spirit.  If we love God, the Holy Spirit will abide within us and empower us to obey Jesus’ commandments and His fruit will pour out from our lives.  Our obedience, our changed personalities and dispositions are the fruit – the outpouring, the result of our love.  Yes, we can force some of them for a little while, but we will not be transformed and it will not be the outpouring of who we are unless we love God, abide in Him and draw our strength and life from Him.

The root is love.  The fruit is obedience.

Jesus talks about abiding in Him, remaining in Him, being grafted into Him as a branch is to a tree.  These analogies are all painting the same picture:  we love Him and that love is emotional, real, and causes in us a longing for Him.  As we come to Him, spend time with Him, reflect on His teaching and study the things He said, we are in return deriving strength from Him.  By coming to Him, we are becoming one with Him – drawing life-giving sap and nutrients from the core of the tree, being empowered by the new Spirit that has taken up residence in our lives, and being transformed into new creatures.

What does all of this mean?  First of all, it means that we do have a tangible way by which we can evaluate ourselves.  If we are not walking in obedience and exemplifying the fruit of the Spirit, then we know that we do not love Jesus and we are not walking in Him – therefore we are most likely not saved.  Yes, there are times that we will struggle with sin and there are times that we will make peace with sin and the Spirit will take time to work those things out.  But we should be very concerned about ourselves and one another if we are not seeing obedience and the fruit of the Spirit portrayed.

Secondly, we have a means of accountability with one another.  Everyone who loves Jesus will obey His commandments and be marked by the fruit of the Spirit.  We must and should keep each other in mind and in heart – part of loving our neighbors in the same way that we love ourselves – making sure that they are not making peace with sin either.

Unfortunately, while it is true that everyone who loves Jesus will obey Him and be marked by the fruit of the Spirit, not everyone who keeps a moral lifestyle or attends church loves Jesus.  If we are not deeply invested in one another’s lives, then moral people will be able to self-placate and believe themselves safe from damnation within our churches, small groups and communities.  They can fool themselves and they can fool others, for a while.  There will come a time when true colors come out, however, and this is another reason we need accountability and deep investment.

Thirdly, this reality gives us great hope.  Our salvation and unity with Christ are not contingent on our perfect obedience or fruit, it is based on our love and remaining in Him.  Men naturally hate the light.  If you have an affection for or longing for Jesus, that is supernatural and it is a gift.

“For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

 – John 3.20-21

In fact, Paul tells us that the very word of the Bible is foolishness to those who are not saved:

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

 – 1 Cor 1.18

Therefore we can take great hope in the simple fact that we love Jesus, long for Him and enjoy spending time with Him and in His word.  If you do not, this is the starting point – not cleaning up your life.  Ask Jesus to open the eyes of your heart, to draw you to Himself, to give you a new Spirit and a new life.  You cannot long for these things on your own.  Yes, you can long to be saved from Hell, but you cannot desire intimacy with Jesus unless He draws you and gives you faith.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

 – Eph 2.8-9

Lastly, it simply means that obedience will be an outpouring of love.  Yes, there will be times that it will be hard.  But by-in-large, when we know and love Jesus, when we are being transformed to look more like Him, we will start to act like Him.  We will “obey” Him, because we want to emulate Him, because we want to please Him, because we want to enjoy Him.  The fruit will come out of us naturally, we will not have to force its growth and we will not be out picking fruit off other branches and taping to our own.  The root is love, and it supplies us with the life-giving sap that produces the fruit.

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Morality Vs. Salvation

morality

Is Christianity just fancy moralism?  So many Christians today are known for what they do not do and what they oppose.  We don’t drink, we don’t party, we don’t wear skimpy clothes, etc.  And the most holy amongst us are known more for what we do do instead of what we do not do:  we go to church, we give money (or little bags with snacks and a Bible) to the homeless, we volunteer, etc.  Is that the foundation of Christianity?  Did Jesus die on the cross so that we can clean up our lives and feel better about ourselves?

Moralism is as old as creation. The very first people, Adam and Eve, had two sons – Cain and Abel.  Abel loved God and offered sacrifices from love and Cain was jealous because he wanted God to accept his sacrifices, and instead of getting his heart right he murdered his Abel.  As soon as God handed down the Law of His expectations, there were people who set out to keep it in their own strength for their own glory.  God has been exceedingly clear about His expectations of humanity:  both on the heart level and on the outward – or pragmatic level, and human pride has always lent some to the effort of self-approval through keeping the law.  Morality.

It is also true that the Old Testament is centered on the Mosaic Law of God, and the New Testament is full of commandments for Christians saved by grace.  There is no doubt throughout the entirety of Scripture that man’s problem is sin – we are all condemned to death and eternity in Hell because of our sin and when we come to God for salvation through Jesus Christ, we are still commanded and expected to stop sinning (Rom 6.23, Gal 5).

The end goal, however, is not moralism.  God is not primarily concerned with our actions, He is primarily concerned with our hearts.  This has been true since the beginning.  When Cain killed Abel and interacted with God, God was not primarily concerned about his actions of offering a poor sacrifice and killing Abel, He was concerned about his heart:

“Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, [will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

– Gen 4.6-7

When God gave the Law to Moses for the Hebrew people to observe, the first and primary commandment was to Love God with everything and to not worship other gods or idols.  The first three of the ten commandments, in fact, deal specifically with this command.  He sums up the whole Law thus:

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

– Deut 6.4-5

And the summary of the entire Bible proclaiming the truths about the end times lists those sinners who will be condemned to Hell, even in light of salvation by grace alone through faith alone:

“But for the cowardly and [unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

– Rev 21.8

This, of course, is not an exhaustive list, but we have similar lists throughout all of the New Testament which exhort Christians to stop sinning.

Compounding the issue of moralism is the prevalence self-acceptance and self-realization in western thinking.  Philosophy has lent us to believe that there are no true absolutes, that we all have autonomy to determine our own paths, and that there is truly no right and wrong.  Lying is acceptable in certain situations, murder in others, deceit against immoral persons or governments and even theft to care for the less fortunate.  No longer are there black and whites, but everything is a shade of grey and we are left to determine our own way.

Moralism, fundamentally, is looking to an outward standard and attempting to attain that standard in our own strength and power.  It can be based on aversion (avoiding certain activities) or action (preforming certain activities).  Either way, it is a person proving his righteousness by his actions.  Self-realization, fundamentally, is looking inward to realize who one is at the core and development of a life system based on one’s own valuation of right and wrong.

Salvation, however, is neither of these.  The Law was given to us to show that we can never keep God’s law perfectly and therefore never be moral or good enough to earn His favor.  Paul teaches us, in fact, that the entire point of the Law is to reveal our sinfulness and therefore the frivolity of trying to keep it in our own strength:

“What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.”  But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.”

– Rom 7.7-8

Scripture also teaches us that the heart is deceitful above all else, that we are Spiritually dead apart from Jesus, that there is none righteous and none who seeks after God in his own strength and that we are all fundamentally wicked (Jer 17.9, Eph 2.1, Rom 3.10-12).  Therefore, self-realization and determining our own truth leads us only down the wide path of destruction (Matt 7.13-14).

What does all of this mean?  Simply put, it means that we – in and of ourselves – are neither capable of being good enough nor able to prove ourselves by our logic and making peace with our decisions.  We need a savior.

Thankfully, salvation is the answer.  Salvation is that work of God whereby we are Spiritually awakened, we are changed at the core level and transformed into new beings.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

– 2 Cor 5.17

Once we have been Spiritually awakened and empowered by the Holy Spirit indwelling us, the Spirit begins changing us such that we keep the commandments of God because we love Him and want to please Him, rather than trying to prove ourselves or simply be good people.  We are no longer students, sitting in class learning a lesson and proving ourselves on a test, we are now children who love our father and long to please him by obeying what he says to do.  We do not fear a bad grade, we fear disappointing our father.

This reality teaches us that morality is not our internal realization – God has established a perfect standard and He expects us to obey, but He enables us and drives us to obey it by transforming our hearts to be willing to submit to His leadership and direction.  We are therefore compelled by the Spirit within us to please God, not driven by our need of approval or self-validation.

It is by this reality only that we are given commands.  And Paul clarifies for us beautifully that the works of the flesh are sinful, but our obedience is purely the works or “fruit” of the Spirit living in us:

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are:immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.19-23

People who practice the sinful deeds will not inherit the kingdom – because they are sinful and sin deserves damnation.  But we will only truly discontinue these sins and live in righteousness when we have been transformed at a heart level and given Spiritual life, and thus the Holy Spirit can live through us and exemplify all of those righteous attributes.

So what does this mean practically?  How do I get Spiritual life and live by the Spirit?  How do I stop trying to prove myself and live in freedom, aiming to please my Father?

Jesus teaches us that our Spiritual and eternal life begins at the moment we are born Spiritually (John 3).  When we hear the Gospel and long to be made right with God, we confess our sins, begin the process of repentance and are given the Holy Spirit.  If you have had a longing to be made right with God, have confessed your sins and are experiencing the conviction of the Holy Spirit in your life, then you have Spiritual life!  The Holy Spirit is alive within you.  It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict us of sin and righteousness (John 16.8).  Therefore, as we are reading the Scripture, understanding God’s hearts and desires, the Holy Spirit will convict us of sin in our lives and push us on to change.  We will know at a heart level that God is displeased with our laziness, with our lying, with our selfishness and with our pride.  He will then, through promises in Scripture, enable us to change.

This will be a lifelong process.  As long as we are in our human bodies, our sinful nature and our flesh will wage war against the Spirit.  Sin is pleasurable and desirable, and we will give in to it.  But the Spirit will convict us of it and the love that we have for God will drive us long for change and obey.

“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

– Gal 5.17

We will fight sin on the heart level, on the actions level, and we will need tools to help us along the way.  Replacement tactics work very well:  when we are tempted to sin, we purposefully turn to God instead.  When we are tempted to look at pornography, we stop and pray or call a trusted friend to chat.  When we are tempted to go out drinking or partying, we call our Christian friends and gather together for wholesome entertainment.  When we are tempted to have an affair or fool around with a girlfriend before marriage, we turn to our spouse or go out on group dates to hold us accountable.

We can also utilize fighter verses when the sin is mental or emotional.  Are you fighting fear?  We can claim the promises of God that we have nothing to fear – even if we should die we would be in the presence of God and the troubles of this world will be over!  Are you fighting depression?  We can claim the promises of God that we are His beloved children and He has given everything so that we can be saved.  Are you fighting doubt?  We can claim the promises of faith, provision, or whatever specific doubt we might have.  Thus it is important to be in the Scripture daily and to have accountability in wise friends and mentors who can push us on in these truths and disciplines.

God is ultimately concerned about our hearts and the drive to please Him because of our Spiritual transformation.  Our morality is worthless because we can never be good enough.  Our self-realization is also worthless, because apart from Him we are Spiritually dead.  God Himself will give us Spiritual life and when He transforms us from the inside out, we will be driven by a love for Him to please Him by obeying Him.  We cannot obey Him, however, if we do not know the Scriptures and understands what He wants from His children!  So let’s get busy about loving and knowing God.  Let’s be transformed and work on pleasing our father, not trying to earn His approval.

“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.'”

– John 14.23

Fruit is not optional

fruit

When Jesus calls a man, He bids him come and die.  This is how Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes the conversion experience.  Jesus calls it the new birth, where we gain Spiritual life added to our physical life.  When we meet Jesus, and are given Spiritual life, our Spiritual walk becomes an ongoing battle between our flesh and spirit:  we are dying to our sinful habits and sinful ways, while growing in Spiritual and godly ways.  Paul says that the two are always at war with one another:

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

– Gal 5.16-17

Paul and Jesus clarify this by defining our actions as “fruit”.  Jesus says that a tree is known by its fruit – good trees bear good fruit, and bad trees bear bad fruit.  A bad tree cannot bear good fruit and a good tree cannot bear bad fruit (Matt 7.18, Luke 6.43).  Paul goes on to explain what the different (good and bad) fruit are:

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are:immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

– Gal 5.20-21

The deeds of the flesh, or the bad fruit are those things that come naturally to us and are displeasing to God.  The fruit of the Spirit, however, are the exact opposite:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.22-23

The person who is Spiritually alive, and being made more like Christ will be marked by all of these characteristics.  We will struggle with and fight against the deeds of the flesh, but we are not marked by them.  When we are tempted to envy, to fight, to go out and get drunk or give in to any worldly pleasure, the Holy Spirit convicts us and even if we give in on occasion we will repent of those sins and fight against them.

Jesus says that He is our source and our life.  He uses the imagery that he is a vine, and Christians are branches that grow off of the vine.  We are extension of Him, and we depend on Him for our sap, structure and support.  Without Jesus Christians cannot survive.  He provides everything that we need to survive and thrive.  Interestingly enough, however, He paints a grim picture in terms of our fruit production:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”

– John 15.1-2

This teaching echoes the sentiment of the parables of the sower and the seeds.  The seed of the Gospel will be sown in four different types of soil:  the hard road which cannot receive it at all, the rocky ground where it will grow but be scorched by the sun, amongst the weeds where it will grow but be choked out, or the fertile soil where it will grow and produce fruit.  The rocks in the soil are the persecution that cause some to turn away from the faith and the weeds are the cares and pleasures of the world that cause others to turn away.  Those people who hear the Gospel and receive it, yet are either distracted by a love for the world or chased off by persecution cannot bear fruit.  They were never true believers with deep roots and productive lives.  They were branches that were seemingly connected to the vine, but proved themselves dead by not producing fruit.

Therefore Jesus says He will cut them off and throw them into the fire.

This simple fact teaches us that we can text ourselves by our fruit.  Sometimes people ask, “How do I know if I am saved?”  or  “How can I know if I was born again?”  The answer is simply, “Are you Spiritually alive?”  We can know if we are Spiritually alive by examining the fruit of our lives.  Are we marked by love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control?  The term utilized in the Scripture is the singular form of fruit.  Therefore, all of these characteristics are necessary.  We cannot have just one or two, we must have them all.  Or are we marked by the deeds of the flesh (plural, therefore any of them)?

Our cultural love affair with tolerance and acceptance has tempted the church to make peace with sin.  Gross sins that Jesus says will render us fruitless, therefore dead, therefore unsaved.  We believe that since we are better than some, that since we have trained one another to placate ourselves, that we are all “ok”.  I went on a prayer walk this weekend with some friends and we got into conversation with two men.  We told them that we were out praying over the neighborhood and asked if there was anything we could pray about for them, and they said, “No thanks, we will be fine”.  Unfortunately, apart from Christ, none of us will be fine.  The standard is not societal acceptance or creature comforts, it is Godly perfection.  We cannot attain Godly perfection, therefore we need to be covered in Jesus’ righteousness and through His enabling, produce the fruits of the Spirit.

The point is simple.  Fruit is not optional.  A healthy branch will produce fruit, and a branch that produces no fruit or bad fruit is already dead and will be cut off.  Let’s check our fruit today.  How would people characterize you?  How would God identify your heart and driving passions?  Are you at war with your flesh and dying to sin?  Or are you coasting, assuming that you will be ok?  Let’s not toy with eternity.

The Mark of a Believer.

battle

There are many attributes that Christians [should] have in common.  Scripture paints pictures for us about the love we have and are known by, but perhaps one of the more overlooked attributes of the believer is the internal struggle against sin.

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

– Gal 5.16-17

When we come to God for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ by grace, we are born Spiritually.  Jesus called this the “second birth”, and it is the moment when our eternal, Spiritual life begins.  This life will not taste death, even though our physical bodies will.  And this Spiritual life is the result of the Holy Spirit taking up residence within us and empowering us to grow in Holiness.

The entire purpose of the Law and the Old Covenant (Old Testament) is to reveal to us that we are incapable of keeping God’s commandments and honoring Him with our lives.  Thus He offers us forgiveness and salvation, and gives us the Holy Spirit to enable us to obey and be holy.

But since we remain in our bodies and have not yet been freed completely from our sinful nature, our spirit and flesh are battling one another.  Paul says that the desire of the flesh are things that we please.  Sin feels good, it is alluring, it is pleasurable; at least in the moment.  And the only way we can refrain from doing those things – those very things we please, is to walk by the Spirit.

John Owen puts it simply:

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

As long as we remain in our bodies, they will have temptations and desires that are sinful.  Unfortunately, that is just the way it is.  And Scripture tells us plainly that our flesh and Spirit will be at war with one another.  That means that we can simply test ourselves by examining the battle going on within ourselves.  Is the Spirit convicting you?  Does your heart feel like a battle ground sometimes?  Take heart!  This is perhaps the most affirming attribute of your Spiritual health possible.

If you have not felt the conviction of the Spirit, then it means He does not reside within you – because none of us is perfect in our own nature.  If you have not felt the conviction of the Spirit, then get on your face and ask God to forgive you for your sins and send you the Spirit.  If you have been quenching the Spirit for so long that you did at one point feel His conviction, but now no longer do, then get on your face and ask Him to reveal the sin in your life and those things that are distancing you from Him.  He will respond.  He will reveal it to you – if you are not already aware of the sin.

Many times we can grow frustrated with ourselves, for struggling with the same sin repeatedly, or for finding victory over one sin and suddenly finding ourselves in a new one.  But we should rather find this as an encouragement.  The Holy Spirit’s role is to convict us and sanctify us:

“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

So let us take comfort in the conviction of the Spirit.  Let us live by the Spirit and therefore not give in to the desires of the flesh.  Let us lay ourselves continually on the altar and ask God to refine us, and then we can say with David that God’s correcting staff comforts us – because we know His presence by His chastising work in our lives, He is not leaving us to our own devices.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

– Ps 23.4

The Church will not grow in the bubble.

“The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies.  And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people.  O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ!  If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared?”

– Martin Luther

Do you live in a bubble?  Many churches have as part of their mission an intention to reach the world with the Truth of the hope of salvation in Jesus Christ alone according to His Gospel.  Most Christians would say that they want people to come to faith, and want to see the Kingdom of God come here on the Earth.  However, most of us do not even know any unbelievers.  And those that we do know, we assume are so set in their ways that we are unwilling to discuss the hope that we have with them.  Surely they won’t believe it.  Or we don’t want to offend them by cramming our faith down their throats.

One day Christ will “gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad”; “He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other”; yes God Himself will “gather them; for I have redeemed them…and they shall return” (John 11.52, Matt 24.31, Zech 10.8-9).  One glorious day all who belong to God will be called into an eternity of rest with Him and with one another, living in perfect community.

But we are not there yet.  We have been scattered.  God has sowed us “among the people:  and [we] shall remember [Him] in far countries” (Zech 10.9).  God purposefully designed that we would be dispersed like seed “into all the kingdoms of the earth” (Deut 28.25).  The very method by which the early church multiplied most was by persecution.  Much of the city of Rome was burned down in the year 64 AD under the Roman emperor Nero.  It is rumored that the emperor himself started the fire, but to pass off responsibility he blamed Christians.  The first major persecution broke out across the empire under his leadership only 30 years into the spread of Christianity.  His brutality is documented to the level that he actually caught Christians and burned them in his gardens to provide light in the evenings for his parties.  Christians were scattered throughout the entire known world.  And they planted churches wherever they ended up.  And these churches grew.  Tertullian, a Christian apologist and theologian who was born about 100 years after the fire in Rome, made the statement that:

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”.  

The world will know that we are Christians by our love (John 13.35).  We have been scattered throughout the world, and we are to scatter ourselves throughout the unreached world to make Him known through love.  This does not necessarily mean that you have to go to another country!  Let’s think about our worlds.  Our days.  Our friends.  I am the most guilty of this.  I work for a Christian non-profit organization.  I play frisbee on Monday nights with a church group.  I go to church and choir on Wednesday nights, Bible study on Friday nights, and the people with whom I spend most of my time are Christians.  How can God use me to make an impact for the Kingdom if I spend all of my time in my Christian bubble, shielded from and ignoring the world?

Now, I am not arguing that we engage the world on their level in the sense that we live worldly lifestyles.  But as Paul exemplified, we should be all things to all people for the sake of the Gospel.

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.  To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.  I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

– 1 Cor 9.19-23

If we are so confident and so at peace in God that we exemplify the fruit of the Spirit – those things that identify Christians:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, then the world will see what makes us different and we can impact them (Gal 5.22-23).  We do not impact them by being like them.  They want us to be like them so that they do not feel guilty or as though they are missing out on something.  But if we have peace, if we have kindness, if we have faith, then we set ourselves apart and represent well the name of our savior and if we love they will know we are Christians.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes well on the distinction of human love and spiritual love.  He says, “Human love is directed to the other person for his own sake, spiritual love loves him for Christ’s sake”.  And he says later, “Spiritual love proves itself in that everything it says and does commends Christ”.  And on the foundation of selfishness he observes that human love cannot love an enemy.  It is in this that we distinguish ourselves.  We love those who do not love us, as Christ loved us when we were still His enemies (Rom 5.10).

Let us not be friends with the world, in the sense of living like the world, because “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4.4).  But let us love our enemies, let us love the world through a spiritual love and by exemplifying the outworking of the Spirit in our lives and on that basis alone engage the world – our non-christian friends, neighbors, coworkers, people on the street – as seed, scattered abroad, to bring about the Kingdom of God here on Earth.  Let’s get out of our bubbles.

“Spiritual love does not desire but rather serves, it loves an enemy as a brother.  It originates neither in the brother nor in the enemy but in Christ and His Word.  Human love can never understand spiritual love, for spiritual love is from above; it is something completely strange, new, and incomprehensible to all earthly love.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

That does not belong here.

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.  Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

– 1 Peter 2.11-12

I like to run.  I live in the city, not in a subdivision but amongst older homes organized into neighborhoods in the more traditional sense, and I run on sidewalks and running paths the vein the city of Denver.  I live in a cute community, older homes that are well kept and fun to look at for their variety.  But there is one house that I pass on a regular basis that just does not fit in.  And it is not the house, but it is the fact that they use the small plot of ground between the sidewalk and the street to grow corn.  Yes, corn.

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I grew up in the country and we always had a large garden.  My roommate keeps vegetables on the side of the house, but this stands out!  It simply doesn’t belong there.

Yesterday I was reflecting on our responsibility to share the truth boldly and verbally as part of who we are:  aliens.  We are to be in the world but not of the world.  We know when something does not belong.  Corn does not belong on a city street.  Do people know that you do not belong in the world?  Can someone observe you and know that the Earth is not our home (Heb 13.14)?

I think that we hear this general instruction a lot, but little help is offered as to what exactly that means.  Do we create a new monastery where we wear robes, sing chants and remove ourselves from daily interaction with the world?  Do we start making our own clothes, stop using electricity and focus on dominating the Earth?  Do we, as one tribe I know of in the world, reject all forms of social structure including clothing, education and buildings in order to live as closely as possible to the way in which Adam and Eve lived when God created them?

“What we must do is to outdo the world in honesty, kindness, gentleness, usefulness, moderation of spirit, charity, compassion and readiness to help others in their need.”

– John Owen

But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.  And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.

– 1 Peter 3.14-16

I love the fulness of the picture that Peter paints for us here in that we have hope in Jesus Christ and have been transformed.  Because of that transformation and separation from the world, we will be slandered or persecuted, and on the grounds of our response to our persecution – faith, hope and love – people will see that we truly are different and will ask about the hope.  When we answer about our hope with gentleness and reverence, those who slander or persecute us will be shamed because our hope is sincere and they proved unable to nullify our witness.

Were all Christians meek, quiet, peaceable, sober, self-controlled, humble, useful, kind, gentle, willing to listen to all, cheerful in trials and troubles, always ‘rejoicing in the Lord’, then the world would not take offense at them, but wonder how any could live without them, and so be won over to them, making every effort to be like them.  If honesty, sincerity and uprightness were seen among Christians on every occasion, how greatly it would glorify Christ!

– John Owen

How then do we show that we do not belong?  By exemplifying the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, but loving as Christ loved, by preaching the Gospel at every occasion, and by maintaining our witness even in the midst of trials and tribulations.  They will know we are Christians by our love (John 13.35), and love never fails (1 Cor 13.8).  And we maintain this by not loving the things of the world, as we cannot love the things of the world and love God (1 John 2.15, Matt 6.24).  Let’s be the corn growing on the city street.

Smashing Fruit

Sometimes the way God weaves themes and teaching into my life just blows my mind.  Yesterday I was reflecting on exuding Christ in every aspect of my life – and the direct Scriptural exhortation to that end is the fruit of the Spirit that ought mark every Christian’s life as he puts to death the deeds of the flesh.

I love to read.  And there are a few books that have helped to lay foundations in my life that I would highly recommend.  One of those books is “The Mortification of Sin” by John Owen.  I read it for the first time while I was in college, and it is so helpful to my Spiritual walk that I reread it every few years.  As I was reading yesterday afternoon, I came across a portion that has captured my thoughts for the past twelve hours:

“With all troubling sin, no matter whether it encourages us to do evil or hinders us from doing good, the rule is the same:  it must be mortified (killed) or it will arise again.  A man may beat down the bitter fruit from an evil tree until he is weary but while the root of the tree continues to abide in strength and vigour, the beating down of the present fruit will not hinder it from bearing more evil fruit.  This is the folly of some men; they set themselves with all earnestness and diligence against the breaking out of a lust, but they leave the principle and root untouched.  They will make little progress in the work of true mortification.”

As I read that last night, the picture of a man hitting apples off of a tree with a baseball bat popped into my head.  If you struggled with cheating on homework or exams in school and you do not uproot that sin, once schooling is complete it will no longer be expressed in that way – but the root, the need for approval, success, and human valuation will be expressed in different ways: using others to get ahead in your career, counting other’s ideas as your own, etc.  If you struggled with sexual lust as a teenager and the root of self indulgence is not eradicated then you might look for fulfillment in your spouse or over indulge in big houses, excess food or even an affair.

We are not to be about behavioral adjustment.  The change must occur at the heart level.  And it can only be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit.  John Owen says, “The Holy Spirit is our only sufficiency for the work of mortification.  All ways and means apart from Him have no true affect.”  The work of the Spirit in salvation is to give us a new heart, one on which the Law of God is written (Ez 11.19; 36.26; Is 57.17-18).  It is the Spirit that leads us to repentance (Acts 5.31) and it is through the power of Jesus Christ that we do anything that honors God (John 15.5).  The Spirit “works in [us] to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2.13).  He works “all our works in us” (Is 26.12), and He works “the work of faith with power (2 Thess 1.11; Col 2.12).  He even causes us to pray (Rom 8.26; Zech 12.10)!

These things have been commanded of us, but we are only able to do them through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Such is the mystery of the dual responsibility of God and man, and we trust Him alone to empower us to obedience!  “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1.6).  And through His empowerment we work diligently to mortify sin at the heart level: fighting it daily.  Thus the fruit of the Spirit is not sharing the Gospel ten times a day, buying flowers for your wife and abstaining from worldly pleasures!  It is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.  It is through love that you share the Gospel.  It is through kindness that you buy flowers.  It is through goodness and self control that you pay your taxes and honor the laws of the land.  If our hearts are not right, we have accomplished nothing.  Temperament can cause one to appear as though he has mortified sin, but if his heart is not right, he is still guilty – though he might not be as “outwardly scandalous” as John Owen says.

Let us not cheapen grace, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, by thinking that God will forgive whatever we do and therefore choose to sin or by attempting to earn it by behavioral modification.  Rather, let us work out our salvation with fear and trembling, through the power of the Holy Spirit by prayer, seeking to mortify sin and eradicate it from our lives at the root level:  the heart.