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.

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 Daughter of a Biker

I have mentioned before that I ride a motorcycle.  It is my favorite means of transportation, and weather permitting, I ride it to work every day!

A few weeks ago, I had some volunteers come to work with me at the office.  I had ridden my bike, and we all left at the same time.  The next day one of the volunteers came in and wanted to chat about the bike.  I told him that I had grown up riding behind my dad and he replied, “I could tell you were the daughter of a biker by the way you drove off”.

That is a huge compliment because I love my father and consider it an honor to be compared to him or affirmed in likeliness to him.  And he rides his Harley well, so I am honored to be considered accomplished if I were to ever ride like him.

This, of course, got me thinking.  Do I live my life in such a way that makes people think, “That girl is a daughter of God”?

Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.  If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.

– John 15.4-8

I reflect regularly on the admonitions to do everything to the honor and glory of God:  eating, sleeping, talking, working, playing, etc. (1 Cor 10.31, Col 3.17).  And if Jesus’ words here are true, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” that honors or glorifies God, then we must live completely in and through him.  And because “whatever is not from faith is sin”, we must act in faith always (Rom 14.23).

So does our acting in faith make us visibly like God, such that one recognizes we are Christians?  Do people know that you are a Christian by your love (John 13.35)?

Remember who you are.  Remember whose you are.  And act like it.

Let it be known that you are a child of God.