Bring on the Fruit!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?”

The question may be rhetorical, but it is a question just the same. How do you answer? I have done a bit of harvesting in my life and I’ve never looked for apricots on a rose bush, nor cherries on an artichoke. How about you? What would you expect to harvest in a strawberry patch?

We can answer without really thinking when we’re talking about grapes and peaches, but you don’t still think He’s talking just about edible fruit do you? The Creator designed the fruit of the first creation to both nourish us and to give us insight into spiritual reality of the new creation. “Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?”

How would you answer the question as to the fruit of the new creation, the visible manifestation of the inner saint? You know of my consistent (indeed, nearly constant) reminders of the actual, fundamental, and instantaneous change effected by the Spirit in the innermost being of each person in Christ,  from which transformation flows by His continued working. Transformation, like the metamorphosis of a butterfly, brings into tangible expression the God-implanted new nature. “Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?”

While nearly all of the letters in the New Testament begin with a greeting to the saints, often followed by some aspect of that truth of particular importance for those to whom the letter is addressed, none of the letters stop there. The letters to the saints of the first century, like mine to you, are not intended to simply make you feel good about yourself. The writers of the letters recognized, more than many of our contemporaries, the reality and importance of the heart-change effected by God in all who are His—a change which dramatically alters our very nature (for we are children of wrath no longer; we are now able to approach Him with a pure heart; though we were once dead, we now have been raised-up alive-after-death with Him). But the truth about who we are is not an end in itself; it is the basis for Spirit-enabled right-living. As Henri Nouwen expresses it, we are to be and to become. So, too, the inspired writers plead proper conduct as the appropriate outcome of the inner-change. With well-known words like the “Walk worthy, therefore” of Ephesians four and “I beseech you, therefore, beloved” of Romans twelve, they call us to live by the Spirit’s dynamic in accordance with who we are. “Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?”

God has chosen to reveal to us the reality of the (at-first invisible) inner-change so we will respond properly to His calls to right living. He seeks not primarily that we know we are really His children, but that in the knowing we will live as His children. We are able to live holy because The Holy One is our Father. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles.

May all who have ears to hear live accordingly!


Alergies, Assaults, and Nature

It happened again this morning! Because of an “allergy attack” (itchy, red, eyes and a very runny nose) I thought I should stay “locked inside” rather than venture out for corporate worship. As I have done on only a few occasions in my life, I turned on Sunday morning television and found a sister, smiling while boldly belting out, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace!” The preacher who followed affirmed that tune with well-worn teachings (which I, too, once espoused) concerning the wretched heart of all mankind. I understand the condition of the lost, but now find the failure to distinguish our former state “in Adam” from our new state “in Christ” an assault on not only my ears but my very being!

If you remain comfortably accustomed to the “just a sinner saved by grace” mantra, you may be confused by my reaction. Yet, this is an area where we (like the Pharisees of old) exalt the teachings of men (“doctrine”) above the Word of God. Like the preacher this morning, who quoted Jesus from Mark’s account about defilement that comes from the heart, without sharing that Christ died and rose again to remedy that condition! For, according to God, in the New Covenant Christ removes our cold, stony heart and gives us a pure heart (consider Mark 7:1-23, Ezek. 36:25-27, and I Peter 1:22, 23). The preacher this morning actually misquoted God’s Word through Paul and claimed that we still are children of wrath: That is not what God says! God is explicit in His declaration (Ephesians 2:3) that while we were (past tense) by nature children of wrath (whose conduct matched that nature), God has made us alive in Christ, raised us up together (into resurrection life now), and has seated us with Him in the heavenly realms. If you are in Christ, you are not “just a sinner saved by grace.” You are redeemed! You are new! You are one of God’s holy ones! You are a saint!

As I was contemplating writing you about this morning’s assault, God had a brother in Seattle phone me. As we were talking about this reality he prayed for me, and told me of a picture he took while on a hike yesterday. He sent it to me, and I include it here, because it displays something of what God speaks life out of death about us. It is a picture of a tree stump. As you can see, the stump has a decent diameter, and remains quite prominent—but it is no longer the tree it once was! Much of what was there is gone, despite the rotting remnant. What is a little harder to see from this angle is that, in place of the old, a new tree is growing. I was a sinner, by nature and by actions; I lived in Adam. But God intervened. Who I was died with Christ, and the new me was raised with Him to newness of life. You cannot yet see all I am in Christ, but increasingly He shows Himself and the real me in how I think, speak, and act.

Some of you may think that “I got what I deserved for having tuned in to a TV evangelist!” Point taken. But it is not that simple. This confusion is spread to thousands over the airwaves while we gather together on Sundays and is also proclaimed from many, many pulpits. The present reality of God’s transforming work in His New Creation is unfamiliar to many (dare I say most) of our brothers and sisters. Often the difficulty seems to be sin by the saints. To address this, most preachers opt to declare ongoing depravity (“I am just a sinner”) rather than God’s Truth of Transformation. It is manifestly evident that in the First Creation, when Adam sinned, all his descendants became sinners by nature. What we must apprehend by faith is that, in the New Creation, all who are in Christ remain saints despite acts of sin! Our nature and our hearts have been made new—we are no longer by nature children of wrath. To claim otherwise denies the “such were some of you” spoken by Paul to the Corinthians (6:11); perhaps a paraphrase will highlight the assault: Rather than the generic “I am just a sinner,” how about, “I am a fornicator,” or “I am an adulterer” or “I am a drunkard” . . . saved by grace.” That is not good news! How can such a person claim to have been “saved from sin” if it still characterizes him or her? That is a huge perversion of the truth! Those things may have characterized me in the past, but no longer! Even if I engage in such an act today, I am more than my sin, much more! Sinful acts no longer characterize or define who I am. Indeed, such acts are contrary to who I really am today. For, I am new! I am a saint! I am in Christ!

May the words of our mouth, and the meditations of our heart, be consistent with God’s Words about us.