Friday, October 10, 2008

Unripe and plastic fruit - Part 2 of 2

Another blog post that brought about my desire to post on this subject is Until Love Pleases... from Matthew's blog. Matthew brings out a verse from Song of Solomon that says not to "stir up or awaken love until it pleases." We're in such a hurry these days. Such a hurry to do, such a hurry to perform, such a hurry to produce, such a hurry to grow. Which leads to another huge problem that can easily come as a result of performance-based Christian teaching - fake lifestyles and fake love that only appears holy --- also known as self-righteousness. I realize that self-righteousness is often perceived to mean a "holier than thou" attitude, but actually I think far more often it's expressed in the form of a performance-based lifestyle - me trying my best perform for God or for people.

Last week I shared with my pastor (again, agreeing on some things and disagreeing on other things - which is perfectly fine) my thoughts that there are many people who hear all the principles taught in churches every week, and, sincerely wanting to be 'good Christians,' they put up the appearance of having it all together - but in reality they're just faking it. They're faking holiness. It's not only fruit that's unripe. It's fake, plastic fruit. It may have every appearance of being real, but it's not real. I think that due to all the "doing" teaching in the church today there is a lot of pressure to look as if you're living it, and living it well. Sometimes it's pressure we put on ourselves and other times it's peer pressure, but either way, performance-based Christianity does not help at all!

The fruit that I'm talking about includes, but is not limited to, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). We're taught that all of these things - along with all the good works - are the marks of a good Christian, so we go around trying to display them, or treating them like "projects" that we need to work on and become better at. And so in our meetings we talk the talk and we act as if we're walking the walk, and we can make it look reeeeal good, but all it really is is an external appearance on the outside that hasn't truly come from who we are inside. And that's because we're not living from the Life that we already have on the inside, but rather we're constantly trying to follow all these principles and rules through external means ("the flesh"), trying to make ourselves to be something, when in fact we already are holy, righteous and complete in Him!

My purpose here is not to get down on anyone, but simply to point out the difference between unripe and plastic fruit that is the result of forced, contrived, fleshly growth, and real fruit that comes naturally and in due season as the Lord Himself works in us through His very life. The fruit of the Spirit is... the fruit of the Spirit. It's not up to us, but it's His fruit that He patiently works out of us as we simply abide (rest, remain) in Him and grow in His supernatural timing. His fruit in us is never unripe, never fake, never bad tasting, never plastic.

And so... what are some solutions to all this? I think the comments that came in after I posted Part 1 are excellent! Mainly... let's preach the pure gospel of grace. Let's preach Jesus. Let's not add anything to the gospel (such as our own works) or take anything away from it (such as the finished work of Jesus). And let's relax and lighten up! It's my opinion (and you can judge for yourself the validity of my opinion) that the various principles and exhortations to good works in the New Testament weren't written as a means of studying every week and then going out and trying to apply them to become better Christians. Rather, they are things that, as we grow in our understanding of who God is and who we truly are in Christ (the true foundation of our entire life of grace), show us what it looks like when it's "worked out" over the course of our lifetimes.

You simply can't force any of it. It must come naturally, and I believe it comes naturally as we grow in the gospel of grace, not as we try to "apply" principles. I believe it comes from the constant sharing with each other of the freedom and peace that we have in Christ, and God's unconditional love. I think most people know all the "do's and don'ts" of the Christian life, but how many people really know who they are in Christ? How many people really know the love of God? How many people are truly rooted and established in God's love and grace?

And so my plea to the Christian church is to preach Christ and Him crucified, dead and raised again! There is more power than you could ever imagine in this alone!


  1., like a few others, make me smile. It is MORE THAN ENOUGH to preach Jesus and His Life in us. :)

    We bought an orchid over Easter break in FL. After the blooms faded, I was tempted to chunk it as orchids are finicky keepers, I thought. But I cut it all the way back, stuck it in my kitchen window, and treated it like it was in the jungle: showering it with water every couple of days.
    That orchid leafed out, shot out a stem, and produced seven buds. It is in the process of blooming right now. Huge white blossoms. If God can grow that orchid, won't He be faithful to tend and grow me? To bring forth His Life, in me, in due season? I am a tree of righteousness, am I not?

    Great stuff.

  2. Joel,
    Excellent continuation of the Unripe Fruit series. As I was reading, all I could think of was Amen, amen, amen!

    I particularly loved this excerpt:
    "You simply can't force any of it. It must come naturally, and I believe it comes naturally as we grow in the gospel of grace, not as we try to "apply" principles. I believe it comes from the constant sharing with each other of the freedom and peace that we have in Christ, and God's unconditional love."

    ~Amy :)

  3. Joel,
    Thanks for these two posts. I've really enjoyed them. What is so sad is that people think that the work is bearing fruit, but don't understand why they are empty.

    I hate to point you back to my blog, but what I posted today is too long to put in a comment here.

    It is about the type of TRUE fruit we bear.

  4. RJW... I really love what you shared about the orchid. You know, we talk a lot about how Jesus is the Vine and we are the branches, but it's also true that there is a Vinedresser... the Father (John 15). Just like what you did with the orchid, Father prunes and cuts and waters and fertilizes, and in the process comes a beautiful blooming plant.

    It seems as if many are content to throw out the seemingly dying plants, or to think very little of themselves if they think themselves are a worthless dying plant, but the Father is a great tender of plants!

    Or what some people will do is to simply chuck out the real plant and go get a fake one. Wow.. there are some really great analogies here!

  5. Amy,

    Thanks. Although this one was only two parts, I'm sure there's a lot more that can be said about all of this. I'm sure the ongoing discussion (in life in general) is far from over!

  6. John,

    Truly indeed, it's about the true fruit that we bear.

    Sort of along the lines of what you've said here about people thinking the work is bearing fruit, and feeling empty, in this post I had mentioned something that I ended up removing because this was getting too long. It was about how, like the Pharisees in Matthew 23, there are many Christians who are like whitewashed tombs... appearing to have it all together on the outside but feeling so empty inside. Of course the difference between the unredeemed Pharisees and an empty-feeling Christian is that the Pharisees hadn't been born again and didn't have true life inside, so Jesus' words about them were the absolute truth, whereas with many Christians, they do actually have true life living in them, but they're relying on the externals (the flesh - as we talked about on your blog) rather than living from the life they really do have in them.

  7. I keep getting reminded of the Scripture in Colossians 1:3-6:

    "We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the Gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing (natural) as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth"

  8. Great scripture, Matthew.

    Some key words in there... hope, truth, the Gospel, etc... and it's all about God, and Him naturally producing His fruit through us.

  9. Hey Joel - great thoughts! I agree 100%... actually, in reading your post, I realized that THAT is what is different about our 2 pastors. We have 2... one gives more "topical how-to sermons..." - okay, but they do get me stuck in some "doing." The other jsut teaches the scripture of the day and I jsut go home so edified.... sure, I likely come away with life-application, bt it is the spirit working in me - not me working to please God - THAT clicked with me... and I have been so stuck.

    you mentioned you hadn't been to church in a while... did you know there is a group of people talking of a "different" sort of church... not sure if it is your thing or nto - you can find it online... right now it is people who gather who would like to "do church " differently. One of them is just completing seminary. I'm thinking you'd agree with him on a lot. check out his website. Look up waterloo cedar falls churches that make sense on google... ask me if you can't find and let me know what you think - he has a discussion board.

  10. Hi Joel,
    I really liked these posts, you do a wonderful job of expressing the truth of grace and it is extremely appreciated. I love what you said about abiding (resting) in Christ, I was always taught abiding was "taking a stand for Christ and being a good virgin by keeping my lamp lit" that is of course by keeping the denominational law of "right living" or could be better described as "right appearing". Thanks again for the encouragement and insight.

  11. Joel,
    I have a pastor and his wife visiting us at our home every week. We talk a lot about Christianity in general, the condition of church, our mutual frustrations on many issues surrounding church etc. But, as per him, his primary purpose of visit is to 'encourage' me to get out of my home and 'do' something. I keep telling him the vine and branch metaphor, seasons and all that, but he says there are many out there in need of the message of Gospel. Then I said, if I should 'do' something God has to initiate it. He says, God has ALREADY initiated by saving me through His grace, revealing the truth of His grace and love, what other initiation do I need? He would say: The very fact that He revealed His love to you is the reason that now you are ready to share it with others.

    About his principle, I know there is something which is not matching with my spirit. But I am not sure what it is or I don't know how to spell it out.

    I agree with everything you said here and in the previous post but at the same time I see some point on the other side as well. When I say this I am not talking about principles, obligatory works or anything. But there has to be an outlet for love, right? I mean, love cannot be stagnant.

    I am a strong believer of walking by faith, resting in Christ, abiding in the vine etc. At the same time I am not really sitting idle. For example I do write blog because I want to share the excitement I have in my heart due the work of Christ. So as an outlet, I use blogs. Can't there be other such outlets as well?

    Throughout the Bible, God has initiated some specific ministries through some specific people (E.G Apostle Paul) to accomplish some specific missions (For example: Spreading Gospel to Gentiles). But as a believer who is a part of Christ's body, should we wait for a specific initiation from God? Or are we already ready for more than what we can probably think of with our finite mind?

    (Well, I was just thinking through this as I was writing. Again, I am against forced work, principles, obligatory evangelism, charity etc.)

  12. SK,

    Yeah one thing that I'll probably write about soon is that I'm not totally against application-based teachings, but in my personal opinion they have become the foundation of the Christian life rather than 'Christ-in-me.' And the main thing indeed is that when it comes to all of this being worked out of us in the form of 'works' and life-application, it's a matter of God working in us, not us working for God.

    Thanks for letting me know about that site! I looked it up and browsed around, watching the various videos. I also briefly checked out the forum, and I'll spend more time there when I get some time. Since these people are right here, I'm thinking I'd at least like to get together with some of them, if for nothing else than mutual encouragement, so I'll probably be in contact there.

  13. Ron,

    Yeah, I think the whole idea of "abiding" has been abused in the church. It's become all about us, and what we're supposed to do (living right), when I believe in reality it's about us resting in Christ who does the work in and through us, by His life that flows through us. I think this makes all the difference in whether it's true fruit or plastic, fake fruit.

  14. Bino,

    I think there's a lot to both views, and I don't think they're mutually exclusive.

    Well... I do believe firmly in seasons. I've just experienced it all too often in my life and I've seen it in others. There have been times when I've been chomping at the bit to get out and DO stuff, but I've been 'restrained' by the loving hand of my Father as I've waited for His timing. I truly believe that if I'd have tried to go out and do it, it would have been fleshly and not the work of God in me.

    That said, I also think that in general terms, we have all of the love of God in us, and in many ways we really do simply just "live it out," with no specific leading or restraint from the Lord. And it's something we can grow in as we experience the outward expression of love more and more.

    In my mind I've been working on a blog post that sort of addresses some of this, simply because I know that the whole idea of resting/abiding, and having the Lord working in us rather than us trying to perform for Him, has the potential to make it look as if we never "do" anything.

    The main point I really hope to get across is that the foundation of the Christian life isn't doing/principles/methods, but is Christ in us - our new life. Also, that all the doing teaching in the world will never take the place of natural growth that comes in due season as the Life of the Vine works itself in us and out of us.