After the words were out, I regretted them.
She had challenged me. My irritation had flared. And instead of choosing the path of love, I had put her in her place. It didn’t feel as good as I thought it would. In fact, it felt horrible.
After the incident, I was ashamed. I wondered how I — someone who claims to desire to be like Christ — could react in such an ugly, selfish way. There was precedent, of course. This wasn’t the first time I’d acted in a way that didn’t exactly reflect the renewed mind.
My friend Josh recently preached a sermon titled: “Already Not Yet.” (Many of the thoughts that follow are his.)
“I’m not about to tell you my views on the end times,” he said, referring to the title’s eschatological connotation. “I’m borrowing the phrase for my own purposes.”
He went on to talk about the tension believers feel between the things we already possess as children of God, and those marks of spiritual renewal we must strive for throughout our lives. In a word: sanctification.
Consider Ephesians 4:22-24:
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
That sounds like an impossibly tall order … to be like God. When I allowed my pride to take over and lashed out, I certainly wasn’t exercising righteousness and holiness. And yet my following-Jesus self is supposed to be marked by those qualities.
To illustrate this tension, Josh showed us a painting by the Chinese artist He Qi, a Christian man who paints vivid portraits of biblical characters in the style of Chinese opera art. In one of his paintings, He depicts a two-faced Pharaoh from Exodus. One side of Pharaoh’s face is penitent; the other side is rebellious.
“Sometimes I feel this way about my spiritual life,” Josh said. “I look at my life and see what looks like both good and bad fruit.”
Good Tree, Bad Tree
The fruit issue has also troubled me through the years. Jesus makes a pretty strong statement in Matthew, when he says, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (7:19). Fruit — or the lack of it — is a serious matter.
However, it appears that the focus here is the tree, not the fruit. Luke 6:43-45 says:
No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
And James says a similar thing:
Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (3:10-12)
Caring for the tree — or one’s spiritual life and connection to the Savior — will lead to good fruit. One sin — even a doozy — does not bad fruit make. Nor does one victory equal good fruit.
Josh gave this example: “In the 1980s, there was a successful fruit company out of California. They were publicly traded. The company did just fine at first — exported a lot of fruit — but didn’t make a huge splash. The company then experienced many flat months and some that appeared absolutely wretched.”
He showed us a graph of the fruit company’s plummeting stock over the course of those months. Then he zoomed out to 10-year view, which showed a very different picture. That perspective revealed a steady and even sharp upward climb. The horrible dips were barely visible.
“Today that company is worth 10 times what it was 10 years ago,” he said. “And I played a little trick on you. The ‘fruit’ company is Apple.”
This could account for how some Bible heroes (e.g. Peter, David, Abraham) earned overall good ratings in Scripture even though they failed — and failed big. Persistent Christ-like attitudes and actions produce good fruit. Persistent sinful attitudes and actions produce bad fruit.
When I sin, sometimes I feel like I just blew up the whole fruit stand. But the truth is, inner transformation is taking place as I daily seek to surrender my will to Christ’s. And that kind of transformation produces good fruit.
So what can be done beyond seeking God’s forgiveness and forgiving myself when I sin? When I recognize that salvation is a process, not an ending point, I am free to move beyond setbacks and live each day for Christ.
These verses provide wonderful truths about what has already taken place in my Christian life:
- “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17).
- “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).
- “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1-2).
I am a new creation, I have crucified the old self and I stand justified and at peace with God. And yet my faith should be ever-maturing:
- “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!” (Gal. 4:19-20)
- “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Eph. 4:1)
- “Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor. 13:11).
I am not yet conformed to His likeness. I must still strive for daily victory. And I am (sadly) not yet perfect. Perhaps Paul puts this struggle best in Romans 7:21-25:
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!
God alone can make my spiritual stock soar. And He will, if I take care of my tree by fellowshipping with Christ and being open to correction. I know I am not yet producing a bumper crop of spiritual fruit, but I am already under the care of a Master Gardener.
Copyright 2008 Suzanne Gosselin. All rights reserved.