By The Merry Monk
I recently started a garden. I’ve been growing tomatoes, peppers, green beans and squash. Well, I’ve been trying to grow those things. If I ever need to grow my own food to survive, I’ve learned from my gardening experiment that I’m going to starve!
Considering that I planted late, the tomatoes and the green peppers did great. But the beans turned out to be bush beans instead of pole beans and ended up in the shadow of the tomato plants, so they didn’t produce. One day I walked out to the garden to find the squash shriveling up! It got the same amount of water, light and organic stuff as the rest of the garden, so I don’t know what happened. The leaves eventually rotted away, along with one sick little squash fetus which just wasn’t meant to be. The only explanation is that a bad plant equals bad fruit. It’s downright biblical.
When we read in the Bible that a healthy tree doesn’t bear bad fruit, we don’t think about oranges or apples; we start thinking about our sin. We know all too well about our bad fruit. Sometimes we even practice the fruit of the Spirit, but it doesn’t take an expert fruit inspector to discern that overall, we trees are bearing some nasty produce.
As we are reminded of our bad apples and sour grapes, the offering of forgiveness begins to comfort us. But just as we breathe a sigh of relief and cautiously approach to dip our roots into the healing water of life, along comes the guilt kicker, “After all that Jesus has done for you…” It goes on to tell us that although salvation is a free gift, now that we’re forgiven we should step up the effort to show our gratitude. Or the message becomes worse and we start to question our salvation – a personal experience of mine as a new believer. We are reminded that faith without works is dead, so we’d better start proving we’re a real Christian or else we’re gonna’ get it!
Of course, we should be grateful for our salvation and glorify God with our actions, but failing to acknowledge all that Jesus has done for us damages the roots of both gratitude and holy living. Increasing our carnal effort by giving God our all, seems to make sense, so we thank God for the forgiveness and get back to work. We trees walk away determined to prove our love for God by bringing Him more fruit instead of faithfully abiding by the water which imbibes life – for we know the fruit inspector is coming again soon.
What’s wrong with this picture? It’s not that we lack desire, or effort. We’d make bushels of fruit if we knew how. And it’s not because we aren’t told repeatedly about how rank bad fruit is. Week after week we’re urged to produce, but something is missing.
As Matthew 7:18 tells us, the problem isn’t the fruit… it’s the root. Jesus makes this even clearer when He says, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad…” (Matthew 12:33). How are trees made good? The answer is so simple that we don’t trust it. God makes trees good, but unfortunately we don’t always reckon them as such.
Even if you have the flimsiest faith in Jesus it’s proof that God chose you from eternity to be His child. Faith the size of a mustard seed can throw your mountain of sin into the ocean of God’s love and forgiveness.
Now, I haven’t planted any mustard seeds in my garden, but I hear them seeds is pretty small. And the little faith you have was planted in you before time began. “Praise be to the God…who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world…In love he predestined us to adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 1:3-6). Notice these things have already been done! Commenting on Jeremiah 31:3, Geerhardus Vos said, “The best proof that He will never cease to love us lies in that He never began.”
What’s this have to do with good fruit? When God begins something, it’s guaranteed that He will finish it (Philippians 1:6). Because of His great love for you, the Father has planted in you His seed of faith and it will yield a harvest of love and holiness in your life.
Motivation by guilt, shame and fear incites us to declare that God is a “hard man.” As a result, we bury God’s gift of grace in a faithless grave instead of planting it in the good soil of trust which says our Father will bring the work He started to a fruitful completion. Effort motivated by guilt veils the glory of the gospel of grace and inhibits faith in the finished work of Christ, and sanctification suffers. It’s like placing fruit trees in a dark cave and showing them the fruit they should be producing hoping they will blossom.
The preacher who resorts to this tactic unwittingly reinstates enmity with God in the hearts of God’s children. Enmity with God is friendship with the world. This is in direct opposition to Scripture’s witness that believers are covenant friends of God. It introduces disease into a healthy tree and hacks at the root of faith. Instead of trusting God’s nature in believers to take its course, these misguided preachers encourage unhealthy introspection as the route to holiness. However, the good seed can’t grow when it’s repeatedly being dug up only to examine its growth!
Instead, we should proclaim the truth: believers are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and a people for God’s own possession. It’s not that Christians should be these things with increased effort, but that they already are these things by faith in God’s grace. Knowing this, we set good trees in the brilliant sun of God’s love to be nourished by His warm rays, stretched toward Him, and drawn by the living water of the Spirit through the root of faith. In these conditions good trees will bear good fruit!
Gratitude motivates good works, so let people be flooded by God’s love. It’s the only thing for which they can be truly grateful. Everything that God requires of us has already been given to us in Christ. “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:30).
Even possessing the flimsiest of faith, all is ours because it all depends on God’s finished work. What joy and fruit awaits us! If we simply dare to believe this good news, we will agree with Charles Spurgeon, “While I regarded God as a tyrant, I thought sin a trifle. But when I knew Him to be my Father, then I mourned that I could ever have kicked against Him. When I thought that God was hard, I found it easy to sin. But when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could have rebelled against One Who loved me so and sought my good.”