Imagine buying a beautiful new house with a gorgeous backyard. In the back corner of the yard there’s this healthy, lush tree. The real estate agent told you it’s an orange tree.
A few months go by, and all of a sudden, you start to see some little buds forming on the branches. And every day you look out and see more growth. And you see some little green fruits growing, and you say, “Oh look at those little baby oranges out there!”
“But, aren’t oranges supposed to be… orange?” your spouse says.
And you say, “Well, duh. But these are baby oranges. They’ll be orange eventually.”
More time passes, and more still, and there remains to be nothing but green fruit on the tree. Finally, you’re fed up. You storm out the back door, grab a fruit from the tree, take it inside, and slice it open only to discover… it’s a lime.
In the book of Galatians, Paul wrote to one of the first Christian churches about what to do after you become a Christian and used fruit to explain the markers of a life of faith compared to that of a life of sin.
“Now the works of the flesh [or selfishness] are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
– Galatians 5:19-21
Paul is listing these things to prove a point: these are the markers – the byproducts – of sin and selfishness. If you live a selfish life, these are the types of things you’re going to have to show for it. Maybe (okay, probably) for you it wouldn’t be sorcery, but Paul added in that little dig at the end: “and things like these.” Do you see what all of these markers have in common? They’re all about us.
I want to feel good.
I want to have fun.
I want to be in control.
I want to be right.
I want people to like me.
Paul warns us that these kinds of people aren’t going to inherit in the kingdom of God. They aren’t following the King. They aren’t going to go to heaven.
That might make you feel unsettled to read.
And you know why we feel like that? Because we all know that we’re those people. We’ve all had those kinds of thoughts, and done those kinds of things.
Fortunately, the story’s not over. Paul keeps going.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
– Galatians 5:22-23
Those are way better than the last list, right? And who wouldn’t want them? This is the fruit –the markers – of a life devoted to Jesus, the King. They aren’t forced, they just come out of us, like fruit from a tree.
Remember the lime tree?
We can call ourselves whatever we want to call ourselves, but who we really are is shown by the fruit we’re producing. We can say we’re a Christian and that we follow Jesus, but if everything in our life – the fruit of our branches – doesn’t reflect what we say, then does it matter what we call ourselves?
See, our situation isn’t really like the story I told before. This isn’t a simple matter of limes versus oranges. For us, this is a matter of flourishing life and fetid death.
Dead trees often still stand tall. They might even continue to resemble some of the trees around them. But they’re no longer growing. They’re no longer living.
When we become a Christian, we are set free from a destructive life that selfishness and sin cause, and we are brought back to life.
“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh [their selfishness] with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit”
– Galatians 5:24-25
When Christ died on the Cross for us, he took all of our sin with him. He paid for it all – everything we have done and will do – right there. He killed the power that sin and selfishness had over us. If you believe that, you’re no longer a withering tree. You’re alive.
And through Jesus, we are not only alive, but now live with the Holy Spirit’s power in us.
What Paul is saying is that if that same power that brought us back from the dead is available to us as we live, to not only keep us alive, but help us flourish, then we must do everything we can to stay connected to it.
But, how exactly do we do that?
Think about the way plants grow and thrive. They’re designed to funnel water toward them. They have intricate root systems to absorb nutrients from the ground. And some plants actually turn their leaves toward the sun.
If we want to follow Jesus and thrive, then we, like plants, have to be nourished with the right things.
We have to design our lives to funnel in the water. That means organizing our schedules to have time to do things like attend church and small group (physically or online).
We have to grow intricate root systems. That means we have to have a community of support – friends and family that will point us in the right direction and help us prune away our hurts and hang-ups.
And we need to lean toward the sunlight. That means we need to spend time reading the Bible and learning, and thinking deeply about the words on the pages and how they apply to us.
These aren’t things that save us or help us earn anything from God, but they are things that help us grow.
My prayer is that as a church, we will not only be Christians in name, but instead, be people who are truly made alive in Jesus, experiencing a deep, rich, and blossoming life through the Holy Spirit. May we all bring God glory, serve him, and help bring other people back from the dead, too.
“Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find him… and with him everything else thrown in.”
– C.S. Lewis