28 September 2016

Spontaneous fruit?

The Spirit’s fruit won’t grow in Christians who won’t cultivate it.

There are a lot of fruitless Christians out there.

Why is this? Laziness, mainly. People, especially when they’re from wealthy countries, just wanna sit on their rear ends and receive. That’s what they think Christianity consists of: Since Jesus took care of our sins for us, they presume he takes care of everything for us. We don’t need to do any heavy lifting whatsoever. It’s all monergism: God does all the work, and we do absolutely nothing.

  • Instead of resisting temptation and obeying God’s commands, we have cheap grace.
  • Instead of demonstrating we’re Christians by our love, Jn 13.35 we demonstrate it by rattling off our statements of faith.
  • Instead of pursing a continual relationship with God, we say the sinner’s prayer, and figure that’ll do us till kingdom come.
  • Instead of testimonies about what God’s currently doing in our lives, we tell the same old 30-year-old come-to-Jesus story, and figure that’s the only testimony we need.
  • Instead of going to church, and becoming an integral part of that support system, we find a church where we only need bother attend 60 to 90 minutes a week. Or not, ’cause now they stream their services on their website. No, we won’t be awake then, but we can watch it later, like from Starbucks. Isn’t technology wonderful?
  • Instead of sharing Jesus, we share Facebook memes.
  • Instead of tithing, we offer lots of moral support. And hey, there’s more where that came from.
  • Instead of reading our bibles… nah, we don’t offer any substitute. We just don’t read it. We did watch that The Bible miniseries when it was on Netflix, though.

When it comes to fruit of the Spirit, we figure it works the very same way as salvation. God does all the work; we do all the receiving. When we become Christians, we suddenly just… grow fruit! All on its own.

Yep, I’ve even heard testimonies about it. “So one day, after I became a Christian, I got into an argument with a co-worker, and he just made me so angry, I was gonna take him out back and punch his lights out. I did that sort of thing all the time before I became a Christian, y’know. Just curb-stomped people. But for some reason—I really can’t explain it!—I didn’t wanna beat the sauce out of him. I just felt this weird, peaceful feeling. I felt love for that guy. I can only think it came from God.”

Now, a lot of fruitless Christians lie about what constitutes “fruit” in their lives, so I wouldn’t put it past ’em to lie in their testimonies. God’s fruit of love isn’t typified by the fact he keeps us from a rage-induced act of felony battery by spontaneously turning us gay. Yes, God can do such things if he wanted, but it’s far more likely our latté got roofied.

And there are red flags aplenty in the testimonies of fruitless Christians. Love doesn’t look like love, kindness ain’t all that kind, joy is just a bit evil, and I’ve met pagans with way more patience. Fact is, they’re describing the one moral victory they experienced, within a lifetime of capitulation and doing as comes naturally. This isn’t their habitual fruit of the Spirit. They have no such thing. That’s why they constructed whole stories about these rare exceptions.

Real fruit isn’t a rare exception. And it doesn’t come naturally. We don’t “just change.” We obey God. That’s the soil the Spirit’s fruit grows in. No soil? No fruit.

Commanded to produce fruit.

I say this ’cause in the scriptures we’re actually ordered to produce the Spirit’s fruit. It’s not spontaneous. It’s intentional.

  • Love: Gotta love one another, Jn 15.17 love neighbors, Lv 19.18 love enemies, Mt 5.44 and love God. Dt 6.5 Doesn’t really leave anyone out. Basically, love everyone.
  • Joy: Gotta seize every chance to have joy. Jm 1.2 Rejoice in the Lord always. Pp 4.4 Shout for joy. Ps 33.1, 66.1 Rejoice even when persecuted. Mt 5.12
  • Peace: Don’t be anxious or afraid, but peaceful. Jn 14.27 Pursue peace. Ro 14.19 Live in peace with one another, 2Co 13.11 as much as we can, Ro 12.18 making every effort to do so. He 12.14
  • Kindness: Be kind. Ep 4.32 Make it part of your character. Cl 3.12 Especially in leadership and servanthood. 2Ti 2.24
  • Goodness: Oh come on. The whole Law is about being good.
  • Faith: Put your faith in God, Mk 11.22 ’cause you aren’t justified otherwise. Ro 5.2 Stand firm in it; 1Co 16.13 put on its breastplate. 1Th 5.8 And if good works aren’t in any way connected with it, it’s dead faith. Jm 2.17

And so on. Gentleness, self-control, mercy, generosity, humility, truthfulness—we’re commanded to do and uphold these things, and in so doing produce fruit. There’s no command against these things. Ga 5.23 But there are many commands, directions, and exhortations in their favor.

This idea we’re supposed to passively wait for the Spirit’s fruit to arise in us? It’s like supposing once we set foot in a dojo, we’ll magically know kung fu. Really, all we’ll know to do is posture, and make Bruce-Lee-style squawks. We’ll have more in common with a chicken than Lee. Same with fruit of the Spirit: It takes practice. Start obeying God: Start doing ’em.

“But I’ve gotta feel them first. If I don’t feel love, isn’t it hypocrisy?” Sometimes this is a fair question; sometimes it’s a cop-out. Yes, we oughta feel love for others. Despite all those Christians who insist love is only an action, and neither a noun nor a feeling, love’s a feeling too. Jesus felt compassion, Mk 8.2, Lk 7.13 and that’s love. Ideally we should also be compassionate. But love isn’t just a feeling, so if you’re not feeling compassion yet, it’s okay. Don’t fake the feelings; that’s hypocrisy. Just do the actions. Start there. The feelings will come later.

But like I said, the “I gotta feel it” excuse is quite often used as an excuse to do nothing. Partly by Christians who don’t know the difference between spirit and emotion; partly by Christians who believe fruit is spontaneous, and are waiting for the fruit to appear before they act. Which is like waiting for the bandages to appear before we start bleeding: Doesn’t work like that. We act when we see a need. We don’t psyche ourselves up first; it’s not a performance.

It is possible for emotion to lead to fruit. But not always to the right fruit. The emotions of a coward won’t lead to bravery: People are brave because they act despite fear.

Besides, anybody can psyche themselves into feelings. Actors do it all the time. (Liars too.) With a little effort, I could feel warm feelings towards everybody in the world; I don’t even need pharmaceutical enhancement. But regardless of my feelings, if I don’t act in love towards anyone, I have no fruit. Just feelings. Useless, fruitless feelings.

Fruit grows with practice.

The reason we’re ordered to do these fruits in the scriptures, is because they don’t come naturally. Human nature is self-centered. I don’t care what optimistic humanists have told us all our lives: We humans have to learn to think of other people instead of only ourselves, or ourselves first. And when the going gets rough, most of us revert to pure selfishness. It’s our survival instinct. Gone wrong, but still.

Despite the Holy Spirit within us, we Christians still have selfishness as our default mode. It’s not going away just because we’ve attached Christian-sounding labels to all our selfish behaviors. It’s only going away when we follow the Spirit, and do the good works he’s assigned us. Ep 2.10 Time to quit the excuses, quit waiting to feel something first, and obey. Go and do.

I admit: I don’t always feel it when I initially obey. Way more comfortable to ignore my neighbor, and figure, “Hey, at least I don’t hate them,” than actually do for them. Mt 7.12 If I really don’t feel like doing anything for my neighbors, it’s really easy to fall into resentment. (Especially with the devil tempting us to indulge that feeling.) But if I do as James instructed and order myself to feel joy, Jm 1.2 if I call out to God and ask him to get rid of my bad attitude, I’m gonna resist that resentment. Working on that gentleness, y’know.

Nope, erasing our negative feelings isn’t the Holy Spirit’s magic reward for obedience. He doesn’t just pour out endorphins like a pharmacist gone mad. It’s for the purpose of serving him better, and loving others better. If my rotten attitude might interfere with the job, the Spirit helps me shove it aside. When it makes no difference, sometimes the Spirit has me deal with it on my own. Oh, he’s there to encourage and empower me to do the right thing, but I have to defeat my selfishness. I have to resist temptation. I have to stop sinning. That’s the self part of self-control.

Same with you.

Fruit of the Spirit isn’t easily gained, nor easily grown. It’s a struggle sometimes. It gets easier. But not when we passively expect it to just grow, spontaneously, with no help from us. Christians who think this way, either turn into giant hypocrites who try to hide all their awfulness, or turn into those irreligious slacker Christians who shrug and say, “Christians aren’t perfect, y’know. Just forgiven.”

We choose to pursue the Spirit’s fruit. He’ll help; he’s the one making the fruit grow way faster than it really oughta. But we’ve gotta make the effort. So do.