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11 September 2019

The fake fruit of fidelity.

So as I wrote previously, the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians is πίστις/pístis, “faith.” Not, as too various bible translations render it, “faithfulness.” Like the ESV.

Galatians 5.22-23 ESV
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Faith is also a supernatural gift of the Spirit, and various Christians wanna make a distinction between gifts and fruit. (Usually ’cause they have some problematic beliefs about the gifts.) So they prefer the interpretation “faithfulness.” By which they mean fidelity—you can be depended upon to do as you say, to stand up for those you love.

And hey, fidelity can be an admirable trait. But that all depends on whom we show fidelity to. As humanity has demonstrated lots of times, we can show fidelity to some really godless people, ideas, and institutions. We can do profoundly stupid or evil things in their support—because we value them more than we do wisdom or goodness.

Should Christians be loyal? To Jesus, absolutely. To family members, friends, fellow Christians, and the suffering, sure: Part of love is not giving up, and enduring all.

But is it what Paul meant by pístis? No; he meant faith. It’s a lot harder to trust God, than it is to stand up for people. Humans can pretty much stand up for anything. Doesn’t take the Spirit’s power to do so. People can be loyal, dependable, steadfast Christians our whole lives long… yet when the Holy Spirit expects us to put our doubt on hold and trust him, often we can’t. We might be loyal to the Lord, but we don’t entirely trust him. And which of the two is more important?

Likewise we Christians tend to be just like everybody else in the world when it comes to loyalty and fidelity: It has a cut-off point. We love and support one another in good times and bad… until somebody violates something to which we show more loyalty. We’ll eat Big Macs every day… till that giant heart attack. We’ll love our kids no matter what… till they declare they’re gay. We’ll love our spouses through thick and thin… till they cheat on us. There’s nearly always another line in our minds, whether we realize this or not, and once it’s been crossed, that’s the end of our fidelity. We cut ’em off.

True fidelity among fellow Christians is hard to find. Oh, it exists. But you won’t see it unless we’ve done something that’ll alienate nearly everyone. Like murdering your parents: Most of your so-called Christian friends won’t stick around after that. (Even if they think you’re not guilty!—they’re too afraid of what others will think when they associate with you. Jesus might eat with sinners, but they would never.) The few which remain are truly loyal; the rest, not so much. We tend to only be loyal to the righteous. And sometimes the popular.

Fidelity when times are good.

It’s just as true when we’re talking about God. Christians just love God—when times are good, when our family members are getting along, when our health is fine, when the job pays comfortably, when there are no crises or problems. Now, take any of these things away, Job-style, and suddenly these devout, earnest, verse-quoting Christians quit church and aren’t sure they even believe in God. Aren’t sure they ever believed in him.

Yep, God crossed that other line with them. (Or circumstances did; or in Job’s case, Satan did.) Their fidelity to God was entirely contingent on whether he let them keep the things they really valued, and when he didn’t do that anymore, they adopted the attitude of Job’s wife.

Job 2.9-10 KWL
9 Job’s woman told him, “You still cling to your integrity? Bless God and die.”
10 Job told her, “You speak like one of the fools speak.
When we receive the good we’re with God, and we won’t receive the bad?”
In all this, Job didn’t sin with his lips.

Yeah, some bibles translate her words as “curse God,” (i.e. KJV), but בָּרֵ֥ךְ/barékh means “bless.” But no doubt Job’s wife meant it in the same ironic sense Bible Belt Christians do when they say “Bless your heart” and actually mean “Go to hell.” She lost everything, same as Job, but her fidelity to God only extended so far. Job’s didn’t—which is why the book’s about him and not them.

Satan expected Job to act exactly like his wife, Jb 1.11 because that’s how humans are. We prize faithfulness, but not faith: We don’t trust God that far.

Some of this is because of our own naïveté. We think of God as a form of Santa Claus or genie, who’s obligated to bless us as long as we maintain good karma. When we’re obedient, when we believe all the stuff we think he wants us to, when we say all right the Christian things. Some of this is ’cause it’s what we were taught: “Come to Jesus and he’ll make everything all better” is how we expect he works. So when he doesn’t make everything all better, our faith shatters and blows away. Our fidelity, and our faith, was entirely conditional. It’s why we see Christians spend more time trying to protect what’s ours, rather than giving everything to Jesus. It’s why we see a lot of rich young rulers instead of disciples.

Blind fidelity versus godly fidelity.

It’s easiest to be faithful to something imaginary. After all, it’s all in our heads. Plus we can tweak it as we go, to make it as ideal as we like it.

Hence there are many Americans who are loyal to “America,” even though the America in their heads is entirely fictional. It’s not the United States as it is, but as they imagine it used to be… but never actually was ’cause they don’t know squat about history. It’s the United States as they wish it were… but it’s a simplistic view that commits a lot of grievous evil towards the rich and powerful, or the weak and needy, depending on your politics.

Hence there are many Christians who are loyal to “Jesus,” but they do the very same thing. It’s not the Jesus we see in the gospels, consistent with the breathing, eternally-alive Jesus who has real expectations of his followers, who will one day conquer the world. It’s an imaginary depiction, based on what they desire, not what he does.

It’s why we see a vast disconnect between how Jesus wants us to live, and how we live. We think we’re good, ’cause our fidelity is towards that Jesus-shaped idol in our minds. And when reality doesn’t match the idol, we don’t realize our error and repent: We either reject reality or adjust the idol. Or quit.

The way to avoid this is to immerse ourselves in reality.

Being truly faithful to Jesus means we focus on our fellow Christians, his church. Jesus ordered us to love one another, just as he loves us. Jn 13.34-35 We’re family, made part of God’s family through Jesus. So while we may disagree and argue with one another, while we may be angry with one another, while sometimes not trust one another, we can’t divorce siblings. We mustn’t deny the Holy Spirit God implants in us. Fellow Christians are family. And family requires a certian degree of fidelity.

Whenever we disagree with family, we usually bear in mind we can’t just treat them like people whom we’ll never see again. We will see them again: We’re gonna live forever in God’s kingdom with them. We have to bear this in mind, and recognize we have no business alienating ourselves from one another. Instead we need to win one another over through love.

So while we might be tempted to start slamming fellow Christians—particularly the ignorant, fruitless, self-focused, annoying Christians—let’s start by giving one another the benefit of the doubt. Maybe we’re the ones in the wrong. We gotta talk things out, try to understand one another, and sort out our relationships. Not shatter them completely.

We need to extend God’s grace to our fellow Christians, submit to one another, be patient with difficult Christians, and stop unnecessarily alienating one another. We minister to sinners, including fellow Christians who sin. We have no business being vengeful, since vengeance belongs to God. We don’t punish, or take retribution, for people’s sins; much less punish them by driving repentant people away. We treat them as we would want to be treated, and do as God does for us.

Fruit.

Faith.