43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
–Luke 6.43-45 (NIV)
In today’s lesson, Jesus is giving us practical instruction regarding the dynamics of faith. Faith isn’t some kind of ethereal, otherworldly thing. Neither is it an abstract concept. Faith always produces the fruit of obedience. Simply put, we obey because we believe. This is how we can test the faith of others and ourselves. We need look no further than the fruit we (and others) bear.
Elsewhere, Jesus reminds us that it is out of the heart that all kinds of evil come (cf. Mark 7.20-22). So how can anyone bear good fruit? Only by the Power and Presence of the Holy Spirit living in us and transforming us into the image of Jesus. That may (and usually does) take a lifetime to accomplish, but accomplish it the Spirit does.
And this should make sense to us. We who claim to be disciples of Jesus are called to imitate him and the only way we can do that is by the power of his Spirit living in us. Yes, we must open ourselves up to the Spirit’s Presence but it is he who does the work in and through us. But here’s the thing. The Spirit’s Presence is so gentle and he is so unassuming, that we often mistake his working in us as actually being us, and we end up taking credit for our good works, instead of giving credit where it is really due. But make no mistake. We only follow Jesus with the assistance of the Spirit.
So how do we follow Jesus? We look at what he said and did, and then decide to imitate him. This means, for example, that we have an outward focus toward people and resist trying to make it all about ourselves all the time. We start to become keenly aware of the need and suffering around us–need and suffering that results from evil and human sin, from living in a fallen world–and we resolve to do something about it, especially in the context of our daily lives. When we are confronted by evil of any kind, we respond as Jesus did. We offer mercy instead of condemnation. We seek to alleviate suffering and need as best we can. We strive for peace rather than war. We share our resources, especially the gift of ourselves, with those who desperately need it. And when we do, we can be confident that we have a saving faith in him because we are bearing the fruit of the Spirit, the very fruit of Jesus himself. It is not about following rules or bean counting. It is about a lifestyle and a spirit, both of which flow from the Spirit’s Presence living in us. This kind of lifestyle will turn heads. It will make people stop and ask us by whose authority we are doing these things. Folks will want to know why we are behaving in this way.
Does this mean we get it right all the time? Hardly. And because of this fact, it is best for us to look at our pattern of living rather than focus on the mistakes we make (or solely on our successes). Having this kind of outlook will prevent us from falling into despair or getting too puffed up by our human pride.
As Paul reminds us, we are saved by grace through faith, the latter being a gracious gift itself. Having a saving faith does not mean we sit around engaging in some privatized religion. No. We are called to be Jesus’ salt and light for his people and creation. This means following our Lord, rolling our sleeves up, and getting busy in helping him bring about his New Creation. We understand that we cannot do New Creation work fully or even particularly well. But that doesn’t matter to us because the work is not about us. We do this because we are thankful to God for his great gift to us in Jesus and we too look forward to the day God fully implements his New Creation. This is a hope we can only have when we have a saving faith in Christ. Hence, faith will always manifest itself in obedience.
Notice too that this kind of obedient faith provides us hope for the future as well as meaning and purpose for living our lives right now. It gives us a new appreciation of God’s creation and our stewardship of it because we know that creation and God’s creatures matter to God. He intends to fully restore it and us one day, and we have Jesus’ resurrection as the first-fruits of God’s promise to do this. That is why Easter matters. Are you living as an Easter person with an obedient faith and real hope? If not, what are you waiting for?
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!