The Essential Role of Fruit in the Church
Fruit of the Spirit Part III
Does your church have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control pouring from its leaders and most of its people, on your campus and into the streets where its people are? If not, something is terribly wrong!
Christianity is not just the proclamation of the Gospel; it is also the example of the Gospel!
This begs for a question: why do so many Christians see their faith as "on hold" until when it may be needed, and/or are doing nothing or just what they can get away with?
Is the Fruit of the Spirit in you and in your Church?
How many of us have ever ventured into a church that was filled with unkindness, where we were ignored or even mistreated and where the church seemed more like a thorn bush than a fruitful vine…a church filled with a bad atmosphere from the bad spiritual breaths of its people making smog instead of the sweet fragrance of God's presence and love? As a pastor, I have a tough battle to make sure my flock behaves so that Christ would be pleased. And of course, I need to set the tone. I can try my best to set an example so I am not a thorn bush, and I can teach; but I cannot make them behave! I can model, teach, disciple, urge, and pray. But, real, authentic Christian love comes solely from a real, authentic Christian formation. This is caused from the Fruit of the Spirit growing in each of us. If someone is not growing in the Lord, he/she is not willing or able to treat others with love and respect, nor is he/she able to model and do and be as Christ exemplified and taught. Care, compassion, and a real affection for others will be moot, love will be stifled, and kindness absent; and no matter how good the campus, teaching, or mission are, all that will be noticed is an annoying noise. The church will be an irritating and frustrating club of stubborn prideful people, devoid of harmony and brotherly love-devoid of Christ! Do we really want that? If not, what are you willing to do about it?
The essential way to grow a church is to be faithful with our Fruit! No one wants to come to a club where the people are angry, bitter, immoral, impure, corrupt, into idolatry and witchcraft, and full of hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness…and so forth! These are the key words Paul talked about in Romans, chapter one. It is the same with a local church; who wants strife when care and friendship are called for and needed? People will come to a place where there is love and joy, where they are treated with kindness, cared for, allowed to work on themselves while being shown patience and the composure of Christ from the leaders. We need to know that we display Christ by our attitudes and actions. If we do not do this right from what Jesus modeled and taught, we will get our churches all skewed upside down and wrong. We will be the church of the thorn-bush, a fruit-stand devoid of fruit, a place of dysfunction instead of a church of Jesus Christ and His transforming power!
Remember: Christ did not give up on us when things went from bad to worse with our sin. His grace, forgiveness, and perseverance came to us anyway!
A Fruitless Church is a Big Problem!
One of the main problems I have seen in the churches I have served and consulted for or have researched is the lack of Fruit from its leaders and members. We have to see this as a travesty before our Holy God. It can come from the over-focus on the personality of a leader who is prideful or a preoccupation with a trend, giving no regard to the percepts of the Word, or the basic lack of kindness when you visit such a church. Some churches are good at one or two of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit to the exclusion of the rest of the Fruits. Maybe you will see big smiles from the pastor who is a good teacher, but sometimes impatient and cold-perhaps even smug. This can be from focusing on the Gifts of the Spirit while ignoring His call and Fruit of the Spirit. We have church leaders and pastors concerned about being deliberate and intentional, thinking that "my church is exclusively my ministry; this is all about me." They are all about building a legacy to themselves and how they want to build their church to and for themselves, something which they rationalize away using statistics, pop psychology, and business trends while ignoring the Word.
How many people, in an average, good church, practice the Fruit of the Spirit in that church? Well, we do not know yet. The initial research is all over the map from a mere twenty percent 20% to a quantity of eighty percent (80%) of church leaders who deem themselves fruitful. In the mean time, those under their leadership show a small deviation; a measly eighteen percent (18%) to an over seventy percent (70%) see their leaders as bearers of fruit. How many practice it at home? How many practice it at work? This is the research we are seeking. When we know what we are doing with our faith and fruit and see what Christ calls us to do, perhaps we can improve our church's workplaces and our homes!
It seems, from our initial research (our partner the Schaeffer Institute) and experiences, that most Christians respond to their faith with a rear end firmly planted in a pew that goes nowhere near fruitful service or glory to Christ. They hold on to a will that does not allow conviction or change to their routine or life. Thus, church is just a club for comfort and not a "huddle" to strategize and put forward how to play the game of Christian life after receiving our orders from the Coach. We need to know that Christ calls us to change our minds like we change the oil in the car. Look what Romans twelve tells us to do: "devote themselves to him; and avoiding conformity to the world." In other words, we are to be changed, fruitful people so we can be change agents to others. Not to be infected by the world, but to help it along toward His purpose. We cannot do that when we are poured out to our will and desires only and not to our Lord. Oh, that we can be: "…conformed to his holy will"… "to think humbly"… "to exercise faithfully"… to mutual love, diligence, patience, hope, prayer, hospitality, compassion, and condescension …. "and becoming conduct towards all men"! Our devotion to Christ must be rooted in the mind and then let the Fruit translate it to the feet and the rest of our bodies in between-the body of us as human beings and a body of believers in relation to all those around us, which is our duty (Rom. 12:9-13).
A lack of Fruit is what Christ was so concerned about with the leaders of His day (just read Matthew 23) and why He spoke so much about this and that the coming judgment for our actions and responsibility. We will be held accountable as followers and especially as leaders; thus, we have to know what we are called to do. It starts with knowing Christ and then learning how He wants us to operate. Saved? Yes! To say this another way, as the Book of James asks us, what good is our faith if we misuse it or do nothing with it? Galatians, chapter five, gives us a key template to the Christian life and how to do ministry. And guess what; the churches that are Fruitful-as in the out flowing of the Fruit of the Spirit-are the ones that grow more, not only in numbers, but in faith and things that matter to our Lord! Just look how we will be judged in the eternity to come; our reward will not depend on how well and how often we exercised our gifts, but how well we produced the crop of effectual Fruit. Yes, the gifts and jobs of ministry are important; but the Fruit is the essential essence of our call. This is what is fundamental and indispensable for a capable leader and for an effective church!
We are Called to Emulate Christian Virtues!
The sad fact is that the average Christian does not make the Fruit of the Spirit a priority in his/her life; this should cause us intense concern. And, even worse off are our leaders! This is why I believe we have so many thorn-bush churches and few fruit-stand churches. I am not saying those who do not practice the Fruit are not saved, because it is not for me or anyone to judge salvation; nevertheless, we should be deeply disturbed by this, for we are known by our Fruit! And, if there is no effective Fruit displayed from a person who claims Christ as Lord, then that person is detached from the nutrients of the Vine (John 15)! If your church is not displaying love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, the question becomes, "is Christ there?" The evidence says "no," or at the very least "knocking at the door trying to get in!"
We are also duty-bound to be diligent in taking and receiving His flow of the Spirit, not for our salvation, but to grow in life and ministry. These benefits are the reasons we are given this precious opportunity to have the Fruit of the Spirit. God's love working in us needs to be known and then applied to be effective and real to us and to those around us. If we know them and then do nothing with them, they are as useless as having health insurance but not using it when you get sick. The same is true with trying to apply a Fruit without understanding what it is and how it is to be used. We would be inflicted with an imitation or a skewed and perhaps even rotten fruit as His marvelous fruit would go unnoticed and unused. It is like never filling out the forms and starting the benefits. Not knowing God's precepts means we would not be able to apply them, because what we are applying is not of Him!
We have both privileges and responsibilities in our Lord. God has given us gifts, abilities, and promises that we are not to store when needed. When they are needed, they are for us to persistently use! Such benefits given will not only profit us in our intimate relationship to Christ, but also empower us to build much heartier relationships with others, too. So, do not be shortsighted concerning your faith and the opportunities Christ has and will still bring. If we do not have a desire to pursue the will of God, we have to ask ourselves why? and what is in the way? Most, if not all of the time, it is the desire of sin that blocks us. Sometimes we may not recognize sin and rather rationalize it away. This happens especially when our view of Christ and/or our involvement in discipleship is ignored or "dumbed down." We seek things that tickle our ears but that require no due diligence on our part. Our election is proven by our obedience and growth in Christ!
This is the willingness to live out the Christian life we claim we are living. It is the actual implementation of His precepts into our daily lives, because these precepts are better than anything we could have planned on our own. We must have a life that matches what we say we believe; faith is the quintessential tool to make this happen both individually and collectively with one another in a church. This is where we take what we have learned and believe and put it into action in our relationships and opportunities. The practice of the Fruit of the Spirit means that our faith and our deeds do not operate independently of each other. To make this happen further, we must have a mind that is focused, to the best of our ability, on God's precepts and character. Instead of filling our mind with needless junk, let us fill it up with things that will help us grow in our faith. Instead of a romance novel or a cheap magazine, pick up a good book, a classic, a book to help you grow; read the ultimate Book, His Word, the Bible. If you are willing to grow closer to God, then fill your mind with things and ideas that are pleasing to Him (Psalm 34:4-6; Rom. 12:1-3; 1 Cor. 2:16; James 2:18; 1 Peter 2:1-2).
We are Called to Stretch and Grow beyond what we Think we can Do!
It grieves our Lord deeply when we reject Him or turn from Him and His ways. He is especially grieved when we seek the tantalizations the world has to offer and ignore His wonder and blessings. As our Lord showed us by example, we are to follow up by caring for His people-our brothers and sisters in the Lord. This is a call to rescue, like a lifeguard rescuing a person who is drowning. People all around us are drowning in a sea of lost hope; your church can be the instrument God uses to offer them the lifeline of hope. This purpose can be accomplished by our working production of Fruit, praying, and example with humility, sensitivity, persistence, and by going out of our way for them.
Ministry is not just the proclamation of the Gospel; it is the example of the Gospel!
This is what it means to be in Christ; He is lived out in the lives of believers as they show real compassion for individuals. If we are not doing this, we are not doing ministry. We are to not only care in word, but also in deeds; even if we have to confront someone, we are always to do it in love and within the parameters of the Fruit of the Spirit. Thus, when we see someone start to stray, we are to come along side him/her in love and help him/her back to His path. We are to show His love and our genuine concern by being willing and able to help out beyond our comfort zone and cultural considerations. Do not wait; we are called to care and to care now!
Are you Led by the Spirit?
Being led by the Spirit is not a Pentecostal or charismatic endeavor; it is not about speaking in tongues or some esoteric Baptism of the Holy Spirit. It is not a special anointing or a blessing or a gift we receive from God or an emissary of His, most of whom are, more often than not, false anyway. Rather, pure and true from God's Word, being led by the Spirit means we are empowered by Him and this is primarily evidenced by who and how we are. The Fruit of the Spirit is the quintessential template and means to recognize His lead, and that Christ has taken root in us and thus is alive and well in our congregation. Such a lead will greatly affect your relationships, family, work, school, church, and life in general; this is the real, effectual fruit that shows Christ's impact, plan, and power to others, especially to non-Christians. So; are you led by the Spirit or led by your own means? If by the Spirit, how is this working in your church? How is Christ displayed and glorified?
We can master the entire Bible, go to seminary, read all of the great Christian books, and even be totally transformed by the Word; but, if nothing comes from the Spirit-God's work in us-it is empty and of no real value! Our faith must have a response to it. Yes we may be saved, but what good is it if we do not have gratitude or allow the continual, effectual work of the Spirit within us? To do nothing with our faith development means we are not being transformed and not being led or empowered by the Fruit of the Spirit. Do not let this happen to you or your church!
The Christian life can be a difficult journey! We live in a fallen world corrupted by sin. Consequently, all that we do is imperfect and a struggle. We make choices that affect the direction in which we proceed in life and in relationships. In so doing, we affect others around us in both positive and negative ways. Yet, when our efforts and motivations are centered upon being righteous, we will be doing as we are called to do, and even be blessed for it.
As Christ's disciples, we must be willing to be led by the truth of His Word and by our faith and trust in Him. Because faith is also in community and mutual, we each partake in Christ and need one another to grow further in our pilgrimage of Christian living. This is what your church needs to be about! In so doing, we share Christ and therefore proclaim Him to those who do not know Him. To be a good church, we are called to glorify Christ in all that we do! In this manner, as both a global Church and a local church, we must also demonstrate His love in how we relate to others. And know this: everything that is worthy and excellent requires more work, from painting a house to preaching the Word. This journey of difficulty should not discourage us because it will build us up to be much better, stronger, and of greater use to God as we put into practice what He puts in us (Phil. 2:12-13.
So, enjoy it! See it as an adventure from which to learn and grow. Our character will improve and enable us to overcome all obstacles and help others though them. Thus, we should make it a point to give Him our best for His glory because He first loved us, and we respond to His Grace with our gratitude. At the same time, we can take comfort in the fact that He will not give us anything we cannot handle (Phil 2:10-13; Heb. 2:10)! So, let us live with excellence, to our best for His glory!
Is your Thinking Right? Are your Behaviors are Right?
Good theology is our right thinking of God's precepts, including the knowledge of His Fruit. Our mind and thinking must be based on Christ and Scripture through which the Spirit guides us (2 Cor. 4:18; 1 John 2:17). If not, our culture and the pleasures of life will sweep us away from God's best for us. This is our Christian life and purpose! This is the boot camp and the army is our duty in application. Yet, it is the least thing considered by the average Christian's pursuit, especially those who never take ownership of their faith, who grew up in a church considering it as cultural and a duty rather than devotion and lifestyle. Thus, our churches become fruit-stands that have no fruit in them, just a shell of a building without His real substance, impact, and power penetrating. The danger is for the Christian to sit in a pew, learn all that he/she can, and take comfort in that knowledge, but never do anything with it. This creates the church that refuses to evangelize or reach others, or display Christ by their words and deeds. The Christian that refuses to share his/her faith usually is one who is not growing in that faith. Thus, faith and Fruit may be miserly trickled out on Sunday but no display or model of Christ is present on Monday. Be aware that you will be harshly judged; you are no better than the Pharisees! The proof test is do you use people, or serve them? Do you just gather information, or do you apply it (Hos.6:6; Mica. 6:6-8; Matt. 12 9-14; 23; James 1:21-27)?
In Romans 12: 1-2, we are called as church folks to passionately pursue God's will, and that is to think rightly of His precepts. By doing so, we can make our faith real so it impacts others around us. This is what a collection of Christians is called to and should do to build a healthy, well-balanced church that glorifies Christ. The simple way we can do this is to see our lives as extensions of God's grace and hands, so we are willing and able to be lined up to Him and be better used by Him. We are called to be a living sacrifice, which means we are to be living, growing, and performing Fruit agents of God. We are not alone in this essential matter. As Christians, we are transformed completely by the Spirit; this includes all we are and all that we are to do-our will, our plans, and our opportunities (2 Cor. 3:18). We cannot do this unless we give our selfish will and pride and past hurts over to Him (John 3:30; Gal. 2:20-21; Phil. 3:1-14)! The incentive for us to surrender to Christ is that His Way is better than ours! He gave us a gift we cannot fathom, let alone earn the gift of grace and eternal life, so why would we not seek to please our Living Loving Lord?
When we are growing in Christ, we will be displaying Christ-our "reasonable service" as church leaders! Then we will have real ripe and pleasing Fruit; God's will is for us to be willing and able to please and serve Him. This is accomplished when we are on guard so that the distractions of the sinful life will not entice, motivate, or divert us from Him and His plan for us! The call is simple: be willing to allow God to transform you rather than the world; simple? Yes, but it takes diligent effort and the trust we have in Christ to succeed as a church and as individual people of faith! When we do this, our thinking, attitude, and mindset will change and then impact all that we do in life.
But what is in the Way of our Fruit Production?
When we become a Christian either by birth in a Christian family (to slowly understand Who and What Christ is and over time make a commitment to Him) or through evangelism as an adult (a quick response when ones realizes their sin and need for grace and then commits to Christ), a time must come when the reality of who we are in Christ hits home in power and conviction. The black, dirty slime of our minds has to completely change to the new, golden anointing oil of His Fruit, love, and precepts. This will transform us into practical applications of His will in His church. But, our faith just does not come about on its own; something wondrous must take place within us to transform us so we can trust. This is what the Holy Spirit is doing in our Fruit of the Spirit production and cultivation. In other words, we must become the people of God in order to be capable and willing to do the work of God.
Keep in mind this Fruit is mutual; it takes the power of the Holy Spirit to keep us motivated, especially in the leadership of the church and the common places of personal life! This is how the Christian life is to be practical and outgoing-not sedentary and inclusive. Since God saved us, we in turn are compelled to show our response, to work in Christ's behalf, to be His agents, powered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel message, even in our own church. This will allow us to have discipline and restraint with obedience to God and others. We must refuse to let distractions derail or remove us from His will and plan so we will not be held back with what Christ called us to do (Prov. 16:32; 25:28; Rom 13:12-14; 1 Cor. 6:12; 9:25-27; Col. 3:16; 1Thess. 5: 22; Titus 2:12; Heb. 12:2; 2 Pet. 1:5-7).
This is why we at ITW and FASICLD are embarking on this new research project to see if our churches are truly displaying Christ or building temples unto themselves. Are we fruitful vines or thorn-bushes? This is entitled, The Fruit of the Spirit as a Biblical Mandate versus Actual Practice in American Churches. The initial results are not good; in fact, they are an abysmal testimony to failure resulting from not taking our lead from God, but seeking to be led from ourselves. Thus, in our wake is left a diseased-ridden and dysfunctional church; if we do not turn around, we will fail beyond measure.
Questions to ponder:
- We are called to stretch and grow beyond what we think we can do! Remember, our Lord offers His encouragement for all those who are in Him to grow in Him!
- What does it take for you to have a greater desire and ability to grow, practice, and apply your faith?
- What does it mean to you to make every conceivable effort to put into practice your faith and fruit? How is this necessary for your life?
- What have you received from Christ that drives your life? What is in the way? What are you going to do about it?
Remember, Christ is our Empowerment and our Example!
All churches will have fighting and squabbling. We are all in some process of sanctification and growth and we are not perfect-or called to be so. The question is, are we on the right road that delivers the fruit or are we just stationed at the fruit-stand and not restocking it? A prime purpose of the Church supposedly is to show and give out the Fruit, but many of us find ourselves empty. Are we making the effort to pick out the rotten fruit and throw it away? If you want to be successful in life, church, and ministry, you need to get this point: we are to be fruit makers. The primary purpose of doing church is not to just please ourselves, but to glorify and serve our Living God. Our lives as Christians are about how we live out His work and honor our Lord; we can best do this by applying our faith and growth in Him to display and give out this Fruit in our church relationships.
Having trouble? Take heart! Christ is the One who changes us and forms our Fruit. All we do is affectionately and in gratitude respond by faith and commit to His precepts. This requires our continual commitment to prevent our bad behaviors or body language from discouraging others from Christ and His Church.
Remember, Christianity is not just the proclamation of the Gospel; it is also the example of the Gospel! The action from your faith will reflect our Lord and either build or destroy your church! Consider this; the fruits and character that we have been given freely cost dearly; they are not cheap. Jesus Christ bought them and then brought them for and to us, for our betterment and to His glory. We must not take for granted what cost Him so much!
Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Proverbs 3:3