Monday, May 30, 2016

WHAT IS THE FRUIT OF BEING A CHRISTIAN?

Notes From Our Recent Seminar on Grace

This is our fourth seminar on grace. In February the topic was the flesh and Spirit conflict and how our understanding of that affects how we perceive what it means to live the Christian life. The March topic was about how the fear of the Lord fits with grace. In April the topic was the question: What is grace? Today’s topic is related to the fruit of grace. But I suggest that the fruit of grace has two aspects. And today we will look at the first aspect. The second aspect is a big subject on its own. The first aspect is about conversion. When someone becomes a Christian something radically changes. What is it and how is it visible? We Christians look for the fruit that indicates and gives confidence that someone is a real Christian. Certainly God wants us to have confidence that we are alive and free in Christ. God also wants us to be confident about the status of other people. First let’s summarize the first three seminar topics briefly to refresh our minds and and get ready for today’s question.

Review

In the first seminar we looked at the question: what is the flesh. You seemed to agree with me about the conclusion that the flesh is really all about trusting in man’s strength and wisdom and trying to avoid being weak and to avoid doing bad things. This leads right into the devil’s hands. He wants us to resist our weaknesses rather than celebrating them. And he wants us to focus on our obedience and stumble into self-righteousness. The way of the spirit is 1) to stay aware of God’s call to always be perfect, 2) to rejoice in our weaknesses, and 3) to know that in Christ is everything a person needs. We also spoke of sin as a fruit of trusting in human ability. Maturity we described as a growing sensitivity to our weaknesses and growing confidence in Christ as all we need. Maturity also sees this as true for other people.
 Our second seminar was about how the fear of the Lord is actually the door into grace. Three good words together give us a sense of this fear: reverence, respect, and wonder. These words describe that God is good but He is not safe. Wonder conveys that He doesn’t fit in our box and is full of surprises. If we are thinking manageable thoughts about God then fear is absent. Also if we think we can manage our relationship with Him then we aren’t fearing Him. Life is precious and can end or be severely detoured at any moment by trials or critics. Are we content with that? To fear God means to be at peace realizing and trusting that no matter what comes our way He is our only hope and He is watching over us in tenderness. He is perfect love, requires perfect love, and gives it as a gift to all who rest in the finished work of Christ. When we fear God we have these thoughts not only about ourselves but about other people too. Dostoevsky put it beautifully when he wrote, “To love a person means to see him as God intended him to be.”  Do you see the door into grace?
Our third seminar was the question: What is grace? This simple question is answered by seeing the opposite of grace.  We Christians have a relationship with God of grace, which means unmerited favor. Simple, right? Our Mormon friends represent the world. They have a relationship with God that is one of merited favor. Merited favor means favor that is earned. That is pressure. The place of wisdom is for us to realize that God doesn’t mix the two. You either have a relationship with God of pure unmerited favor or pure merited favor. God keeps score perfectly: either you are totally free from the pressure of having to do good, or you are under the full pressure to have to do good all the time. The devil hates God and lies about Him all the time seeking to deceive us to go back to thinking that we have to do at least a little bit of good to get God’s full favor. Do you ever feel that pressure? Which is it? Are you under grace—unmerited favor? Or are you under law—the pressure to merit or earn God’s favor? God wants to favor everyone: either you merit his favor or Christ merits it for you. Aren’t you glad to be free from merit?
Let’s get started.

What is the Fruit of Being a Christian?

Have you heard that everyone knows about God but only a true Christian knows God personally? Likely you have used this in your style of witnessing to your Mormon friends and relatives who tell you that they are Christians too. They aren’t really Christians because they don’t really know God. But they think they do, right?
What is the difference between knowing about God and knowing God personally?
Our question today is really about the difference between the fruit of just knowing about God and the fruit of knowing God personally.  Raise you hand if you are confident that you can explain this difference clearly to someone.  Raise your hand if you feel that you could use a little help in understanding this difference more clearly. God has blessed us to live surrounded by Mormons to help us have to deal honestly with this issue. I suggest that Christians who don’t have our blessing can pretend to understand and not be challenged to think more deeply. I will tell my story about this later today. I lived here 25 years and witnessed to lots of Mormons before it became clear to me. 
Let’s assume that the fruit of knowing God personally is good fruit; and let’s also say that the fruit of just knowing about God is bad fruit. Raise your hand if  that make sense. If this is true then we need to do two things. 1) We need to figure out what these two fruits are. 2) We need to seek to become expert fruit inspectors. This way we can be glad ministers of peace to each other and to the lost people around us that we care for.

Matthew 7:15-23—The Scary Passage

This passage is commonly explained and preached in such a way that it is threatening to Christians. As I read it aloud notice your responses or your memories from the past concerning it.
"Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.’" –Matthew 7:15-23

Let’s be honest. Have you ever felt threatened by this passage? Did you feel a little of that just now? At the end of our time together today I am going to read it again. Then we will evaluate our responses to see if there is any change. Get ready for a surprise.

 The Mormon View


How does our Mormon culture understand and teach this passage? I want to reveal this by telling a true story. About ten years ago an old Christian woman called me and asked me to go with her to the funeral of her active Mormon friend. As we sat there the bishop got up and gave a talk. He spoke sternly and threateningly. He reminded me in appearance and in voice tone of the Marine sargeant in the television program I used to watch as a kid. Do you remember Gomer Pyle and his sargeant? That guy was always threatening people and making life miserable for everyone else. The bishop spoke of how wonderful the old woman had been and how she had done what was required to be welcomed to live with God forever. Then in his sargeant voice he pointed at and panned the audience and said that everyone was going to appear before God some day and that some or many in the audience were going to be surprised because God was going to send them away for not being like that woman and doing all that was needed. I suspected that many in the audience felt threatened. Later the stake president, the bishop's boss, got up to speak. He was a large friendly man. In his talk he spoke anxiously as he said that he hoped that when he got there he would have done as much as the old woman and would not be sent away.


What is your response to that story? Did you feel feel the heat of the bishop’s words? Didn’t he sound like he was trying to imitate Jesus in our passage? Have you ever heard Christians talk like that, especially about this passage?

About the same time a Mormon woman about 40 to whom I had witnessed before came in Oasis. As I engaged her in conversation about sin and salvation I commented on how her words were similar to what other Mormons had told me. She corrected me and said that the other Mormons didn’t really know God personally, but only knew about him. She proceeded to tell me about her good points and about the bad points of the other Mormons—especially about their pride and judgmentalism. At the end of that revealing conversation she commented that she was having a really proud day.

What was the fruit that she was inspecting to make the distinction between herself and the other Mormons—between knowing God personally and just knowing about Him? She drew a line somewhere as to how much good work was sufficient to prove she knew God and the others didn’t. Is that how we Christians do or should think?

Have you ever had a Mormon tell you that good works or good behavior are the fruit that God is looking for to show that a person really knows God?

What Was Lacking in My Understanding?


In my first 25 years in Utah, Mormons used to quote this passage to me to prove that their church was true because of its good fruit. They would explain all the good works of their church and its members and equate good works with good fruit. I would then open the Bible to this passage, show it to them, and then help them notice that it said that the fruit was perfect. I would tell them that they and I weren’t perfect and so they were wrong about what the fruit was. I would tell them that I didn’t know what it was talking about, but it was obviously not what they were saying because the fruit had to be perfect. That is the best I could do with this passage until Eli joined me in ministry 8 years ago. He first noticed what the fruit was and then shared it with me. 


What is Perfect About You?


What is it about you that is perfect? If it isn’t your behavior, then what is it? Where does your behavior come from anyway? Jesus said that “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders." We all grew up with evil hearts and needed a new heart from God. What is the good heart? Is it just behavior, having totally good behavior? That is impossible or we are all sunk.

I suggest that a good heart is all about identity. Raise you hand if before you were a Christian you thought you had at least one good point that you used to feel good about yourself? Did you ever think that you were better than somebody else? I sure did. Any confidence I had about being forgiven was about that. When the first Christian told me that forgiveness was a free gift paid for by the blood of Jesus, I opposed those words. Did you ever think like that back then?


My Story


I became a Christian as a university student 37 years ago. One day a Christian named Don knocked on my door, invited me to some event, and then later witnessed to me. I opposed Don’s words about the free gift but hung around with him and his friends. He and his friends did Bible study, had prayer meetings, were active in Church, and put high emphasis on growing in Christ and witnessing. Over the years I have spoken with many Christians who have struggled with doubts about their salvation. I have never really doubted my salvation and wondered why. Don has been a Christian missionary now for 35 years. He told me a few years ago that he had legalistic tendencies when I met him and then 20 years ago at a conference he heard a speaker talk about grace as the way to live the Christian life. Don was angered by the message, wondering if he had wasted his Christian life in the hard work of evangelism and discipleship. He complained in tears to his wife. She told him to go to his room and pray. God spoke to him that grace wasn't the absence of good works, but rather was about grace motivated and grace empowered good works.  
I wondered what Don had thought and taught in his legalistic days about the fruit to look for to know if someone was a Christian since legalists often have a serious list of things they look for. So last fall when Don visited Logan I asked him. He said that in his legalistic days he never struggled with doubts about salvation because the Bible passage he used to understand if someone was a Christian was:

"If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life." -1John 5:9-13

Don said that if a person has the Son then the person has life and is a Christian. That is known by a person having God's testimony. He said that for him it has always been that simple. He said he never looked at other things like a changed life, but said a person's life would change in some ways. I meditated on Don's words and realized that I must have learned from Don and his friends to use that one simple test for myself and for others to know if a person was a real Christian.

Have you had other tests to know if you were a Christian? Have you heard preachers give other tests besides this simple one? What if all those other passages are really different ways of saying this same simple test? I suggest that they are. Do you have the Son? Do you have the testimony in your heart that life is in the Son and that having the Son is all you need to have eternal life? Let’s ask it in a negative way. When is the last time you told someone something such as Jesus was not enough to have eternal life because eternal life was not a free gift? I said it before I was a Christian but never once since my conversion. Raise your hand if that is true for you too. When I ask Mormons to remember the last time they told someone that full exaltation was a free gift, they say that they have never even had the thought that it was free. They have an evil heart that trusts in having some good works in order to have eternal life.  A Christian’s testimony is perfectly good and a Mormon’s testimony is perfectly bad. Your testimony changed when you became a Christian because your heart changed. A good heart knows that it is weak and sinful and Jesus is all that is needed to be with God forever. Raise your hand if you know that.


The Jewish Leaders and Sheila


If when you get to heaven there happened to be a gate, and there happened to be an angel at the gate asking each person why entrance should be granted, what would you say? Are you going to talk like those self-righteous Jewish teachers Jesus mentioned and tell about your good works, or are you going to sound something like Sheila, a simple old woman who was unsure that she was a Christian.


Angel with a smile: Why should I let you it?
Sheila: Oh no! I am a sinner. Jesus died for me. That’s it.

Isn't it obvious from her words that Sheila is a Christian?
Raise your hand if you are like Sheila.
The fruit is your testimony that you are a helpless sinner and the Son is all that a person needs to have eternal life. Agreed? 

The Scary Passage Again


Listen and watch your reactions as I read Matthew 7 again.

"Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.’" –Matthew 7:15-23

Did you feel threatened or were you glad that Jesus was enough? 
Did you at least notice having less distress?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the clear teaching of grace. He who has the son has life. It really is as simple as that.

    ReplyDelete