And the heaven that happens later is good. But it’s not just a waiting game.
Eugene Peterson and his wife Jan were visiting a monastery in New Mexico. They walked from the prayer house up to the dining hall and the path went through a cemetery. One of the graves was open with soil around it. Jan asked one of the monks, “Oh, did one of the brothers just die?” “No,” he replied, “that is for the next one.” They left a permanent reminder that one of them would be “the next one.”
I like that because it reminds us that death comes for us all, but also that we are called to partnership in something great on this side of the soil. As I heard it once, we also believe in life before life after death.
This week I began a new string of messages at Westminster on the “fruit of the Spirit.” I also launched “audio podcasting” meaning that you can click here to hear the weekly Sunday morning messages.
But what is the “fruit of the Spirit”?
The Apostle Paul instructs a young church in Galatia about how to live as believers. Since they aren’t bound by many of their former customs, they need moral guidance. They need to know how to live with this new found freedom. (Something they’re flunking at.)
He uses good metaphors, like “fruit.” He says they (we) need to walk/live by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not only God himself, but his “awakening power” (to use Karl Barth’s term).
Paul lists 9 fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness (also translated as generosity), gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.
These are signs of our growing, maturing character as believers. Signs of God-At-Work in an Ear-Open-Leg-Moving Pupil.
There are a few vital things to keep in mind (and I thank Tim Keller for some of his wisdom on this one). The whole “fruit of the Spirit” metaphor assumes a few things:
First, you need to belong to Jesus.
Lip service doesn’t cut it. Harold Kusher says it like this: “To believe that God exists the way you believe that the South Pole exists, though you have never seen either one… is not a religious stance. A God who exists but does not matter… might as well not exist. The issue is what kind of people we become when we attach ourselves to God.” In Christianity that “attachment” is to God in Jesus.
Second, you need to crucify the sinful nature.
You know what it is. It’s hard work, but you have to get on your knees and try every day.
Third, You need to keep in step with the Spirit.
It’s not all up to God; we’re partners in this. (If it was totally out of our hands, why is “self control” on the list?) The fruit are also the rumble strips that keep us on the right road when we’re tempted to drift off course.
We want to grow. We want to train ourselves to be more like Jesus. Fruit. We want to build steadfast character for the ups and downs of life. Fruit. We want to be signs of the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Life before life after death. Fruit.
It’s a divine partnership. God isn’t floating above the clouds. The clouds are below us and we’re all together on the street.
In a world that is both bruised and bruising, hungry for light and yet unable to cull it’s appetite for darkness, in desperation for beauty and a flashing multi-coloured sign from God, there is in Jesus a life-changing invitation to make the invisible visible. To bring the beauty and brilliance of the galaxies to the grind of our world, and to our own hearts as well.
But how do you know? How do you know your partnership with God is pleasing? Is working?
Just how you know an apple tree is an apple tree because it has apples hanging off of it, you know you are a disciple when your heart clings to a man with nail marks in his hands and when your days are ornamented with these fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
The wordsmith Max Lucado cuts to the chase on this one: “Grace is God as heart surgeon cracking open your chest, removing your heart, poisoned as it is with pride and pain, and replacing it with his own. His dream isn’t just to get you into heaven, but heaven into you.”
This “fruit of the Spirit” journey will be a good one. Let’s grow.