If you read my posts over the past weeks you would have heard a lot about the complete commitment to God that we are called to. You might end up with the impression that there is a tall order for us to fill, that there are lots of things that we are supposed to do. On one level, that’s true. The calling is very high. The requirements are high too. So high, in fact, that we have no hope at all of reaching that goal on our own efforts.
I was talking to my kids about this the other week. You have probably heard this illustration before. I stood in the middle of the room and announced “I’m going to jump to the moon now.” I jumped pretty high, but not quite to the moon. In fact, I have to admit I wasn’t in much danger of banging my head on the ceiling. Then I asked them, “Did I make it?”
“No!” they all yelled, laughing at their ridiculous dad.
“Well then, where am I standing now?” I asked.
“Right back where you started.”
I can jump all I want. I can work as hard as I can at it. I could be the best jumper in the world, good enough to need to go outside to do this demonstration. But in the end I’d be standing on the ground, not any closer to making it to the moon than before. I cannot jump to the moon. I can’t even really jump part way to the moon. My jumping makes no progress towards that goal. As much effort as I put into it I end up where I started.
This is a silly illustration, but the lesson is not silly at all. I contribute as much to my salvation as I can to reaching the moon by jumping there. It isn’t like I can jump part way and God does the rest. When it comes to jumping to the moon, or to being righteous and making myself right with God, then as I told my kids, “I got nothin’!”
I think that most of the people who go to most of the churches I am familiar with would agree with pretty much everything I’ve said so far. This idea extends further though, past our initial salvation and into our walk with Christ as his disciples. We somehow want to think that once we’re saved we can work really hard and somehow please God. Or maybe we think that if we follow all of God’s instructions he’ll love us more. Or maybe we think that God’s work depends on us, and we have to get out and save the world. Or maybe we think that if we do the right list of things we’ll be right with God. None of that is really true.
Here the issue is different from the fact that I can’t contribute to better my lot, although it is still true, “I got nothin’!” Once we are saved, if we are saved at all, there is now no condemnation for us. How is that? We are moved out of his judgment, and into his Fatherly love. The Father adopts us as his children, and he pours out his love for us. That love is unconditional, and it is limitless. There’s nothing that we can do to add to that. The emphasis isn’t that I bring nothing, but rather that God has already provided everything.
Our hearts are clean now. Not because of our merit, but because of Christ’s righteousness. Christ’s account was put on mine, and my account was put on Christ. Saying that I could somehow taint that now is saying that Christ’s righteousness is insufficient. I have nothing I can add or take away from Jesus’ righteousness, the righteousness that is now credited to me as I stand clean before God. It is sufficient, now and for all of eternity. Now and forever there is no condemnation for me. Now I am in his love, and there is no fear in that love.
Let’s not stop there, though. This rabbit hole goes deeper yet. The argument goes that perhaps there is no condemnation, but there are still commands, still works for us to do. God prepared them in advance for us to do, right? We ought to do them. But what is the role and function of those things that I do? I don’t do them out of fear–there is no fear in love, there is no condemnation for me. I don’t do it to gain his favor or love, he pours that out without limit because of who he is, not because I earn anything. And it isn’t as if God needs me to do works. God is perfectly capable of doing all that he wills to do without my help. If I wasn’t here at all God would somehow manage to get through.
The old Law, the law that pointed out our sin and inadequacy is gone. Now we are under a new “law,” but this law has a completely different meaning than the old law. The new law is the law of freedom, of love, of grace. Where the old law highlighted our death, the new law celebrates our life.
The result is fruit, but it isn’t my fruit. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, who lives in me and makes my newly clean heart into the holy of holies, the temple of the living God. Just like it wasn’t my righteousness that saved me, it is not my fruit. The fruit of the Spirit is not the fruit of trying really hard. I come with nothing to contribute. All that there is is what God brings. It flows through my life as a branch when I am attached to the vine. A branch never becomes capable of bearing fruit on its own. It can only bear fruit when it is attached to the vine.
The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (Galatians 5:22). These are not things that I can gain on my own. They can only come from His Spirit.
If we do things in our own strength, we get the results our own strength can deliver. You can’t jump to the moon. Quit trying. Our focus, if we are going to follow Christ, can’t be on the fruit. Our focus has to be on the vine. That is our source of the righteousness, the freedom, the love. It is his fruit.
When we pursue God, he meets us. He is capable of completing what he started, what he promised. Believe him, and rest in the freedom and love he brings.