Fruitful Discipleship and Invisible Faith
One of the great tensions in Christianity is the tension between our thoughts and our behaviors, often characterized as “faith vs. works”. Both the Apostle Paul and St. James write passionately about this essential tension in our Scriptures, taking what appear to be opposite positions. Both men, however, are asking the same basic question: “How do we know if we have been changed?”
The question is ultimately one of fruitfulness: is my life bearing the fruit of the Spirit of God? Towards the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He tells us “You shall know them by their fruits” (Mt. 7:20), suggesting that a life of faith is marked by productivity that is pleasing to God. Paul identifies nine fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5, setting the bar quite high (especially when one reads them in Greek rather than English). And rightly so- a life of faith should expect lofty outcomes and should ask meaningful commitments of us. After all, the grace and blessings we acknowledge as free gifts from God are beyond anything we could possibly accomplish ourselves.
The challenge, though, is to use these fruits as aspirational goals we commit to live into without either the shame of falling short or the arrogance of being competent in comparison with others. We hold in tension the desire God has for our continual improvement and the acceptance God offers for our present state. As the old saw goes, “God loves us exactly as we are, and way too much to let us stay that way”.
So how, then, shall we cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in our lives? Where can we look for deep teaching on what these outcomes of faithful discipleship are? One of the most diverse collections of teachings Jesus offers us is His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), which we find echoes of in the other three gospels. Matthew brings together a vast array of teachings and maxims, many of which have become so ingrained in our culture we have forgotten they were the words of Jesus.
This Lent, we will be doing a new thing; the gathered body for worship will vote on selections from the Sermon on the Mount to have broken open in the sermon. Each Sunday, all who join us for worship will receive a ballot for the following Sunday’s possible Scriptures, sorted into categories based on Paul’s fruits of the Spirit. This way, we all can read together and consider the entire text of Jesus’ sermon, while digging deeper into the texts that are particularly challenging (or exciting) for our congregation.
All the while, we will be asking ourselves, “what does transformation in Christ look like?” If we are committed to following Jesus and trusting God, what kinds of fruits do we expect our lives to bear? And how can we bear them not as proof of our own goodness and worthiness, but as expressions of our intimacy with and gratitude for our God of boundless love? Looking forward to learning with you!
In Peace and With Love,