John 15:16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. [NRSV]
“Bear fruit, fruit that will last” is the curious qualification for the “whatever” in the response “SO…the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.” I’ve spent hours and typed many paragraphs these last few days trying to explain to myself what that specific “fruit that will last” is because it’s so important to that “whatever.”
In the end I’ve discovered to bear “fruit that will last” is something far simpler and more personal and it’s my tie-in to Advent. Jesus is our gift of faith. “Bear” usually implies the power to sustain without flinching or breaking and faith is the only “fruit that will last” long enough to make “whatever” a reality in our life.
Hebrews 6:1 So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. 2 You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.
A very important concept of faith every believer has to learn is renewal is not repetition. Surely that’s the beginning of a whole new direction that leads us to “become mature in our understanding.” Maturity and understanding have their ups and downs but God has a plan for that. He’s built that plan into us with this expectation: redemption through Jesus has made possible a consistent sense of direction through the moral compass of the Holy Spirit.
Welcome to my spiritual science lesson. A compass has a small magnetic pin suspended inside it’s casing so that it’s free to move and respond to true north. In between that magnetic pin and true north lies a magnetic field that is impacted by local disturbances. Those dips and undulations can affect the compass needle’s ability to point to true north. Users of a navigational compass have charts that help them recalibrate their compass as needed to compensate for those variations in the magnetic field and keep them heading in the desired direction. Does this sound at all familiar to you?
God is true north. The Holy Spirit is the small magnetic pin. We are the casing. Faith is our compass. The inconsistent magnetic field is our world. The local disturbances are the up and down experiences of life. God’s Word is the chart that recalibrates those up and down experiences as needed to keep us heading in the desired direction. “And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.”
NLT Hebrews 12 and James 1 & 2 [NLT]
Hebrews 12:2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy [or instead of the joy] awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame…23 You have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God himself, who is the judge over all things. You have come to the spirits of the righteous ones in heaven who have now been made perfect. 24 You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which `speaks of forgiveness instead of crying out for vengeance like the blood of Abel. 25 Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking…
You have come…. x4 to the place that “speaks of forgiveness.” When we ask God to forgive our behavior His response is the unmerited favor of His Grace. Forgiveness is the foundation of our faith that becomes this specific discipline of Grace; “Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” and “mediates the new covenant between God and people.”
Hebrews urges “Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking.” The first words I heard as I listened were; “forgiveness” [what only God can do] and “discipline” [what I can do]. Then I heard a familiar echo of those words with these from James 1 and 2 – “faith” and “actions.” They’re copied below for you to read with ‘forgiveness’ substituted for the word [faith], ‘discipline’ for the word [endurance] and ‘Grace’ as the verb that replaces [actions].
James 1:3 For you know that when your forgiveness [faith] is tested, your discipline [endurance] has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your discipline [endurance] is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing…2:14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have forgiveness [faith] but don’t show it by your Grace [actions]? Can that kind of forgiveness [faith] save anyone?
This post has become a perfect example for me of these truths:
ALL the books of the Bible work together for our good. The Spirit really does link truths from different Scriptures in new and meaningful ways. Forgiveness and discipline do help explain faith and actions AND faith and actions do help explain forgiveness and discipline.
AND finally the most important truth of all: God has saved the unmerited favor of His Grace IN us. Living with the reality of that forgiveness is the discipline of Grace that turns faith into action.
[NLT] Philippians 1:27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. 28 Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. 29 For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. 30 We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.
Scripture is particularly surprising when ancient words create a bridge to everyday life. I came across one particular old Greek word in reading what John Piper had to say about Philippians 1: politeuomai. It’s an action word.
1. to be a citizen
2. to administer civil affairs, manage the state
3. to make or create a citizen
It wasn’t much of a stretch to see in “politeuomai” another more modern-day word…”polit-ics” and that became the bridge of thought for me. God does have a purpose for our daily life in this world. He’s created a place for us to practice living as “citizens of heaven, conducting [ourselves] in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.” Paul reminds us that’s the very reason we have to stand “together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News…We are in this struggle together…”
Practice can be fumbling, imperfect and often unpleasant BUT remember these two things: 1. everything depends on what we’re practicing AND 2. practice makes perfect. God has given us this world to practice being citizens. We have the “privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him” as we struggle with one another to perfect our desire to “live as citizens of heaven” in the midst of an imperfect reality.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man of faith who lived and died for these words he wrote: ”I discovered later, and I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith.”
“Predestined” is an attention getting word. The dictionary definition of predestined is “an outcome or course of events determined in advance by divine will or fate.” I’ve heard the “elevator” explanation of predestination: when you step into an elevator you trust it’s going to take you where you want to go. The “airplane” explanation is similar; you get on the plane trusting the pilot will get you safely to the planned destination. Those explanations make some sense to me. They’re based on faith not fate. Nobody gets on an elevator or in a plane saying “whatever will be, will be.”
What doesn’t make sense to me is that the God who sacrificed his own Son to remove sin’s power to destroy us would then turn around and pick and choose those who would be saved. The phrase “turn around” became my catalyst to turn these eight verses around and read them in reverse changing only the punctuation at the end of verse 14 because that’s a question I could answer.
V14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory[?]
V13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,
V12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
V11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,
V10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
V9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ,
V8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding,
V7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace,
I turned around those verses and as I read I found myself caring less about my understanding of how “predestined” relates to personal choice and more about the question I could answer. “Who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory[?] Predestination is still an elusive concept but I do know the answer to V14 is where destiny begins. The big turn around ends at the right destination too; “in him [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.
James 2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds… 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
James 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
The big debate about his book has always been verse 24: “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” James has taken a lot of flack for those words. The very human temptation is to make faith and deeds a competition of either/or but here’s how I fit that debate into my √ list of traits for the followers of Christ. I think James is addressing personality.
Personality is the fabric of our lives. The weaving of that fabric is the key here for me. The process of weaving is always the same: two distinct sets of yarns or threads [like faith and deeds] are laced together at right angles to form the strength of the cloth. It’s Christ’s righteousness, not ours, that turns those threads into something more than a loose pile of strings when he weaves both faith and deeds into the fabric of a unique personality of one of his beloved.
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”
Isaiah 12;1 In that day you will say:
“I will praise you, Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. 2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.” 3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
Today I will praise you Lord:
You are faithful even when I deserve anger:
Faithful to intervene because of need
Faithful to love even before obedience
Faithful to teach that need can lead to obedience
You are the Comforter:
When I am uncomfortable
When I am sorrowful
And finally when I am repentant
You are Salvation:
From life with no purpose
Or purpose with no life
You are the reality of life and purpose
You are the power and defender of my salvation:
You make known what seems unknowable
You defend the faith you’ve given
You draw life-giving water up from the deep wells of salvation so we can drink together.
You have become my Salvation for the sake of your own joy:
Your joy has become my shared joy.
Thanks for sharing Lord!