“Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.
You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure.
I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Matthew 12:33-37 (NRSV)
“Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (…) And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”
Galatians 5:16-17, 19-23a, 24-25 (NRSV, boldface mine)
This may come as a shock and a disappointment, but …
…good deeds, church affiliation, solid theology, and careful exegesis are not, technically, fruit of the Spirit.
These things may point to the fruit of the Spirit in us (or reveal its absence). However, more often than not, the things we pride ourselves in as Christians are of the fruit of the flesh: being the “true church”, internal and external quarreling, dissensions, denominational factions– seeking to be regarded as “right” over and against being True to the Spirit in loving our neighbors. Sadly, this is what stands out about Christianity to those outside of the Church.
Do we really wonder why we as Americans currently find ourselves in a post-Christian culture, guided by a secular ethos?
It would be easy (and dishonest) to blame the plight of the American Church on anyone other than ourselves. How tempting it is to point to the ‘breakdown of the nuclear family’, and the widespread rejection of traditional views of marriage, as being evidence of the depravity of the world and their desperate need for our religious institutions. As if we, the American Church, has stood quietly by, this whole time, eager to gently lead today’s sheep into unity in the Body of Christ, and encourage a life guided by the Spirit, bearing fruit for God.
Maybe some individual congregations have been able to reliably feed and tend Christ’s sheep… (avoiding the trap of focusing on what humans do wrong to the exclusion of what Christ can make right). But I cannot find one denomination that has been able to wholly partner with Christ and affect in its system of congregations what would amount to a cataclysmic change in how human beings relate to the Spirit of God. Instead, American churches continue to ignore the root of the problem: the fracture within our own hearts. Every time we attempt to divide the body of Christ (yet again) over temporal differences , we are in actuality doing our best to avoid addressing the division still at war on the battlefield of our hearts.
Factions and rabid dissensions are not of the Spirit.
Every time we pit TULIP against BEARDS (as much fun as it is to do so when we ‘win’) we are further entrenching ourselves in our differences rather than working towards unity in Christ.
No where in the entire Bible does it say you must believe in the right doctrine or have the correct theological perspective in order to gain entrance to the kingdom of God.
The Reformers, setting forth the Five Solas (by faith, scripture, Christ, grace, and for the glory of God alone) in their critique of the Roman Catholic Church of the 16th century, neglected to identify doctrine, baptism, communion, or sexual orientation among their theological principles. And yet, Protestantism has continued to divide itself, continually, over such peripheral concerns.
It is very disconcerting to me, as a follower of Christ, to find so little unity among fellow Christians. The unity I have come across has been life-changing for me. So much so, that I desire to bring it into being wherever the Spirit might lead me. The thing is, the fruit of the flesh can tempt us all into choosing to follow a familiar spirit opposed to the Spirit. Quarreling, anger, strife, dissensions… They are among the fruit of the flesh–the sin that clings so closely (Hebrews 12:1).
We will be known by our fruit.
I think our culture knows the spirit working within most of American Christianity… They recognize it as belonging to that of their own. What hope can such a Church bring to those looking for relief from their bondage, when we ourselves are still enslaved by the same spirit of bondage?