30 Apr

They Will Know You By Your Fruit: Biblical Definitions of the Fruit of the Spirit

I’m pretty excited about my new acquisition as of last Friday!  It’s not a new truck or guitar.  It’s not a new gadget or a pet.  It’s two big, mature blueberry bushes already loaded with fruit!

Oh, you’re not impressed?  Well, you probably don’t have a wife like I do who craves fresh fruit or a little blond-haired 22mo girl who begs for “bwuebewwies.”  I’m stoked to provide them with delight from those bushes!

As you probably know, the Bible talks a lot about fruit.  I’m not talking about the actual fruit mentioned in the New Testament, such as fruit grapes, figs, and olives.  I’m talking about metaphorical fruit, spiritual fruit.

Jesus tells us that we’ll be able to discern false and true prophets by the spiritual fruit that grows out of their lives (Matthew 7:15-20).  True prophets produce godly fruit while false prophets produce ungodly fruit.  The nature of a person’s heart, according Jesus, is exposed by the fruit that comes out of it (Luke 6:43-45).  Jesus also tells us that the presence of good spiritual fruit is an indicator of spiritual life (Matthew 13:23).  In other words, being regenerated leads to fruit production.

But, perhaps the most definitive passage on spiritual fruit is found in Galatians 5:16-24,

  • But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Paul is echoing the truth that Jesus said:  a good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit (Matthew 7:18).  Therefore, those who are ruled by the flesh will produce sin, and those who are ruled by the Spirit will produce righteousness.

Which type of fruit do you see in your life?  Sinful fruit or righteous fruit?  If you claim to be a Christian, you had better be seeing increasing righteous fruit.  This fruit is proof that you have indeed been born again and been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

If you are going to determine the presence of godly fruit in your life, you first must know what these godly fruit are.  So, definitions will be helpful.  At first glance in reading Galatians 5:22-23, you may think that you already know what these words mean, but we must be careful to not let our definitions of these words be tainted with the world’s definitions.  So, I’ve provided definitions from a biblical perspective for these fruit of the Spirit:

  1. Love is strong affection for another person to the point of being equal to the affection you have for yourself and to the point that you are willing to sacrifice for that person, all of which is rooted in God’s affection for you.
  2. Joy is the state of unshakeable assurance and unmitigated delight in response to God and His covenant promises to you.
  3. Peace is the removal of hostility, worry, or anxiety, leading to tranquility with God, other human beings, and within yourself.
  4. Patience is the capacity to steadfastly bear the burdens of inconveniences, difficulties, and trials without complaining while waiting on and trusting in the providence of God.
  5. Kindness is the quality of graciously acting with love and mercy toward another human being because they are made in the image of God.
  6. Goodness is the quality of living in a way that reflects God’s righteous character.
  7. Faithfulness is the quality of trustworthily standing firm in holding to promises and commitments you have made before God and man.
  8. Gentleness is the habit of choosing to act delicately as Jesus did, even in the face of opposition, so that everyone who comes into contact with you is built up and not torn down.
  9. Self-Control is the ability to restrain yourself in all facets of life for the glory of God.

As you reflect on these definitions, are these fruit increasingly evident in your life?  What areas of your life need pruning or cut away so that energy will be put toward good fruit?  What areas are you seeing the most growth in?

May God produce much godly fruit in you to His glory and your blessing!  Oh, and may God give me many “bwuebewwies”!

25 Apr

When a Foot Resigns

Imagine with me for a moment your foot throwing a fit and refusing to help the body walk.  Perhaps it had rather be a hand or do nothing at all.  Try as the body might to get the foot to work along with the body as it has been designed to do, it will not cooperate.  Eventually, the disgruntled foot detaches itself and slinks away, dragging itself forward by its toes.

Sounds silly, doesn’t it?  But, we see similar scenarios play out in churches all the time.

There are reasons upon reasons to love the Bible.  One of them certainly has to be that God vividly illustrates spiritual truth with common stuff.  He gets down on our level and helps abstract things make sense.  One that is so clear and helpful is the metaphor of the local church as a human body.

God through Paul makes this vivid illustration in 1 Corinthians 12.  Apparently, the Corinthian church had been struggling with division and jealousy over spiritual gifts and ministry in the church.  Some weren’t pleased with the gift and subsequent ministry they had been given.  They wanted something else, something “more.”  They were ready to just give up.  Others, because of their high gifting, had begun to look down upon those who didn’t share their gifting.  They had begun to believe that they could live without the “lesser” ones.  They were ready to tell the others to get lost.

It was nothing more than a parade of pride.  The whole church was crumbling because of selfishness on both sides.  In 1 Corinthians 12, God begins to encourage that church and every church by driving them to humility and helping them see each other as essential to the health of the body.

In verses 1-13, God is seeking to humble us in three ways.

First, He begins by pointing out that even our saving faith is enabled by God through the Holy Spirit.  God writes through Paul:

  • Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

Focus in on v3, and notice closely what is being said it.  Without the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we will say that Jesus is accursed (ie, a liar and a fake), but with the Holy Spirit’s ministry in our lives, we will say that Jesus is Lord.  These two sayings—accursed and Lord—are opposites and lead to opposite destinations.  “Accursed” leads to Hell while “Lord” leads to Heaven.

We would all say “Jesus is accursed” and split Hell wide open but for the grace of God enabling us to say “Jesus is Lord.”  As Paul says, “No one CAN say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit,” (emphasis added).  It’s impossible to make such a profession of faith without the enablement of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, all who believe owe their salvation to God.  It’s not because we’re smarter or holier or more tender than other people.  It’s because God has graciously worked in our lives and enabled saving faith in us.  This truth is meant to humble us to our very foundations.  You’re not in the faith because of you.  You’re in the faith because of God!

  • Have you come to terms with giving God complete credit for your salvation?

Secondly, God humbles us by helping us understand that once He saves us and makes us a part of the church, spiritual gifts are given to us by God as He sees fit.  This truth is clear from 1 Corinthians 12:11, But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.  You have the gift you have because God decided to give that one to you.  Therefore, to question your gifting is to question the wisdom of God.  It’s to say, “God, I believe you’ve made a mistake.”  In our right mind, we wouldn’t dare utter such blasphemies, but in the midst of frustration, we often do.  We must be humbled and rest in the fact that God knows better than us in how to use us for His glory.

Furthermore, this truth is meant to burst our bubble.  Often in our pride, we think our gifts say something about us, but in reality, they speak only to God’s greatness and God’s grace.

  • Do you trust that God knows best and is able to equip the Body of Christ for maximum gain and glory?
  • Are you deflecting the glory away from yourself and toward God?

Finally, God humbles us by pointing out that spiritual gifts are given to us not just for our own gain, but for the gain of others also.  God gives varying gifts to people as He sees fit, but there’s not a variety of purposes behind those gifts.  There’s only one, and that is to edify everybody around you.  Paul says it this way in 1 Corinthians 12:7, But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  My gifts have been given to me by God to benefit you, edify you, bless you, and not to glorify me.  It’s God’s power working through me.  Honor Him!  When we realize this great truth, we are rightfully humbled and ready to be used in the body.

  • Are you using your gifts to build yourself up, or are you using them to build others up?
  • Are you using them to the maximum of your ability?

In v14-26, God is seeking to help us see each other as essential to the health of the body.

First, God wants us to see that every person in the local church is an essential part of the body regardless of gifting.  The foot is just as much a part of the body as the hand even though the foot is not a hand, (1 Cor 12:15).  The ear is just as much a part of the body as the eye even though the ear is not an eye, (1 Cor 12:16).

The same is true in the church.  The usher is just as much a part of the body as the pastor even though the usher is not a pastor.  The regular church member in the pew is just as much a part of the body as the chairman of finance even thought the regular church member in the pew is not a chairman of finance.

Paul goes on to point out in 1 Corinthians 12:17 that if we were all eyes, how could we smell?  We need some noses around here, which brings me to the point at hand.  The gifting that you have been given is essential to the body.  Even human body parts that seem useless have some sort of function behind them.  We need each one, and to lose one is to cause the body trouble.  Be very mindful of this reality if you consider leaving your local church.

  • Have you considered the impact your absence or your inactivity would have on your local church?

Second, God wants us to see that you have been placed in your church for a purpose, and to neglect that purpose is to handicap the body and to be disobedient to God.  Paul clearly says, But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired, (1 Cor 12:18).  Friend, you are not in the church you are in by chance.  It is God in His providence who superseded your placement, and what God supersedes, He has a purpose in.  Therefore, to neglect His purpose for you is disobedience.  God put you there to do a job, and when you refuse to do it or run from it, you rebel against your Lord and Master.  Serious stuff!

From the church’s point of view, however, the church is handicapped when you refuse to do what God has gifted you to do.  Picture for just a moment a person whose arm stops at the elbow.  They have no forearm or hand.  Can this person function?  Sure she can.  Will this person struggle?  Sure she will.  Things that she could do if she only had that hand, she will not be able to do.

It’s the same thing in the church.  When you hold back your gifting, you handicap the church.  The church could do more if you’d only join in and do what God has gifted you to do!

  • Are you holding back in the ministry of your gifting at your local church?
  • Do you realize that to do so is to handicap the local body?

Third, God wants us to see that we should never be so arrogant to say to a member, “Go on!  Get out of here!  We don’t need you anyways!” unless that body part is cancerous.  When somebody begins to talk about leaving our local churches, we often well up with the prideful attitude of “who needs ‘em.”  That mindset runs contrary to Paul’s here in 1 Corinthians 12:21-24a:

  • And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it…

In other words, the eye can’t say to the hand “Go on!  Get out of here!  We don’t need you anyways!”  To do so is foolish because each body part is essential.  To do so is to set the body up for handicap as I mentioned above.

So, why do we say things like this to those leaving our churches?  We say it because we’re disappointed, hurt, or feeling rejected.  We say it because we’re trying to save face when inside, we’re broken.  We say it because we might really believe that we don’t need them, but the Bible says that we are deceived.

  • Has arrogance crept into your life concerning certain individuals in your church that you think you could do without?

The only time we should say, “Go on!  Get out of here!  We don’t need you anyways!” is when that body part becomes cancerous.  When a person becomes so negative toward the church that they can’t see any good in the church, they need to go.  When a person continually stirs up strife, they need to go.  When a person leads people astray morally or theologically and will not be corrected, they need to go.  These people have become cancers, and they’ll spread throughout the entire body if they are not gotten out of there.

Finally, God wants us to see that when a part of the body is struggling, we should nurse it back to health.  Listen, church life can be difficult and frustrating.  There’ll be friendly fire and enemy fire.  People will most likely be wounded or become discouraged along the way.  These people need tender loving care.  Keeping in mind that tender loving care is not always pleasant (having a bone set is painful but is still tender loving care), we must do what it takes to get that person, that body part back to health.

Paul admonishes us to suffer with our fellow members of the body and to rejoice with them as well, (1 Cor 12:26).  That means that we help each other along.  We bandage each other up, put lots of triple antibiotic on each other, and care for one another back to health.  Remember, the body needs that injured hand.  That’s why Paul elsewhere tells us to encourage the fainthearted and to help the weak, (1 Thes 5:14).

  • Who in your congregation is struggling and needs some tender loving care so that they’ll be restored back to service?

_________________________

Hey, Mr. Foot, hang in there and be a foot to the best of God’s gifting to you for the glory of God and the common good of the body.

And, Mr. Hand, help Mr. Foot along because you need him just like he needs you.

04 Apr

The Eternal Destiny of Little Ones Who Die Before Trusting Christ

A good friend recently wrote me with a serious question:  Where does it say in the Bible that younger children are safe from Hell up to a certain age?  She, of course, is talking about the doctrine that many call “the age of accountability,” and because she’d never actually read anything about it in the Scripture herself, she was wondering if this teaching is actually in the Bible or just something she’d been told.

With a few updates, here is the basic answer I gave her, which I thought would be helpful for others as well.

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This question, of course, is a loaded one because it comes often with such deep, heart-wrenching emotion in the face of losing a little one, as one of my wife’s friends from nursing school recently experienced.  I can’t imagine a more traumatic experience than having one of your precious children to die.  My wife and I recently watched the episode of “19 Kids and Counting” where the Duggars buried their miscarried daughter, Jubilee.  I wept as I thought about having to do that with one of my own.

What you are asking about is what’s popularly known as the age of accountability.  In other words, we are talking about the age when a child becomes responsible to God for their sin.  As for the term “age” of accountability, a better term might be “moment” of accountability.  Nowhere in the Bible is an actual age given.  It’s different for every child depending on their development.

The “moment of accountability” happens when a child has the capacity to see God’s glory and embrace it.  It’s not just the capacity of moral reasoning or knowing right from wrong.  My 21-month-old daughter already has inklings of that, and my 3-year-old son definitely has this capacity.  So, it’s not about simply knowing right from wrong.  Rather it’s the capacity to see God’s glory and embrace it.

Children typically develop the ability for true abstract thinking between 8 and 12 years old.  So, for most children, the moment of accountability is somewhere in there.  Of course, on one hand, some children could develop the ability before 8-years-old, and on the other hand, those such as the developmentally-challenged never become accountable throughout the entirety of their adult lives because they never gain that ability.

We simply do not know exactly when a child becomes accountable.  Therefore, we must share the gospel with them at all ages, faithfully leading them to trust in Christ as their Savior.  In fact, after reading your question, I explicitly shared the gospel with my 6-year-old son and am praying he’ll trust Christ soon.

So, what is the answer to the eternal destination of children who die before the moment of accountability?  There are several options that have come up in history.  The Roman Catholics say that only baptized babies go to Heaven, and unbaptized ones don’t.  Some in the Reformed tradition have historically held that the elect babies go to heaven, and the nonelect babies don’t.  Some other Christians have argued that children of believing parents are covered by their parents’ faith and are allowed into heaven while children of nonbelieving parents are not allowed in.  Many evangelicals would say, especially some Baptists, that all babies go to heaven because they are born innocent before God.  All of these options fall short of biblical as best as I can understand.

If you’re looking for a prooftext on this issue, you won’t find it.  Instead you must reason from Scripture, which leads me to embrace the doctrine that all children who die before their moment of accountability will go to Heaven because God does not hold them accountable for their sin.  In Scripture, we find that John the Baptist was regenerated even in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15).  Years before that, King David said similar things about himself (Psalm 22:9-10).  David also had a son die in infancy, and upon that son’s death, David declared, I will go to him, but he will not return to me, (2 Samuel 12:23).  David, the man after God’s own heart and who would surely see Heaven, said that he would be with his son in the afterlife.  Therefore, David fully expected his infant son to be in Heaven with him.  The first two examples in John and David are special cases, but David’s son is just a normal situation.  Nevertheless, all three instances lay the foundation that at least some children who would die in infancy see Heaven.  However, there is more biblical evidence to consider, leading to the conclusion that all children who die before the moment of accountability go to Heaven.

Many years ago in a funeral sermon for a little baby, Dr. John Piper made the following biblical case for all children who die before their moment of accountability going to Heaven:

Jesus says in John 9:41 to those who were offended at his teaching and asked if he thought they were blind-he said, “If you were blind, you would not have had sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

In other words, if a person lacks the natural capacity to see the revelation of God’s will or God’s glory then that person’s sin would not remain-God would not bring the person into final judgment for not believing what he had no natural capacity to see.

The other text is Romans 1:20 where Paul is dealing with persons who have not heard the gospel and have no access to it, but who do have access to the revelation of God’s glory in nature:  Romans 1:20 “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

In other words: if a person did not have access to the revelation of God’s glory – did not have the natural capacity to see it and understand it, then Paul implies they would have an excuse at the judgment.

The point for us is that even though we human beings are under the penalty of everlasting judgment and death because of the fall of our race into sin and the sinful nature that we all have, nevertheless God only executes this judgment on those who have the natural capacity to see his glory and understand his will, and refuse to embrace it as their treasure.

Infants, I believe, do not yet have that capacity; and therefore, in God’s inscrutable way, he brings them under the forgiving blood of his Son, (Matt Perman, “What Happens to Infants Who Die?”)

I think that is a rock-solid biblical case and would agree with what Dr. Piper has said here.  All children who die before the moment of accountability go to Heaven not because they are innocent.  We know they’re not innocent because they are prone to die, which according to Romans 5:13-14 is proof of sinfulness even if sin is not accounted to them.  Furthermore, Scripture clearly declares we are sinful from birth (Psalm 51:5; Ephesians 2:3)  Rather, all children who die before the moment of accountability go to Heaven because they are not held accountable for their sin due to their incapacity to truly grasp the glory of God and the gospel.  In other words, they are simply unable to fully understand such abstract things as the glory of God and the gospel, and God in response is merciful to them.  I believe that God in His mercy imputes their sin to Jesus  and imputes Jesus’ righteousness to them apart from their faith because it is impossible for them to exercise faith.

This truth is further solidified by God’s mercy toward the children of the Israelites in Deuteronomy 1.  The Israelites rebelled against God’s command to go into the Promised Land and take it as their own, removing by force the occupants.  Only two of the adults were in favor of obeying God—Joshua and Caleb.  Moses, of course, was in favor of going in but had already been told by God in Numbers 20:12 that he would not be going into the Promised Land (Aaron died between the events of Number 20 and Deuteronomy 1).  Because Israel disobeyed God’s command, here was God’s proclamation of judgment, Not one of these men, this evil generation, shall see the good land which I swore to give your fathers, (Deuteronomy 1:35).  However, God decided to let Joshua and Caleb go in because of their faith, and then God said this decree about the little ones of Israel, Moreover, your little ones who you said would become a prey, and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it, (Deuteronomy 1:39).  The little ones were allowed to enter into the Promised Land of Canaan because they were not held accountable for the sin of Israel.  In the same way, little ones who die before they are able to grasp God’s glory and the gospel are permitted into the Promised Land of Heaven because they are not held accountable for their sin.

In conclusion, one can reason from Scripture a moment of accountability when a developing child will be held responsible before God for their sin.  Up until that moment, God does not hold them accountable for their sin because they are unable to grasp the glory of God and the gospel, and should they die, we can rest assured that every one of them will be in Heaven with Jesus.  However, this “moment” varies for every child.  Therefore, we must faithfully share the gospel with our children from very early on so that they will believe on Jesus and be saved from the wrath of God their sin deserves.