There used to be a song that they’d have us sing in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School when I was a kid that went “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, they will know we are Christians by our love.” I think it was based on John 13:35, where Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The hard thing these days is that many are seeing Christians not as loving but intolerant, and lacking compassion at best and homophobic or even racist at worst. Some Christians get defensive and think that they’re being persecuted by these perceptions people have of us, but we should be careful about this because we have to remember that it’s not about us, it’s about Jesus. We must always become less so that He can become more. If we are the body of Christ, what a shame if would it be if when people look at us, they think that Jesus is exclusive, angry or even hateful?
We also need to be discerning and careful about the voices that we listen to when they are telling us what God’s opinions are. If we’re not grounded in God’s Word, reading it for ourselves (preferably daily) we may be vulnerable to false teachers, be they televangelists, celebrities, pundits or politicians.
They may claim to be fellow Christians, but are they genuinely representing Jesus, or are they trying to gain leverage or power for their own agendas by taking advantage of our desire to seek and serve the Lord?
Jesus tells us how to tell when someone is full of malarkey:
Matthew 7:15-20 You Will Know Them by Their Fruits
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
So, should we look for when it comes to this “bad fruit?” How do we know which things help us grow and which are toxic? Saint Paul does a pretty good job in his letter to the church in Galatia. Basically he tells us that if people don’t teach what Jesus taught or do what Jesus did, we’ll be able to tell:
Galatians 5:13- 22 Life by the Spirit
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law…
|The acts of the flesh are obvious:
||But the fruit of the Spirit is
|Healthy & Nutritious!
- sexual immorality
- fits of rage
- selfish ambition
- factions and envy
- and the like.
||Against such things there is no law.
And in case you’re about to tell me, “it’s easy to just go around accusing other people of hatred or selfish ambition, but take the log out of your own eye because you’re just jealous and so you’re spreading discord!”
Believe me, I get it. I’m chief among sinners. As a matter of fact (not making excuses here, but) I’ve lost my temper more times than I’d like to admit in the last year and in the midst of my feeling guilty about it, I ran across an article that said that “fits of rage” can actually be a symptom of anxiety.
Makes perfect sense. From a neurological perspective, anxiety, depression, anger and attention deficits are all influenced by our limbic system, the “lizard” (fight or flight) part of our brain. When are you most “edgy” or cranky? When you’re tired or stressed.
But Paul doesn’t tell us to just give in to our flesh, because it’s natural and normal and human. He tells us to walk in the Spirit, to ask God to live in and through us.
Our natural/instinctive reaction to injustice may be to be angry or combative. I know when I’m outraged by what I think is a travesty I don’t want to take it lying down, I want people to know that I won’t back down, that I’m right and they’re ignorant.
But that’s not Jesus’ way. He would not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick. 1 Peter 3:15 says to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” That’s not easy. Not for me, I don’t know about you.
So how can we not just use Galatians 5 to discern false prophets by their bad fruit, but when we look at ourselves in a mirror and see bad fruit in ourselves, how can we start growing GOOD fruit? Fruit of the Holy Spirit?
If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking- I’m not anything like Jesus, at best I’m more like Simon Peter, the disciple who was zealous, presumptuous and short-tempered and arrogant one minute and being reprimanded by Jesus or vehemently denying he even knew Jesus the next!
Well, if you want to learn, you must spend time with the Master. You can’t learn if you’re constantly ditching class.
Spend time reading God’s Word. Spend time in fellowship with other believers. And for Christ’s sake, spend time in prayer. The more you learn about Jesus and read or listen to His words, the more you’ll admire & appreciate Him. You’ll also discover that there’s a difference between just saying you believe in Him and calling yourself a “Christian” and really following Him. Meanwhile, He’ll be be working on your heart, your mind and your character and spirit.
One last way to think about this is a secular (maybe even bordering on “New Age” one). There’s a popular idea out there in the business and self-help world called the “Law of Attraction.” Basically you get back what you put out. What goes around comes around. It’s not really new age because Jesus taught this Himself in the “golden rule,” do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
Would you rather attract hatred, anger, jealousy and selfishness? Or peace, patience and kindness? Some people sure seem to thrive on “drama” and conflict and power-struggles, don’t they?
Back in the 1970’s and 80’s Educational Psychologist William Glasser talked about what he called “connecting habits” and “controlling habits.” More recently Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck has been talking about “Growth mindset” and “Fixed Mindset.” Each of these sets of opposites contrast behaviors that are basically self-centered and defensive and behaviors that build community and encourage others altruistically.
Guess which behaviors the psychologists consider positive and effective and which they consider negative and ineffective? Go ahead, guess. I’ll wait.
Believe me, I know it isn’t easy, I louse this up all the time. Who doesn’t like orgies, right? Just kidding- what I mean is, my first inclination is to be reactionary, and impulsively try to put people in their place when I think they’re wrong and I’m right. Gentleness? Self-control? Not in my nature.
That’s the point. You, me, all of us need to ask Jesus to give us His Holy Spirit to make us more like Him and “produce good fruit.” Let’s turn this world into a farmer’s market.
Dear Jesus- Help! As Jimmy Buffet once sang, “we need more fruitcakes in this world and less bakers!” In Your name we pray- Amen.