Fruit of Faithfulness

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Romans 5:3-4

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

Both James and Paul experienced the same process in the Christian life–they saw the same pattern emerge–and then wrote about it. Life brings us trials and suffering. If we let them, they produce in us a kind of perseverance, a relentlessness, an endurance. And, over time, this establishes maturity in our character. Those who are mature in their character never seem to run out of hope.

What is happening when we have been long-suffering in our faithfulness and still aren’t seeing fruit from it?

When ongoing faithfulness doesn’t produce outward fruit, it is producing inner formation

If you aren’t seeing the fruit of your faithfulness outwardly, it might be because it is growing on the inside. Babies develop on the inside first before they are introduced to the world. Maybe what God is birthing in you has to start on the inside first.

Uneven

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

Spring has sprung. Flowers are blooming and trees are budding. The dead of winter is giving way to the new green life of spring. One thing that is true of plants that is also true of our life with Christ is that growth is progressive but uneven.

Sometimes we expect that if a person is mature in one area of life, they are mature in all areas of life, but this just isn’t how maturity works. As we grow in Christ, we tend to grow in fits and starts. We grow in pockets. One pocket of our life in Jesus can be really well developed while other pockets are left under-developed. Growth is uneven.

In Matthew 12:44, Jesus describes our inner life like a house. Just like an actual house, there can be some rooms that are clean and in order and other rooms that are moldy and messy, full of asbestos dust and toxins.

We see this all the time at our church as we pray for people. People with certain parts of their life fully surrendered to the Lord also have parts of their life that are still in bondage to the enemy. Though the house belongs to the Holy Spirit (He has the title and deed – 1 Cor. 6:19-20) and many rooms are clean, we’ll still hit pockets of strongholds that need cleaning and deliverance.

Too often the church has bought into the modern worldview comparing humans to machines. But according to the Bible, we are less like machines and more like plants. We need cultivated. And as we grow, we grow unevenly. This is why hunger for the Lord is so important. Hungering for more of God in our lives keeps us praying the prayer of Psalm 139:23-24. It invites us to ask the Lord to expose the dark rooms of our lives to the blinding white light of Christ. Plants need light.

Jesus said it this way:

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

John 3:19-21

Is it time for some spring cleaning in your life? Ask the Lord if there are any unsurrendered pockets of your life with Christ. Ask Him to search you and reveal any inner rooms that are dark and moldy. Ask Christ to bring His blinding white light to expose any offensive way in you and to lead you in the way everlasting.

Maturity in Christ

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food…

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. You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.

Hebrews 5:12; 6:1-3 (New Living Translation)

At some point in the Christian life, one must move past the basic teachings of the faith in order to mature. The writer of Hebrews tells us that there are meatier lessons for us to learn if we could only move past the foundations of the faith. So much of the church in America is still stuck on the basics and this has stagnated its spiritual maturity.

So why haven’t we moved on to the deeper things of God?

I think it is because we’ve lost trust in God’s revelation, His word. Instead, we have made our reason and experience our primary authority. Our rational understanding can only take us so far. We can only “make sense” of so much, then we reach our limit. The only way to go deeper is to trust that what God has revealed in His word is wiser than human wisdom. Trusting God’s revelation takes us further into the mind of Christ than simply trusting our own understanding.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is one way to think about the four main sources of truth we use as we process our faith. Scripture is the first and primary authority for faith and practice. Picture a pyramid with scripture at the very top point. Experience, Reason, and Tradition are the other three (the three points at the bottom of the pyramid). These three are used by God to help us bring greater understanding, but they never supersede God’s revelation in scripture. God’s wisdom is different and better than human wisdom.

When people get stuck on the basics of the faith, they start arguing about silly theological minutia. Because they haven’t moved on to maturity in their relationship with the Lord, they participate in a kind of imitation of maturity, a counterfeit maturity, by arguing about things that don’t matter. Paul warned Timothy about this. He said, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels” (2 Timothy 2:23). Paul warned Titus of the same thing only with stronger language.

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.

Titus 3:9-10

It’s one thing to raise questions because you are curious and want to learn. This kind of person has a posture of teachability. But there is another kind of posture that is obstinate. This person raises questions not because they want to learn but because they want to raise doubts, look smart, and feel important. If too much of this is in a church community, the church is never allowed to move beyond the basics and into the deeper things of God. Like the writer of Hebrews says, by this time, a person with this much theological knowledge should be a teacher and, instead, their lack of spiritual maturity still has them drinking milk.

Spiritual maturity isn’t about the acquisition of knowledge but about intimacy with the Lord the application of revelation. It’s less about how much one has “figured out” and more about how much one has surrendered their mind, will, and emotions to the Lord. It’s less about theology and more about trust. And trust will take you much further than your reason and understanding. Reason can only take us so far, then we must trust God’s revelation of Himself to us. And the embrace of revelation comes from intimate time with the Lord, time in prayer, time reading God’s word, time listening to the promptings of the Spirit, and obedience to God’s direction.

Hearing Clearly

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

John 3:8

A common misconception is that as we grow in our ability to hear the Lord speak to us, He speaks louder. There is definitely a learning curve when it comes to hearing the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. It takes time and it takes risk to step out in faith when we believe He is telling us to do something or say something. But as we grow in the discipline of hearing His voice, it’s not so much that He gets louder but clearer.

What I mean is that the volume doesn’t always get turned up. It’s more that the other thoughts in our head start to carry noticeably less weight. It starts to become more clear when it is the Holy Spirit and when it is our own thoughts.

In fact, growing in our maturity doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit speaks louder but that we will obey even when He speaks softer. Maturity is when we will obey even the most gentle impression from the Spirit without needing a loud, booming thought interrupting our own thoughts. We become like a highly sensitive weather vane, easily moved and directed by the slightest breeze of the Spirit.

This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

Acts 8:27-29

When we think about a child listening to the direction of a parent, the same principles apply. If a parent has to repeat the directions loudly, multiple times, it means the child’s obedience is lacking. Yet, if the child responds quickly with a simple and soft request from the parent, it is clear that child has developed the discipline of obedience (and likely has a good, loving relationship with their parent). The child doesn’t need the parent to be loud. Even through the noise of a crowded room, that child can clearly discern the voice of their parent making the request. It’s not about volume but clarity.

Who We’re Becoming

“All of us experience ‘dysphoria’ between who we are and who God created us to be. The answer to resolving this dysphoria cannot be found by looking within yourself or to others for approval; it can only be found by uniting yourself to Christ.”

Becket Cook (author of A Change of Affection: A Gay Man’s Incredible Story of Redemption)

Becket Cook had a radical conversion to Christ. You can read more of his own story here. I’ll give you just a little bit of it in his own words. Cook writes:

With a highly successful career as a production designer in the fashion world, I lived as a fully engaged gay man in Hollywood. I had many boyfriends over the years; attended Pride Parades in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York; and marched in innumerable rallies for gay-marriage equality. My identity as a gay man was immutable, or so I thought.

But in 2009 I experienced something extraordinary: I had a radical encounter with Jesus Christ while attending an evangelical church in Hollywood for the first time (I was invited by a stranger I met at a coffee shop the week before). I walked into the church a gay atheist and walked out two hours later a born-again Christian, in love with Jesus. I was stunned by this reversal. Since then, I no longer identify as gay but rather choose to be celibate because I believe God’s plan and purpose—revealed in the Bible—is authoritative, true, and good. 

Surrendering my sexuality hasn’t been easy. I still struggle with vestiges of same-sex attraction, but denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Jesus is an honor. Any struggles I experience pale in comparison to the joy of a personal relationship with the one who created me and gives my life meaning. My identity is no longer in my sexuality; it’s in Jesus. 

Becket Cook from “Why Hollywood Praises Elliot Page (and Blacklists Me)”

What struck me about Cook’s life-story was how we can all relate to it. We all experience a gap between who we were created to be and who we are now. As followers of Christ, we all feel that gap at various times in various ways. The answer is not to “look within yourself” to find the answer to this gap but to look to Christ and find our identity in Him. The answer is not to look to others for approval or, worse, to demand that others approve. The answer is to surrender yet again to Jesus.

I have found that growth in the Christian life feels like two of yourselves running around a track. The version of yourself out in front is who you were created to be in Christ. The one behind is who you are today in your daily actions. There are moments where your present self seems to catch up to who you were created to be. That gap gets smaller and smaller. And just as you think you are about to catch yourself on the straightaway, Jesus has you round the turn. When you look up from the turn you realize the gap is now even larger than it was before. What just happened?

This moment feels like failure, but it is actually a step of growth. You’ve entered a new chapter. You’ve turned a page. You are now mature enough to handle Jesus showing you another layer that needs to mature. He couldn’t show it to you all at once. If He showed you the full distance between both versions of yourself, it would be crushing. Instead, He lets us grow in one area and in one season. He lets us approach who we were created to be. Then, as the gap shrinks, He reveals a new layer, a new chapter of growth that must happen for us to become who we were meant to be.

If we aren’t aware of the nature of this process, we might get discouraged. We might throw our hands up and abandon our pursuit of who we were created to be in Christ. We might stop running our race, sit down, and start to “look within” to find ourselves. This, unfortunately, is when the enemy pounces on us with deception and confusion. This is when people get all tangled up in false identities, thinking they are something they are not.

It is a truly humbling experience to grow and grow and grow only to have God reveal an area that is still immature, still unchanged by the character of Christ. But even in the humbling, the Holy Spirit is transforming us from the inside out. We will one day catch ourselves on that track. But it won’t be until we are perfectly glorified in eternity. Until then, our job is to keep running the race marked out for us. Every time the gap that was closing suddenly widens, we need not be discouraged. We need, instead, to see it as a new chapter, a new invitation to become all that God has intended us to be.

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:10-14

Grow Up In Your Salvation

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

1 Peter 2:1-3

Getting a taste of the goodness of the Lord causes us to crave more spiritual food. This process of going between hunger and satisfaction is something we physically experience through out the day. We eat and then we get hungry for more. This same dynamic happens spiritually.

And we must continue to feed our souls the spiritual food that it needs because salvation is only the beginning. We are called to “grow up” in our salvation. Maturity was never meant to be an optional part of the Christian life. Salvation is not the finish line but the starting line in our development into a person who looks and acts more like Jesus.

This discipleship, this development and growth in our spiritual life, is vitally important because we were born into a war. We are living in enemy territory and we’ve been commissioned to take ground for the Kingdom of God. Peter goes on to say:

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 

1 Peter 2:11

Growing up in our salvation not only means we grow closer to Jesus, but it also means we become more equipped for the battles we face. We get better and better at recognizing the vulnerabilities in our own heart and our own tendencies toward temptation. We get better at recognizing the schemes of the enemy and how he tries to exploit our weaknesses. We train in warfare, learning not only how to defend ourselves but also how to advance and take back ground for the Kingdom of God.

If we never pursue maturity in Christ, we leave ourselves vulnerable, like a newborn baby who never grows up. Instead, we must “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…”(Hebrews 12:1).