This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:8)
When I was around 8, my 15-year-old uncle went around singing the lyrics to a song he really liked. I can still remember walking on the sidewalks of the open-air elementary school near my grandparents’ house that summer, feeling the dry, West Texas wind tickle across the back of my neck as my uncle belted out:
Only the good die young, bum, bum, bum. Yeah, only the good die yo-o-o-ung.
Being 8 and a hypochondriac, I took the lyrics at their literal level, and I wondered why my uncle would like a song that seemed to say that if I were good, I would certainly ensure my premature demise. I found the familiar swings on the playground and concentrated on the clear, blue sky, trying hard to forget about the tune floating somewhere in the air above us.
Only years later, hearing that song again, did it dawn on me that what the lyrics really meant was that being good was somehow like a living death. This concept of goodness is typical of a world view governed by the ruler of the dark. But God is the ruler of the Light, and everything about a life following the Light is far from the world’s concept of a living death.
Everything about the Christian life involves action. James reminds us that “. . . faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (2:17). If you truly believe in Christ as your Savior, then your walk by faith is not just a statement of feeling but a way of being. You do things for others because of what Christ did for you.
Sometimes, your greatest action as a Christian is to keep yourself from acting. In Charles Martin’s book, Wrapped in Rain, one of the main characters symbolizes this kind of Christianity. Rather than taking the revenge that is human nature to desire, Miss Ella Rain instead chooses to hold onto the Light that is the Holy Spirit in us. She warns one of her charges:
“”Tucker, I want to tell you a secret.” Miss Ella curled my hand into a fist and showed it to me.”
“”Life is a battle, but you can’t fight it with your fists. You got to fight it with your heart.””
A heart actively in the heart of Christ truly practices forgiving what seems unforgivable, giving when your first instinct is to take, and using the gifts of the Spirit to show others the truth about our loving God.
When we make Christianity a verb in our lives, surely Christ will ensure that our efforts bear fruit for His Kingdom. A life lived in the Light of Christ is so active, how could anyone really think that the “good die young?”
I am overwhelmed with joy in the LORD my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom in his wedding suit or a bride with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)
Watching a video on early church history with my life group, I was struck by one of the biographies of early church leaders. I believe it was John Wesley who was so zealous for God that he had even been to America to mission there. On the return trip home, Wesley was caught in a great storm at sea and found himself falling way short in the faith department as he faced possible death.
I wondered why someone who had enough belief to go out and share God’s word would be so quick to fall from faith (or at least blame himself for falling). Then, the documentary continued to explain the most important next step of Wesley’s faith story. The man who would go on to lay the foundations for the Methodist movement learned the difference between a salvation that is earned and one that is freely given. Wesley learned to embrace grace.
As Paul teaches in many of his letters, our salvation is not earned. We are saved from the damnation we deserve only because Jesus chose to die on the cross for our sins, make us right with God once and for all, and send the Holy Spirit to dwell in us and pull us toward the kind of living that reflects the kind of loving life Jesus lived.
When we have asked Jesus to be our Saviour and admitted our need for His offer of salvation, we are saved. Even in the face of our most immediate, physical dangers, we can take comfort in knowing that our souls are safe. We will join Jesus in heaven. We will see God. We will know that eternal place where there is no fear, no pain, no doubt.
When you release the need to earn salvation, you are free to embrace the humanness we all share. You are free to love the way that God intended us to love. You know that you cannot be proud since none of us are good enough because of anything we’ve done. We are only good enough because God made us all equally “good enough” by dying on the cross for us.
What a different experience John Wesley would have had on that scary boat ride if he already understood that his faith was enough to ensure his salvation through grace! He would not have feared his future thinking he had not yet sown enough fruit for God to be saved. Instead, he might have felt that “peace which surpasses understanding,” knowing that whatever happened, it would be God’s will.
None of us know for sure how we will react to life-and-death moments until we have actually experienced them. But all of us can practice living out our faith by doing what Jesus commanded: “‘AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ “The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”… (Mark 12:30-31).
When we truly have faith, we act out our faith through our deeds. We actively seek to shine the Light of God. We study His word. We seek relationship with Him in prayer. We seek fellowship with other believers. We do things for even strangers that we would appreciate being done to us.
I’m gonna walk by faith, an’ not by sight
‘Cause I can’t see straight in the broad daylight
I’m gonna walk by faith, an’ not by fear
‘Cause I believe in the one who brought me here
In a final day so secret that no being save ONE knows its exact date, a great scroll will unfurl, and all souls gathered will join in a celebration like no other, for their journey as mutual heirs to the most mighty kingdom of all will be complete. On that day, what every soul yearns for, to be re-united with its eternal Creator, will wonderfully come to pass. From those who committed a lifetime of fruitful living, like Paul, to the criminal who died on the cross beside Christ believing only moments before he died, every person who confessed the deity of the Son of God and accepted the gift of Grace will realize their kinship as heirs to the kingdom of heaven on that day.
This Grace provides us with an inheritance like no other. Paul writes to the Ephesians:
So that in ages to come He (God) might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (2:7-10).
In the final lesson of “Amazing Place,” pastor Rick Atchley’s series on what heaven will be like, he makes a distinction between our inheritance as heirs to the kingdom of God, which is equal to all Christians, and the kind of judgment (actually a rewards system) that will be taking place in heaven. Of course, we believers who have accepted Christ want to fulfill the promise of good works God put us on this earth to complete for Him, but Atchley’s comparison of inheritance versus judgment in heaven also gives us a very “human” incentive to do our best while we are here on earth.
First, let’s make it clear that those who have asked for the redemption bought for us with the very blood of Christ, are no longer under the yoke of judgment that cloaks a fallen world:
“He who believes in Him is not judged,” John writes; “he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3: 18). Jesus tells us, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17). Paul assures us, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
True, the book of Revelations is full of examples of the kind of ultimate defeat that will happen when God once and for all finishes the destruction of evil that was begun when Jesus died and rose again. However, the judgment that takes place for Christians at this time will be more like a reward system tallying how well we did at bearing the fruit of the Spirit. My Ryrie Study Bible explains in the footnote to the famous verse of John 3:16 that the “eternal life” promised is “a new quality of life, not an everlasting ‘this-life.'”
Part of that new quality of life is casting off the sinful nature and becoming a “new creation,” as Paul puts it. Christ admonishes us to “store up treasures in heaven” where nothing can rust or corrode what we have collected. We all inherit equal amounts of Grace, but we do not all tally equal amounts of heavenly treasure.
As one of my life group members pointed out, this way of looking at inheritance versus judgment/reward puts a different spin on some of the more perplexing parables in the Bible. When you read about the workers of the vineyard who come to work only in the last hour and yet get paid the same amount as the workers who have put in a full day, doesn’t the human nature in you think, how exactly is that fair? Well, if you consider the wages of the story the inheritance of salvation, the parable makes a different kind of sense. Surely, when it comes time to hand out the rewards for the work of that day, those who bore the most fruit will receive more of a reward than those who came in the final hour. In the same way, some who worked unfruitfully for the entire day may actually receive fewer rewards than some who made the most of the less time in the vineyard they had to sow seeds.
So, if we really will see a reward system in heaven according to how well we have used God’s gifts to store up treasures in heaven and not on earth, doesn’t it give us something to look forward to about the Day of Judgment? Instead of picturing myself cringing at every stupid and willful thing I have done in this life being shown to me on some huge type of movie-screen while everyone watches, I can look forward to seeing, hopefully, that I have managed to do some good things for God!
As a perfectionist who is pathetically seeking “A’s” in a reality that has been outside the classroom for almost two decades, the concept of getting a “well done” from the only Judge who really matters frankly gives me goose bumps. I used to imagine Christ’s second coming as a moment of awe and love so wonderful, followed by a period of having to be shown all my mistakes during life so I can “start clean” in heaven. There probably isn’t any theological reason for me to have been imagining the second coming that way. It’s just the impression I had of the way things might go, even with the grace of God that is my salvation through Christ.
Now, instead of dreading Judgment Day, I actually have something to look forward to. I also have even more reasons to strive to use my God-given talents to love, love, love while I am on this planet.
As heirs in Christ, we may get in by the skin of our belief, but let’s not spend eternity wishing we had done just a little bit more for Him while we were still here on earth. Let’s build up as much treasure in heaven as we possibly can by doing as God commanded: loving Him first and foremost and loving all others as we ourselves wish to be loved (Matthew 22: 36-40).
The Last Will and Testament of our LORD Jesus Christ is the most generous will of all time. And, if you want to become one of His heirs, all you have to do is ask Him.
You wouldn’t know it just looking at this photo, but this young tree in my backyard represents a sort of miracle.
When we had one of the bad hurricanes blow through a few years back, a full-grown version of this tree covered my back patio, bearing a fruit that I couldn’t identify, but that the guys who did my yard liked to pick and eat, so I know it was edible.
The mighty winds of the storm up-rooted my beautiful tree, so I had the guys cut it down, letting them leave the trunk in place to save everybody a lot of hassle.
Imagine my surprise when I looked out my window one day to see what looked like a tiny weed coming up by that trunk. Before long, the weed started looking more and more like my old tree. Some day, I believe the yard guys will have fruit to snack on again.
I am no credit to my ancestors. I have actually killed bamboo! So, when I looked out this cold winter at the bare branches of another tree in my backyard, I figured the cold had finally killed it.
But, Spring has come and with it, the leaves and beautiful flowers I love to see as I do dishes. It happened without my even noticing, this renewal. One day, the branches were bare. This morning, I was blessed to notice the tree had bloomed again.
Our relationship with the Maker of all things is like that. Every day, whether we realize it or not, He is ready to let us begin anew. He is working His Spirit in us to make us bloom.
The love of Christ is new for us every day. No matter how badly we mess up, He is ready to forgive. We can begin clean again.