Have you ever wondered how to make an apple tree? You could try this method that I recently read about. All it needs is one tree and 20 boxes of apples that weigh 20 kilograms (42 pounds) each. That’s a total of 400 kilograms (840 pounds) of apples. Any kind of tree will do as long as it is large enough.
You will also need a lot of string. Now tie each apple on to the branches of the tree one at a time. If your apples are medium sized, you will have a few more than 2,500 apples. It might take a while, but when you are done with your hard work you will have a tree covered with apples. Congratulations, you have just made an apple tree.
Have you really just made an apple tree? No! It is an illusion. It is a pretend apple tree.
This is works. It is really rather useless. It would have been better to leave the apples in the boxes and store them. It only looks like an apple tree from a distance. When you get up close you can see it isn’t.
A real apple tree doesn’t need you to do anything. It will bear fruit by itself.
In our reading this morning we are being asked to think about which kind of Christian we are. Are we a works Christian, hanging fruit on dead branches and pretending. Are we a fruits Christian without doing any work.
In Verse 19 of our reading this morning we have ‘works’. In verse 22 we have ‘fruit’.
Paul gives us a list of works: “sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.”
Paul also gives us a list of fruits: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Obviously he makes these two lists for the purposes of comparison. He wants to make it clear to us all that works are bad and fruit are good. The fruit appears on our branches in response to the life within us. It is the external evidence of our internal state. If we are truly an apple tree, our fruit will be apples. If we are filled with the spirit of God our fruit will accord with Paul’s list.
This is why Jesus was able to say in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act.”
Jesus says, “just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.”
Do you ever feel like a barren tree? No fruit. When we feel like that we often attempt to achieve in our own strength what is not growing in our hearts. We determine that we will act lovingly to that unlovable person, be kind to that annoying relative, or faithfully serve in that ministry (while grumbling to ourselves about it). We say to ourselves that we will work harder, be more disciplined, and pick ourselves up by our proverbial bootstraps and get on with it.
We try to reproduce the fruits of the spirit by works. It doesn’t work.
Now lest we think we should never work at anything ever, and it is God’s will that we should lie around all day doing nothing, listen to Paul again. He writes to the Corinthians: “I have worked harder than any of the other apostles.”
Clearly Paul thinks hard work is good. Hard work and works are not the same.
Paul explains: “yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace.” It is the work of God’s grace by his spirit in us.
It is works when you are doing it in your own strength for your own reasons. It is fruit when it appears naturally as you work hard for God at the work he has given you.
A person who has worked really hard in there life and been self-disciplined may find they are successful. What often happens to them is that they look at less successful people with an attitude of things from Paul’s list such as ‘division’. These people have ‘selfish ambition’. They feel that the less successful person should do what they have done and just work harder.
At other times we work really hard and fail. We feel envy and jealousy, we have outbursts of anger. More things from Paul’s list. It is all works. It is all born from sin. Judgement and despair are both wrong.
Have you ever known despair. Have you aver said to yourself, ‘How can it be that I’m such a horrible person? I’m a failure of a Christian. What use am I for the kingdom? Everyone is better than me.’
These are not the thoughts of a humble soul, but a self-righteous one. Should I be surprised at my own inabilities or weaknesses? My false belief that I’m not really that bad is shocked by my complete inability to change apart from the Spirit’s work. Despair is simply the other side of judgement in the currency of self-righteousness.
In the previous chapter of Galatians Paul gave an example of this. He mentions Abraham and his wife Sarah.
God told him Sarah would give him a child, but Abraham tried to make his own child because he did not understand the difference between works and fruit. Galatians 4:23 says:
“The son of the slave wife was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. But the son of the freeborn wife was born as God’s own fulfillment of his promise.”
Abraham and Sarah decided to take responsibility for fulfilling the promise given by God into her own hands. That is the works mentality. Another aspect of this mentality was how Hagar became proud when she gave birth to Abraham’s child.
The work of the Spirit always overflows in worship.
It’s then we find ourselves living lives of obedience to God. We discover that we are showing joy and patience, kindness and love, and our hearts abound with thanksgiving. These are things from Paul’s good list. We rejoice, but not in our own righteousness. We rejoice in the work of the Spirit within us.
There is no judgement for others, because we recognize all our works are simply a gift born within us. We don’t look down on others who are struggling; we just keep inviting them to Jesus. With a heart of worship, we say to all: Come behold the King! I was lost, but now I’m found. I was blind, but now I see.
The scar of prideful judgement does not spoil the glow of a worshipping countenance.
In a similar way, when faced with our failures, the Spirit prevents us from despairing thoughts and inward focus. Instead, we repent and turn again to Christ in worship.
Rather than become paralysed by our sin, we behold the work of Jesus in new ways. We mourn our sin, and we rejoice all the more in our Saviour. All our failures are absorbed in his sacrifice. With confidence, we boldly approach the throne of grace, finding mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.
This type of fruit is only born by abiding in Jesus (John 15:4-5). There’s no need to spend our labours tying fruit onto tree branches. What we long for, he freely gives. He shapes our longing by his spirit at work within us, and we overflow in worship and bear the beauty of our Creator.
Good fruit proceeds out of a mouth which overflows with love flowing from a heart filled with love for others.
The issue today is whether or not God will transform us from sinners into saints.
Will we trust him to work out his fruit in our lives. Do we think we have to work to produce works of righteousness?
Will we pursue our Christian life based on doing what we think will be successful, or will we trust God to do something that we see is too hard to do?
Will you spend all your energy tying apples on your tree, or will you trust God to bring forth spiritual fruit as you focus all of your energy on him?