Commandments and Our New Identity, Part III: Fruit Production

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I walked down our gravel drive along the fence and saw a little fruit-pod on a vine. God started me to thinking about it.

A tree grows in good soil. It produces fruit. The fruit carries the seeds. The fruit hangs over other ground. It falls, and bursts open. If the ground is receptive, another tree begins to come up. The fruit, the flesh of it, is the thing that carries and eventually nourishes the seeds as the fruit falls and time goes on.

What if in the church we were often rejecting real, full-on spiritual fruit production and trading it for a little fruit mixed with a lot of self-effort and busy-work? What if we were so infected by the way the world thinks and operates in its “Just Do It” attitude that we are missing out on the miracle of being branches dropping love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, humility, and faith into the lives of those around us – effortlessly, easily, freely?

What if our thinking is so permeated by the world’s performance-based thought system that we are afraid of actual Reality, of real Love, of real Joy? In place of depending on the Vine, we think we are the Vine and even the Gardener, and that we have to keep ourselves, manage ourselves, and cause ourselves to bear fruit, asking God for a little help now and then. We think we are independent selves who must be good, so we build Law-fences and sin-boundaries to help keep ourselves on course.

What if the plan of God was so much freer than that? What if his plan is to so bind us to himself in spirit, soul, and body that we no longer need to have Law-fences? What if his intention is to make us his total, complete bond-slaves so that we can be ultimately and finally free, not someday with Heavenly pie-in-the-sky, but here, now, productive in endless love, effortless joy, here and now?  What if we were unequivocally free from having to worry about sin because we are so taken up with the love and joy and power of the Lord Jesus Christ living in us and through us?

If we put ourselves under Law, under self-effort, trying to produce righteousness by our own striving human will (even “with God’s help”), we make Christ ineffectual in us. Romans 7 says this is the attitude which causes us to sin. We hinder or completely stop fruit production when we rely on our own strength, on rules, law-fences, and refuse to put our full-hearted reliance into the One who lives in us. Galatians says that by trying to do a single thing in our own strength, we make Christ of no effect to us, of no real-time use, saved from Hell ultimately, but living in it here and now. God “works all things after the counsel of his own will,” and “works all things together for good.” He will let legalism stir up sin in us, because that is what independent self-effort does. It cuts us off from the effectual expression of Christ-life through us. Eventually, we begin to see the truth: none of us can live the Christian life by any measure of our own steam.

Until we “bet the farm” on God’s ability to keep us, use us, and bear fruit through us, we live sub-Christian lives. “My yoke is easy, my burden light.” Are we pulling a hard yoke? Is our burden heavy? If so, we’d better check to see whose yoke we’re pulling, whose burden we’re carrying.

We’ll talk about what “betting the farm” looks like next time.

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he’s not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin’ on audiences around the world, he’s taking care of his donkey named “Trash” and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


23 Comments

  1. J.H. Friedrick

    Wow! Thanks Mr. Block. I think that Jesus was trying to get us to understand this when He told us to not be concerned with our stuff (if someone ask for your coat…) or when He addressed the end of the world/fall of Jerusalem in Luke 21 by basically saying, “It doesn’t matter when I come back, the point is that you should love me and live in me in the here and now.”

  2. Julie Silander

    Thanks – this is great. I’ve been thinking lately about seeds (ok, in explanation, we are part of the school-at-home crowd, and studying Botany this year). I was struck to learn that the seed has virtually all the nutrients needed packed inside. It doesn’t even need soil to live – just warmth, air, and water. The seed is present pre-plant, carrying the DNA of the original plant, and the source of all nutrition. Such is the Holy Spirit. Present from spiritual birth, containing the DNA of the Father, and sufficient for all we need. But our fallen nature tries to graft in that in which we (mis)place our trust. In self. In others. In the law. I spend vast amounts of energy trying to produce my own fruit through my own gardening. It’s exhausting and counter-productive. It feels like so much work to be able to come to a place of rest. Thank goodness for Jesus.

  3. mike

    Wonderful Ron, I’ll use this if you don’t mind. I heard someone say “we don’t produce fruit, we simply bear it.” Reminds me of

    It’s time now to harvest
    What little that grew
    This man they call Jesus
    Who planted the seeds
    Has come for the fruit

    And the best that I’ve got
    Isn’t nearly enough
    He’s glad for the crop
    But it’s me that He loves

  4. Susan

    “we think we are the Vine and even the Gardener”

    I have never thought of that before, but that is so true. We act like we are the gardener all the time – becoming experts at topiary. I am truly stunned – I can’t believe I’ve never seen that before..

    Excellent post.

    Susan

  5. kelli

    I love this post! It drips with piercing beauty. These two thoughts especially grabbed me…

    “What if we were unequivocally free from having to worry about sin because we are so taken up with the love and joy and power of the Lord Jesus Christ living in us and through us?”

    and this…

    “…that we are missing out on the miracle of being branches dropping love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, humility, and faith into the lives of those around us – effortlessly, easily, freely?”

  6. the joyful potter

    Yes! So eager to read Part IV …. “more about betting the farm.” And I love Mike’s quote: “we don’t produce fruit, we simply bear it.” As Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

  7. Sam

    “Betting the farm” on Jesus – love it! I’ve been reading your posts for a while now, Ron and have been growing in understanding what reliance on Christ versus self-effort looks like in my life. This journey is wonderful and I want more. Help me understand the passages in the New Testament that seem to call us to exert effort. I’m referring specifically to Philippians 2:12-13 “work out your salvation” and 2 Peter 1:3-11 “Make every effort to supplement your faith…”

  8. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Sam, I think we first need to look at this: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God…” If that Person lives in us, we cannot think it robbery to think ourselves Christ-indwelt and owned. Yet we do not live as earthly kings who act in their own self-interest. Instead, we’re to let the same mind that ruled Jesus rule us. In other words, think as Jesus did. He knew the Father in him did the works. He knew that of his own human self he could do nothing. He knew that he was here, as a man indwelt and operated by the Holy Spirit, to benefit others, even though it would cost him a comfortable earthly life, and cause crucifixion. So, because he faithed God like that, and came through crucifixion into resurrection, God has highly exalted him – name above all names.

    So, we’re to work that same life, that salvation that is Jesus, out into our lives with reverence and to the utmost. Why? How? It is God who is energizing you (energeo) to desire (thelo) and to be energized (energeo) according to his good pleasure. In other words, step out in faith that God is your divine energy.

    I think quite often translators put their own slant on things. “To will and to act” sounds vastly different than “God energizing you to desire and to be energized….”

    What he’s saying is, “Hey, the power of God is in you, so don’t be slackers in faith. Step out and expect him to live through you, to change you, to guide you.”

    The 2Peter verses – context:

    “Simon​​ Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to​​ glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”

    Ok – facts. We have the faith with the Apostles through the righteousness of God, and our Saviour, Jesus Christ. We have grace and peace through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus Christ, and god-likeness, through the knowledge of him who has called us to what? Glory and virtue. How to gain that glory and virtue? Through the great and precious promises, that by them we may be partakers of the divine nature (the only way to have glory and virtue), having escaped the corruption in the world that is through strong desires.

    This is it. Partakers of the divine nature. That is the Source of all, the righteousness of God and the Savior, Jesus Christ, a righteousness we have been given. Not merely an imputed righteousness, but an actual righteousness of being deep inside our spirits.

    “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren​​ nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

    God wants us to work that indwelling Salvation, Christ, out into our lives. So we are “to be diligent” (which some translations say “make every effort,” which is wrong). It is “spoude” which means diligence, earnestness, taking care, which means something vastly different than engaging our human effort, will-power, and striving by flesh strength. So we add all these things by faith, by reliance on the divine nature within us.

  9. joe morse

    Last Sunday my pastor spoke about the same thing. He mentioned in a passionate way that we need to be part of the vine and bare fruit and if we are separate from the vine we can dry up because we are not drawing from the vine. His charge was that we need to produce fruit in our lives and in the lives of others. We draw from Him and He uses us. It’s obtainable; it’s what He wants us to do. By serving Him this way He can put up a hedge around us and keep us safe in His plan. We fear not because of our perceived inabilities but rather have a deep down confidence in where He’s directing us. I have so much to say about this topic but looks like Ron has it covered.

  10. Africa S

    Mr. Block, this kind of reminds me of something you said a while ago, it was something like, “The hope in us explodes more and more upon the world around us and they begin to catch it.”

    It struck me because it was the introduction that lead to my realization that as beings indwelt by the Holy Spirit, when we trust in it, that Spirit of love and patience and kindness will flow through us and in fact spread to the people we encounter everyday.

    Which also reminds me of yet another quote of yours that was really profound to me and seems relevant here; “Change what we’re trusting in, and the doing follows the trust. We will manifest the life of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit in us when we trust that He is our wellspring, our Source of living water, our Life, our Love, our All in all.”

    With the vine/fruit idea, I like the mention of the fruit falling and spreading it’s seeds thus eventually planting another tree.

    I think that’s exactly what we as Christians do when we display the hope and love of God to others. For instance, I witnessed someone helping a homeless person in need at the Salvation corps I work at. Upon seeing it, my first thought wasn’t “Wow, they are really trying to be Christ-like .” Instead it was “Wow, I can really see God working here.” I could see that loving compassion- God’s loving compassion- spilling over from this woman and spreading into the other person. It even acted as a reminder to me of how important it is to hold the Spirit inside of us. So it can live through us, and for us to abide in it as the source of all that we need.

    His presence grabs hold of our hearts and then we can freely and easily act as his vessels, carrying his Spirit to people around us. I would say that abiding and trust provides an incredible kind of peace in our hearts and minds. A tranquility that comes from knowing that there’s no need for the never-ending striving or the tiring self-effort, because it’s not us who lives, but Christ living in us.

    Can’t wait for the next post!

  11. Tom Murphy

    Ron, thanks for bringing up the emphasis on ἐνεργῶν (energon)! Love the emphasis in your response to Sam on how God is the one that is empowering the working!

    Thanks, as well, for bringing up that the essence of the passage is that God has not only changed the power from which we work, but also gives us the desire (καὶ τὸ θέλειν) to work. We have a tendency to disconnect the desires from the working. As you point out, God has provided both for us, in Christ.

    It is also interesting to note that v12-13 follows v5 in which we read, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,”. Essentially, the mind of Christ is a gift (grace empowered present reality) for the Christian in Christ. It is in our Spirit-led and empowered pondering of Christ that God has ordained as the means of heart change (sanctification). Paul then lists the aspects of Christ’s personhood for our pondering in v6-11.

    I view artists in the Church as essentially a subset of the teachers from Eph 4:11-12. Where do you think is the best place for them to gain a grasp of the Scriptures from a linguistic standpoint, local church or Seminary?

    With the current project I am working on, I am considering approaching our Seminary with the idea of eventually beginning a track that helps artists to understand the text, linguistically, at the same level as a teaching pastor, but with an emphasis on communicating creatively through the arts.

    Do you know of any good schools that prepare artists at a Seminary level of academic rigor that is theologically sound and artist friendly? Thoughts?

    Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV)

    [12] Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, [13] for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

    Philippians 2:13 (mGNT)
    θεὸς γάρ ἐστιν ὁ ἐνεργῶν ἐν ὑμῖν καὶ τὸ θέλειν καὶ τὸ ἐνεργεῖν ὑπὲρ τῆς εὐδοκίας

    Philippians 2:13 (NASB)
    for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

  12. Jim Denman

    Ron-

    I think there are some good points made here but I believe some of your statements are problematic.

    You said ” Galatians says that by trying to do a single thing in our own strength, we make Christ of no effect to us”. Actually, that is not what Paul says.

    He says in Gal 5:4: Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

    Again, Pauls point is that if we are trying to be justified in God’s eyes by any other means but faith in the atoning work of the Savior, we have missed the boat.

    Another comment that gives me great concern, that I would like to note, is in reference to this statement:

    “What if his plan is to so bind us to himself in spirit, soul, and body that we no longer need to have Law-fences?”

    We need to be reminded that the Torah was put in place by God Himself and that Jesus has already established the timeline of when we won’t need it in Matthew 5…..till heaven and earth passes away.

    Paul makes the point in Romans 7 that sin is the problem, not the Torah. He says that the Torah is holy, just and good. Jesus did not come to destroy the commandments or to remove our need for them (He says so emphatically), He came to destroy sin. We have it backwards in our theologies. We teach the scriptures to be saying that it is the Torah that He ridded us of, or that we don’t need it. God forbid!

    Far from believing the day had come that God had taken away the need for law fences Paul says this at the end of Romans 7:

    Rom 7:25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

    He says that his mind is engaged and choosing to serve the law of God, not believing the day had come that he didn’t need it. Paul can’t be referring to a carnal mind or attitude here either because he tells us in the next chapter that a carnal mind is hostile toward God and that it is not subject to God’s Torah and cannot be. He goes on to say that those who are in the flesh (the ones unable to be subject to the Torah) cannot please God.

    Paul never says that the struggle mentioned in Romans 7, goes away in Romans 8. He says there is no condemnation. He goes on to make the point that the one walking in the Spirit, is subjecting himself to the commandments of God. The one who is in the flesh, will not and cannot.

    Lord bless!

  13. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jim,

    If I truly am faithing in Christ’s love within me for my wife, I do not need a command to tell me not to commit adultery for me to look at and think about. Love for my wife trumps the command, and I will do what is best for her.

    If I truly am faithing in God’s total provision for me, and his love in me, through me, for my neighbor, I do not need to be told any longer not to steal. Do not steal becomes swallowed up in love for my neighbor; love transcends the Law and makes it no longer necessary. If I love my neighbor, why would I steal from him?

    The law is not made for the righteous. We are righteous in Christ.

    The reason we fear the loss of all the law-fences is that we don’t really trust Christ within us to keep us. We think it is our job to now keep ourselves – with God ‘helping’ us. But spiritual fruit is the Spirit’s job; our job is to remain, meno, to abide by faith.

    The problem is not the Law; the real problem is our response to it. The Law is still there, in effect. But I no longer need to strive by my own effort to keep it. I have experienced the life of the Spirit coming through me, changing me, causing me to love, many times when I didn’t really want to, and I will never go back to self-effort.

    With my mind I serve the Law of God. How? By seeing that God is good, that God is love, and I want to be like him. I don’t want to have other gods, or images, or steal, hate in my heart, commit adultery. I want to love. That is the new-man drive in Romans 7, hidden underneath self-willed effort. Also, I renew my mind to the reality of who I am in him, that he has made me a new creation, holy and dearly loved. If I follow the dictates of the soul/body (the flesh) I serve the principle of sin. I am engaging in fleshly effort, spitting on the indwelling Spirit’s ability to keep me, saying Christ is not sufficient and I have to add my own humanistic effort to faithing/relying/abiding in Christ.

    The Law cannot save; it cannot justify, it cannot sanctify, it cannot glorify. Only Jesus Christ does that, for us, to us, in us, through us. For we preach Christ, and not ourselves; we preach Christ, and not our own humanistic effort.

    The struggle for the most part, I mean that struggle with a self that thinks itself bad and yet must try to be good, that deathly hamster wheel, is basically over once we step into the life of Romans 8 in a big way. We still go back occasionally to 7 when we forget who we really are in Christ. But it has been my experience that the stays there are less frequent and much shorter.

    We have to interpret the Word with itself. John says, “I write these things to you, that you may not sin.” And “He that abideth sinneth not.” If we abide, we are not sinning. If we sin, we are not abiding. It is really that simple.

  14. Jim Denman

    Ron-

    My problem with your article is when you cross a dangerous line by saying we don’t need the commandments. They are God’s definition of righteous actions. They are the mirror (that James speaks of) that we look into, to see if we are doers of the word and not hearers only. When you make a staement like” who needs the commandment….”, you are saying something that none of the biblical writers would say and you are in opposition to the very words of the Messiah you serve.

    The verse you hinted at about the law not being for the righteous has come up in our conversations before. The greek word Paul uses in 1 Timothy 1:9 means to lay against, it does not mean, made for. So his point is that the Torah is not held against a righteous man but the unrighteous.

    1Ti 1:9) understanding this, that the law is not laid down against the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers,

    The day that we decide we no longer need the commandments, is the day when anything and everything will be ok because there will be no definition as to what Godly conduct is.

    I understand what you mean, because in essence you are saying what Jeremiah 33 says: That the Spirit will write the Torah upon our hearts. This is true, but we need to continue to vererate the written word of God and look to it for affirmation that what we think is the fruit of the Spirit in our lives and Spirit led living, actually is!

    Notice how Paul qualifies the fruit of the Spirit in our lives at the end of verse 23 below:

    Gal 5:22) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

    Gal 5:23) gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

  15. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jim: Love trumps Law.

    The Messiah came to fulfill the Law – through us. But so much more than conscientious rule keeping. He came to breathe the very life of the God whose virtue and character created the Law.

    I have something so far beyond rules living inside me – Christ – that to go back to to rule-keeping would be the same as playing on stage with AKUS and trying to think about scales, chords, arpeggios, timing, and all the other technical aspects while I am supposed to be playing music.

    Doubtless, we study the Torah. I believe the Bible should be studied; it is God-breathed. The commandments tell us not only what Christ’s love looks like. They tell us who we really are in him. If we are not living a life consistent with the commandments – that is, if we are fornicating, committing adultery, getting our security, worth, meaning from our job, or wife, or money, or talent (idols), or cheating on our taxes – then we are not abiding.

    But the difference, I think, between our viewpoints is that I see an indwelling Messiah who is willing and able to love through me if I rely totally on his virtue. It involves nothing but the labor of faith to believe it, to recognize his life in me; it does not involve me exerting effort in the sense of struggling against “the old man” and trying to be the new man. Just as in conversion, when I saw my need, and Christ as the available Savior-supply, and I took him by faith as my Savior, so now in these situations I see my utter weakness to live the Christian life by my own steam, see Christ as my supply for every virtue, and rely on his life in me to produce the needed fruit. I do not introduce my own human effort at any point; I see the promise, I choose, I faithe, and I step out knowing that God will come through on what is promised.

  16. Africa S

    Mr. Block it is my understanding that the commandments are, in fact incredibly important and essential. However, instead of being looked at as this list of rules, as you have said before- they are more of promises that we will see in effect and being played out in our lives when we choose, faithe…etc, in God and his Spirit within us.

    So, basically the commandments are like indicators of a what a life being lived in unity with God as our ever-present leader, living and working through us looks like.

    For instance, with the upholding them it is more a matter of “I am loving with the love that God has provided to me through his Spirit-presence within myself, so therefore I love and worship Christ as my only God, and because I do so, no idols will come before him.” So, in that case, the commandment is the indicator.

    That is my understanding of it, and how I explain it to others. I hope that I’m on target with this.

  17. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Africa, yes. They are indicators of whether or not we are being our true selves. To be who I really am in Christ means I love my neighbor. That of necessity includes the subset, “No stealing.”

    So we are not throwing out the commands of God and saying, “Anything goes. Let’s steal and have idols and fornicate.” But just as a musician, when trained, is to take his mind off of scales, chords, timing, and transcend them by actually playing music, so the commandments are fulfilled when we transcend them through loving by faith.

  18. Jim Denman

    Ron-
    My question is why do you feel the need or the freedom to make a statement like:”who needs the commandment…..”? It seems to show a disregard for it.

    I don’t think you would say, for example; who needs the Psalms or the sermon on the mount. I believe there is an unwarranted disdain that many believers have for the Torah. We have been taught to view it negatively through a lot of misinformation and misinterpretation of what Pauls epistles are dealing with. Paul himself had a very high view of it.

  19. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jim: I never said, “Who needs the commandment….”

    What I said, exactly, was, “Who needs the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery” when he is trusting Christ within himself to love his wife as Christ loved the Church, to cause him to give himself for her? So “Do not commit adultery” is superseded by something which goes beyond the mere behavioral command.”

    Context is everything.

    You fail to connect Christ to the equation – a living, acting, trusting faith in his indwelling love and power, and see me merely as taking away the commands. I take the command off of my human self in order to replace it with something so much better: Christ, and his love which can and does express itself through me as righteousness as I abide, reliantly trust.

    So I am not saying, “Throw out the commands. No one needs them. So let’s commit adultery and steal and cheat and lie.” That is stupidity.

    What I am saying is that the very Source of righteous living lives within the believer, and it is time we began giving him his due as the King of the universe, the Love that lives within each of us.

    I do not need the command “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” I have the pure One living inside me. He is the only source of righteousness: “the Lord, our righteousness.” As I trust him, he causes me to walk in his ways. And I am never going back to a rule-based system whereby I look at all the shalt nots and ought-tos and spend all my time trying to cross every t and dot every i. My sole job is to rely on the Creator of the universe, who spoke and nothing became everything, who now lives inside me. He is worthy of our faith, of our reliance, of our total and unmitigated trust.

    It is time the church rose up in faith and exploded the world’s definition of a Christian – and the definition held by much of the church, as well. “Jesus died to pay my sin debt and now I show him how much I appreciate his sacrifice by trying to keep his commands.” That is just adding our human effort to his amazing and total sufficiency.

  20. Jim Denman

    Ron-

    I do see the connection of Christ in the equation and understand what you are trying to say, My point is really a very simple one; I don’t think we should ever make a statement that hints that we dont need a portion of God’s word, in any context. If I can say I don’t need the commandment regarding adultery, because Christ is in me, causing me to not commit adultery, I can also say I don’t need Jesus’ message from the Sermon on the Mount, the Psalms and in essence the whole of scripture. It can progress to a position where the word of God is not needed and everyone does whatever THEY think is right.

  21. Steve

    Ron,
    Do you ever think of compiling these writings into a book? This message of God working His power through us in His love is really quite rare these days and a book written from your perspective would be very welcome in our household. I’m not suggesting a tome, just a collection of daily writings like these.

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