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The Green Stick Part 2

Tolstoy’s “green stick” had the secret to the universe written on it. It may have been a childish creation of his brother Nicholas, but it was serious subject, what life is about. In the previous column, I posited that Jesus provided the answer to how people could find the secret. That secret is to live for others, to live as his disciple. Jesus explained to his followers in the upper room the characteristics of such a person who would change the world. But first they would be transformed. It began with establishing a habit of communication with God through taking in his word and praying. That hardly seems new or dramatic. Granted, it’s not new, but it is rarely practiced. Too many evangelicals like me have commoditized the scripture by making it another product to be consumed. We want it in the most attractive package possible, usually a winsome and eloquent teacher.

The second characteristic Jesus presented was that disciples are fruitful, their actions define them.

Jesus told his disciples, “When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.”[1] This is consistent with two other statements Jesus made. “Just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.”[2] Jesus was clear that there is always evidence of the internal person through the external person.

The second statement was, “Go and make disciples of all the nations [peoples].”[3]

You can tell a true disciple by a consistent bearing of fruit. This brings great glory to God, because it gives people a peek at who God is through his followers. How does the watching world determine what our God is like? Yeah, you guessed it, not by doctrine, not by our aping the practices of the culture, but by our actions. Do they see us taking actions to benefit others, what we call love? Do they like to be around us because we have a deep contented spirit, or joy? Do they see us patiently standing in line at the airport? Do we treat irritating people with gentleness? When people see us walking their way, does their mouth turn up into a smile? Do they look at us and say, “Ah, here come good news?”

I know this doesn’t sound philosophical, but if you bear much fruit, then there is evidence you are a follower of Jesus and heir to eternal life. If there were no evidence in your actions, it would be time to review the bidding. Go back and check. “Did I repent of my sin, did I exercise faith in that I stepped out in obedience?” Agreement with religious ideas and facts is not faith. Faith is only real in obedience. If no obedience, then there is no faith. I like what the Scottish Writer George MacDonald says, “Instead of asking whether you believe or not, ask yourself whether this day you have done one thing because he said, ‘Do it’ or once abstained because he said, ‘Do not do it.’ It is simply absurd to say you believe, or even want to believe in him, if you do not do anything he tells you.”[4]

I am baffled by two extremes when it comes to the definition of fruitfulness. The first extreme is to refer to it as only character and countenance. This position does not connect or require actions toward others. It is held by default by those who think character is an internal possession that does not need to be acted on for validity. The other extreme is the belief that fruit bearing is only evangelism, that unless you are making another disciple, then you are not bearing fruit. This is driven by a lopsided view of the Great Commission. The power of the Gospel is the melding of character and action. Character is revealed by action. We all seem to know this, but our minds get twisted around the theological axle, and no progress is made.

A person in touch with God through submitting to his word and relating through prayer will have great power. That power is revealed in actions that Jesus metaphorically called fruit. That is the kind of person he has called us to be, and he has provided the means. Don’t you wonder what the church would be like if we heard his voice and did it?

[1] John 15:8, New Living Translation

[2] Mt. 7:20, NLT

[3] Mt. 20:19, NLT

[4] George MacDonald Creation in Christ as found in A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Servants, page 60, The Upper Room Nashville, TN 1983