Martyn Lloyd-Jones, pastor at Westminster Chapel in London from the 1930s to the 1960s, once contrasted two different approaches to the Christian life by comparing them to the differences between an adorned Christmas tree and a real, living tree. One view of the Christian life looks at what a Christian should be, and then says that a Christian should try to put those things in his life. In essence, his words might be summed up in this way:
A Christian is loving, so he should strive to be more loving.
A Christian is joyful, so he must work to have more joy.
A Christian is generous, so he needs to try his hand at being more generous.
Lloyd-Jones uses this comparison to illustrate a healthy, thriving Christian life. Nothing on the Christmas tree actually grows there; it has artificial adornments, and someone hung them there. However, the fruit on the real tree grows because it is a reflection of what the tree is on the inside. How do you know you are staring at an apple tree? It grows apples. No one has to hang them there; they simply grow on a healthy tree.
Today’s readings help us understand the second, more organic approach to the Christian life. Rather than trying to add virtues that we don’t have within us, the Christian dwells deeply in Christ and sees virtue grow in his life as a result of the Spirit’s work within him.
Speaking to His disciples the night before His death, Jesus wanted to reassure them that He would continually be at work in them, even after He was no longer physically with them. When He told them, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener,” He was promising that He would be the source of their life, joy, and growth, and that the Father would work in their lives so that they would constantly be in the best position to grow into His likeness (John 15:1).
Many Christians refer to the list of virtues in Galatians 5 as “the fruits of the Spirit,” but that isn’t what the text says. Read it again. It says, “but the fruit of the Spirit” (vv.22–23, emphasis mine). True Christian virtue—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—rises from within and is the work of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t a list of areas of your life to work on. It’s a catalogue of what arises in your life when you are walking by the Spirit and not gratifying the desires of your flesh.
Jesus left His disciples, both those listening at the time and those who would believe because of their preaching, with the indispensable ingredient for spiritual growth. He told them, “Remain in me, and I in you” (John 15:4). Jesus wants us to dwell deeply in Him, to fellowship with Him, and to find our life in Him. He wants His Word to remain in our minds and our hearts, and for us to continually draw near to Him in prayer. As we abide in Him, He abides in us, and His life works itself deeply into ours. We will not have to hang virtues on our lives so that we will look like Christian men; those virtues will be there because Jesus is in us.
Written by Scott Slayton