What makes a Christian?

What is the difference between a Christian and someone who has yet to receive Jesus? The difference can be seen through what empowers their life: ‘Life’ or ‘death’. Our lives are an arena where these two sources compete to rule and bear fruit in our lives.

… when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions … were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death.

Romans 7:5

Those who have yet to receive the ‘life’ of Jesus are in the realm of the flesh. The tragedy is to see people doing their best, yet however well intentioned, they succumb to their passions, fail to love unconditionally and bare fruit for ‘death’. Likewise, we who have the life of Christ stumble when we choose to feed our passions and bear that same fruit.

So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.

Romans 7:4

We escape the power of ‘death’ through identifying with Jesus’ death on the cross; by renouncing allegiance to our sinful passions and receiving his ‘life’ as we identify with his resurrection. Having received his ‘life’ we belong to Jesus and can bear his fruit of love. Fruit must have a source, and only the power of Jesus who is love, can be the source of his fruit.

Glory in fruitfulness

Fruitfulness is the first of three avenues Jesus says bring glory. He explains how-

Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. [John 12:24]

What does fruitfulness look like?  The fruitfulness Paul lifts up is the fruit of the Spirit; a love characterised by joy, peace, patience, kindness, … (Galatians 5:22-23 and 1 Corinthians 13:4-7) This is no surprise. Paul writes, “And now these three remain- faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Love is a gift that we receive free of charge through God’s grace. It is a gift we pass on to others when we bring a hopeful joy, when we are patient and kind with those expecting the worst. It is a vibrant, generous life just like Jesus’.

Why does love require us to ‘fall to the ground and die’? Our culture demands that we love ourselves first, and then from a secure base, love others. Dying is not loving ourselves!

Fruitfulness is God’s love expressed through us. If I first love myself, then my love originates in me. Until my ego dies I get in the way of God’s love through self-protection, selfish ambition or vain conceit. Ego love builds barriers leaving me alone.

God’s love is risky. In taking the risk to love we learn to depend on his love, protection and resources and so our lives bring him glory.

Use frustration for growth

We love to measure the fruitfulness of a person’s life by listing a string of achievements. When Paul talks of the fruit of the Spirit in a person’s life he speaks of qualities that though recognisable are challenging to measure.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal5:23-24NIV)

One of the consequences of measuring fruitfulness in terms of achievement is that we see the obstacles to an achievement as obstacles to fruitfulness for God. If my ministry is diminished through events or people beyond my control I become frustrated that I cannot achieve for God what I would desire. This road can lead to helplessness and self pity or to drivenness and abuse.

Yet these very obstacles are the backdrop through which a deeper fruitfulness of character can be developed. If I take note of my frustration I can use it as an indicator of my need for God. I call out for His intervention against the cause of frustration and for my transformation so that I could demonstrate love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, and the like when the presence of the obstacle is goading me to behave in the opposite way.

Frustration is the anvil on which true fruitfulness is forged.