Today it’s my turn to give advice, or to make some newfangled application of scripture with which you don’t agree. I don’t want to do this–I prefer a pure, unadulterated exposition from scripture. I shall be brief, because this message is the most important that the Bible tells, and I want to be sure it is not drowned out in words.
Matthew 7 is a familiar message to all Christians–the sermon on the mount: if you bear good fruit you will be rewarded. In both Matthew 3 and Luke 3, John the Baptist said to the Jews, ‘bring forth fruit worthy of repentance’. Bear the fruit and you’ll be rewarded–beginnings and endings. Humans relate to this concept. They study to pass examinations, plan their vacations, and save for retirement. In the Bible the following metaphors are told to make this point; parables of the sower and talents, consider the ant thou sluggard, occupy til I come, sowing and reaping–remember Israel sowed to the wind and reaped the whirlwind?
Lots of Christians appear to understand this work-reward relationship. Take the middle aged Christian–moderately well-to-do, regular habits, stable family. He carefully avoids pitfalls that earn demerits along the way, from both man and God. Christians tend to be goal oriented. But how often have they said, ‘This is not enough". When they read the 25th chapter of Matthew and the judgment scene, they are troubled that their knowledge of the Bible message is spotty at best; they know they have not mined its treasures enough. And did they feed the hungry? Clothe the naked? Take in strangers? Visit the sick? We Christians say, OK, we’ll do that also, and add these things to our daily lives while we avoid pitfalls, we will perform acts of charity, too.
It’s important to remember that salvation is not denying ourselves now for reward later, like saving money to buy a car. Paul keeps telling us that we can’t save ourselves by our good deeds, but we don’t seem to be able to understand this. We continue to say, "I’m a Christian–I want to do something important for God". Why? For the reward, of course. The emphasis here is faulty. We can’t do anything for God. God doesn’t need our help. We Christians are not like baseball players practicing for the Big League. We’re already in the Big League. We’re like doctors–not in Medical School, but now practice medicine day by day.
When Christians come to a new relationship with God by Christ Jesus, we are a new creation–where Christ has made us free from the law of sin and death. Christ is our brother and seeks to share his reward with us. Our sins have been covered–blotted out–by his righteousness. Now we want to live a life consistent with our new relationship. This is not a work-reward relationship. The reward is ours already, unless we trample it underfoot. Paul says that by living a spiritual life he has the mind of Christ. If we are like him, we have his mind.
How can we develop and nurture this mind? Mainly in prayer. Christ prayed almost without ceasing–short prayers, long prayers. Not just petitions, but reflections in the preserve of God. I would advise you find a desert place, because today it’s difficult to talk to Him for the noise around us. To keep prayers from becoming insular and self centered, it is vital that we study His word. In the face of ‘Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and light unto my path’, we’re scriptural ignoramuses. We must not let this continue. After all, God’s word is the bedrock of the truth–the word on which our beliefs are based and where we acquire the attitude necessary to instill the mind of Christ in ourselves. When we develop the mind of Christ we we will exhibit the fruits of the spirit in our lives. Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith–these are the fruits by which we are known, not by any would-be accomplishments in life. Love becomes a top priority. We can’t do anything to help God, but He through Christ has asked us to help and to regard our fellow man each and every day. Can we do it? We can when the fruits of the spirit abound in us. I want to be known by these fruits, and I pray we’re in agreement.