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The sap and the fruit

by Jacob Ninan

Jesus said that we can know false prophets by their fruit (Mt.7:15,16). Fruit is something that can be seen externally. Since we cannot know the thoughts and motives of men's hearts, it is only by looking at the fruit that we can understand whether the tree is good or bad. We have to wait for God to make the fruit manifest before we can come to any conclusion about other people (1Co.4:5).

But fruit is the result of the sap which was flowing in the branches for a long time and which carried all the nourishment necessary for the fruit. In other words, it was the hidden thoughts and intentions of a man's heart which finally produced an action or a word that everyone could notice.

God tells us to watch over our heart with all diligence, because that is the source point for all the words and actions of our life (Pr.4:23;Mt.15:19). Therefore it is not the fruit that we have to look at in our own lives, but what goes on inside our hearts.

All who are concerned only about the rightness of their words or actions and not about their hearts have not entered into the new covenant. They may be at best, old covenant people who may be even blameless according to the external law. But they live before the eyes of the people for their honour, and have not understood living before God. Jesus came with a new covenant that promised something that the old covenant could not do - the law of God would be written inside us (Ro.8:3,4;He.8:10).

There are two ways in which we can live - according to the law of commandments, or according to the law of the Spirit of life (Ep.2:15;Ro.8:2). In the first way, we try to keep the law because of fear of punishment or desire for reward. In the second way, we keep the laws of God because we delight in them. In other words, they have become OUR laws, a part of our own life.

The Old Testament life was based on rules and regulations on what one was allowed and not allowed to do. The Pharisees made more and more rules as they confronted different situations. This is the same approach that people take who live according to the law of commandments. The clever ones expand the rules in their minds with sections and sub-sections, from what they read and hear, and from observing godly men. Others ask whether such and such things are allowed or not. They also compare their rules with the rules of other Christian groups.

The one who is freed from the law (Ro.7:6), is not without law but under the law of Christ (1Co.9:21). Christ did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Mt.5:17). Jesus brought out the real requirements of the law in that it was necessary to fulfill the law inside the heart and not merely externally as was required under the Old Testament (Mt.5:21,22,27,28). He came to free us from the bondage of trying to keep the law as an obligation. Now we can keep the law of God not because we have to, but because we want to. Our attention now shifts from trying to do and say the right things - the external actions (the fruit) - to having things right in our heart. This is the realm of thoughts, attitudes and motives - the inner life. The Old Testament law relating to the external actions becomes irrelevant to us, because our life is being judged at the level of the sap itself, before the fruit comes forth. Taking up our cross and denying ourselves goes on secretly inside. We judge ourselves there concerning our secret thoughts, attitudes, values and motives.

For example, we may see that worldliness is a matter of the attitude and not in what we wear or what we buy, etc. We recognise that we are becoming worldly when the world becomes valuable to us in our hearts. When the pull of the world becomes strong - when we seek to impress others with our cleverness, looks, wealth, abilities or achievements, or when we seek to enjoy more and more of this world's pleasures, or when our life is influenced by what others may think of us - we can recognise that we are becoming worldly. When we live at this level, we do not ask whether this or that dress is worldly, but rather why we want to wear it.

It is impossible to live this new covenant life without leaning on the Holy Spirit. He is the lamp of the Lord searching the deepest parts of our life (Pr.20:27). He tells us when our heart tends to go to the right or to the left (Is.30:21). He gives us liberty from the bondage of rules and regulations (2Co.3:17). This can work in two ways. In some cases, the Spirit does not permit us to do things that we see other Christians do. And in other cases we have liberty to do things that others may consider wrong. It is a matter of our attitudes and motives about which the Holy Spirit can bear witness in our hearts.

It can be easily seen that such a life is impossible if we are still bothered by the opinions of men (Jn.5:44;Ga.1:10). It is the desire to be understood and appreciated by men that prevents most people from coming into such a life in the Spirit.

But if we setle this one issue in our hearts, we can enter into the liberty of the sons of God and know God and His ways increasingly.

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