Digging for Truth:

January 14, 2012

          Thoughts on Evangelism

The Sower, Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

The Sower, Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

Every man and woman will be called to give an account of the life they lived. Each individual person in history is responsible for the choices they each made in life, in particular, the response to God’s call to receive forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus. But how responsible are we who believe for delivering the message? Is it possible that people I have known, and even loved, will experience hell because of something I did or because of something I didn’t say? In the great commission, Jesus has called us to be his witnesses. We are called to go into all the world and proclaim his truth. I tend to think of this calling as something like a courtroom drama: As a witness, I am called to the stand to give my testimony, and I take an oath to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Whether or not the judge, jury, media and public all believe me is up to them. I did my job and gave witness and their fate is now in their own hands. But the question that often haunts me is how reliable is the witness?

Recently, I was thinking about the fruits of the Spirit Paul lists in his letter to the Galatians, and it occurred to me that truth was not mentioned as one. I found this peculiar, and as I began to ponder I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me: “It’s because I AM the truth.” I thought about this, and I believe it goes deeper than Jesus’ statement, “I am the way, and the truth and the life…” (John 14:6). All the fruits of the Spirit are actions, things we should be doing as result of the Holy Spirit living in us and guiding us to the truth. The ebb and flow of life causes us to move in and out of different kinds of action in various degrees; sometimes we are called to love, sometimes we are called to be gentle, sometimes we are called to forbear trials. But the Truth is a constant. It just is or it isn’t. Jesus calls himself “the” truth, and he calls Satan the father of lies (John 8:44). We can choose not to accept the truth; we can choose to believe a lie, but that does not change what, or rather who, the truth is. I can believe water is dry all I want, but that doesn’t change the truth that it’s actually wet. As the scriptures proclaim, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).  And that is where the fruits of Spirit come in. If Christians were actually living by the guidance and the actions of the Holy Spirit; if we were actually doing love, peace, kindness, goodness to others on a consistent basis, would the world trust our testimony as witnesses for the Truth more? Bringing the lost into the kingdom of heaven starts with our testimony, but it doesn’t end there. We are also called to be harvesters.

I think sometimes Christians look at the wickedness of the world and rather than be witnesses of the truth, we instead choose to become the judge and jury. Out of fear of our own corruption, we place judgment on the lost and lock ourselves behind stained glass windows and Christian contemporary t-shirts and CDs. Our lives cease to give witness because they become symbols of judgment to the lost. We use the words of Jesus to justify the reaction of the people who reject us: Well, the word says the path to destruction is wide, but the way to life is narrow, and not too many choose it, but I’m sure glad I did! (Matt7:13-14). But how are we to know who will or will not be among “the few” who find their way? The Apostle Paul was so unlikely to believe in Jesus that after he dramatically found the Truth, most of the believers thought he was trying to trick them so he could persecute them (Acts 9). When Jesus declares himself as the Truth, he also states he is the only way to he Father. Could it be the metaphor of the narrow road and small gate to life simply means that Jesus is the only way? But back to fruit. 

Two chapters later (Matt 9:35-38), Jesus also declares, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few,” and then he tells his disciples to pray to God to send out more workers. This sounds like there’s a plenty big harvest that current workers in the kingdom of heaven need to be bringing in. So what is this harvest? How does it grow? And where does it come from? Think of how farmers get a harvest in the natural world. They till the ground, they plant the seed, they water the seed, God makes it grow into mature plants that produce more fruit with more seed, and in the right time they collect a bountiful harvest fit for a feast. Paul states, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are Gods fellow workers; you are God’s field…” (1 Corinthians 3:6-9).Even though a farmer in the natural can’t make seeds grow into mature plants; it still takes some work on the part of man to produce a good harvest, and when he does so, it even takes work to bring in the bounty. Our job as Christians is to do the same kind of work to bring in the lost.

First, we must till the ground. We till ground by proclaiming the word of our testimony. We speak the Truth, and we speak it boldly and confidently, though also with love and humility. The Truth is the most absolute thing in the universe. It cannot be broken, so it is the tool needed to till the fallow ground of the souls of those who are lost. John Milton says, “Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?”  Jesus is also called the Word of God (John 1). It is essential for a Christian to study the Bible and to know it, and to be in relationship with it, because the Bible is the Word of God which is Jesus, and when read with humility and with intention of communing with God, scripture becomes a source of wisdom, love and life because God is the source of all those things. So we get to know the Truth and we proclaim Him and we till the ground of the community of souls living around us. Tilling the ground is essential for making good soil for seed to grow in, consider the parable of the sower: worry, deceit, and lust for material things keep a soul’s ground fallow, “But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Matthew 13:23, italics mine). Later Paul says, “How can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news’” (Romans 10:14-15). However, if the farmer only tills, he will not get any fruit. Sowing must be done.

This brings me back to my original verse:But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). We are called to sow the seeds of the fruits of the spirit simply by doing the actions of the fruits of the spirit: We show kindness to others, we bear trials with patience and peace, we show love even to our enemies, when someone strikes out at us, we are gentle in return, we are faithful and trustworthy, we are full joy even in the midst of tragedy because our hope is a real and genuine hope, and it is this fruit that is proof that the Holy Spirit is real and he has joined himself to us. We sow the seeds of the Holy Spirit in others by living our lives in the maturity of character his influence creates in us. Just as an apple seed will grown into an apple tree under the right conditions, so kindness begets kindness, love begets love, joy begets joy. However, just as a farmer needs to do more than till the soil, only sowing random seeds rarely produces mature Christians. Consider the words of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army: “To get a man soundly saved it is not enough to put on him a pair of new breeches, to give him regular work, or even to give him a University education. These things are all outside a man, and if the inside remains unchanged you have wasted your labor.” The soul must be tilled with the Truth before the fruit of the Spirit can take root. But neither can the seeds grow without sunshine and water.

Consider the conversation Jesus had with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). He called himself the living water and declared that if we drink his water, we will never go thirsty. In our modern society, it is hard to imagine what true thirst really is, but consider how amazing a drink of cool water is on a hot and dry day of hard physical labor. Jesus offers us this refreshment to our souls. Jesus also declared that he was the light of the world (John 8:12). His light gives us understanding and it enables us to see clearly his truth verses the lies and corruption of the devil and the world and even the lies that we tell ourselves. His light exposes our sin and allows us to deal with it and get healthy. We can only live in the light of God and only drink from his springs if we live in the presence of Jesus. The only way to live in the presence of Jesus is to know him intimately and invite him into our daily lives. We must seek to have a relationship with him and choose obedience to his way. When souls tilled with Truth and rooted with seeds of the spirit see how living in obedience to God brings blessing to those who do so, they will seek to know the Giver of Life. Think of how important the combination of water and sunlight is for life on our planet! For seed to mature and bear fruit it is essential that it get the proper water and sunlight. In the natural world, farmers cannot control the rain or determine the amount of heat and light from the sun, but they can direct a watercourse within reason, and they can position certain types of plants in the best place to receive the amount of light needed for that specific plant. Likewise, we must choose to be in relationship with Jesus. God provides the light and the water, but we must choose to position ourselves take in the blessing.  

Science can teach us something of the process of photosynthesis, but it does not really help us understand the mystery of a seed becoming an abundance of fruit that feeds the needs of many, and that one of those pieces of fruit produces an abundance of seed to bring forth more fruit. So it should be for the believer and the harvest. A man’s soul hears the Truth, and his fallow ground is broken up; he feeds on the fruit of a believer, and he begins to produce the same fruit and longs for the source of it; Godly men and women share the power of God at work in their lives, they demonstrate the blessings of obedience to God; his soul is refreshed by the living water and the light of understanding comes upon him, and soon the seed that took root grows into maturity. The harvesters accept a new brother into the family of God, and he begins his own sowing and reaping for the kingdom of heaven. It seems to me that the church in our society is in somewhat of a drought. Some of us till and till and break the backs of those who long for the fruit of God, but look for it in other places because they only know a God of wrath and judgment, while others spread their seed all over, but because of fear of offending their fellow man, they never speak of the Truth who is the source of their seed. If the American church was truly living in relationship with God and becoming mature and healthy through the light of understanding and the purifying waters of life, it’s a good bet we would be a whole lot busier with the harvest.

Peter L Richardson