Most of us have a tree in our living room this time of year. Whether “real” or “fake” the tree is decorated with ornaments and other festive items to celebrate the Christmas season.
The trees also help illustrate an essential but often overlooked truth of the Christian life: ornaments of grace are not hung on the tree of your Christianity but they are grown from it.
Let me give you an example. Meet John. John is member in a local church. However, he and his wife have been arguing lately. John has been blowing up at her and then ignoring her. The cycles are getting more and more frequent and intense. Finally John’s wife calls a pastor and counseling begins.
John is outwardly contrite. He knows it is wrong to yell at his wife and then ignore her. He can quote the Bible verses about loving his wife (Eph. 5.25) and anger (Gal. 5.20). He knows he needs to make some changes.
So what does he do?
He goes home apologies to his wife, gets up early the next morning to read his Bible, then he prays, setting off an organized period of intentional spiritual discipline.
Sounds good right?
Fast-forward 30 days. John is visiting again with the pastor. He is upset with his wife and what appears to be a bunch of work that didn’t pay off. He has grinded it out on the spiritual treadmill for the last month only to find himself back in the same chair with the same problems.
What’s the problem?
In short, John was decorating the tree rather than growing fruit. Anyone can decorate a tree but only the Spirit of God can produce fruit (Gal. 5.16-25). Anyone can make a plan and sweat through some spiritual checklists but it takes true grace wrought in the heart of the believer to produce gospel fruit.
Switching metaphors a bit, imagine if you had an apple tree in your yard. You bought it, planted it, watered it and are excited to get some apples. In fact your excitement leads you to rush past the waiting period of the apple actually growing. You run down to the market and pick up a dozen apples and then attach them to the tree with fishing wire. Then you run in the house and show your wife and kids, “Look, I grew apples!!”
Of course you didn’t grow apples, you hung apples. There is a difference.
Too many Christians hang apples, they decorate the tree. We forget the fruit of the Spirit is actually the fruit of the Spirit! Yes we work, strive, and even sweat but it is nevertheless God who is working in the life of the believer (Phil. 2.12-13). To put it another way you do not produce evidences of grace by the flesh, instead they come via God’s gracious work in the Holy Spirit.
Just like the apple tree true fruit takes time. There is a bud, then some growth,eventually you see what looks like fruit. God is working in the lives of his people, he is growing them. This growth is organic not mechanical. It comes from wtihin not from without. He will use those same means that we often try to use in the flesh (Bible, prayer, meditation, etc) however he will use them in a broken and contrite heart that values Jesus.
So as you sit and look at the lights and ornaments on the tree this Christmas take some time to sit back and ask yourself about yourself. Are you just decorating a tree or is God growing fruit?