I love gardening and one of my favourite things to grow are sweet cherry tomatoes. At times they have been so abundant that I have had to give them away in buckets, however, they need a lot of looking after. The delicate stems need support as they grow through staking and tying. They need daily watering and weekly plant food. The sneaky side shoots need pinching out and any rogue snails and slugs need to be removed and dispatched. And finally, leaves or ripening fruit plagued with mildew or blight need to be carefully removed and discarded. Growing an abundant crop takes quite a bit of effort but it is worth it to pop those delicious red balls of delight into your mouth and feel them burst with sugary sweetness!
Gardening metaphors are used frequently in the Bible. In the parables that Jesus taught, he likened himself to a gardener and us as plants that should bear fruit in our lives. Have you ever wanted to be more loving, joyful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled? Me too. And this is how God wants us to be. Jesus wants us to bear this kind of fruit and it matters so much to God that Jesus used the strongest language possible to get his point across. He even compared a fruitless life to a life that is dead and good only for firewood.
Far from being selfish, bearing fruit in our lives is not for our sake, but for the sake of others. We are called to love one another; share our joy; have patience with others — even when they wind us up; be kind to people — even when that kindness is rejected; be generous expecting nothing in return; be faithful to those who let us down; be always gentle; and be self-controlled — not flying off the handle when things make us cross. That is a pretty high bar and sounds impossible to achieve. The truth is that we cannot be like this on our own and we need God’s help.
Like my tomatoes we need constant tending. Left on their own my tomatoes would not bear much fruit, and at the worst they would wither and die. In the same way we need God to supply us with what we need and that is by allowing the Holy Spirit — the Spirit of Jesus — to live in us and work through us. This act of recognising we need God is called repentance. Repentance literally means to renew one’s mind and change direction. Repentance means to recognise that we need God’s help and to invite the transforming Spirit of God into our hearts to do his work inside us.
Like my abundance of tomatoes, the fruit in our own lives is to be given away to others. It should therefore come as no surprise that the Spirit of God is always outward-looking and always looking to the interest of others. We are never filled with the Holy Spirit for our own sake but for the sake of others, hence, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22) – all things that are given away.
If we try to live in our own strength, if we serve others without drawing on God, and if we give out without being filled, then we eventually burn out, or become resentful and bitter. You do not become a better person by trying harder — by reading your Bible more, praying more, fasting more, or going to church more. Despite those things being good and helpful, the truth is that you become more Christlike by opening yourself up to the life-transforming Spirit of God. It is the Spirit who transforms us from the inside out.
Salvation is a process and it is a process of transformation into the likeness of Christ. When you first turn to Christ you feel the weight of sin being lifted from you, but the journey of faith is an ongoing and life-long process. We are works-in-progress as long as we continue to allow God’s Spirit to work in and through us.
For most Christians, this opening of oneself to God comes through the form of a quiet time — a moment in each day where we perform a simple act of repentance. We submit to God, acknowledge that we cannot do this thing called life in our own strength and ask the Spirit of Jesus to fill us — to change us and transform us such that we become more like Jesus. This quiet time usually includes some Bible reading where we allow God’s Spirit to speak to us through God’s Word, and some prayer where we talk to God and listen.
Us Christians are not perfect. We are nearly all broken in one way or another and we stuff up and mess up on a daily basis. We are literally works-in-progress as we do our best to allow God to transform us from the inside out. Therefore, my prayer today is as much for me as it is for you:
Holy God, I want to be more like Jesus. I want to be more loving, joyful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. I cannot do this on my own and so I open my heart to you. I need your help to transform me from the inside out. Amen.