One of my favorite things about the biblical text is the way God meets us in the simplest, yet most profound ways in its words. The God of all creation stoops down to our level, taking our ordinary practices, metaphors, and cultural quirks and converting them into the vehicles for His message to us.
We see this in few places quite so clearly as in the words of Jesus. Even if we simply look at Him humanly speaking, we’re talking about a guy who could hold His own, and then some, with the brightest minds of His nation yet also, at the same time, talk with the least of these of his community in a way that drew them in by his simple, but not simplistic, analogies and explanations.
Think of the bit in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus compares His followers to the very mundane issues of agriculture and architecture. This is the famous pair of analogies where Christ speaks of good fruit flowing from only the right plants and good buildings from only solid foundations. These understated metaphors belie a profound set of truths about living out the Christian worldview.
With these words, Christ reminds us that if we are to live lives as good fruit and solid buildings, we need to center our worldview on the proper root for each. When we focus instead on our own image of God rather than on Him as He truly is, we cut ourselves off from the source of strength and end up creating another sort of plant producing another sort of fruit. Likewise, when we center our energy on our own created foundations for our lives, we replace the sure foundation of God’s Word with our own shifting sands of human strength.
Think of the things that we draw our strength from and build our hopes upon, while claiming to others and to ourselves that it is God that we serve. We live for causes and programs and self-esteem. We live for our families, our nations, and our political parties. Think how much energy and devotion we pour out in service to these little gods. Now, these causes may be good things in themselves, but by themselves they become the false fruit, the false foundations of our own creations.
When we center our lives on the things we can create, when we see our faith in God as merely a philosophy, a program, or a piety, it’s comfortable. But Christ isn’t primarily interested in our comfort. Like pretending that a fruit can be separate from its plant, we examine the things of God without risking a true encounter with God.
The encounter portrayed in the Bible is not with a set of propositions, an activist’s agenda, or a cozy how-to manual for life. The grand cause to which Christ calls us isn’t a matter of learning a new wisdom or enacting a new ethic or practicing our spiritual disciplines. Those are important in their place, but ultimately it comes down to yielding to the objective reality of an infinite, definite person.
When Jesus speaks about the connection between fruits and vines, between buildings and foundations, He’s talking about Himself. With philosophies, programs, and personal pieties, we can maintain a safe distance. We can decide for ourselves the terms of our relationship. We can keep for ourselves a sense of control of independence.
Christ’s call on our lives doesn’t allow for any such comforting distance. It is very much like accepting a proposal of marriage, and the Bible is not bashful about using precisely that kind of language. But we just want to be Jesus’ girlfriend. We long for a relationship with Him, sure, but we want to live in our own place, come and go when we wish, and demand space as needed. This is not what He has in mind. We, the Bride of Christ, take on His name, fall under His protection, and follow His leading.
This call of Jesus, the implications of His words and the entirely of the biblical message, such things are uncomfortable. They are invasive, upsetting, unsettling. It’s terrifying and discombobulating, but it’s a far greater hope than anything we might pretend to have trying to live our lives apart from Him.
We have a great fear in giving up our independence from Him, in yielding up the false saplings of our own strengths, in moving away from the false foundations of our own making. We fear that in the loss of these false hopes, we will lose something of who we are, of who we are meant to be.
But this is just foolishness, the very same foolishness first told to our first parents back in the Garden of Eden, when they were told of the virtues of another plant, another fruit. Adam and Eve trusted the word of the Serpent over the word of God, denying, in their actions the truth of what God had promised them. In the face of this treason, instead beginning with judgment, God first promised a savior, a savior who would restore what they had lost by restoring them to relationship with Him.
Any understanding of the Christian worldview that takes what it wants from Christ yet leaves off any part we find undesirable, that seeks to find its strength in something other than His power, that roots itself in anything but the surety of His Word, is no more Christian than the fateful choice of Adam and Eve in the Garden.
In the face of our fears and our petty pleas for independence, we must tell ourselves again and again that the One calling us to come to Him, to be His fruit, to be His temple, He is the one who came down from heaven to save us. He is the one who lived for us and died for us. And He is the one who will make all things new give to His people, to his bride, a world filled with the fruit of eternal life and built on the sure foundation of His presence.
Timothy D. Padgett, PhD, is the Managing Editor of BreakPoint and the author of Swords and Plowshares: American Evangelicals on War, 1937-1973