For I say to you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20
In Jesus’ day the scribes and Pharisees, who were the religious leadership, were the epitome of religious discipline. They diligently followed God’s laws, but Jesus was saying that was not enough.
A “religious” person can follow God’s word and attend church regularly, but not be the person God’s wants them to be on the inside.
After Jesus tells us that we have to do better than to be outwardly religious, He then goes on to tell us that if we harbor anger (verse 22) or lust (verse 28) we have violated the law in spirit.
So much for attempting to justify ourselves before a God who can see every detail of our heart and thought lives. And thank God for the Cross that enables us to be justified by Jesus’ righteousness instead of our own; which the prophet Isaiah labeled as “filthy rages” (Isaiah 64:6).
Christians must never forget that we are called to be conformed into the image of Christ. Through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, God works to create in us the person God wants us to be; the new creature (II Corinthians 5:17), filled with the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Each one of us is a tree growing in God’s orchard. It takes time and care from the Farmer to produce a crop that is worthy to harvest. Some of us need a little more pruning; others need more time and fertilizer.
As the Son warms our branches, we bud and flower with the evidence of our redemption. His love produces His love in us and the fruit begins to form. All the while we are nestled in the security of our Farmer’s embrace, encircled and protected by Jesus’ sacrifice, the grace that forgives us as we continue developing into spiritual maturity.
The Apostle Paul describes the variety of produce that should be abundant on all our boughs: - love and all its aspects (I Corinthians 13:1-13), joy that reflects the joy of our salvation on all who we encounter; peace that exudes security and trust in our God, patience, goodness, meekness, self-control and faithfulness (Galatians 5:22,23).
Without the sweet melody of a reformed nature, the Apostle Paul reminds us that all our religious efforts are only a clanking noise. It’s important to remind ourselves of this fact in the busyness of our Christian activities. It is also important to understand that we cannot produce His fruit in us. The Holy Spirit is the fruit producing “sap” that flows from the Father through the Son into us (John 15). We just have to desire it and willingly submit our wills to Him.
In those quiet moments when we are alone with our Gardener, make our prayers to Him begin with the request to be an abundant fruit bearing tree that will draw many to the Source of our abundance. Let there be no thorns to prick them when they reach for our fruit. And let us feed and nurture all those who God sends to His orchard, and delight them with His handiwork.
If you feel you’ve been stunted, hindered and obstructed from becoming the person God wants you to be, a new beginning is just a prayer away.
“Dear precious Lord, help me to be the person you want me to be. Grow all your fruits upon this tree and let me be a reflection of your character always. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.”
Copyright 2023 by H. D. Shively
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