When Abe, a very young apple tree, was planted in the orchard among other apple and other fruit-bearing trees, he aspired to become a great fruit-producing tree. Since he was so young, he didn’t grow any fruit for a few years and that gave him time to observe the other trees in the orchard and to think about his own fruit-producing future. He watched fellow apple trees grow apples and peach trees grow peaches and pear trees grow pears.
Now Abe, who aspired to be a great tree, decided that what it meant to be a great fruit-producing tree was to be able to produce all different kinds of fruit: apples one season, pears another, peaches the one after that, and so on.
He mentioned this to Abel, the oldest apple tree in the orchard.
He said to Abel, “If I work hard enough, I believe that I will be able to grow different types of fruit because growing apples just isn’t enough for me.
Abel responded, “So, you think if you work hard enough, you can become something that is not in your nature to be?”
Abe exclaimed, “Absolutely! I believe I can do it.”
Able, with sadness in his voice, said, “Why don’t you come back and talk with me in 20 years and let me know how this turns out.”
Abe said, “I will do that and I will amaze you!”
Over the next 20 years, try as he might, Abe just couldn’t grow anything but apples. It didn’t matter how hard he worked at it or devised ways and schemes to grow something other than apples; what appeared from his branches were always apples. Oh sure, there were some years that he thought that he had done it when he looked at the blossoms on his branches; he thought they looked different that year. But, eventually, what began to grow was always apples.
After 20 years, Abe went back to Abel.
Abel asked him, “So, how’d it go in your attempt to grow something other than apples?”
Abe answered, “No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t grow anything but apples. I mean, I even devised rules and regulations that governed how I took in water and sunlight. I set a rigid performance agenda that I thought would allow me to grow peaches or pears, but it didn’t matter. Even when I thought it was working, in the end, I still fell short of my goal of growing peaches or pears and ended up growing apples. Why did I fail? I feel so guilty.”
Abel, in all his wisdom as a very old apple tree, said to Abe, “You could only grow apples because it is in your nature to grow apples, just like it is in the peach or pear tree’s nature to grow peaches or pears. It doesn’t matter what type of rules or regulations you try to follow or rigid performance schedule you put in place, eventually what is in your nature is what you will do. Unless you change what type of tree you are, you will always grow apples, no matter what. If what is inside isn’t changed, no set of rules, regulations or rigid performance schedule will make a difference. And when it is what’s inside that is changed, no manner of rules, regulations or rigid performance schedule will be necessary.”
This parable speaks to how there have been subtle attempts to make changes to the pure and true gospel to make it become a performance based thing with strict rules of living and behavior. The problem is that rules governing behavior mean nothing if the nature is not changed, and if the nature has been changed, these rules are not needed in the first place!
When one is brought into Christ and Christ comes into him/her, that person’s nature changes from that of the sinful nature to that of the Spirit. Now, the sinful nature still resides in that person, but the dominant nature is that of the Spirit. As the person grows in the Spirit, the fruit produced by the Spirit’s nature becomes stronger, better, and sweeter and the norm for the person and the sinful nature becomes less and less a part of us.
The way to determine the quality of the fruit and the level of dominance of the Spirit’s nature within us is to examine what are our initial reactions to different life situations. Do our initial thoughts, words and reactions demonstrate love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control? Or do they demonstrate something else? This is how we can determine the quality level of the fruit of the Spirit’s nature within us.
How does God improve the quality of the fruit? First of all, notice that it is God who does this. It is not something we can in our own power and effort do. God accomplishes this through allowing us to encounter situations in which the fruit of the Spirit’s nature will be grown. He will put us in situations where patience is necessary. He will put us in situations in which love must be present even though it is an enemy. He will allow us to encounter a situation where we realize more clearly that we can have joy no matter what because our joy is found in Him and His presence, not in our circumstances.
It has been, sadly and unfortunately so, way too often and common in Christianity that the focus has been squarely placed upon a set of rules, regulations, and performance schedules instead of where it should be which is the nature inside a person. Adherence to these rules, regulations, and performance schedules have then been used to determine how mature of a Christian one is or even whether or not one is truly a follower of Christ.
This is not the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ as was revealed to Paul for this is type of gospel is not truly good news, but rather is just a repackaging of the old way as found in Judaism and adherence to the Mosaic Law.
May our focus be on the operative nature inside us and on the process God uses to increase to level of quality of our fruit.