Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Goodness and Severity of God

I have always believed that if you preach and believe a balanced gospel, you will be a balanced believer. If the gospel you believe and the gospel you preach is out of whack, if it is not proportionally balanced, then there is a very real possibility that your spiritual man will likewise be out of whack and disproportional.

Today we will be discussing the goodness, and the severity of God. I realize you’ve probably heard more than one sermon or read more than one teaching on the goodness of God, but chances are good that you haven’t heard or read too many on the severity of God.

The Bible speaks of both attributes, it speaks of God being a good God, and it also speaks of God being a jealous God. The Bible also speaks of His goodness, as well as His severity. When we pick and choose only a certain attribute and run with it, we become disjointed, and our view of who God truly is, is limited and one dimensional, as opposed to the reality of His multi dimensional personality.

Today’s teaching will not be a lighthearted one, but it will be Biblical, true, forthright and challenging. I believe with all my heart that as believers we need to be challenged from time to time, we need to be instructed in the ways of the Lord; we need to be shown the narrow path of faith that we might follow it faithfully. Yes, even chastening is good for us as believers, because the Lord chastens those whom He loves.

Yes, God has a standard, yes, God has requirements, and although playing the ‘build your own religion’ game is very popular nowadays, when you build your own religion, you end up inventing your own god, who has nothing in common with the one true God. You know what I am talking about; you’ve seen these aberrant doctrines sprouting up everywhere, one more heretical and foolish then the last. The reason these things occur, is because we pick and choose only the scripture passages that suit us, we pick and choose only those verses that don’t challenge us, and with a handful of verses, we fashion our religion, dismissing the rest of God’s holy Word. If we want to be with Him in His kingdom, we must run the race by adhering to the rules that He set forth. It is that simple.

As a backdrop to today’s teaching we will be focusing on a passage out of the gospel according to Luke, as well as one verse out of Paul’s epistle to the Romans.

Luke 13:1-9, “There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them,
‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.
He also spoke this parable: ‘A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground? But he answered and said to him’, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not after that you can cut it down.”

Romans 11:22, “Consider the goodness and the severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.”

Although these two passages come from two different books of the Bible, they both have a common thread running through them. That common thread is the goodness and the severity of God. Although the passage in Romans comes right out and is very clear on these two aspects of God’s nature, the passage in Luke gives us a parable consisting of a fig tree that would not bear fruit, even though it was planted in the vineyard.

What I find amazing is that although some two thousand years have passed since this encounter between Jesus and those who told Him of the Galileans that had been murdered by Pilate, men’s proclivity to spread bad news hasn’t lessened or ceased. Bad news still travels fast, as it did in Jesus’ day, and rather than inquire or request greater detail, Christ’s only answer was,

‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; unless you repent you will all likewise perish.’

At first glance this would seem like an overly harsh rebuke, since these men had only passed on some news they had heard, but what Christ was trying to relay to them, was that if they were not presently suffering, if they were not presently mourning, it was not due to their good works, it was not due to their own righteousness but rather it was due to the grace of God.

Consider that these men that Pilate killed, were not evil men, they were not drunkards or murderers, they were men who were in the temple bringing sacrifice to God when Pilate came in and slaughtered them.

So what does this mean? Well, it means that death is general in its essence. All men must die, it is a debt that all men pay; the only aspect of death that is variable is its form. Some perish at Pilate’s hand, others because the tower of Siloam fell on them, others die of old age, starvation, or some disease, or some accident, so the form is variable, but the essence is general.

So how do we escape death? How do we escape perishing? We find the answer in the words of Jesus. We escape perishing, by repenting. Jesus said that unless we repent, we would all likewise perish. Now taking this statement to its rightful conclusion, we discover that those who repent will not perish, but rather they will have everlasting life.

Another thing that is worthy of note, is that only the gospel according to Luke relates this particular exchange, and if we study the Word carefully we discover that this exchange took place during the last week of Christ’s life on this earth. So what is the relevance of the fig tree? Why is it important that we discover its privileges, and why it was in danger of being cut down?

Why would Jesus, during the last week of His life on earth speak this parable?

As always, whenever Jesus spoke, it was to teach, to open the eyes of His hearers, and by way of the Word our eyes as well, to certain truths and realities that we must understand so that we might grow, mature, and be His fruitful ambassadors.

The first privilege of this fig tree, planted in the vineyard, was the fact that it was a fig tree. It could have been a thorn bush, it could have been a reed, but it was in fact a fig tree. It was not some wild bush, it was a noble tree. We were all as thorns and thistles; we were all ignoble, unable to produce any good fruit.

Absent of Christ in one’s heart, there is no such thing as a good person.

Titus 3:3-7, “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

We are not what we once were dear friends. We were once foolish, disobedient, deceived and hateful, but then something glorious and wonderful happened. The love of God toward man appeared, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, and abundantly so through Jesus Christ our Savior. We have been justified by His grace, and have become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. We are no longer thorns, we are no longer thistle, we are noble trees, planted by the waters, and as such must produce good and noble fruit.

Because we have been made children of God, regardless of the denomination we belong to, God has greater expectations of us, than He has of someone who never knew Him, someone who never experienced His love and His grace. There is a standard that comes with being a child of God that we must uphold, and this standard was not established by men, but by God Himself.

The second great privilege that the fig tree had, (and if we understand the spiritual implications, the privilege that we have as children of God), is that it was placed there with a purpose. The fig tree was planted in the vineyard that it might bear good fruit. It was the only reason that it was planted in the vineyard, it was the only reason that the ground was dug up.

We were planted in God’s vineyard for one reason as well, that reason being, to bear the fruit of righteousness, to posses the spiritual fruit that is evident in a life that is wholly surrendered to God.

Jesus never said you will know them by their denominational affiliation, Jesus never said you will know them by what kind of car they drive, Jesus never said you will know them by the nifty cross lapel pin they have on their sports coats, Jesus said you will know them by their fruit.

It is our fruit that distinguish us between those who are still thorns and thistles, and those who were planted of God to be a noble tree in His vineyard.

So what is this fruit that we ought to possess, what is this fruit that we ought to produce?

Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. Against such there is no law.”

These attributes of Christian character and of the Christian life must always be with us, and in us, shining through us that the world might see Jesus in our conduct, actions, words, and life.

We need to go on from the theory of spiritual fruit, to the practical application, and visible results of spiritual fruit. Otherwise, we are but trees absent of true life.

The third great privilege that the fig tree had is that it occupied a piece of earth in the master’s vineyard. Another tree could have readily been planted in its place, one that would bear fruit, and so, even being rooted in the vineyard, even occupying the piece of earth that the fig tree occupied was a privilege in and of itself. You are blessed because you are planted in God’s vineyard; you are privileged because you belong to the family of God. Just consider all the time that it took to plant this fig tree, all the labor that went into making sure that it would be fruitful, from being planted, to being watered, to being taken care of, yet after three years, there was still no fruit.

Another aspect of the fig tree that we must take into account is that it was indebted to the master of the vineyard. The master of the vineyard planted it, watered it, and the fig tree was indebted to bear fruit.

So how do we bear fruit for the master of the vineyard? By reaching out to the hurting, the hungry, the desperate, the lonely, and showing them the love of God. When we show benevolence to the least of these, the Word says we have done it unto Him.

Another question that arises is what are the practical lessons that we can learn from this parable of the fig tree? We have learned that simply being part of the family of God is a privilege in and of itself, we have witnessed the goodness of God, in that He planted us and watered us, but now we must also behold the severity of God.

The first lesson we learn concerning the severity of God, is that when we are fruitless, when we produce no fruit, we run the risk of being cut off, of being cut down. The opposite of fruitfulness is not fruitfulness in the sight of God, but rather death. The master of the vineyard did not behold the fig tree and say, ‘leave it; it might serve as shade to a weary traveler.’

The master of the vineyard did not behold the fruitlessness of his labors and say, ‘at least it looks good in my vineyard, we should let it be’, he told the keeper of his vineyard to cut it down.

We need to be aware of, and acknowledge both the goodness and the severity of God. Our God is a jealous God, and His expectation of His children extends to nothing less than their all.

The second lesson that we learn concerning the severity of God, is that there is no justification, or excuse for our being fruitless. We cannot justify our apathy; we cannot justify our indifference before an all knowing God.

The excuses that we can come up with are wide ranging, from not having enough time, to just not feeling like it, to having other things to do, but at the end of the day, all it is, is an excuse. God does not accept excuses as justification for our fruitlessness, this is a lesson many of us must take to heart.

When God calls the only acceptable response is to answer His call, when God commands the only acceptable response is to obey His command. If God has called you to be fruitful, then He will equip you that you might be fruitful.

Throughout the Bible, we see a running theme whenever God called one of His servants, and that was they answered the call without delay. Whether it be the apostle Matthew, or Andrew and Simon, they did not offer up a reason why they should not follow after Christ in that instant, they did not attempt to delay their following after Christ, but in an instant they left behind everything they knew, they left behind family, friends, jobs, and business and followed after Jesus with their whole hearts.

If we still stand it is by the grace of God, if we are still here, it is by the grace of God. It’s not because we are better than our peers and contemporaries, it is because the grace of God has encompassed us; it is because the goodness of God has been evident in our lives.

The danger however arises when we take God’s goodness for granted and even abuse it. When we behold the goodness of our God, in all its many facets, and in our hearts consider it trite and banal, when we are unwilling to bear fruit because we believe we are simply entitled to everything we ever wanted, it is then that God stands ready to cut down the tree, to remove us from His vineyard.

It is a sad truth, a tragic truth that those who worship dead gods and false idols are often times more committed than those of us who worship and serve the one true God. I know this might seem unkind, this may strike a chord, but it is the truth, and you know it, and I know it.

The world is more committed to its idols, than believers are to the cause of Christ. The world is more committed to promoting sin and evil, than the children of God are committed to promoting the truth and righteousness of God.

Every time God calls us, we shrug our shoulders and say, ‘Lord, find another. I’m too busy, I’m too stressed, I have other things to worry about.’ Every time we are called to bear fruit, we shrug our shoulders and say, ‘maybe next season, when life won’t be so hectic, when distractions won’t be so plentiful.’

There is no next season dear friend, there is no next year, now is the only time that we are guaranteed, now is the only season that we have to bear the fruit of the Spirit, to be the walking, talking, giving, loving embodiments of Christ Jesus.

If we do not start bearing fruit, the bramble will, and the fruit that the bramble bears is neither good, nourishing, wholesome nor life giving. What am I referring to? Well, a parable that a man by the name Jotham spoke in Judges chapter nine, wherein the trees once went forth to anoint a king over them. First they approached the olive tree, but the olive tree turned them down because it did not want to cease giving its oil, then they went to the fig tree, but the fig tree turned them down because it did not want to cease giving its fruit, they then approached the vine, but the vine turned them down because it did not want to cease giving is wine. Finally the trees went to the bramble, and said you come reign over us.

Why is this parable important? Because the bramble that the Bible is speaking of is nothing more than a prickly shrub or bush, that chokes off other vegetation. Something will fill the void! If it’s not the truth, if it’s not spiritual fruit, the enemy will be more than happy to fill it with deception and bramble.

The last lesson that we must learn concerning the severity of God, is that the axe is at the root of the tree. It was only due to the keeper of the vineyard’s pleading that the fig tree was allowed one more year. It was only because the keeper of the vineyard begged the master of the vineyard to allow him one last chance to try and make the fig tree fruitful that it survived yet another season. We do not learn what happened to the fig tree, but we know what will happen to us as individuals if we continue to dismiss and take lightly the grace of God, if we continue to wave off the pleas of those who cry out not for our money, not for our credit card numbers, not for our seed offerings, but for our hearts and repentance.

The master of the vineyard approaches once more. Once more He comes to see the fruit, once more He comes to see what we have produced. Are you fruitful? That is the question that only you can answer for yourself.

With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.


Anonymous said...

Hello Brother in the Lord,
This is a good topic to discuss.. We are doing on Friday night in our home with the kids.... we are to live everyday the fruits of a Godly life....

debbi rennier

Gospel Of The Kingdom Of God said...

Dear Brother, thank you for this post. We definitely need to let the truth of the goodness and severity of God sink into our hearts. When it comes to fruit bearing it is not us who brings this about but God through the Holy Spirit working within our inner-man. The scripture tells us in Ephesians 2:10 that God prepared "good works" for us to do beforehand. How can we do these works without being led by the Holy Spirit? Something to think about.