Here is the long delayed Part 2 of my series on Faith and Works. I have been working on this post off and on for several weeks. I guess that I wanted it to be “perfect.” It is not perfect yet (and never will be), but I will post it anyway because this is an important issue concerning the Christian life. I welcome your feedback and discussion.
Becoming a Christian is more than an accounting entry in a heavenly ledger. When we become Christians, we receive a new kind of life, God’s life. We move from being spiritually dead to spiritually alive (Eph. 2:1-7). The Bible uses the word “justification” to describe our legal pardon before God (Rom. 3:21-26; Rom. 8:16). But when we believe, justification is not the only thing that takes place. We also experience “regeneration,” which means to be renewed or literally to be “created anew” (Titus 3:5-6). Scripture sometimes describes this new beginning as being “born again” (Jn. 3:3-8).
Because of the radical change that takes place when we come to Christ, the Bible says, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (see 1 Jn. 3:7-10). The Greek word “seed” is sometimes used of the seed of plants or of human sperm. Here it is used in a metaphorical sense, to describe God’s life within us. When we are “regenerated” we receive a new kind of life which comes from God. “Eternal life” is more than perpetual existence—it is an “eternal kind” of life. Because believers have God’s life within us, Scripture says that we “cannot sin.” What can we make of this challenging statement, since all Christians sin on a regular basis?
Earlier in 1 John we read “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1:10), so clearly John is not saying that Christians never sin at all. But in our efforts to explain that we do sin we should not lose sight of the fact that there is a radical inner change the moment we believe.
It is God’s purpose for us that we become more and more like Jesus (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 4:13). His life within us begins a process of transformation that will be completed when we see Him face to face (1 Jn. 3:2). The process is not yet completed, but for Christians it has begun. For this reason Jesus taught that the “fruit” of our lives (i.e. our behavior) is a reliable guide to what we are like within (Mat. 7:16-20; Mat. 12:33; Lk. 6:43-45).
There are several fruit trees in my back yard. I am not a botanist, but I am certain that one is an apple tree because it produces apples. Likewise, the orange tree produces only oranges, never apples or plums. If I am not sure what type of fruit tree I am looking at, all I need to do is wait to see what type of fruit it produces. A five-year-old child can easily understand this principle.
Jesus taught that our lives are like that. The type of “fruit” that your life produces reveals what sort of person you are. Unlike the fruit trees in my yard, we do not always bear the type of fruit consistent with the new person that God has made us inside. But because all true Christians have God’s “seed” within, there is an expectation we will increasingly bear the right kind of fruit.