How Can We Be Joyful in Trials and How Can We Produce the Fruit of Repentance? #328
Happy Thursday to you, dear friends! Our readings for the day include 1st Chronicles 13 and 14, Amos 8, Luke 3 and James 1. Our focus questions will be split across two chapters, which I know is not the normal way of things around here. Hope the big Bossman doesn’t find out!
Let’s talk about producing the fruit of repentance first, because that is probably the more simple of our two questions. First of all, as you might know, “fruit of repentance” is a metaphor, and yet another farming/gardening one, which would have really been appropriate for the 1st century, since so much of their lives revolved around growing food for sustenance. It is very appropriate for my home city of Salinas as well. If you’ve never been here, I gotta tell you that it’s a very interesting city. The city itself is densely populated with very few big yards and little in the way of woods, at least compared to my former home in Alabama. That densely populated city is basically surrounded on nearly every side by giant farm fields, so the farming metaphors work well in modern day Salinas too. John, the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, has grown up to become a prophet – an Old Testament kind of prophet, interestingly enough. We know this because of the phrase Luke uses to introduce him:
2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, God’s word came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
“God’s Word came to X” is the formula so often used in the Old Testament to identify the moment that somebody became a prophet, and John is a prophet, pointing people towards Jesus and preparing the way for His ministry. John is a wild man, and a bold one, and his message is all about repentance, and he proclaims a baptism for repentance, thus earning his moniker. Let’s read all about John and Jesus’ baptism, thinking about how we produce the fruit of repentance.
So, how does one produce the fruit of repentance (and, to simplify and refine the question even more: What does repentance look like?) Here’s John with the answer:
8 Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. And don’t start saying to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”10 “What then should we do?” the crowds were asking him.11 He replied to them, “The one who has two shirts must share with someone who has none, and the one who has food must do the same.”12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?”13 He told them, “Don’t collect any more than what you have been authorized.”14 Some soldiers also questioned him, “What should we do?”He said to them, “Don’t take money from anyone by force or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
This is an important teaching, and shows us what repentance and following Jesus should look like. It is not merely a walking of the aisles and raising of the hands, but repentance looks like turning away from one, bad, thing and turning towards a good thing. Repentance is an ACTIVE state and it is an action itself. Repentance is an absolutely crucial and essential part of the gospel. Note when Peter preached the very first sermon at Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2. The people responded to his message and said, “what must we do?” Here is Peter’s answer:
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38
Repenting was central to the message of Jesus also:
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well.
From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Is repentance an action or work that brings salvation? No – we are saved by grace through faith and not by works, but it is a fruit of salvation – an action that is born out of people who are saved in the same way that apples are born out of a living apple tree. We aren’t saved by repenting or producing the fruit of repentance, but if there is no fruit or action of repentance in somebody’s life then it can be sure that they are not saved by Jesus. As Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:
17 In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit.18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit.19 Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.(R)20 So you’ll recognize them by their fruit
Next question – how can we rejoice in trials? I must admit that this is a hard one. Rejoicing in hardships not only doesn’t come natural to me, or 99.9 percent of humans, the exact opposite comes natural. We want to mourn and whine and writhe in pain and complain in trials, but James has the temerity to tell us to REJOICE in the midst of trials. What?! Let’s read the passage and see how.
2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.
So, James – you’re telling me that I have to BE GREATLY JOYFUL in trials?! Well, not exactly, and this is a very important distinction. Let’s be straight – some trials are so hard that the only way to rejoice in them is to just put on a fake smile and pretend…and that is NOT what is being asked of us here. If it were, then it would have been proper for Peter to walk up to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus was in such agony that He was sweating drops of BLOOD, and Peter could have said to Him, “Hey Jesus – you shouldn’t be sweating blood right now, you should be GREATLY JOYOUS…so, cheer up!” Hopefully you recognize how absurd that is, and it is also absurd to try to get a Christian brother or sister to smile and be joyful when they are going through devastation. James is not telling us to smile and laugh and be happy through all of our trials. He is telling us, rather, to COUNT THEM A GREAT JOY…or CONSIDER THEM A GREAT JOY. It is a fine, but important distinction. The Greek word there is ἡγέομαι hēgéomai – and it is an interesting word (we get our word hegemony from it). ἡγέομαι Hēgéomai means to lead, to govern, to guide. The tense of this particular verb is the aorist middle, which means that the action is to be done on oneself…In other words, james is saying something like, Lead yourself to consider it great joy when going through trials. And then he tells us why – because we should remember that these trials we are going through will produce in us endurance, which brings maturity. Have you ever worked out, lifted weights, or trained very hard to become strong at something? Maybe a sport, a craft, or just to become fit? There is a great satisfaction that comes at the end of a strong workout – you might be hurting, out of breath, broken and stinky, but you know that the end result will be greater endurance in your physical body. SPIRITUAL TRIALS ARE EXACTLY LIKE THIS, says James. In the same way that your body will be soft and weak and slow if you never push it to exercise or run, or what have you, your spiritual life will be soft and slow and weak and immature if you never go through trials and learn how to turn to God in the midst of them. So God will not have His people in that place of weak immaturity, therefore He will take His people through trials in a Romans 8:28 way – all things working together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes – and thus we lead ourselves to consider the trials a source of joy, because even though they hurt and are hard, they are having a good impact in the long run.
Again, this doesn’t mean put on a happy face and pretend to smile – it means to lead your heart to a place of realization that God is doing a good thing ultimately through the very hard and bad trial you are going through.