Fruit to Root
By Sam Tunnell
May 9, 2017
A few weeks ago at our West County gathering, we talked about freedom in Christ. This is a phrase that gets thrown around in churches a lot, and for good reason, since it’s an easy thing to celebrate. Particularly around Easter, it’s an encouraging and unifying thing to celebrate the freedom declared to his Bride by the Christ.
The problem is that most of us don’t experience this freedom in our day to day lives.
We can gather in a room on Sunday and sing about it and clap and smile, but come Tuesday evening we’re still angry, depressed, bitter, looking at porn, or whatever other idol or sin pattern has its claws in us. We often declare the freedom found in Christ, but don’t see it in our lives. The way this manifests ranges from the obvious (like the pain of unhealthy marriages or addictions) to the subtle (like workaholism, consumerism, or self-righteousness). Calvin rightly said we are “idol factories”.
So what do we do?
I challenged our people a few weeks ago and I’d like to repeat it here: Jesus desires freedom for his Bride, but many of us just don’t believe it anymore. We see the brokenness around us and we look at our own history of personal change (or lack thereof) and many of us pack up and wait for Jesus’ return.
Yes, we are stuck in broken and sinful bodies in a broken and sinful world.
Yes, we will battle our flesh until he returns or takes us home.
But Jesus wants his people to begin the experience of freedom here and now. We often say at Red Tree that the work of the believer is to simply believe. This is true. Jesus invites us to simply believe the amazing truth of the gospel, and he does the supernatural work of changing us and freeing us from our idols. Take a minute, sometime soon, and read Galatians 5. God does the supernatural work of freedom as we simply believe in who he is and what he has done. The problem is we’re frequently simply believing the wrong things.
If we’re honest, the brokenness of this world and the hurt of our own lives has beat the belief right out of us. We believe wrong things about God and we end up bearing wrong fruit in our lives: idolatry and sin patterns. So we must labor to root out these wrong beliefs and preach the truth of right beliefs. This is the challenge I presented to West County Church this past weekend.
I want us to actually do this.
I want you to sit with a friend, spouse, pastor, or fellow church member and actually do this work of confessing your wrong beliefs and preaching to yourself right beliefs about God together. You will be astounded by the effect this has in your heart. God meets us here.
But how do we actually do this? It’s all well and good to talk conceptually, but what are some specifics to actually accomplish this important change?
Jeff Vanderstelt, in his book “Gospel Fluency” gives a model for what this practice can look like. It’s not a catch-all formula and I don’t want to pigeonhole you or the work God is doing in you, but I do want you to see a simple, practical process to engage in and see these wrong beliefs changed. He suggests asking yourself four diagnostic questions in two ways. The process is pictured on pages 122 and 123 of his book (pictured below). If you don’t own this book, I suggest you pick it up today because it’s full of great ideas and truths, but for our purposes we’re only looking at this one concept.
He uses the imagery of someone’s spiritual life being like a tree. As we walk through this I’ll give an example using my own life as a case study. I’ll present the process and actually answer the questions based on a season in my own life. So, this is your first step: begin with the fruit you are bearing.
1 – What are you experiencing/doing?
What is misfiring in your life right now? This is your sin pattern, your idol, your experience of brokenness. This is your fruit. This is at the top of your tree.
For our case study (that is to say, me), we’ll say a worship of comfort, a general feeling of anxiety, and a tendency toward workaholism.
This confession of what is misfiring sets the stage for our second question.
2 – What does this say about who you are?
In light of what you’re experiencing and doing, what do you believe about yourself?
For our case study, I might say, “I believe I’m important enough to deserve comfort above other priorities. I also believe I can work and control my environment enough to produce this comfort. But even though I believe I should be able to work and control my environment, I really can’t so I worry. Essentially i believe I’m great and I should be able to control things enough to bask in that greatness, but I can’t… so I have to worry.”
3 – What does our self-revelation say about what God has done or is doing?
Our beliefs about ourselves are connected to our beliefs about God, so if I believe these things about myself, what does it say about what God is or is not doing? It’s important here to get specific about our beliefs about God’s actions and not our feelings.
For our case study, I might say, “Well I don’t think God is taking care of me. Either he is unable or he doesn’t care enough to do so, so I have to.”
4 – What do God’s actions say about who he is?
Based on what we believe God is or isn’t doing, who is he?
For our case study, I might say, “I think God is distant and unloving because he doesn’t care enough to care for me.”
Wow… now we’re digging down far enough to have hit a root. This is our wrong belief about God. So let’s take this wrong belief and confess it for what it is: WRONG.
With that done, it’s time to work our way back up the tree, asking these questions in reverse, both in order and in how they’re constructed: God-oriented rather than self-oriented.
4 – Who is God really?
Often simply speaking the lies we believe about God shine enough of a light on them for us to see them as lies. But we can’t be done here. We have to replace the lie with the truth. We use scripture to declare the truth of who God is. We have to preach this to ourselves, because we just confessed that we don’t actually believe the things we know to be true from scripture. This is where it’s so important to have a trusted friend with you in the process.
in our case study, I would say that God is love! He is the definition of intimacy.
3 – Based on who God is, what has he done and what does he do?
The truth of God’s person will illuminate and root his actions. In other words, how do we know that’s who God is? What has he done to show his identity?
In our case study, I would say that God’s love led him to seek us, and chase us, and call us, and die for us. This is love: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
2 – What does God’s action say about who we are?
The value of a thing is determined by the amount someone is willing to pay for it. In the same way, we learn a lot about our identity, our own worth, by the things God has done for us.
In our case study, I would say that God’s sacrificial love on my behalf says that I am a creature who is loved, cared for, and given enough.
1 – How then should I live from this identity?
This brings us back up to the fruit of the tree. As I learn to believe the truth that I am loved and cared for… my experience will change. These fruits of worshiping comfort, and of being anxious, and of being a workaholic won’t mesh with my actual beliefs about myself or God, and so they will change… must change. I will begin to experience the supernatural fruit of the Spirit. Things like peace and joy.
Do you see the value of this exercise? I hope so. Again, I don’t want to present you with a strict formula you must conform to exactly, but I do want you to see a practical process to use as guidance. If you don’t like this exact framework or it doesn’t work for you, that’s fine, but do something.
We all need the truth preached to us.
We all need right beliefs.
And the more we bend our walk away from falsehood and toward these right beliefs and truths, the more we will experience the reality of the gospel together.