A few weeks ago I heard a sermon about how we Christians often settle for “Counterfeit Fruit” in our lives instead of seeking the Fruit of the Spirit. This results in a counterfeit Christianity. It works like this:
Instead of love for everyone, loving like Jesus does, we settle for tolerance for those with different viewpoints. Tolerance might be a good practice, but it certainly falls short of love.
Instead of joy we seek happiness. It’s good to be happy, but it doesn’t sustain us in the hard times.
Conflict avoidance is not the same thing as peace – peace WITH God and our fellow man, and the peace OF God that can come even in the midst of conflict.
We have elevated self-improvement and ambition above patience, niceness above true kindness, and nostalgia for the way things used to be in the good old days for seeking how to be truly good in this present day.
Often we practice passivity instead of gentleness, self-fulfillment instead of self-control.
We are asked to be loyal to the company to the point of sacrifice rather than to be faithful to the things that are truly important.
There might not be anything wrong with these “counterfeit fruits” unless they keep us from seeking the real thing. For example, we certainly do want to avoid conflict and be nice, unless that keeps us from getting to a place of true understanding that results in real peace with others.
As I’ve been thinking about this subject I thought about my mother-in-law. She passed away a number of years ago, but she was a true example to me of someone in whom the Fruit of the Spirit was evident. She was the Real Thing. She was a gentle, kind woman who loved to do things for others and had a quick laugh. She welcomed me into her family from the first day that I met her, and I never felt anything but kindness and generosity from her.
After we had been married about 18 years or so, papa had gone to heaven and Mom B had come to stay with us for a while – She stunned me by telling me that she did not like me when she first met me but had come to truly love me through the years. Whoa. Well I knew WHY she had a hard time with me in the beginning. I was a 19 year old who hadn’t been a Christian long and didn’t have much church background. Her son felt called to ministry. I clearly didn’t know how to handle that lifestyle. In addition, I was from Ohio with a strong Northern accent. Mom and Dad Bearden lived most of their lives in Mississippi and Alabama, and we did have a hard time understanding each other sometimes – our accents as well as our customs!
But to tell you the truth, her “confession” didn’t hurt me at all because I saw in a flash what it meant to love someone with the love of Jesus; and I prayed in that moment (and many times since then) that I would be able to treat people with kindness and love even if we had differences, or if I didn’t particularly like them. As far as I can tell, no one knew except Jesus how she really felt about me, but because of her relationship with Him and her desire to be like Him, she surrendered herself completely to Him and just decided to love me like she did the rest of the family. She knew that God called her to a life of holiness that included loving others like He did, and I know she believed that He could help her live that way if she trusted Him to do the work in her.
There was no counterfeit fruit in her, no counterfeit Christianity, no faking it. She walked with the Lord every day, she read and studied her Bible to learn His ways, she trusted His work in her life, and she tried to follow Jesus’ example.
If we settle for the counterfeit fruit of niceness and tolerance and passivity instead of the higher virtues of kindness, love and gentleness our Christianity is also counterfeit – We’re just faking it. The Fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – come to maturity as we surrender ourselves to the Lord, allow Him to work in our lives, and cooperate with that work rather than fighting against it, or settling for less than the Real Thing. This is called Holiness.
And why do we aspire to this kind of life? 2 Corinthians 6:16-18 through 7:1 reminds us that as believers in Christ
"...We are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people…I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.' Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God."
I find it interesting that the Bible tells us that it is love, not faith, that drives out fear. I have often thought that if I just had more faith I wouldn’t be anxious or afraid. In his book Christian Maturity, E. Stanley Jones tells us that this kind of thinking really focuses all our thoughts on ourselves, not God ("I just need more faith!"). But resting in the Father’s perfect love is the only thing that can drive away fear and anxiety. That puts the focus back on God instead of myself (His love, not my faith). We find that truth in 1 John 4:18 and it goes on to tell us that fear has to do with punishment. If we are afraid of an uncertain future, or rejection, or we’re afraid to speak up, etc., the thing we’re really afraid of is the “punishment” of rejection, or not having enough, or not being able to handle whatever comes.
Another more serious aspect of fear has to do with our view of God. We’re afraid because we don’t really believe God loves us and will care for us in all the uncertainties of life. If we have a hard time grasping the truth of God's love for us, we might instead believe He is just waiting for us to mess up so He can catch punish us. We might get this idea from incorrectly interpreting the Old Testament. There are, of course, multiple passages that speak of God's punishment, or His wrath. But if we read these passages in context we see they are directed toward those who deliberately disobeyed or turned their backs on God, not those whose hearts were set on following Him. Abraham, Moses, David, and others who loved and followed God made mistakes and even sinned. God did discipline them, but it was in order to restore their love relationship with Him, and get them back on the right track.
In the book Warfare Praying, Mark I. Bubeck assures us that "God does not pour His anger on His own children. He does not inflict punitive hurt upon us. Yes, the Lord chastens or disciplines His own to correct them, but He does not judge or punish His servants. The punishment of sin was settled at the cross of Christ. Now all believers are justified. As a result, we all [believers] have peace with God" (122). What Good News!
Since I began drawing a heart in my Bible next to every verse that speaks of God's love, I see His love everywhere! Here are just a few places that remind us how much He loves us:
Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. ~Deuteronomy 7:9
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! ~1 John 3:1
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
~1 John 4:9-10
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” ~Zephaniah 3:17
But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love. ~ Psalm 33:18
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~Romans 8:35, 37-39.
When I am struggling with fear or anxiety I'm learning to remind myself how much the Lord loves me, that He will never leave me, and that nothing can separate me from His love. I'm learning to allow the Scriptures that speak about His true nature to wash over me and take root in my heart. I'm realizing that His discipline is for my best, bringing my attention back to nurturing my relationship with Him. If you are struggling with fear or anxiety these days, I invite you to join me. Trust in His love, His goodness, His faithfulness. Remember, it's His love, not more faith on our part, that casts out fear.
Beth Marie Bearden gave her heart to Christ when she was a young teenager and soon after felt God calling her to ministry.