Yesterday I was craving something juicy and sweet at about mid-afternoon. Mom had just come home from the little Mulino fruit stand, so we had a bag of fresh, ripe nectarines. Perfect.
I pulled one out of the paper bag. It’s skin was perfect, not a bump or crack or tear or bruise on that beautiful piece of fruit. I squeezed gently and found that it felt perfectly ripe, not too soft and not too hard. So I cut it up into slices and took it back into the office to accompany me and my homework.
Then I ate a slice.
I wanted to spit it out, throw it in the garbage, and get a whole new nectarine. It was not juicy, but seemed to suck the moisture right out of my mouth. It did not have that perfect texture, but was grainy and gritty. It was gross, and I was quite disappointed in my distasteful, though beautiful nectarine.
This morning I was thinking again about my disastrous experience. I was also doing my Bible time. And when random thinking collides with Bible time, I usually come up with an…interesting spiritual parallel. Well, here it is.
I’ve always struggled with the faith and deeds discussion. James 2:14-18 says, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”
Though I’ve heard so many discussions, studies, commentaries, etc. about this idea, it’s still never been crystal clear. After all, how could our faith depend at all on our deeds? Wouldn’t that take away from God’s grace? Yet how could we claim to have faith and not take action? Both views made sense, and I didn’t know how to reconcile them to each other. And I figure that that is why God sent me a bad nectarine.
As I was pondering the spiritual aspects of my unpleasant piece of fruit, my first thoughts turned to what Jesus said about bearing good fruit. Only this time, I wondered what exactly he meant by “good fruit.” After all, my nectarine had looked pretty amazing on the outside, yet the inside had been horrible. And I knew that God values our heart condition more than our outward appearance. But I still had to think, isn’t the outward important too?
That’s when I connected the dots with James’ discussion of faith and deeds. Our outward appearances are, in other words, our deeds. What’s on the inside is our faith. And, as James says, we show our faith by what we do. And how does this connect with the nectarine?
When God tells us to bear good fruit, He means that He wants our faith and deeds. A good piece of fruit is not only beautiful to look at, but it tastes good as well. When we have deeds but no faith, we are like the nectarine I ate yesterday: good on the outside, but unpleasant on the inside. Yet when we have faith but no deeds, we are like a piece of fruit that, though perfect in quality on the inside, is disagreeable to look at because of dirt, tears, bruises, etc.
God needs us as Christians to be good fruit, both pleasing in our outward and inward appearances. When we have faith but no deeds, we are like the fruit that is unpleasant on the outside, so we turn off unbelievers before they have a chance to even know about our faith. If they are not attracted by our outward display of faith, they will never want a part of what we hold inside. Yet if we have deeds but no faith, non-Christians will see us and be attracted to our beliefs. But when they get to know us better, they will see that we are only hypocrites acting upon something that we have no faith in.
So faith and deeds are equally important. Indeed, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” To be a true Christian who bears good fruit, we must have both. And we must bear good fruit, because “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit,” Luke 6:43-44. If our fruit is bad, we cannot deceive ourselves and say that our tree is still good. Only bad trees bear bad fruit, and only good trees bear good fruit. So it is vitally important that we follow James’ advice to show others our faith by what we do, using both our faith and our deeds to bear fruit that is truly good.
I didn’t think that God would solve one of my biggest theological struggles through a nectarine. But I won’t underestimate Him again. I can’t wait to see what He uses to explain evil and suffering…