One of the issues that every pastor and church leader faces is how to measure the success of the ministry, or the lack thereof. It is tempting to merely assume that attendance, state of the budget, and how many programs are up and running evidences success. Lots of people, money, and ministries do not by themselves constitute a healthy church any more than eating lots of food and spending lots of money on eating-out constitutes physical health. In fact, it is just the opposite. So, where are we to focus our energies?
The two big ideas that Jesus hammered home to the crowds who followed him are: 1) you need to repent; and, 2) you need to bear spiritual fruit (Luke 13:1-9). The two go together: a fruitless life points to the need for repentance; and, to truly repent results in bearing the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.
Jesus, in exhortation after exhortation, and parable after parable, relentlessly went after the fruitless dead religion of his day. Our Lord believed that such religion needed to be cut out and thrown away. So, he went after the assumptions that people have about sin, faith, and judgment. Jesus challenged the presuppositions that people often hold onto which are false. In dealing with them, Jesus wanted to foster repentance and fruit-bearing.
False Assumption: Other people’s sin is more serious than mine.
It is a common human tendency, apart from Christ, to focus on the bad things in the world and the things that other people do, rather than focus on our own heart and life. It is so much easier to be a simpleton and believe that _____ so and so needs to be “fixed.” When there are problems and circumstances which are less than ideal, it is sinful human nature that goes after a scapegoat. But Jesus will have none of it. You and I cannot control, change, or fix anyone else; but we can practice self-control, change our personal habits, and be the solution to our own problems.
Christ cuts through all the crud of scapegoating and blame-shifting by saying that every single one of us needs to repent, without exception. What is more, Jesus’ parables challenge us with a very probing thought: Are we bearing fruit, or just taking up space? When we howl for judgment on others, but insist on grace for ourselves then we are the ones with the biggest need for repentance.
False Assumption: My sin isn’t that serious.
When things go awry, many people assume they got a bum rap and were the victims of circumstances. But Jesus will have none of it. Here are some personal questions that place the focus on repentance and fruit-bearing:
Do I continually locate sin outside of my life, or do I see the sinfulness of my own heart?
Do I believe people in hard circumstances are more sinful than me?
Do I think that doing things the way they have always been done is what is most important?
Can I envision that growth and change is necessary for life and for the church?
Can my life be described as fruitful, or fruitless?
How can I become fruitful?
What must I repent of?
What will happen if I don’t repent?
Yes, other people’s sin is serious; but so is mine! And I must deal with my own sin. If anybody wants to eat a hot dog, they probably should never see how they are made. And if anybody wants to continue in a life of being angry, bitter, complaining, and blaming others then they probably should not look at their own hearts and see where all those attitudes are made. Penitent hearts are what Jesus is looking for in us.