You may have noticed that guilt is not something that very many people self-consciously carry around these days. There may be guilt in there subjectively. Theologically-speaking, of course, it’s still in there objectively. But people seem slow to resonate with a spiritual diagnosis that says “your problem is that you’re carrying around a burden of guilt, and it’s crippling you.”
What folk do seem to resonate with, however, is the observation that their personal identity is radically unstable. They hope to be useful. They hope to be authentic. But the cultural soil in which they’re seeking to become fruitful humans is subject to erosion and toxic chemical fertilizers. They often find the soil washing away faster than they can send down roots and put up shoots.
It’s often helpful, therefore, to show that one of the perks of following Jesus is that they can be gathered into the company of the saints, who have endured as a testimony-bearing community through the ages. Tradition, staying-power, roots: these can be compelling reasons to explore a Christian identity.
I wonder, though, if we sometimes forget the obvious. Even more compelling than a rich tradition is the prospect of an abundant future. “If anyone is in Christ—New Creation.”
Let’s not truncate the message of grace to its legal aspects alone. Let’s work hard to articulate that being-in-Christ, and being a Community-in-Christ, means that the Spirit is determined to bear its fruit in the strange new soil of our communal life. Our identities are not just stabilized, but New Creationalized. We find our roots sinking deep into the soil of the New Jerusalem, the garden-city of astonishing fertility. We send up resurrection shoots that bud, blossom, and bear fruit 30, 60, even 100 times what is sown.
Love, joy, peace, patience … the qualitative and quantitative fertility of New Creation soil may be enough to make some people want to abide in Christ even before they have come to grips with their own personal, apart-from-Christ crop failure, and the malnourishment of those who are depending on them for spiritual calories. (In other words, their guilt.)
So my suggestion is that church planters need to pull out the New Jerusalem Farmer’s Almanac, thick with images of its delicious and abundant fruit. Open it up for your people and remind them that the first fruits of the coming harvest may be borne—if we abide in Christ together as his Garden-City—right here, and right now. Those whose personal identities seem so unstable may be drawn not just to the stability of a rooted tradition, but to the promise of determined shoots and abundant fruit.
Are you tilling New Creation soil?
[Photos by Stephen Crotts, from his yard garden]