The Tree: A Relationship Between Faith and Works

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“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”- Colossians 2:6

This exhortation is in the midst of Paul urging the Colossians not to be deluded with “plausible arguments” (2:4) and not to be taken captive by “vain philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ,” (2:8). He is urging them to stay the course in Christ, to continue in Him! Truly there are many plausible arguments, convincing vain philosophy, and empty deceit at work in the midst of our lives as well. “Find your security in the type of body you have!” “Find your hope in the car you drive or the house you live in!” “Hey listen, you really need the opinions of others to give you true worth and value.” “If we don’t have the right President, the world will fall to pieces.” Paul speaks to us today, begging Christians to stay the course and walk by faith in Christ. The message of Christ, then, is not something simply needed for our justification, it is needed for our sanctification. Faith, for Paul is not something you simply use once to believe in Christ but something you use every moment of every day. I need it every day, for daily I am tempted to put my faith in a hundred other things besides Jesus. Our faith in Christ, and indeed the Christ Himself, becomes something we need for the present and future, as well as the past. Going further, we get the feeling that Paul in Colossians 2 is likening the Christian life to that of an organic plant. Paul uses the words “rooted and built up,” really giving us the image of a tree. This isn’t surprising, since the Bible is full of “tree imagery” used to describe the Christian life. Psalm 1 tells us that the man who “meditates day and night,” on the law of God is “like a tree, planted beside streams of water that yields its fruit in its season,” (1:2-3). In Matthew 7, Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit,” (7:15-18). Again, Jesus uses this imagery in John 15. He tells the disciples in verse 16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.”

By thinking of the Christian as a fruit-bearing tree, and indeed a “new creation,” (2 Corinthians 5:17) we can make some sense out of the relationship between the promises and truths of Christ, a life of faith in those promises, and “outward” obedience and works. Paul tells the Colossians to be “rooted and built up” in Christ. Christ, including the promises and truths associated with Him, then becomes the soil and ground into which the Christian is planted. Christ is the nourishment of the Christian, and He is what sustains and feeds the Christian continually by the Spirit within. Our identity in Jesus, our adoption, union, justification, given-worth, eternal security, and very hope in the Savior is what the Christian should fill his/her mind with. Then Paul tells the Colossians to be “established in the faith.” Using a little creativity, we can see that both faith and the promises of God are to be the foundations and stability of the Christian life. Faith is the way, though, that Christians take the promises of God and make them their own. By faith, Christians comprehend and trust in the promises and truths of Christ. So then, faith naturally becomes the roots of the Christian life. An apple tree gains nourishment from the soil by its roots. As the roots take in the nutrients from the soil, the nutrients are carried throughout the tree and finally produce the fruit of an apple. In the same way, we as Christians grow by gaining nourishment from God’s promises and truths in Christ by faith. The faith we have is the means by which we draw out nourishment from the truths of Christ, as the roots draw out nourishment from the soil. By sinking down into the promises of God by faith, we gain nourishment. It is by and through faith that we are nourished, sustained, and grow, and it is the way we affect and nourish the new hearts we possess as Christians. By faith we apply the healing balm of God’s promises and truths in Christ to our hearts. The fruit, then, of a Christian life becomes outward obedience and conformity of God’s commands, summed up in loving God and loving others. By faith in God’s promises, we “abound in thanksgiving”, and our life produces fruit.

The call is for faith today; not more faith, not better faith, just faith. Let us believe again in what we have come to know,  let us act on what know, and then the world will surely marvel and wonder at the Church as a bystander would gape at a magnificent garden as it blooms and flourishes. God is truly glorified in such a Church.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16

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