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A Righteousness by Faith #11: Fruit and the loss of anxiety

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5

In college, I took my first training course in evangelism. I was taught a slew of verses to share with lost people, especially those who might have serious objections to the good news of the kingdom. Then we were taken out to practice. I remember stalking an unsuspecting target in order to share my faith…bad memory.

What I discovered in the process is that I and a lot of my classmates suffered from anxiety. Cold calling on people with their need of a Savior was not all that comfortable as well as not all that successful. We had the techniques and the wording down but were not seeing any fruit.

Since those days I have had the privilege to lead a number of people to faith. But I have to tell you, I have never approached witnessing the way I was trained in school. In fact, I did not shed my anxiety about sharing the Good News until I came to see that I was focused on the task.

Think again about what Jesus is saying to his disciples. The final hours before the cross are winding down. He already knows they will have the wind knocked out of them when he is arrested. They will be afraid and scatter. This anxiety will intensify. They will fear arrest, torture, and death for themselves. They will hide. Bearing much fruit will not be the topic of their survival discussions.

Yet forty days later, on a busy public street in the same city where Jesus was crucified, they and a hundred more boldly challenged the Jewish crowd, which has gathered from all over the Roman Empire, to repent and be baptized.

What happened? We all know the answer. Jesus showed up alive. But more to the point, Jesus showed up and breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21)

What I learned from this moment was that remaining was about the presence of the Spirit in me. Bearing fruit was the task, but it was not something that we do as much as it is something that is done through us. Take an apple tree for example. Life-giving sap runs through its veins. The sun and rain fall on it. It is deeply rooted in the soil where it finds the nutrients that cause it to grow. The tree does not anxiously work at producing a crop of apples. It just does because it is alive. Its fruit is the natural outcome from remaining connected to all that gives it life.

When I began to understand this, I also began to shed my anxiety. I do not produce fruit by focusing on the task of evangelism. I produce fruit as I allow the life of the Spirit to flow through me, as I stay deeply connected to the vine.  And people come to faith as I speak truth and love and kindness and life and patience and joy to them. The good news of Jesus is the flow, not the task.

Righteousness by faith is not a new taskmaster, driving you from project to project to project. Righteousness by faith is the product of Jesus’ life in you. As you remain in him, you will be transformed. And then you will not want to be silent. And you will bear much fruit.

-Steve Smith