By Michael Roop
When I was young, one tree in my family’s backyard was the bane of my existence. It was an apple tree, and I dreamed often of chopping it down. Sounds intense? I couldn’t help it; I spent hours upon hours picking up the fallen apples so that my dad — and later I — could safely mow the lawn. In my late-elementary mind, my childhood home had an apple tree in its backyard. I know this, not because I compared its leaves to those of other trees, or because I had its wood analyzed at a microbiological level. I know this because I spent hours picking apples. Apples on the branch, apple tree.
Those of us familiar with the Bible know Paul’s famous list of fruit that hangs on the branches of a Spirit tree, including joy, peace, patience, kindness, and gentleness (Gal. 5:22-23). We tend to be less familiar with the list immediately preceding, which lists the fruit that hangs on the branches of a flesh tree. Among other types of flesh-tree fruit are these: enmity, strife, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, and divisions (5:19-20).
So I ask myself: In the conversations of this cultural moment, as the racial history of our county is increasingly laid bare before our eyes, which list describes my interactions with brothers and sisters, especially those with whom I disagree? Is my attitude proof of the Holy Spirit in me? Or do I revert to the fleshly tendencies to which I was once enslaved?
Absent of Jesus’ intervention in our lives, we are enslaved to sin, doomed always to “gratify the desires of the flesh.” But in Christ, we have been set free from this slavery. We are now free to walk in the Spirit, and to bear fruit in keeping with our new identity as sons and daughters of the Most High God.
It matters that we stand for the truth that every human being is created in the image of God, is equally and infinitely valuable, and should never be subjected to injustice, discrimination, or oppression. But it also matters how we stand. As we step towards these issues, it matters what kind of fruit hangs off our branches.
Because, like the apple tree in my backyard, fruit contains its own seeds. And when that fruit falls to the ground, those seeds are planted, and grow, and reproduce more versions of itself. So today, and in the weeks to come, put to death the desires of the flesh by the Spirit, and you will live.