The Kingdom of God – Righteousness, Peace and Joy

Why would Paul include righteousness, peace and joy as the key ingredients in the kingdom of God? What sets these three qualities above all others? Why are these components indispensable?

“For the kingdom of God
is not a matter of eating and drinking,
but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,
because anyone who serves Christ in this way
is pleasing to God and receives human approval.”
Romans 14:17,18

I confess to having more questions than answers. However, one thing appears certain, righteousness, peace and joy create the fertile soil from which they each thrive, co-existing for their mutual benefit.

Righteousness

Recently, I’ve had more than one conversation surrounding the frustration we can feel regarding righteousness. (Or perhaps the lack of it.) Why does it seem to be too easy to do the things we would or should not do, while at the same time difficult to do the things we truly want to do? Oops! That’s another question!

Before the initial sin, humanity could freely choose to obey God and maintain close relationship with Him without feeling pulled and tugged in other directions. Since that time however, our propensity bends continually toward disobedience and rebellion. For every son and daughter since Adam and Eve, we now need to make a deliberate choice for righteousness — to walk in innocence and freedom. Without this focused attention, we automatically default to sin and error.

Just a few verses earlier Paul despaired of the same frustration I experience, “Who can possible help us?” he asks. Then immediately he gives the answer,

“Thanks be to God, who delivers me
through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Romans 7:25

There’s hope! Righteousness means to be faultless, innocent, and guiltless or observing divine laws. Only God fits this description. In light of His holiness, we all end up far short.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us,
so that in him we might become
the righteousness of God.”
2 Corinthians 5:21

God solved the problem in Jesus. Through covenant relationship with Him, God counts us as righteous. Because of Jesus, righteousness now becomes the hallmark of all other relationships as well.

Peace

Through the liberty of Jesus Christ, we are no longer forced to continue in negative patterns. He came to deliver us from the stronghold of sin. With righteousness in place, we can start growing upward and onward. Maturity and development in any area isn’t always easy, but possible through Christ.

“The fruit of that righteousness will be peace;
its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.”
Isaiah 32:17

The apple tree in my yard doesn’t have to work at producing apples; it simply bears what it is genetically designed to produce. The fruit of righteousness however does take work, or at least active involvement. “Fruit” here is an activity or byproduct of action taken.

Isaiah says with certainty, the byproduct of righteousness “will be” peace. Peace effects us inside and out, giving us a sense of undisturbed quietness, complete safety and absolute security.

When I’ve violated God’s standards, I’m immediately robbed of peace and void of internal quietness and confidence. In Christ, however, I am able to be restored again to right relationship with God, producing “fruit” naturally.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you,
live at peace with everyone.”
Romans 12:18

Peace works its way outward spreading to others with enough fruit to share!

Joy

It’s hard to believe that someone like me, whose life was marked by depression and anxiety for decades, could experience such complete joy. But it’s true! Perhaps more than any other quality, joy marks my life . Because of what Jesus Christ has done in me, I easily share the overflow of joy with others.

“Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul,
produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ
in the word and in the world.”
– John Piper

When we begin to walk in right relationship with God, living at peace with ourselves and others, we possess an ability to see the world in a new light. God enables us to view His Word and the world around us from kingdom perspective.

In a sense, God gives us spiritual contact lens, that allow us to see those we encounter here on earth from His viewpoint. At the same time, we are able to maintain clear focus on Him. Righteousness, peace and joy retrains our minds to see with His vision.

Paul prayed,

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy
and peace as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Romans 15:13

Righteousness produces more and more. This time in the form of overflowing, bubbling over and abounding hope.

Kingdom of God

Listen to how the Message Bible phrases our original verses:

“God’s kingdom isn’t a matter of what you put in your stomach, for goodness’ sake. It’s what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with joy. Your task is to single-mindedly serve Christ. Do that and you’ll kill two birds with one stone; pleasing the God above you and proving your worth to the people around you.”
Romans 14:17-18

The kingdom of God isn’t so much about what we do, but what God does in us. He “sets it right, puts it together and completes it with joy.” He does it all!  What we need to do is rest in the process, co-operating with the Holy Spirit, while He does the heavy lifting.

 

We have only one part to play — “single-minded” service. By keeping our eyes on God, all the pressure falls off of us. No matter how old we become, how mature in the faith, or how seasoned in the Scriptures, we constantly depend on Him to lead, equip and enable me.

Though we try our best to please God in every way, our own efforts matter little. Through righteousness, peace and joy we automatically become pleasing to God and valuable to others.

Righteousness, Peace and Joy

Righteousness, peace and joy are byproducts of living wholly for Christ. Through my vain efforts to try to do and be, I actually hinder the natural flow of God’s design.

God has planted us firmly. The Holy Spirit washes us continually with the Word, watering us deep to the roots. We rest in His finished work producing the fruit of the heavenly kingdom to which we belong.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness and self-control.
Against such things there is no law.”
Galatians 5:22-23

Don’t ignore the last sentence. “Against such there is no law.” We no longer have to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, or the law pointing out right and wrong, like our first ancestors did. Because of God’s grace, we eat freely and fully from the tree of life where righteousness, peace and joy thrive.

No wonder Paul declared these three ingredients as essential in the kingdom of God. This is how God sets our lives right, puts them together, and completes them with joy.

 

I Am the Vine You are the Branches – Fruit that Lasts

Fruit that lasts - I Chose You

The thrust of winter is sending one final blast across the prairies, but I’m thinking spring. The garden awaits under mounds of snow; the deep rich soil is prepared for another season of bearing fruit and vegetables. Gardening may be one of my joys in life, but I have been called to more than what my hands can produce.

“I chose you and appointed you
so that you might go and bear fruit
fruit that will last.”
John 15:16

There is only one kind of fruit that truly lasts – what we do for God!

The Vine

When we moved into town, I decided to try an espalier experiment with an apple tree. It sounded like a reasonable solution in a small yard and my personal repulsion to ladder climbing.

I bought a young whip, planted it in a secluded corner, and began aggressively pruning. At times, I was concerned whether the little tree would survive the drastic cutting and shaping process.

Blossoms of promise

Any branches that were reaching toward the back were cut; as were the branches pointing forward. Only those reaching outward to the left and right were allowed to remain. Only the stoutest branches, those equally spaced  10″ – 12″ apart up the main trunk, were left. This would allow sufficient air flow between the limbs and provide full support to each branch by the trellis.

Year by year the little whip began to take shape. Not the shape of a “normal” apple tree with bows spreading upward forming a rounded canopy. Rather the shape of the trellis upon which the branches were fastened.

Every blossom was removed those first few years, so the tree would gain strength. My vision were set for the future.

The Gardener

After the last several years of pruning and shaping my little tree, I can understand these verses more clearly:

I am the true vine,
and my Father is the gardener.
John 15:1

Just like with my little tree, my Father is only leaving me with the “branches” of my life that are willing to stretch outward, to the left and right, toward others. Branches that are pointing too far ahead, toward the future, won’t receive the support needed to bear the weight of a heavy harvest. Those branches that are pointing behind, anchored in the past lacking the present light of Christ, will be susceptible to “disease”of grumbling and complaining.

My fruit bearing ability will not be secure in either the past successes and failures or of the future dreaming.  To bear fruit that will last, I need to trust the Gardener to know what needs to go and what should remain. He is shaping me for future increase!

Resistance

My little tree has a natural inclination to grow full and lush, spewing branches at liberty. Though more beautiful perhaps, it is not the way of fruitfulness.

Me too!

I don’t particularly like the pruning process. As a matter of fact, I quite detest it!

“He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,
while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes,
so that it will be even more fruitful.”
John 15:2

One of the greatest challenges I face with my little tree is “suckers” that sprout up from the outfacing branches. Their wild quick growing nature saps the branch of precious nutrients. Worse yet, suckers aren’t fruit bearers!

Pruning for fruit

Interestingly though, when these upward shoots are pruned off a few inches from the main branch, the remaining stub will be the source of much fruit in the years ahead.

“No branch can bear fruit by itself;
it must remain in the vine.
Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
John 15:4

Fruit bearing branches must be “connected” to the vine, the main trunk! It isn’t enough to be connected to another branch!

My main connection must always be with God. When I attempt to sprout out from another man’s ministry, rather than from God Himself, the result may appear healthy at first, but it will be unsustainable. Am I thoroughly connected? And where?

I am thankful for the “fruit bearers” in my life:

apostles and prophets,
evangelists, pastors, and teachers,
forefathers and mothers of the faith,
mentors and counselors,
steadfast, faithful, “waymakers”.

Though appreciative of their input, my sustaining strength comes from only One Source, the Vine Jesus Christ. To be a fruit bearer, I MUST be connected directly to Him.

Clusters

The second greatest problem that requires pruning are the “clusters”.

Clusters of blossoms

I’ve never been able to walk by an apple tree in bloom – never! I must stop to breath in the aroma of the fragrant clusters of blossoms, watch the busy activity of pollinating bees, and let my eyes feast on the intricate God design of each blossom.

The Gardener knows that each blossom will not produce fruit. In fact, each blossom should not produce fruit! The branch can neither nurture nor bear the weight of that much fruit. So the Gardener sets to work, pruning even the fruit bearing branches.

This is the most difficult pruning for me to do in my garden. I want to see “abundance”, but wisdom tells me to trim, cut, and prune until only the choice fruit remains.

Clustered fruit will never grow to full potential. To ensure the quality of the remaining fruit, I must prune harder.

Humanly speaking, clusters are comfortable. Clusters are safe. We like to cluster! Denominational clusters, team clusters, recreational clusters, clusters here and clusters there! People naturally like to congregate in groups.

Clusters are good places to begin our faith journey. If staying in tight little clusters matters more than reaching out, we will never mature to be true fruit bearers. To touch the lives of those in our world, there must be a willingness to leave our comfort zones and stretch outward in love and care.

Chosen and Appointed for Fruit

As hard as pruning is, harvest will prove its worth!

As I walk around my little community, I notice apple trees flourishing in abundance. Each fall, large boughs bend earthward laden with enormous amounts of fruit. The appearance of fruitfulness is everywhere.

Harvest time demonstrates the true benefits of pruning. Every apple on my little tree is weighty, plump and full. Every cut I made with the shears was for the purpose of maximum harvest. Now it is payback time!

The reward of pruning - choice fruit!

While others are picking, peeling and processing buckets of undersized produce, only those willing to prune enjoy over-sized rich fruit.

The same will be in my life! The Gardener knows! He has a plan!

“I chose you and appointed you
so that you might go and bear fruit
fruit that will last…”
John 15:16

God has chosen each one of us. He has called us out and appointed us to produce – to produce in abundance and to produce fruit that is eternal. The Gardener isn’t looking for standard garden variety outcomes. He is working in us and through us to prepare supernatural fruitfulness.

Knowing His plan allows us to endure the painful pruning seasons with grace and hope. We may feel naked and exposed during these “harsh” pruning times. Truthfully, God’s loving hand of wisdom and perfection is in every touch.

He is looking to the harvest; it is coming soon!