Yesterday I wrote about the harvest and related the harvest Jesus spoke of in Matthew 9 to harvesting peas, green beans, and pears. As I was writing, another idea came to me about harvesting berries, but it didn’t really fit with the theme of yesterday’s post, so I decided to save it for today.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, we love our raspberries, blackberries, Marion berries, Logan berries, and strawberries. But harvesting berries is difficult work. You have to be very careful not to squish or bruise them and they must be picked one at a time. You can’t drive a combine down a row of berries and spin the vines around in a barrel to pop the berries off the vines like you do peas. If you tried that, you would have berry mush and juice. Even one or two squished berries in a pint box can cause the rest to mold in a very short time and the whole pint can be completely wasted. Once you bring berries home from the market, you have to eat them, freeze them, or do something with them pretty quickly. But you don’t want to wash them until you are ready to use them because the extra moisture on them can also lead to molding.
In the same way, people who God has planned for His Harvest must be handled with great care. If we are not careful with our words to our fellow Christians, they might be bruised or squished like a berry. Sometimes, even if a person becomes part of the harvest and trusts in Christ, if they are bruised or squished along the way they could cause those around them to be ruined and a whole group could be ultimately lost as they walk away from a faith they once found.
The bruising I am talking about is legalism. Sometimes a Christian will say to a fellow Christian, “If you do this or that, you will burn in hell. Got hates that behavior.” But this isn’t really a true statement. Jesus said,
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” John 3:17-18.
It is not our sin that condemns us to hell. It is failing or refusing to believe in the One who died to pay for our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. And yet often people, including other Christians, are told repeatedly that they will be condemned for certain behavior.
I have known people who have turned their back on the Church and on God because of hearing such lies. And can you blame them? If Christ didn’t pay for their sin, then what good is He to them? If they have to be perfect on their own before they can enter into the Kingdom of God, they might as well give up because Christianity is no different from any other religion or no religion at all. The Apostle John wrote:
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:1-2.
And Paul wrote to the Galatian church:
“If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” Galatians 2:17-21.
Of course God does not want us to sin, because generally speaking sin is not good for us and does not bring us joy and contentment, which is found only in Christ. But if we tell others that they will be condemned because of a some sin or another that they have committed after they have accepted Christ and trusted in His atoning sacrifice, we may ruin their faith and cause them to deny Christ. Instead, we should handle them with care, gently encouraging them to rely on the cleansing of the Holy Spirit to overcome the temptation they are struggling with today. We should never “set aside the grace of God” and exchange it for the law under which none will be found righteous. We must encourage and uphold our fellow Christians when they stumble, so that they can get back up and set their sights back on Jesus.
Have you been bruised and squished by fellow Christians who have burdened you with the yoke of legalism? Look to Jesus and know that He loves you and died to pay for your sins. Cry out to the Holy Spirit for understanding of the depth of His love and grace, so that you will not lose your faith in the One and Only Son of God. Seek His wisdom and His guidance so that you might grow more like Him each day. And never forget that you are a work in progress and “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6.