Today’s reading happened to be in Isaiah 17, but the Holy Spirit brought to my attention the beautiful correlation between this passage and another which I had studied with some friends just last week. In summary, Isaiah 17 is about the nation of Israel’s foreign alliance with Damascus which brought upon them the judgement of the Lord and the reducing of the nation to a remnant. The passage later broadens to include all the nations of the earth which are also brought to destruction because of them having forgotten the God of their salvation.
The portion of scripture that really jumped out at me was verses ten and eleven, which read:
10 For you have forgotten the God of your salvation
and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge;
therefore, though you plant pleasant plants
and sow the vine-branch of a stranger,
11 though you make them grow on the day that you plant them,
and make them blossom in the morning that you sow,
yet the harvest will flee away
in a day of grief and incurable pain.
–English Standard Version (ESV)
The physical result of the nation’s forgetting the God of their salvation was a fleeting harvest. Though the lack of harvest here is to be taken literally, I believe the principle still applies today in a spiritual sense.
In 2 Peter chapter one, Peter is talking to a body of what appears to be mature believers (v1). He encourages them to “become partakers of the divine nature“ by supplementing “your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.“
Therefore, if you lack these qualities which make up the divine nature then you have forgotten that you were cleansed from your former sins (hence, the God of your salvation) and therefore you will be ineffective and unfruitful (lacking harvest) in the knowledge of the the Lord Jesus Christ.
The ESV study note puts it plainly: “A lifelong pattern of growth in Christ-like character is expected of Christians and is the key to fruitful ministry. By contrast, knowledge… of Christ is ineffective and unfruitful unless accompanied by a life that increasingly exhibits the qualities of vv. 5-7”.
My first question upon reading this was, “How can you have the knowledge of Christ, but have forgotten Christ at the same time?”. The verse clearly reads that you can be unfruitful in your knowledge, lacking these qualities as a result of forgetting that you were cleansed. Furthermore, the Greek word for knowledge, according to the Thayer’s definition, means a precise and correct knowledge. According to the Strong’s definition, the word comes from a root word meaning ‘to know thoroughly’.
So, if I am interpreting this passage correctly, it is possible to have a correct and thorough knowledge of Jesus Christ, but also have forgotten him and everything that he is done for us.
Although it seems to contradict itself, I cannot think of a better way to sum up the current mind-set behind many church and personal ministries. The driving force behind many ministries today is not the gospel, but rather it is the ‘vine-branch of a stranger’. It’s the gospel with some new spin on it to make it more exciting, relevant, or relatable. Examples of these driving forces of which I speak are “building relationships”, creating ‘spirit-lead’ services (which is just a nice way of saying unorthodox), the desire to see signs and wonders, and the list goes on.
Please, do not misunderstand what I am saying. Building relationships, being led by the spirit and manifestations of the spirit are all wonderful biblical principles that are important, but they should, in no way, take the spotlight away from the real reason we do everything that we do. If the driving force is not Christ and what he has done for us then it’s wrong and it will yield a fleeting harvest.
John 15:1-11 (ESV)
I Am the True Vine
15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
In conclusion, whether you are a leader or participant in ministry, I encourage you to abide in the true vine and not the vine-branch of a stranger, so that you may become partakers of the divine nature and be fruitful, yielding an abundant harvest! In the words of Peter, “I think it right… to stir you up by way of reminder.” Remember Christ. Remember the God of your most precious salvation.
Titus 3:4-7 (ESV) 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.