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When Michelangelo talked about his sculpting process, he said that he believed that the figure was stuck in the block of stone, and his job was just to remove what didn’t belong. I think this is an interesting way to view our spiritual formation, the process in which we’re transformed to look more like our Lord Jesus. So often we think this process is about what we’re adding: more fruits of the Spirit, more prayer, more service, more giving, more heightened spiritual experiences. But what if becoming like Jesus is just as much about what we’re taking away? In Hebrews, we’re encouraged to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).
What hinders the process of becoming more like Jesus? The answer can be anything from willful actions to unconscious habits, from possessions to relationships. Other times, it may even be our own involvement in “godly” activities like church or service commitments that may fill our schedules, but don’t feed our souls. It’s not always easy to tell what doesn’t belong, but a good way to start is to use the “fruit” test. In Matthew, Jesus said that “every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit…Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:17, 20).
What’s happening in our hearts and souls tends to find its way into the world through our actions. So if we’re ever in doubt about whether a habit, possession, or even a relationship is helping or hurting our spiritual formation, all we have to do is look at its fruit in our lives. Does it make us look more, or less, like Jesus? Once we’ve answered that question, the process of removing it isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s a lifelong struggle. But through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have all we need to persevere, so that day by day, bit by bit, we can “throw off” whatever doesn’t belong. In his time and in his way, as he shares with us his new life, he will free us to look more and more like the wonderful image of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
I’m Joseph Tkach, speaking of LIFE.