The problem of a bad beginning

Maybe it was the fruit trees or something else, but a sweet aroma welcomed the traveler as he entered the spacious valley filled with orchards. Having heard about oranges, but never having eaten one, he stopped to inquire, “Is this an orange orchard? Might I purchase an orange?”

A chuckle preceded the reply, “The first one is my gift!” With this, a round bright orange fruit was tossed at him. Eating it, he experienced a juicy sweet sensation.

Soon  he longed for another. The next farmer told him, “Lots of people claim to have oranges, but only fruit that is orange are the real ones,” before handing him another fruit like the first.

Confused the traveler stopped at a third orchard, “Is this an orange orchard?” He also explained his previous conversations.

With a gentle smile, this farmer said, “Some farmers are narrowed-minded. We like to take a more generous approach toward oranges.” He tossed an oblong yellow fruit to the traveler. Upon eating a sour section, the traveler’s confusion grew. “Just what is an orange?”

Further down the road, another farmer suggested, “An orange can’t be an orange unless it is a round citric fruit with a peel. I have an orange orchard!” With a wave of his hand he pointed to acres of trees loaded with softball size yellow fruit. Sampling one of these fruits, the traveler encountered a slight bitter taste.

Other answers were forthcoming such as the farmer who claimed, “Oranges are sweet citric fruits with an orange peel.” This farmer gave him a small round orange fruit with a very loose peel. Its diameter was no larger than a silver dollar. While its flavor was sweet, this had yet another distinctive flavor.

Each farmer claimed to have an orange orchard, but the fruits were of various sizes, flavors and colors. The traveler muttered to himself, “Maybe they are all orange orchards.” At that moment an old professor strolling nearby inquired, “Have you been asking the farmers to identify an orange orchard?”

“Yes,” he said wearily.

“An accurate identification requires knowing not merely essential characteristics, but the key distinctive item making a fruit an orange. Essential characteristics are not determinative. An orange must have a peel, but just because a fruit has a peel does not make it an orange,” the professor observed.

We live in a world where some identify few as being Christians while others identify many as Christians. So then, who is a Christian? We’ll encounter many answers ranging from Christians are those who participate in a particular historical lineage to  all those who believe. Neither of these principles can be determinative (Galatians 5:4; Matthew 7:21).

Although there are many essentials like possessing faith, God provides the key distinctive characteristic.  After all, God places people into his church (Acts 2:47), knows those who are his (2 Timothy 2:19) and a relationship with God exists only because God knows us (Galatians 4:9). To be Christian starts with God, not us.

Through Christ, God has offered to the world a new covenant, that is, a relationship with us wherein God promises to claim us as his people and forgive us (Hebrews 8:6,10-12). The gospel describes those who trust in Christ through immersion as receiving these two covenant promises and entering the Lord’s church (Acts 2:38, 42; Galatians 3:26-27).

What happens when we start with wrong ideas about what is determinative? How helpful is it to label grapefruits as oranges?


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