The Christian life involves several inexorable crises. Our first crisis took place even before we became a believer when it became plain to us that we didn’t follow the law of God. This is a necessary prerequisite in our awakening to God. The law exposes us as sinners and our only escape in our despair is Christ whose blood cleanses us from all sin. The second major crisis arrives when we discover our helplessness. The law that we once didn’t adhere to we now find we cannot keep. When our self-righteousness now collapses we are in dire need for a new footbridge for our self. It is at this point the Spirit offers us the vessel analogy. Our humanity is a vessel, a pot, a jug which is filled with something, and that something is God. He has through our failures plainly showed us that He is the only one who can live the Christian life in, through and as us. This becomes the new foundation for our self.
However, the vessel analogy isn’t a perfect image of our true humanity. We know from the natural that a vessel can be empty, half-full or filled to the rim. If we do not move past the vessel-self we might fall easy prey for the enemy’s deceits and lies. One of his favorites is to tell us that we merely are half-full, a lie which propels us into a new round of self-effort to fill ourselves. Of course, we cannot fill ourselves. We are filled by Another.
The glorious fact is that God has created us as persons in His likeness. We are derivatives of the One Person in the universe. A person is something far more complex than a vessel. But to be safe and free in our personhood it is vital that we are well grounded in who lives in us. The vessel analogy also fails to convey a distinct image of our union with God on account of that a vessel is of a different kind than what fills it. The human union between man and women gives us a more accurate image of the actual realities. Man and woman are of the same kind and hence they can establish a unity. Marriage is only possible between humans because they are of the same design or of the same likeness, as it were.
It is thus imperative that when we are firmly settled as vessels that we move from the vessel analogy to the vine-branch relationship Jesus so lucidly accentuated. When we observe a tree we do not divide it into trunk, root, branches and leaves. We see a tree. The tree is compounded of different parts, but it is the tree as a whole we behold. What we call branches is the tree. What we call trunk is the tree. The use of the vine-branch equivalence in Jesus’ own words is no coincidence. There were two trees in the garden. Each tree is a potent representation of two possible unities, either a person in union with God or in union with the deceiver. Each tree forms a unity. The Tree of Life is light and love. The tree of knowledge of good and evil is darkness and self-for-self.
Paul wrote that there is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ. When we in our inner consciousness behold the Tree of Life in its magnificent glory we behold the unity of God and man, neither becoming the other as Norman Grubb put it, but nevertheless a most stunning interleaved fusion. This image mirrors only One. It works, operates and functions as One. This tree can only produce one kind of fruit – the fruit of the Spirit. On this backdrop it thus becomes utterly meaningless for us to speak in terms of condemnation. How can there be condemnation or wrath in a tree of life?