Growing in the Fruit of the Holy Spirit
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."
It is interesting that Paul ends his letter to the Galatians with a litany of character qualities that are produced in all members of God's family by the Holy Spirit. This letter written by Paul addresses some conflict in the churches in the region of Galatia surrounding the divisive issue of whether a person needed to observe the Jewish rite of circumcision in order to be a Christian. Paul argued forcefully that no human effort or action can earn salvation. And that is a point well worth making when it comes to the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Some people read Galatians 5:22-23 and see this list as a set of spiritual temperament goals that God wants them to achieve. I have actually been in Bible studies where the leader has asked the question: "Which of these character qualities in these verses do we each need to work on?" Sadly, that inquiry misses the whole point. Consider the term Paul uses for this list of qualities--FRUIT. Do fruit trees have to work to make fruit? No, apples naturally grow on apple trees; it would be comical to think of a pear tree sweating and straining to produce pears. Fruit comes from a tree as the sap, the sunlight and moisture all do their part in creating the fruit. Likewise, this list of fruit in Galatians 5:22-23 will supernaturally grow, without our effort, as we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and nurture our relationship with Him.
Now, the statement I just wrote would actually draw criticism and even a strong negative reaction in some quarters of the Christian church. These people believe that we have to work hard to identify and root the sin out of our lives in order to be holy. To suggest that we should do anything less than focus on our own sin, feel badly about it all the time and work to eliminate it appears to be lazy at least and heretical at most for these Christians. And yet their posture verges on pure legalism and is not biblical. Just as I am saved by grace, and not through my own efforts, I am sanctified (made holy) by grace apart from my attempts to control my sin nature. In fact, I believe that people become what they look at. If your eyes are on yourself and your sin all of the time, you will be more and more entangled in selfishness and sin. But if our eyes are on Jesus, we will become more and more like Him, reflecting all of the fruit of the Spirit, through the work of the Spirit. We don't like to read what I have just written because down deep inside we like to be in control of our lives--or at least think we are in control of our lives. If I am self-righteously trying to root the sin out of my life, I am actually thinking that I am God and that I can clean up my own soul. How foolish and how naive and how dangerous! Then, when I fail, which I will inevitably do, the devil has all of the ammunition he needs to rub our hearts in our sin and make us feel more like failures because our efforts to achieve holiness did not succeed. We human beings like to be so independent--to think we can perfect our lives on our own; even Christians will say that they want the Lord to make them more like Jesus and then act like the task is their responsibility. Again, let's just keep our eyes on Jesus and trust Him to finish the good work that He began in us the day that we entered into a redemptive relationship with Him. (Philippians 1:6) The truth is that, every day, even when I don't feel like it, the Holy Spirit is ruining me as a sinner. It may not be a linear process and certainly there will be days when I am taking two steps back rather than one step forward. Nevertheless, I am not as good of a sinner now as I used to be in the past--by God's grace! Yes, I have to walk in this fruit as it is produced in my life, but it is not my job to manufacture it. The other aspect of the fact that Paul identifies these character qualities as fruit is to recognize that fruit only grows when trees are pruned. Who sold us the bill of goods that to be a Christian means to live an easy and (always) happy life? Where do we read that in the Bible? In the gospel of John, chapter fifteen, verse 2, Jesus promised those who followed Him that their lives would be pruned to be fruitful. One chapter later, in verse 33, Jesus told His disciples that they would have trouble in this world. So, why are we so surprised when the trouble and the suffering and the challenges come? Wouldn't it be more biblical and more comforting for us to see these difficulties as the evidence that Jesus is making us more like Himself through them--that He is pruning us toward fruitfulness. Again, I have to walk in the Jesus life made available to me in the midst of the trials and adversity--and that is really hard! In fact, I can't do it alone. But we need to be encouraged. Right after Jesus said that we would have trouble in this world, he pledged, "But take heart. I have overcome the world." TAKE HEART--let's grip our hearts, ask Jesus to hold on to them and not let those hearts worry their way down the road of fear and doubt. Heavenly Father, we desperately want You to produce in us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There isn't just one of these we need to work on--You have promised us the whole package because Your Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, is at work in our lives. We rejoice in that truth, Lord! Please make us more like You today than we were yesterday and even more like You tomorrow. We want others to see You in us every moment of every day! In Jesus' Name, Amen.