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The Fruit of the Spirit
(Delivered Sunday, June 2, 2002 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
This morning, I invite you to turn with me to a passage of Scripture that's a favorite among many of God's people. It describes "the fruit of the Spirit". Galatians 5:22-23 says, "... The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control."
I agree with what John Stott has written about these beloved words; that "The mere recital of these Christian graces should be enough to make the mouth water and the heart beat faster. For this is a portrait of Jesus Christ."1 When you hear that list of qualities being read, however, do you sometimes - like me - feel a sense of frustration? Does hearing this list of qualities remind you of what's often lacking in your life? Does an absence of love in your heart toward certain people grieve you? Are you at times overwhelmed with an inner lack of joy or peace? Does your own personal resource of patience, kindness and goodness fall short of the demands of particular circumstances? Are you sorrowful over your own lack of faithfulness and trustworthiness in certain duties? Do you hate the arrogant pride that occasionally shows itself in your heart? Do you mourn over your own lack of self-control in certain areas? Truly, only Jesus could be said to have possessed these qualities in perfection. But as we look at them - and if we're truly children of God by faith - we can't help but wish that His perfections could also be found in us more often than they are.
By our own efforts, these things could never be produced in us as they were found in Jesus. But the wonderful promise of this passage is that, through the ministry of His own Holy Spirit dwelling in us, Jesus' own perfect character - as defined by these qualities - can be exhibited in us! Just imagine - the perfections of Jesus in us!! How, then, could we ever place enough importance on what this wonderful passage offers to us?!!
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To fully appreciate just how precious these words are, we need to see them in the larger context of Paul's letter to the church in Galatia. As beautiful as these words are, they come to us in the harshest of Paul's New Testament letters. Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians in great anger and distress of heart, because the believers in Galatia were falling away from the simple message of the gospel. They were abandoning the message that a sinner is declared righteous before God as a free gift of His grace through faith in the cross of Jesus. Instead, they were falling for the lie that they could make themselves righteous before God through obedience to the Old Testament law.
Paul spends the first four chapters of his letter proving to them that "a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ ... for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified" (2:16). He argues that the purpose of the Old Testament law was not to make us righteous, but to condemn us as sinners that needed to flee to Jesus for salvation by grace. Paul writes;
False teachers had been misleading the Galatian believers into thinking that they could be made more righteous and acceptable before God on the basis of the law of Moses. And yet, the main purpose of that law was to place them in bondage until they could be redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus. And now, after having trusted in the cross of Jesus, these wayward Christians were, in effect, denying the sufficiency of Jesus' cross; and were insisting instead on the Jewish rite of circumcision, on the careful observance of Jewish dietary laws, and on the regular keeping of the Jewish sabbaths and festivals. It was as if they had been set free from bondage by Christ; and yet were now putting the yoke of bondage back on themselves and making themselves slaves again. Paul wrote to tell them not to be deceived any longer: "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage" (5:1).
By the way, the impact that their misplaced devotion to the law was having on the Galatian church was very negative. I believe that the same sort of thing typically happens any time a church becomes "legalistic" - that is, when it becomes focused on trying to win God's favor by keeping a list of do's and don'ts. Such a church becomes full of people who fight with one another. Individual believers in Galatia began to measure their spirituality by their own performance; and they began to look down their noses at those who didn't perform as well as they. Soon, their legalistic approach made them jealous and accusatory toward one another. This was because "legalism" places the emphasis on ourselves and on our performance. It turns our focus inward, rather than toward God's grace and toward each other's needs. Paul told them, "For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!" (5:13-15).
But then, there's the question of what to do with the law of God. Do we simply ignore the need to be holy in the way we live? Do we reject God's law altogether? Do we forget about following the pattern of Jesus' own holiness? Are we now to just "go with the flow", and allow the lusts of the flesh to express themselves in us? No! The standard of holiness hasn't changed; but what has changed is the way in which it's to be achieved in us. We're now to cease trying to make ourselves holy on the basis of our own human efforts; and instead allow God's Holy Spirit to live the life of Jesus Christ through us. Paul wrote;
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This isn't simply a message intended for the Galatian believers alone. It's a message intended for you and me. And it's a message of great encouragement and hope.
Perhaps you need such a message of hope this morning. Perhaps you've been frustrated with how far short you fall of living the sort of life God wants you to live. Perhaps you've been struggling to measure up to what you believe a man or woman of God should be; and perhaps your failures have almost cause you to give up hope.
Let this basic principle of the Christian life sink in: The only one who can live the life of Jesus is Jesus Himself. We could never do it in our own power. But the good news is that Jesus, through the ministry of the indwelling Holy Spirit, is able to live His own life in and through us - if we will yield ourselves to Him. As Paul has joyfully affirmed, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).
Living by faith in the Son of God who indwells us is what the fruit of the Holy Spirit is all about. This passage teaches us about the Holy Spirit's ministry of producing the perfect character qualities of Jesus in us.
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Let's look at this passage together, and first notice ...
1. HOW THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT IS PRODUCED IN US.
A first clue to understanding how this fruit is produced in us is in the fact that it is called the fruit "of the Spirit". This reminds us that the character qualities of Jesus are not something that are produced by us, but only produced in us. They are produced by the Holy Spirit who Himself lives in us.
I think every kid, at one time or another, tried what I tried to do when I was little. Our neighbor had an apple tree; and I loved to sneak over and pluck an apple off its branches every once in a while. One day, I broke a little branch off the tree, took it to my backyard, plunked it down into the ground, watered it, and checked it daily for my own, convenient harvest of luscious apples. Those apples, of course, never came. I thought that the power to produce apples was in the little branch. But the branch only bore the fruit; it didn't produce the fruit. So long as it was severed from the tree, the branch could do nothing.
Jesus likewise said, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:4-5). To think that someone could read the list of the fruit of the Spirit, and believe that they could roll up their sleeves and conform to the list in their own power, would be the same as cutting a branch off the apple tree and believing it will produce apples. The fruit of the Holy Spirit cannot be produced in us apart from a dependent connection to the Holy Spirit. He ministers Jesus' presence to us; and He Himself produces the very life of Jesus through us.
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A second clue is in the fact that it is called the "fruit" of the Spirit - not "fruits" as if in the plural, but "fruit" as if in the singular. The fruit of the Spirit that is produced in us is not "nine different fruits", but one singular "fruit" manifested in nine distinct qualities. This reminds us that the Holy Spirit produces His fruit in us as a whole - not "love" this fruit season, then "joy" the next fruit season, then "peace" the next season, and so on.
This is important to keep in mind; because if we're ever tempted to try to produce the Spirit's fruit in our lives and under our own power, we might be inclined to pick and choose the qualities we would want to produce. We might say to ourselves, "I certainly need the Holy Spirit's help with patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness. But I already have the others pretty well down now - especially meekness."
Even if we could manage to exhibit some characteristics that looked like the fruit of the Spirit, it would not be the fruit of the Spirit at all. It would only be "wax fruit"; the products of our own efforts. And the Spirit of God does not wish to take our own productions and sanctify them for Himself.
The Pharisees were great producers of wax fruit; and they were quite proud of the fruit they produced. But Jesus once said of them, "Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted" (Matthew 15:5). And like the Pharisees, many today seek to exhibit those qualities of the fruit of the Spirit that appeal to them; but they attempt to do this apart from Jesus, and rely instead on their own efforts. Human effort cannot produce even some of the fruit that the Holy Spirit wishes to produce in us. Jesus asked, "Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matthew 7:16-19).
The fruit of the Holy Spirit, then, is one fruit; and if the Spirit is going to develop any quality of that fruit in us, then He is going to develop them all.
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A third clue to understanding how this fruit is produced in us is to remember the nature of fruit itself. Fruit doesn't grow overnight, but grows over time though a process that is under the sovereign control of God.
Sometimes, we (understandably) want to hurry the process along, and see the fruit of the Spirit exhibited in our lives in an instant. We may even be tempted to chase after some new, mystical, spiritual "experience" that will "zap" us and instantly transform us into the image of Christ - fruit and all. There are many spiritual "hucksters" and "con-artists" out there who offer spiritual gimmicks and promise "instant results". And sometimes, we can even fool ourselves into thinking that we really have found the easy way to Christ-likeness. But the results would be a little like "genetically-modified" fruit. We will have "played God", and will have attempted to improve on His natural process. Thus, whatever fruit we've produced is not really the fruit that God wanted to see exhibited in us. It's not fruit that will last. It may even be "fruit" that's harmful to ourselves and to others around us.
That the character qualities the Spirit wishes to produce in us are compared with "fruit" reminds us that the process of their full development in us will take time. We must allow the Holy Spirit all the time He wishes in directing the timing and the process of the production of His own fruit in us. And we must accept that He brings us into the various trials and tests that develop and perfect that fruit in us; and not try to short-change the process.
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Personally, I've grown to have confidence in the ministry of the Holy Spirit to produce His fruit in those He indwells. A brand new believer may not be, in our eyes, all that we wish they would be; and the fruit that shows up in their lives may still be somewhat "green" and "unripened". But we can trust the ministry of the Holy Spirit to produce His fruit according to His own time table and according to His own method. The worst thing you or I can do is try to produce His fruit for Him. By contrast, the safest and wisest thing we can do is to entrust ourselves, and our other brothers and sisters in Christ, to the Spirit's own sovereign fruit-producing ministry.
This leads us, next, to consider ...
2. WHAT THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT LOOKS LIKE.
The fruit of the Spirit, as we see it listed in this passage, may seem like a random list of qualities; but in reality, they are given to us in very logical divisions. The first three qualities have to do, primarily, with the impact of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ: "love, joy, peace". The second three have to do with our relationships and interactions with other people: "longsuffering [or "patience"], kindness, goodness". And the final three have to do, primarily, with our own inner state of being: "faithfulness, gentleness [or "meekness"], self-control". Considered in those terms, the fruit that the Holy Spirit produces in us will impact every relationship we could ever have.
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First, we see the qualities that impact our relationship with God. And the first of these that is mentioned is "love". The love that Paul speaks of here isn't merely an emotion of affection. The word he uses is the wonderful Greek word "agape" - the word that describes the kind of love that can have its ultimate source only in God. It describes the kind of love that gives itself over sacrificially to love another as one loves one's own self. It's been defined very well as the act of "making the health, happiness, and growth of another person as important to you as your own"2. It's appropriate that this quality comes first, because it's the aspect of the Spirit's fruit that is the ruling principle in all the others.
This first quality is significant to our relationship with God, because we can't know anything about love apart from Him. John says, "He who does not know love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:8). In fact, John asserts that, if we love at all, it's because we've first been the recipient of God's love. John writes, "We love Him because He first loved us" (v. 19). When we have truly tasted of God's love for us in sending His own precious Son to die on the cross for us, and when that love has impacted us in a life-transforming way, then we cannot help but love others as He has loved us.
A second quality that touches on our relationship with God is "joy". Joy isn't the same thing as "happiness". Happiness depends upon our circumstances; but joy shows itself to be a fruit of the Spirit in that it's the experience of gladness even in difficult and "unhappy" circumstances. It, too, comes from a relationship with God. John wrote, "... That which we have seen and heard [concerning Jesus] we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full" (1 John 1:3-4).
A third quality in this category is "peace". Peace can be defined as a state of harmony between two parties, or as a cessation of hostility between to enemies. But again, that sort of peace is dependent on outward circumstances. And because of the context, I believe the peace Paul is speaking of here is that profound state of well-being and inner tranquility that comes from being right with God - regardless of the circumstances. "Therefore, having been justified by faith," Paul writes, "we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). Jesus spoke of the nature of this peace when He said, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27). This will, undoubtedly, have an impact our peaceful relationships with others; but it begins with peace with God.
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Not only, then, does the fruit of the Spirit touch upon our relationship with God; it also touches on our relationship with other people. The first quality that directly impacts our relationship with others is "longsuffering" or "patience". The Greek word Paul uses is one that combines two Greek words together - makran, which means "being far away"; and thumos, which means "anger" or "wrath". Thus, makrothumia speaks of being, as it were, far from our anger; or, as we might put it today, having a "long-fuse" on our emotions. It speaks of the quality of having a calm, tranquil frame of mind while in uncertain circumstances; or of bearing up while being provoked or treated wrongly. It has its root in a confident trust in the sovereignty of God; and so it can be described as the quality of waiting on God's perfect timing in our circumstances and on His work with other people.
Another quality that touches on our relationship with others is "kindness" (or "gentleness" as it is in the KJV). This speaks of the quality of being upright and thoughtful in the way we behave toward others so as to be positively beneficial to them. The third quality in this category seems at first glance to be similar - that of "goodness". The words in Greek can, in fact, both be translated "goodness". But there is a subtile difference between them. The word translated "goodness" speaks here of the moral impulse that seeks what God would want for someone else, or seeks what God desires in a particular circumstance; while the word translated "kindness" refers more to the manner in which that "goodness" is sought3.
We all know certain devoted Christians who are characterized by an earnest pursuit of God's will and agenda for themselves and the lives of others; but who, at the same time, often fail to be gracious and kind in the way they pursue that agenda. They often mean well; but they tend to leave a lot of hurt and embittered people in their wake. I suspect that such people are the inspiration behind that bumper-sticker: "God, please rescue me from Your followers." I suspect that such people were who Mark Twain had in mind when he spoke of those who were "good - in the worst sense of the word."
The twin qualities of "kindness" and "goodness" are very important balances to one another. Goodness insists on that which is good; but kindness tempers the way in which such a pursuit is engaged so that people are genuinely blessed, benefited and built up by the pursuit. Kindness without goodness can be wimpy and accommodating toward sin; but goodness without kindness can be harsh and legalistic toward people. Praise God that His Holy Spirit produces both qualities in us when He rules our lives! Our heart's desire should always be after God's goodness above all else; but perhaps Paul was led to place "kindness" before "goodness" in our passage, in order to emphasize the manner with which God wants us pursue that goodness in the lives of others.
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The first three of these qualities deals with our relationship with God, and addresses a transformation in our emotions. The second three deals with our relationship with others, and addresses a transformation in our actions. This leads us to the final three qualities of the fruit of the Spirit. They deal with our own inner character, and address a transformation in the area of our wills.
The first of these qualities is "faithfulness". This is the same Greek word from which we get "faith" - that is, the state of believing in the reliability of someone or something. But here, the sense is that of "faithfulness" - that is, honesty and integrity in our actions, and of reliability in our commitments and responsibilities. Paul uses this same word in Titus 2:10, when he says that servants should be obedient to their masters; "not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things." This quality recognizes that all of our actions, our thoughts, and our motives are under the constant observation of our loving heavenly Father.
The second quality relating to our inner selves is "gentleness" or "meekness". It's unfortunate that we tend to associate "meekness" with "weakness"; because wimpiness and timidity are not products of the Holy Spirit. "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7). The word Paul uses really describes a quality of moral strength in which we refuse to be overly impressed with a sense of our own importance. It describes true strength as expressing itself with gentleness, humility and courtesy. Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5).
Finally, the last quality in this category is "self-control" or "temperance". This conveys the idea of restraining one's own emotions, impulses and desires, and bringing them under the rule of God. Paul gave a perfect illustration of the meaning of this word in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25; "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things." Our culture says, "If it feels good, do it"; but those who give this advice fail to mention that many people are in prison today because they acted on it. Proverbs 25:28 says, "Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls." A person without self-control is the very picture of vulnerability. Such a person is "controlled by 'self'". By contrast, the fruit of the Holy Spirit is "self-control".
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Again, all of these different qualities give us a picture of Jesus Himself. He displayed perfect love to us by giving Himself for us on the cross; and He says to us, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 14:34). He experienced perfect joy: and said to us, "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (John 15:11). He experienced perfect peace; and told us, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you ..." (John 14:27). The Bible entrusts us to "the patience of Christ" (2 Thess. 3:5); reminds us of the riches of God's "kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:7); and encourages us that the good work God has begun in us will find it's completion in "the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). The Bible presents Jesus to us as one who is "faithful and true" (Rev. 19:11); one who, though in the form of God, "humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:8); one who displayed self-control in that, "for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross" (Heb. 12:2).
For the Holy Spirit to display His fruit in us is nothing less than the perfect qualities of our Lord Jesus being displayed in us! It's nothing less than the Holy Spirit living the life of Jesus in us and through us! Isn't this something we long for? And praise God, it's something that God offers to us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We no longer have to seek to be righteous before God on the basis of our performance in the law. Instead, we're to simply yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit, and allow Him to produce His fruit in us. "... Against such", Paul says, "there is no law".
This leads us, finally, too ...
3. WHAT PART WE PLAY IN BEARING THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT.
I enjoy watching my wife work in her garden. She has designed and maintains a beautiful garden around our home. It's a delight to our whole family. But in all the times I've seen her work in the garden, I've never seen her actually "grow" anything. In fact, she can't "grow" anything. God Himself gives the growth; and all my wife does is make sure that the environment is right for the growth to happen.
This is also true when it comes to the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He Himself gives the growth; but it's our responsibility to make sure that the environment is right for growth to happen. Let me suggest three things that must be true of us for the Spirit to bear His fruit in our lives.
The first thing is very obvious; but it needs to be affirmed. Before the Holy Spirit can produce His fruit in someone, He must have first taken up residence in them. This happens when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and are saved by God's grace through faith in Him. The Bible tells us, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:1).
When it comes to the Holy Spirit producing His fruit in your life, the place you must begin, then, is by being sure that you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, have been delivered from your sins through His sacrifice on the cross, and have invited Him to take rule over your life.
Second, we should pay careful attention to what Paul says in verse 24; "And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." This is telling us that another thing we must do, in order to create an environment conducive to the growth of the Spirit's fruit in us, is to deal with sin in our lives. Earlier, Paul says that the works of the flesh are such things as "adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in times past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (vv. 19-21). A persistent life-style of such things will not only prohibit the fruit of the Spirit in someone's life; but it will also keep them out of heaven.
How do we deal with such things? Paul says that, if we belong to Christ, we have "crucified the flesh with its passions and desires". In other words, we have made a declaration to God that we have died to ourselves and now live for Him. It's as if we have allowed the principle of "self" to be nailed to the cross and be put to death. And not only are we to do this in a decisive commitment to Christ (both in our hearts, and publically communicated through baptism); but every time the old "passions" or "desires" rises up within us, we must crucify them too. We're to no longer "gratify" those passions and desires, or "make provision" for them (Rom. 13:14), but rather "mortify" them and "reckon" ourselves to be "dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:11).
And third, we should note that Paul says, "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." Paul uses a term here that basically means "to advance in a line"; as if giving us the picture of a group of soldiers marching to the beat of the drum. That, in fact, is very much how this verse is translated in the NIV; where it reads, "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit."
As we grow in the Lord, and as we grow more and more to be instructed in the Scriptures, we will grow increasingly to perceive the leading and direction of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And and as we perceive His leading, we are to do what He says. When He commands us, through the Scriptures, to do something, we're to do it. When we sense a sinful passion or desire rise up in us, we're to crucify it, and do what God's word commands us to do instead. When we feel within us the inability to love, or be joyful, or have peace, or show patience, or be kind or good, or faithful, or meek or self-controlled, we're to entrust ourselves to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to produce those things in us. We're to march to the Holy Spirit's drum-beat, as it were. And as we do, we discover that He is progressively, increasingly producing His fruit in us along the way.
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What a great privilege we have! God the Father has placed God the Holy Spirit in us when we believed on Jesus. And God the Holy Spirit, who has taken up residence in us, lives the very life of God the Son through us!
May we increasingly allow the Holy Spirit to produce His fruit in us; and may Jesus be glorified in us as a result.
1John R. W. Stott, Baptism and Fullness: The Work of The Holy Spirit Today (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1964), p. 76.
2Josh McDowell and Norm Geisler, Love Is Always Right: A Defense of The One Moral Absolute (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996), p. 65.
3Archbishop Richard Chenevix Trench, Synonyms of The New Testament (Grand Rapids: Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., n.d.), pp. 219-20.
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