The Fruit of THE SPIRIT
Well, first off, as you can tell, I am back. I just want to send out a huge thank you to everyone for all of the prayers and the outpouring of love that my family and I received over the last couple of weeks. By God's grace, our bout (or should I say, my bout, since I'm thankfully the only one to have actually tested positive) with COVID-19 was relatively light in comparison to the horror stories you hear in the news and even what some of you have experienced. Honestly, the worst part of it has been a persistent and nagging dry cough that continues to stay with me. I'm told that can last for weeks. It is often triggered by talking. So, if I can ask for a few more prayers...I am preaching this Sunday as we kick off our new sub-series over foundational doctrines of the Christian faith. Please pray that my cough will subside, so that I can get through that! Ok, with that out of the way, let's dive into our new sermon series on the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians chapter 5...
The fruit of the Spirit is a popular concept within the Christian faith. The fruit that Paul lists in his letter to the Galatians (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) is succinct, yet not exclusive nor exhaustive. What I mean is that the idea that the Christian life should bear the fruit of genuine conversion is taught all over the New Testament, even by Jesus himself, who says we will be known (or identified) as his true followers by our fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). The analogy is simple, a tree or plant is identified by the fruit that it produces. We would no more expect a professing Christian's life to be marked by unrepentant sin and a pursuit of worldly pleasures than we would expect an apple tree to produce oranges. It would be unnatural.
As simple as the concept appears within the pages of scripture, in teaching and practice, there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the fruit of the Spirit...what it is, how it works, etc. So, let's begin with the basics. The primary thing we need to understand about the fruit of the Spirit is that it is the fruit of the Spirit. It's not called the fruit of the hard working man, or even the fruit of the devoted follower. This is more than just a choice of words or phrasing, rather it is a fundamental doctrine of the faith. Practically speaking, what this means is that this fruit is not a list of behaviors and attitudes that one can or should strive for. Striving to look and and act like faithful Christians for its own sake, or out of some belief that we can somehow earn God's approval on our own merits is called something else in scripture...self-righteousness (or legalism)...and Jesus vehemently opposed it!
The fruit of the Spirit is, as the phrase implies, the attitudes and actions of God himself. He is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control...as well as, generosity, humility, thankfulness, holiness, compassion, mercy, justice, truthfulness, and on and on and on. Mankind, on the other hand...even or our best day...are none of these things (at least not in the truest and purest sense). So, when we display these attitudes and actions in our daily lives, it is a testimony to the saving, redeeming, and restorative power of the Spirit that is flowing in us and through us, and cause for genuine thanksgiving and worship...not a reason to pat ourselves on the back and make much of ourselves for a job well done.
As Christians, we are granted a new identity and a new life in Christ. And as with all new life, this begins with birth (or a new birth). However, just as a newborn child requires a great deal of care and attention in order to survive and thrive, and must learn and grow in stature, maturity, and ability over time; so too must we as Christians grow-up in our new life. This process, much like all growing processes, is difficult and full of bumps, bruises, and hard lessons along the way. Moreover, not everyone grows and matures at the same rate or in the same measure. This means that comparing the grace of God in our lives to that of other believers is a recipe for disaster. Instead, we should measure our new life against our old life through the lens of scripture. The question isn't, is my life experiencing and producing as much fruit as my neighbor, rather it is, is my life experiencing and producing the fruit of genuine newness in Christ. The truth is, some people take off like sprinters from day one as Christians, others of us (myself included) limp along with a sprained ankle and a broken leg. Regardless of which camp you find yourself in, progress is progress and worthy to be celebrated.
I would be remiss though to end here. You see, despite the fact that this fruit in our lives is produced not of our own efforts, but rather through the life-altering work of the Spirit, this does not mean that there is nothing we can or should do to fertilize the soil of our hearts and minds and nurture this growth. The human body grows up stronger and healthier by putting the right things into it. This is true also of our spirits. When we consume that which is good and practice good and healthy disciplines, we facilitate more growth. We do this by consuming a healthy diet of God's word and neglecting the junk-food of the world. Likewise, we exercise our Spirits in prayer, fasting, and participation in Christian fellowship/community. These things are good for the soul and contribute greatly to our long-term spiritual health.
If you missed this week's sermon (or just want to listen again), follow the link below to listen. Or subscribe to our podcast in iTunes.
Part 1 - Self Examination
Question discussed in this sermon
1: What are the fruit of the Spirit?
2: What stops me from developing godly character?
3: What areas of your life would change most if you grew spiritually?
Next week's lesson: Galatians 5:22-23