We have spent a month studying the fruit of the Spirit and the fruit of the flesh. In other words, we have looked at what the life of a follower of Christ should look like as they mature contrasted with the life of the person who claims faith in Christ but shows no real evidence of faith.
We have acknowledged that no one manifests the fruit of the Spirit all the time. We all have bad days, get frustrated and fall back into old patterns. We are trying to get free of an addiction. What makes it harder is the fact that it is an addiction that is encouraged and applauded by the society around us.
That being said, the Lord is clear about the kind of character He wants to build within us. He wants us to grow to look like Jesus. He is looking for growth in the Christian life. As Paul wraps up his discourse on the fruit of the Spirit in these final three verses of Galatians 5 he gives us a challenge for cultivating a fruit-filled life. We will see four things that will help us to be in the best position to bear fruit.
24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.
Remember Who You Are
Paul reminds us that we “belong to Christ”. There are two things we need to keep in mind about this fact.
First, we are saved by the work of Christ and not by our performance. This was one of the great truths driven home by Paul in the early chapters of Galatians. One of the greatest hindrances to fruitful living is discouragement. We look at our lives and we see failures. We can be tempted to conclude that we can never be made right with God.
This is why accurate theology is so important. You may hear people say, “I don’t want to talk about theology, I just want to talk about Jesus.” That sounds good but it is meaningless and short-sighted. Who is this Jesus you are talking about? As soon as you answer that question you are doing theology.
We have to be clear on how we are made right with God! It is not based on our performance but on Christ’s performance on our behalf. We belong to Christ . . . not because we are good, but because He is gracious. We are part of God’s family because He has adopted us. He has chosen us, welcomed us, and made us His own. This truth should spur us on in our faith.
Second, we need to remember that we are “a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9) We are people who are loved by God! He has invested deeply in our lives. He loves us.
The Bible reminds us that this world is not our home. We are aliens and strangers in this world. Our job is not to “fit in”, “adapt”, or anything else. Our job is simply to point others to Jesus. We are also called ambassadors. We represent Christ in the world and we represent the world to the Father.
There is no room here for us to live defeated lives. We are children of God! We belong to Jesus. He loves us and gave His life for us. He made it possible for us to be completely forgiven and guarantee us a spot in Heaven. That should change our perspective.
Claim Your Freedom
Paul says the true believer has “nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.” (Gal. 5:24) The power of sin has been broken in our lives through the death of Christ. In other words, we don’t have to live as slaves of the flesh any more.
However, our experience says we still crave the things of this world. We still want to fit in, be accepted, and do all the things others do. We saw that there is a battle that goes on inside of us every day. The key here is to remember our position in Christ and then seek to follow Him.
But why do we continue to battle the Lord who has loved us so magnificently? Tim Keller is very perceptive when he writes,
We have to ask ourselves not just what we do wrong, but why we do it wrong. We disobey God in order to get something we feel we must have. That’s an “over-desire”. Why must we have it? Because it is a way we are trying to keep “under Law”. It is something we have come to believe will authenticate us. To crucify the sinful nature is to say: Lord my heart thinks that I must have this thing, otherwise I have no value. It is a pseudo-savior but to think and feed and live like this is to forget what I mean to you, how you see me in Christ. By your Spirit, I will reflect on your love for me in Him until this thing loses its attractive power over my soul.” (Keller p. 156)
The point is that when we fail to live in the freedom that allows us to obey it is because we have given our heart to some idol. In other words, there is something that stands between us and the Lord. It could be something evil or it could be something good in and of itself that has taken on greater significance than it should. These are more common idols among believers. Let me give you a list,
- Comfort and enjoyment
- Having your children involved in extracurricular activities
- Sports (participant or fan)
- Nice looking home
- Nice (really nice) vehicle
- Having fun with friends
We should start by looking carefully at anything where we spend a good deal of money (or where you always can “find” the money), devote a big chunk of time, or something that ignites your passions. These aren’t necessarily things that are idols but they are often where they are found.
We need to WANT to truly and fully follow our Lord. We must really BELIEVE that His way is the best way to the freedom and life we long for. It is like any addiction, until you want to change bad enough, nothing is going to happen. If we really want to see the fruit of the Spirit manifest in our lives, then we have to want it more than we want the other things in our lives. Jesus wants ALL of us. He wants to be Lord in every area of our lives, not simply those we find comfortable to surrender
Follow the Spirit in ALL of Life
The last point was more on the negative side. This one is positive. Keller says, it is a matter of “with the help of the Holy Spirit, adoring Him until our hearts find Him more beautiful than the object we felt we had to have.” (Keller 15)
There are several guidelines for following the Spirit in all of life. 1) Do what the Bible says. The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit. He wrote down what we needed to know to live out our faith. Don’t spend time asking about how to find God’s will if you aren’t willing to read your Bible! That’s like asking for help in a class when you are unwilling to read the assignments or do the homework!
I don’t know how the Spirit does it but He can bring you to just the right text at just the right time to tell you just what you need to hear. But, He won’t do that unless you are reading your Bible and paying attention.
2) Be willing to walk through open doors. The Holy Spirit guides us one step at a time (usually). So, that means if you find an opportunity that opens up to you (and is not contrary to Scripture) it could be the Lord guiding your steps.
- It may be a new job
- A conversation that turns to spiritual things
- A chance to lend someone a helping hand
- An opportunity for prayer
- An invitation to be part of a ministry that comes seemingly out of nowhere
- A missionary story that strikes a chord deep in your heart
- A chance meeting that feels like more than chance
There are as many possibilities as there are circumstances. The Holy Spirit is wonderfully creative. Dare to believe that he may be creatively leading you.
3) Be willing to say “No” to lesser things. Life is about choices. So is discipleship and fruit bearing. As long as we try to do everything we will find it difficult to grow at all. Our society covets the reputation of busyness. If you can prove to people that you are “busy” people seem to conclude that you are significant and important. We brag about our long work weeks because even though we are tired, we believe the many demands show we are a person who is “in demand”.
Do you ever wonder why we assume workaholics are important rather than concluding they are poor stewards of their time and their priorities? Could it be that we are so busy because we are undisciplined? Could it be that we value activity over rest, time with God or even with maintaining our relationships?
If we want to follow the Spirit (and every child of God should desire this) then we have to have a clear set of priorities and then divest our lives (as much as possible) from things that stand in the way of those priorities. It is a matter of maintaining the proper balance.
Here’s an assignment for you: take some time and think about your top three priorities in life. I mean, really think about it. Don’t just say, God, my family, my health. Think it through. What really are the most important things in your life? Where is the Lord on that list? How are you living out your priorities? What things are getting in the way? As parents we have to ask, “When do extracurricular activities for our children fracture the family rather than build it?” What interests are destroying your marriage?” “When does your work schedule stand in the way of your priorities?”
These are very difficult questions, so difficult that most people never ask them. If you want to grow in your faith and live a fruitful life you have to determine how important that is to you. Then you must order your life accordingly. That will mean saying no to lesser things. It won’t be easy and it won’t be popular but it is necessary.
Carefully Guard Your Heart
Paul is forever practical. He adds, “Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.” These commands may seem pretty random. However, if you have read much of the Apostle Paul, you know there is nothing random in what he says. I suspect Paul is aiming at some of the conflict what was going on in the Galatian church. In other words, Paul may be saying, “If you really want to follow the Holy Spirit, address the problems that are right in front of your nose.
There is nothing that derails a church more than a competitive spirit. People begin to measure each other by how “spiritual” they are in comparison to them.
- Do you hold the right doctrines?
- Are you passionate about the right things?
- Do you like the right kind of music?
- Is your approach to worship the “right approach”
- Is your repentance genuine?
- Are you “spiritually mature?”
Of course we are to be discerning, but we are to discern for the purpose of maintaining unity rather than creating division. In other words, we should be guarding the purity of the gospel and not our rank or status.
A lot of division comes about because someone didn’t get their way, or they felt someone else received more attention than they did. This is petty stuff and it divides the church. Do you remember the prayer that Jesus prayed for us just before He was arrested?
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)
He prayed that we might be one; that we might be as unified as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one. . . we aren’t doing very good job.
The Lord prayed for oneness so “the world would believe in Christ”. When the world looks at the church and sees us loving and caring for one another; when they see us reaching out to those who have fallen rather than forbidding them entrance; when they see people who admit that they struggle and depend on God’s grace for salvation, and then see them actually extend that grace to others; people start to think that there may be something to Christianity.
If people saw that we believe in resurrection, renewal and second chances. If they see that we believe ANYONE can change through the power of God; If they see us respecting and, yes, loving each other even though we don’t agree on some issues; people would be drawn to us like a magnet.
However, when people see Christians bickering, dividing, and competing they conclude that all the talk about love is meaningless; it is just slogan that is being used in an advertising campaign.
How we respond to each other will set the tone for how others respond to the gospel. This is why we should be deeply distressed when Christians fight with each other rather than talk to each other. This is why we should be horrified when believers call each other names. Such behavior is harming the message of the gospel. God is grieved when His children will not get along.
We can’t successfully walk with Jesus if we won’t walk with each other.
We have spent several weeks studying what God is trying to do inside of us. We saw that those who come to Christ asking Him to save them and lead them should be people who are starting to look a lot like Jesus.
I hope you learn to crave the character traits that make up the fruit of the Spirit. Ask God to build: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in you. The fruit of the Spirit is the way of freedom. It is where life is to be found.
I am amazed sometimes by people who are really into antiques and can see beauty in items that look like garbage to me. Sometimes underneath many coats of paint or discolored varnish, there is a piece of wood that is exquisite. Seeing before and after pictures of some pieces of furniture is almost unbelievable.
The world may see you (you may see yourself) as an ugly piece that isn’t worth much. But God . . . God sees the beauty that is under all the junk. He sees us not for what we have become; He sees what He created us to be. If you will, the Holy Spirit has set out to restore the beauty of our lives. The way He does this is by cultivating these character traits in us. If we could see what He sees we would be eager to cooperate with Him.
Let’s try to catch the vision. Let’s dare to look beneath the surface of the lives of those around us. Do the same for yourself.
As you make decisions and as you prepare to speak or act increasingly learn to ask yourself, “Is what I am about to do part of the fruit of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit?” Imagine if we took just a few seconds before we spoke and evaluated whether we are acting with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If you are like me, a simple discipline like this would change the course of what I do.
The Lord sees and wants to restore our beauty. He is not trying to enslave us. He is trying to set us free. He wants to reveal His beautiful purpose for our lives. He wants us to see all He created us to be. And when we do, we will worship Him, we will serve Him gladly, and we will count it our highest privilege and joy to walk with Him.