Over the last three weeks we have been trying to draw a picture of what living free as a follower of Christ looks like. We have tried to show you the contrast between a world that is motivated by selfishness and greed and the life the Holy Spirit created us to live.
Neither Rick nor I am artists. We have tried to take our time with these nine character traits so we could draw out the beauty of the life in the Spirit. As we look back we feel we have only been able to draw a rough sketch. We hope this rough sketch will motivate you to study more deeply and pursue this life by immersing yourself more fully in your relationship with Christ.
We must add our disclaimer one more time . . . these are not characteristics we must develop before we become a follower of Christ. They develop out of our relationship with Christ. We could go so far as to say you cannot fully develop these traits apart from the work of Christ in you!
When we tell others that our dog is a faithful companion we mean they always think the best of us and no matter what happens they stand by our side. That’s is not a bad picture of the faithfulness God develops within us. The Biblical word for faithfulness carries the idea of one who can be counted on. There are several characteristics of faithfulness.
There are several characteristics of faithfulness. The first is consistency in living faithfully. The person characterized by faithfulness does not have a faith that is convenient; that changes with the crowd or with circumstances. Such people are good Christians on Sunday morning (for the “show” or “parade”) but the rest of the week they live just like everyone else. As we grow in Christ we will become increasingly rooted in our faith. We will continually strive to do what God says in the way God says to do it.
The faithful person does not walk away from the faith when things are hard. They don’t walk away from the church when they don’t get their way. They don’t put their faith in the dresser drawer when they go out with their friends. They are first and foremost a follower of Christ.
The second characteristic is absolute honesty. The faithful person is truthful because God is truthful. They tell themselves the truth without justifying what they are doing.) and they are truthful with others because they know that their integrity reflects on the integrity of our Lord. Here is a very good definition of lying (or the lack of honesty):
Lying has been defined as “any deceit: in word, act, attitude —or silence; in deliberate exaggerations, in distortions of the truth, or in creating false impressions.”2
We live in a day when people define truth by what will get them what they want. For example, if I am selling something I might hide facts about the item in order to make the sale. The person characterized by faithfulness would not do that because they know that their integrity is a reflection of the Lord who lives inside of us. To this end,
• They admit their mistakes
• They fulfill their promises
• They report their income accurately
• They are truthful in their testimonies
• They don’t exaggerate to make themselves look better
Another part of Faithfulness is dependability. A person who is faithful can be counted on. Employers know this person is going to do their job. They will be where they said they were going to be. They will do what the contract said they would do. When these people accept a task you can move on to other things because they are going to follow through.
The fourth element of faithfulness is loyalty. I love this quote,
There is no such person as a “fair-weather friend.” If a person’s loyalty doesn’t insure his faithfulness to another in times of stress, then he really isn’t a friend. He is simply using the other person to satisfy some of his own social needs. (Jerry Bridges)
The faithful person is loyal to the Lord and also to others.
Psalm 15 sums up someone who is faithful,
1 Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord?
Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?
2 Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right,
speaking the truth from sincere hearts.
3 Those who refuse to gossip
or harm their neighbors
or speak evil of their friends.
4 Those who despise flagrant sinners,
and honor the faithful followers of the Lord,
and keep their promises even when it hurts.
5 Those who lend money without charging interest,
and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent.
Such people will stand firm forever.
The eighth characteristic of someone who is being led by God’s Spirit is the trait of gentleness. A writer from over 100 years ago said there is no grace less prayed for or cultivated than gentleness. His reasoning for this at that time was because gentleness was just a natural personal disposition; in other words, some people are just more gentle than others.
I would contend people still do not pursue the trait of gentleness but for a different reason. Today, it seems, gentleness is seen as a weakness. Gentleness is seen as being wimpy. The “powerful” tend to be the aggressive. Aggressiveness is growing at an alarming rate as seen in shootings, road rage, lawsuits and the tempers that seem like they are on a hair-trigger.
Gentleness is sorely needed. Chuck Swindoll writes
gentleness in its genuine and original meaning, was used in various ways all of them admirable:
• A wild stallion that had been ridden, broken, and brought under control was said to be “gentle”.
• Words that calmed strong emotions were “gentle” words.
• Ointment that drew fever and pain out of a wound was a “gentle” medication.
• In one of Plato’s works, a child ked a physician to be tender with him. He used the same Greek word translated “gentle”.
• Those who were polite, treating others with dignity, courtesy, and tact, were called “gentle”. (Simple Faith p. 28-29)
So gentleness helps diffuse the volatile nature of those around us. It is the attitude that we see in Christ. He is certainly power under control. When people were around Jesus they felt safe and loved. No one thought of Him as a wimp. They were drawn to Him. And when we have the attribute of Gentleness we will be drawn to Him as well.
Gentleness is seen in a few different attitudes. First, there is a desire to make another person feel comfortable in our presence. Like Jesus, people should feel “safe” in our presence. They should experience warmth rather than harshness. They should want to open up rather than cover up.
Second, gentle people confront problems with a respect for personal dignity. In disagreements we want to engage in discussions, not arguments. We want to open up a person rather than shut them down. We want to encourage thinking rather than arguments. As soon as someone feels attacked they defend their position rather than examine their position. That is unproductive in any discussion. It is even more destructive when it comes to sharing the gospel with someone.
It is never productive to raise your voice. All that does is cause the other person to raise their voice. The result is screaming people who are just screaming, not talking! Nothing is resolved in this manner. Attempts to intimidate do not further growth in relationships or help people grow individually.
Third a gentle person will not beat people up over their sins or failures. A gentle person knows that someone who has failed in any sense is probably doing a pretty good job of beating themselves up. They need someone to help them get back on their feet rather than kick them while they are laying on the ground.
Jerry Bridges very perceptively writes,
I fear that all too often we Christians may be less humane and considerate than nonbelievers. We think we are standing on principle when in reality we may be only insisting on our opinion. How do others see us? Do we appear to be rigid, unyielding, and inflexible, or do we come across as genial, reasonable, and humane in our relationships with other people? The Pharisees of Jesus’ day had encrusted God’s commands with their own traditions. Let us be careful to avoid doing the same thing.
How do you cultivate this character trait?
1. Desire to develop the trait. Make it a matter of prayer. Let the Holy Spirit know that you see the value in being a gentle person.
2. Monitor your conversations with and about other people. Catch yourself when you are beginning to develop an “edge” and grow silent. You can also ask someone to honestly tell you how you come across to other people. However, before you do this you have to be ready to listen rather than to react.
3. Ask the Holy Spirit to alert you to situations and circumstances where we lack (and need) gentleness.
I pray that we will be known as a loving church that holds firmly to the truths of God’s Word rather than an angry church that beats people up. We want to be a place where broken people can find a new beginning rather than a be a place where “those kinds of people” are not welcome.
The last trait is self-control. Some might call it self-discipline. The word describes people who get a grip on their lives and take control of areas that can easily get out of control.
There are four areas where we need self-control: with our body, our thoughts, our emotions, and our walk with God.
We must control our bodies in several areas. We must control our desires for pleasure, our desires for food, and our need for exercise. The sexual revolution is really about uncontrolled desire for pleasure. The rise in drug use is the same thing. We want to feel good and we tend to give in to desires that bring about that end. The Bible tells us to control our earthly passions.
The Bible calls gluttony a sin and yet we are a society of over-eaters. The need for self-control in food affects us on both sides of the spectrum: eating too much food and becoming obsessed with being thin which results in hurting our bodies through malnutrition. We are told in 1 Corinthians 6 that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. We want to take as good care of our bodies as possible so that we may serve the Lord as effectively as possible. It is NOT about how you look! It is about being healthy so you can serve the Lord. Our obsession with weight is a form of self-worship or idolatry.
For years I called exercise a dirty word. Even as I did so I knew I needed to exercise. The older you get the more important it is to get up and move around. Again this is not about muscles or form, it is about health and fitness so we can serve the Lord effectively.
If this is an area in which you struggle it may be helpful to think about it as honoring the Lord with your body instead of “Getting in shape”. For some of us, “getting in shape” may seem like a mountain too big to climb. Being healthy is a much more manageable goal.
We also need self-control with our thoughts. The Bible tells us to Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. (Proverbs 4:23) What we choose to think about will determine the character of our lives. Jerry Bridges writes,
Our minds are mental greenhouses where unlawful thoughts, once planted, are nurtured and watered before being transplanted into the real world of unlawful actions. People seldom fall suddenly into gluttony or immorality. These actions are savored in the mind long before they are enjoyed in reality. The thought life, then, is our first line of defense in the battle of self-control.
In Philippians 4:8 Paul said,
8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
We must put a filter on our minds if we want to be led by the Spirit into a fruitful life. The things you let your children watch, listen to and experience are things that are forming their character. It is important we protect our children in this important area. Learn to turn off the TV . . . or at least change the channel. Put a filter on your Internet service so you have some control about what garbage is welcomed into your home. Keep tabs on what is on your children’s cell phones, check their browser history regularly. Limit times of isolation playing video games.
We need self-control with our emotions. This is especially true with anger, worry, bitterness, jealousy, and resentment. These things can poison relationships and it can turn your entire life sour. To simply shrug and say “that’s just the way I am” is an excuse and it is a poor one at that. The person of deep faith and a healthy relationship with the Lord will see these things as areas that need to come under His control.
Finally, we need the fruit of self-control in our walk with God. The number of people who have a daily time with God is likely less than 10% of true believers. People tell you that they love God’s Word but they read it sporadically and are largely illiterate when it comes to the message of the Bible. People say they love to pray when they are on the run and shoot up sentence prayers to the Lord. That is not a conversation, it is a wish list!
It is important that we learn to build into our life a disciplined time with God. I struggled for many years to develop something that was consistent, productive, and would help me grow. When the crisis comes in your life (and it will) you will want intimacy with God and you will have to build it slowly. It is like waiting to learn to swim until you fall into the water!
You don’t have to start by reading the whole Bible in a year. Set your initial goal to stop for 15 minutes in your day to read, listen, and pray. One of the best things to help you gain control of your emotions is a daily time with God. One of the best ways to deal with stress and the pressure of life is to take time to release that pressure and run to the arms of our Father.
Paul concludes his list with these “tongue in cheek” words, “There is no law against these things!” I believe what Paul is saying is: There is no legislation forbidding any of the fruit of the Spirit. We live in a world that is drawn to these traits. There is no excuse for not cooperating with God’s Spirit so you can grow in Christ.
We could (and should) spend a lifetime probing the richness of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. God wants us to be like Jesus. He wants us to be the kind of people that make others feel safe. He wants us to talk with people and lead them to His open arms. He calls us to be faithful; to be people of integrity and honesty. And He calls us to make sure we remain under the Spirit’s control.
This is not an assignment. It is a rich privilege. It is a goal to reach for. It is a life to desire. It is the way to freedom, to joy, and to a relationship with God that will have the rest of the world turning their heads to witness.
©Copyright July 10, 2016 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche