Recently, I sat down to write a short devotional on the “Fruits of the Spirit” for an event our women’s ministry was having at church. I started by looking online to see what was already out there, which, disappointingly, was not much. There are few devotions about what each fruit is and how it should look in our lives, but most of the devotions are written for children. After reading the scripture in its entirety, and studying some thoughts of a few individuals on the topic, I was able to glean some really good perspectives on this passage that many of us have become complacently familiar with. I shared those thoughts with the ladies who participated in that evening, but I thought today I would share them here as well.
I think for many of us, the issue we have in interpreting this passage is not, “what are these fruits I’m supposed to be exhibiting?” but rather, “how do I exhibit these fruits when my natural tendencies are not necessarily loving or joyful, kind, or gentle?”.
There aren’t many devotionals or blog posts about that, but I think I know why. So often, we look at this list of fruit as the syllabus for our life as a Christian. We’ll know we’ve completed the course when we can say that we see all of these fruits evident. The problem is, every attempt we make at producing this fruit for ourselves ends up failing or coming up short.
Most of us probably at least initially learned the fruits of the spirit in isolation. But, if you look at the scripture that the fruits of the spirit are listed in, they are a small sentence at the end of a much longer chapter about freedom.
First let me summarize the first 12 verses of Galatians chapter 5, because they can be a little confusing if you don’t know the context. Paul is continuing a point he began in earlier chapters that believers are brought into a right relationship with God by faith alone. That there is nothing they can do to earn their salvation. The people have heard this from him before, but they continue to try to keep the law in an attempt at righteousness. He’s telling them again, if you do not have faith that trusts Christ is your only way, and if that faith is not expressed through love, then all of your efforts to keep the law are in vain. You’ve missed the point. You’ve missed Jesus. You’ve missed grace.
Picking up in verses 13-14….“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
He makes it sound so easy, right? You can fulfill the entire law by doing just one thing! All you have to do is love your neighbor as yourself, no big deal!
Of course it’s a big deal.
John Piper says this, “… if you take this command seriously, it is so contrary to our natural inclinations that it seems utterly impossible. That I should get up in the morning and feel as much concern for your needs as for my own seems utterly beyond my power. If this is the Christian life — caring for others as I care for myself — then it is hard, indeed, and I feel hopeless to ever live it out.”
So Paul doesn’t stop there. He acknowledges the internal battle that is inevitable within us all. Verses 16-21 pick up here, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Don’t get distracted by the acts of the flesh that seem deplorable to you. Look at the ones that you can see you have a propensity toward. Perhaps witchcraft isn’t really a daily struggle for you… but what about jealousy, or selfish ambition?
We all, even once we are in Christ, still battle the flesh. The flesh is the part of us that wants to try to do things on our own. The part of us that still exists in a state of self-preservation. Until we are gone from this earth there will be a battle within us between the flesh and the spirit. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When the Spirit is winning that battle, there is fruit evident.
Moving on to verses 22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
So how do we make an effort to walk in the Spirit, without making it about our own effort?
It’s in the language Paul uses in verse 18. “But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law”. Piper describes this as the difference between the pace car in the Daytona 500 and a locomotive on a train. The Holy Spirit is the locomotive, not the pace car. If He were the pace care, the focus would still be on our ability to follow Him. But since He is the locomotive, the focus is solely on His ability to live and work in and through us. We can do nothing to create forward motion but allow Him to pull us along. It’s in that place where we find rest from our striving. And it’s in that rest that the fruits become a natural expression of the Holy Spirit residing within us.
I encourage you that when you see the list of the fruits of the spirit, you don’t let it be
something that reminds you of a list of character traits you need to polish up on. Let it be a constant reminder to you that you fight a constant battle between your flesh and the Holy Spirit in you. And let it remind you to stop trying to work to keep the law, but rather to rest in the completed work of Christ on the cross for you.