The Fruit of the Spirit

May 26, 2013 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: Life in the Spirit

Topic: Holy Spirit Passage: Galatians 5:16–26

As we continue our series, Life in the Spirit, this morning we come to what Paul calls the “fruit of the Spirit”. I wrestled with this message because a part of me wanted to consider the characteristics of each fruit individually but if we took even a couple minutes with each fruit, that would be all our time. So instead of looking at each fruit individually we’re going to look at the overall harvest of the Spirit in our lives, but we will take a few minutes with the first and most important fruit that Paul lists, which is love.

Gal. 5:16-26 

I. The fruit of the Spirit is about God’s transforming work on our character

The fruit of the Spirit isn’t a description of behavior; it’s a description of perfect, Christ like character:

Love/joy/peace/patience/kindness/goodness/faithfulness/gentleness/self-control
The word character means to engrave upon. In ancient days, letters and numbers were engraved on stone, and they were called characters. The Bible says that God is engraving the character of Christ in us:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Rom. 8:29

John writes in his first epistle,…we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:2

When we get to heaven, next to the brilliance of Jesus, the thing that will amaze us the most won’t be where we are, but what we are. We will be like Jesus. The work will be perfected there, but it doesn’t begin there. God is working on you and me right now to conform us (to engrave on us) the image or character of Christ. And I want to say that God’s work in us and on our character is a greater work than His work through us in ministry. The fruit of the Spirit is more important than the gifts of the Spirit because our lives and our witness stands or falls on our character. There’s a saying, Men destroy with their character what they build with their gifts. In a few weeks we’ll look at the gifts – they are good and important. But not as important as fruit, cause fruit has to do with our character. Jesus didn’t say, “by their gifts, you will know them” but by their fruit.

II. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t something that we can produce by our own efforts – it’s the supernatural work of God in us

The minute we start talking about character, we can think, “all right, it’s ‘gut-check’ time. God is taking my character and making it stronger and better.” No, the bad news is there is nothing in our character He can work with – so He is giving us a new character. In Gal. 5 Paul deliberately shifts terminology from works of the flesh to fruit of the Spirit. I don’t think in these verses he is trying to draw a contrast between what our best efforts and what the Spirit can do. After all, the works of the flesh don’t take any effort on our part! Nobody works at being sexually immoral or impure or idolatrous or angry or envious.

The last couple of weeks in the Snapp home have been kind of strange in that it seems like everything has just been breaking down. We’ve had two computers die on us. Jared’s car lost all pickup while I was driving it. One afternoon our printer just stopped working, and one evening as we were getting ready for a meeting at our house, Janice noticed that the toilet in the kid’s bathroom was leaking. The good news was that it was only the toilet connector that was leaking – a couple dollars and couple minutes should do it. But the first toilet connector I got was too lightweight a material and so when I bent it to connect to the fittings, it crimped and badly restricted the flow of the water back into the tank. No problem, back to Home Depot I go to get a different type. The second TC I got leaked, but as I examined it more closely I realized that it was slightly used and someone repackaged it and put it back on the shelf. So I went back to HD and made sure the one I picked up was brand new. Only that one leaked too.

It took five toilet connectors and 6 trips to 2 different home improvement stores over a period of 3 days to get a five minute problem fixed. It was work. Dealing with the computers took work. Fixing Jared’s car took work (Jared did it, but it took work!) But guess what wasn’t work: the frustration that I began to feel with the added stress and loss of time. With everything breaking down, my fuse got shorter and it didn’t take much to get me to flare up with impatience. But here’s the point: that part wasn’t work. Irritation was effortless on my part! Frustration. Impatience. Easy. Effortless.

The works of the flesh are effortless. An angry man doesn’t have to work at being angry. An immoral person isn’t working at being immoral and a jealous person doesn’t strain themselves to be jealous. Works of the flesh isn’t stressing man’s effort so much as it’s stressing our inevitable failure when we try to earn God’s acceptance by works of the law (keeping the law) because the works of the flesh – not effort but the inner engine of man’s flesh – will completely sabotage that effort. Our fallen flesh worked out in our lives will produce all the things that break the law and earn God’s wrath rather than acceptance.

So when Paul intentionally shifts his terminology he’s doing it to emphasize that what the Spirit produces in our character isn’t the result of work, it’s the product of life. Apple trees don’t work at producing apples, it’s a natural product of the life flowing through them. It reminds us that the source of the fruit of the Spirit isn’t us, it’s the supernatural life of God in and through us. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t a product of our work and it isn’t a product of our character (flesh); the fruit of the Spirit is the harvest of God’s gracious work in our lives. It leads us away from works, and a “gut-check” mentality. It leads us away from a “God is renovating my character” and leads us to an utter dependence on and drawing from the Spirit for the supernatural life we need.

So what is the fruit of the Spirit and how do we cultivate it in our lives?

III. The fruit of the Spirit produces character qualities that flow from love and build and protect harmony and unity in our relationships and in the church

It is no accident that Paul leads off the list of fruit with love. Christianity is built on God’s love for the world, love that caused Him to give His beloved Son to die on the cross for our sins. Paul says in verse 15 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If we get loving God and people right, we’ll get all the commandments right. Love isn’t sentimentalism, loving people come in all shapes and emotional and personality make-ups. Some loving people are very outgoing and affectionate. Other loving people are reserved and don’t show much physical affection. Love isn’t a commitment to gush on the other person; it’s a commitment to what’s good for the other person. Sometimes that means that love has to be tough – “tough love” as James Dobson once called it.

I knew a couple whose son was going downhill in his life until he finally committed a burglary with some friends, and against all their instincts they decided they needed to allow him to suffer the consequences and not bail him out because avoiding these consequences would only enable him to continue down the road he was on. It was tough love, but it was love. Sentimentalism would have given in and done what seemed most loving, but in reality would have hurt this young man because it would have removed the consequences which God designed to teach him a lesson. Love always wants what is best for the loved one, not what’s easiest.

Notice that the primary affect of the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit is on relationships. Sin kills relationships – it broke man’s relationship with God, and then it broke man’s relationship with man. If you look at the works of the flesh, you’ll notice that they are relationship-killers. Sin defrauds and exploits and abuses and damages and murders and hates and divides. So you have sexual immorality (exploiting for selfish gratification) and enmity, strife, fits of anger, dissensions, jealousy and envy, divisions and other relationship-killing works. Whether on a personal level, or a corporate level, the works of the flesh do a number on relationships.

The fruit of the Spirit are really the necessary building blocks to healthy relationships. Flowing from love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness (trustworthiness, reliability), gentleness, and self-control – these all protect and preserve loving and healthy relationships by breaking the self-centeredness of the flesh and recalibrating our character to die to our sinful impulses and to love others and seek their best.

The centrality of relationships to both the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit is seen in how Paul sandwiches relational warnings and encouragements on both sides of his discussion of the flesh and Spirit. In verse 14-15 he encourages and warns them: do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

And on the other side, in verse 26 he warns, “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” And then he continues on in what we know as chapter 6 (there was no chapter break in Paul’s day) about restoring a fallen brother gently and bearing one another’s burdens and doing good to everyone, especially those who are of the household of faith (Christians). Relationship, relationship, relationship.

The church is to smell like the fruit of the Spirit – not perfectly but increasingly as we mature. When a church is mean or small minded or judgmental or full of factions, or whatever, it’s just so far from what God called the church to be. We should be looking at the fruit of the Spirit and asking, are these reflected in my character? In my church?

How do we cultivate the fruit of the Spirit?

As we close, how do we cultivate the fruit of the Spirit? We know it’s a work of the Spirit but we also know that we have a part – what is that part? How do we grow in love, peace, joy, patience, etc?

I began by saying that I wrestled with whether or not to go through each fruit individually. Here’s another way that I have wrestled with this message: as I said, I am more aware of my personal failure – especially this week where I have been impatient and harsh more than once, and where I have responded to someone else’s impatience with my own self-righteous condemnation of their impatience, only to then display the same impatience for the same thing. So I don’t come brimming with self-confidence and “here’s how it worked for me” kind of advice. But that’s good, because what I do have to give is the truth of scripture, in the spirit of a fellow traveler, a fellow learner.

a. Walking by the Spirit is a walk of faith

Paul says, “walk by the Spirit…” in verse 16 and in verse 25 says “if we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” By faith we need to realize the life-giving power of the Spirit at work in us. Though we still sin, the flesh is no longer the dominating power in our lives, the Holy Spirit is. We were once “dead in our transgressions and sins…” – the works of the flesh were all we could produce because we were dead in sin. But now we have been made alive by faith in Jesus Christ. Look with me at verse 25: If we live by the Spirit (that’s the indicative – what God has done), let us also keep in step with the Spirit. We already live by the Spirit, not by the flesh because we have trusted in Christ. Now live like you are! Keep in step with the Spirit. We don’t have to fulfill the desires of the flesh (anger, impatience, etc), we can walk in the fruit of the Spirit. Believe that! It is a walk of faith.

b. Live in close connection with Jesus

When Paul chose the metaphor of fruit for the work of Christ’s character being worked in us, I think he must have had John 15 in mind, where Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Abide means “live” or “dwell” and it means to “remain”– so in essence Jesus is telling us to live in close connection with him, never let that go. Everything we do as a Christian – read the Bible, pray, fellowship with other believers, go to church, tell people about Jesus – aren’t things we “do for Jesus”, these are things we do with Jesus. Connected to Jesus, growing in love for Jesus, obedience to Jesus, and a desire to see Jesus loved by others – the fruit is a by-product of being connected to Jesus.

c. Tough perseverance

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Rom 5:1-5

Notice verse 3: We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character…

Remember, the word for character means to “engrave”. There has to be a toughness in order to engrave. You don’t engrave jello. We need God to work the character of Christ into us, but we shouldn’t expect it to come easily for us.

How can God work strength of character in us by making everything easy? It just doesn’t work that way. How can we learn to be faithful if we’re never tempted to quit? How can we learn to be patient if our patience isn’t tested? How can we learn to be courageous if we never face anything fearful?

So God won’t make everyone in your life real easy to love, He’ll bring that special someone into your life that is SO hard to love. In fact beyond you – but it will press you beyond your abilities until you are crying out to God to love them through you. Until you are depending on the Spirit to bear the fruit of love through you. Until your flesh that wants to be unloving is crucified and screaming on the cross.

God’s at work right now in your life. You know that one relationship that is driving you crazy? That one person who is pressing you to the brink? That spouse that makes you so angry? That child who tests your patience? That boss who seems to have it out for you – how can you love them? Your flesh cries out its impossible, I can’t do it.

Say, “flesh, you’re right, you can’t. There are nails for you. Spirit love through me, work patience in me, gentleness when my flesh wants to lash out harshly. Kindness when I long to hurt them like they hurt me. Self-control when I want to shoot off my mouth and give them a piece of my mind.”

Be encouraged – no matter where you are in the journey. Have faith, live in close connection to Jesus, and expect it to be a hard journey. But God has already assured us that we will reach the destination:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Rom. 8:29

 

More in Life in the Spirit

June 30, 2013

The Spirit Poured Out

June 23, 2013

Concerning Spiritual Gifts Part 2

June 16, 2013

Concerning Spiritual Gifts Part 1