KEEPING IN STEP WITH THE SPIRIT
It is our nature as Christians to produce fruit. Spiritual fruit. We don’t strain to do it—we don’t go to “fruit bearing” seminars. We can’t learn to produce fruit watching a self-improvement or personal growth videos on YouTube.
We just do. IF… our inner nature is truly the life of Jesus. But let’s explore what this fruit is, that every believer in Christ should be bearing. What does it look like as it is lived out?
“Fruit is the result of a long organic and living process. The process is complex and intricate. Fruit is not something made, manufactured, or engineered. Fruit is the result of a life of faith created by God. We do not produce fruit by our own effort. We do not purchase it from another. It is not a reward for doing good deeds, like a merit badge, a gold medal, a blue ribbon. Fruit is simply there.”
Let’s review for a few moments what we said last week about fruit:
The fruit of the Spirit is SINGULAR, not PLURAL. Not “fruits” of the Spirit. All the fruit grows out of the same tree and root system. The fruit of the spirit is more like a bouquet of beautiful flowers than just a sprig of daisies here or a rose there. It’s symmetrical.
2). The fruit of the Spirit is AVAILABLE, not AUTOMATIC. Just because it’s there in potential doesn’t mean we always avail ourselves of it. There are certain conditions that must be met, just as we fertilize and water and keep the plant in sunlight. “Keep in step with the Spirit.”
3). The fruit of the Spirit is VISIBLE, not UNSEEN. If the Spirit of the Lord is in you, if you are “abiding in the vine,” “keeping in step with the Spirit,” then these characteristics will be evident in your life. They will be seen by you and by others.
4). The fruit of the Spirit is GRADUAL, not SUDDEN. No botanical or biological growth is sudden in nature. You maybe suddenly NOTICE it, but it’s been coming on for a while. And let’s be clear. Like fruit or vegetables or oak trees, you can’t see the growth until it’s there. It’s a mysterious process. Be careful about judging your own fruit production or another’s. Let me also say that the fruit of the Spirit doesn’t save us. We are saved by grace through faith, not fruit. But it’s equally true that a fruitless faith doesn’t save us either. A true Christian will produce fruit.
5). The fruit of the Spirit is ORGANIC, not ARTIFICIAL. The fruit of the Spirit is simply the character and nature of Christ being reproduced in you. The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to point people to Jesus. So, the work of the Holy Spirit is to form Christ in us and give expression of Jesus through us.
These character traits cannot be forced. We are never commanded to “bear fruit” although every one of these characteristics is commanded somewhere in the Bible! But it’s not something you can make happen. This is not multiple choice, nor is it a self-help program. If you are bearing spiritual fruit, it is evidence you are connected to the vine. And if not, it’s because you are out of step with the Spirit.
When you set up your Christmas trees this year, there is one thing you will not do. You will not examine your artificial tree for fruit, will you?
Why not? It looks like a tree. You may even spray it with something that makes it smell like a tree or hang ornaments on it that look like apples or oranges. But it’s not real. My Mom used to have some plastic shiny fruit ornaments that she’d put on our artificial tree. (pic). But we knew they didn’t grow out of the plastic tree. Only a living, organic tree or plant has that capacity.
THE FRUIT OF THE FLESH
We sometimes produce rotten fruit. We detailed that last week. Let’s remember that we are to live with our flesh crucified, and our lives in step with the Spirit. If either of those are not true, if we are living to gratify ourselves, then this is how we know. This is an ugly list. They are characteristics that destroy life and destroy relationships. And if we are seeing these rotting, fleshly things as characteristics or hanging on us as a normal part of our life, it should serve as a huge warning sign to us.
THE PROOF OF SPIRITUAL FRUIT
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Love, Joy, Peace: Godward
This has to do with how we relate to God, and how He relates to us.
We start with the fruit of LOVE, which, I believe begins the list because all the other fruit flows from love. We are to love one another. We love because He first loved us. The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts.
But then we come to joy. Joy is actually irrational and comes independent of our outer circumstances. Happiness has to do with our circumstances being in a good place around us. Joy comes despite those.
A man told about his friend who was a believer and had been hospitalized for a brain tumor. One of his attending PA’S came into the room to speak to him, and wrote on his chart, “The patient seems to be inappropriately joyful.” Isn’t that awesome! “Inappropriately joyful!” The joy of the Lord makes no sense to a lost world. “The joy of the Lord is our strength.”
And after the fruit of love and joy comes peace. If there is a woman listening named “Irene,” you were given a Greek name. Your name means “peace” or “peaceful.” That might have been the intent of your parents who named you, hoping you would live up to your name, “Irene: peace.”
Do you have peace? Most of this world doesn’t. Most of the world simply has stress. Stress as a condition was only identified by psychologists in the mid-1950’s. Before that, the term stress meant something entirely different. But now, it’s the common condition of most people: “You stress me out. I’m so stressed.”
Having inner peace is a prized condition to find. How much would most people give just to have peace? We look for it our whole lives, but right here is the answer we need. God will give us the peace we are lacking. “We have peace with God…and peace from God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” We have peace with God, that was brokered for us at the cross of Jesus and by the payment of His blood.
The problem with humanity is simply the “a-b-c’s:” We are ALIENATED from God, BROKEN because of our sin, and in CONFLICT inside of ourselves and with everyone else because we have no peace with God. But one of the fruit borne by the believer is this “peace that passes understanding,” that guards of our hearts and minds.
All of this comes about as we relate to God.
Patience, kindness, goodness: External fruit (toward others).
This is the social dimension of the fruit of the Spirit. It has to do with how we relate to people around us. We relate, first, with patience. Patience is long suffering toward those who aggravate us and frustrate us. You don’t need to have patience for people who don’t aggravate and frustrate you do you? “Love suffers long…” It’s more than simply “grinning and bearing it”
The patience being described here is a God-given grace that the Holy Spirit puts in us and marks us by it. Some people seem to be more patient externally, but inside they are seething while they’re smiling on the outside. That’s patience as humans practice it. It’s just a mask. The patience that is the fruit of the spirit is far more positive.
Then there’s kindness, which is really a disposition of attitude. There was a sense in which Jesus was kind to people and they saw that kindness flow from Him. It attracted children to Him. The opposite of kindness is crankiness, irritability, a critical attitude, or complaining. Kindness is welcoming of people. By nature, we are not kind. We push people away.
While kindness is an attitude, goodness is an action. It’s words we speak and actions that are consistent with what is right and good. The word “good” is actually derived from “god.” When you tell your kids to “be good” you’re actually telling them to be like God! To be “good” is to reflect the kind of things that God would do. Goodness has to do with behaving ethically, righteously, and justly in line with God’s description of what is good and right.
One of the ways we are “good” is when we forgive those who wrong us. (Woman caught in adultery—Jesus’ disposition was kind and He was good to her).
This fruit pointed toward others seeks their best and puts up with their worst. Only God can produce that capability in us!
Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-Control: Internal fruit
This third grouping of fruit is the quality and grace that allows us to live out a godly life. Remember again that none of these nine qualities are something we self-produce. God by His Spirit produces them in us, and as we “walk in the Spirit” or “keep in step with the Spirit” they will flow naturally from us.
“Faithfulness” is the quality of being a person who can be depended upon, whether that is faithfulness in your marriage, or just the integrity of keeping your word. Faithfulness keeps you showing up because you said you would!
“Gentleness” is sometimes translated “meekness.” But it’s actually the ability to restrain strength. We have a brother who works with our preschool children who spent his career in construction as a carpenter. He is physically strong, but his strength is restrained and the children are drawn to his gentleness.
“Self-control” is the ability to restrain those urges that would cause you to veer off into sin if you “let go.” Every person has characteristics that need to be constrained and controlled; every person has temptations that you have to continually say “no” to expressing.
This fruit is the grace God gives us to align our lives with the life He wants us to know and gives us strength to say NO to the wrong thing even when it’s very tempting to us. We are no longer slaves to our sin. We have the grace of self-control.
So, we don’t have to live a life consumed by the pursuit of things that never satisfy. We can live a fruitful life, that attracts a lost world to us. But it begins by (1) SURRENDERING to God and then (2) SUBMITTING to the control of the Holy Spirit in our lives. (3) STAYING in step with the Holy Spirit. “Walk in the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”