But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.Galatians 5:22-23 NIV
How do you recognize a Christian? By their clothes? By their car? Their haircut? How they walk? Its by the fruit of their actions. How do you recognize when the Spirit is working in someone’s life? You can see it by their hunger for the fruit of the Spirit. Are they hungry for love, joy and peace? Then they are seeking God’s Kingdom.
When Paul writes to the churches in Galatia, he is primarily addressing the issue of religious legalism. There were some Jewish church leaders who were basically saying that the only way to be Christian was to be Jewish first. Paul was distressed with this development. Paul is well versed in the law and Jewish religious tradition and he understands that while keeping Jewish religious law might be better than following other kinds of laws, it falls short of the greatness of the new life that Jesus gives us through the Holy Spirit. One of Paul’s primary themes in many of his letters is that religious legalism removes the power and meaning from Jesus’ death on the cross. Most importantly, religious legalism will fail to consistently produce good fruit, fruit that will last.
Paul describes 9 fruits of the Spirit that are a result of the freedom that we have in Christ Jesus. In scripture, trees are often a metaphor for people. We are trees and the results of our actions are described as fruit. Jesus uses this metaphor in his parables.
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”Luke 6:43-45 NIV
When Paul gives us the fruit of the Spirit he is building on what Jesus says. When Jesus sent the Holy Spirit into the church, the Spirit takes up residence in our heart, transforming us from the inside and filling our heart with goodness so our actions produce good fruit: Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Fruits of our world
The fruit of this world looks good and is attractive and desirable, but the fruit of this world leads to death.
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 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.Galatians 5:17-21 NIV
Paul contrasts the fruit of the Spirit with the “acts of the flesh” which is the bad fruit of our world. Paul tells us that all believers will have an internal struggle between life in the Spirit and life in the world. It is like we all have the choice to be one of the 2 trees in the center of the Garden of Eden. To be a tree of life, producing fruit that leads to life, or the tree of the knowledge of good and evil where the fruit leads to death. In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul talks about this struggle in more detail:
For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.Romans 7:19 NIV
The remedy that Paul gives in his letter to the Romans is reliance on the gift of the Holy Spirit. Just because I’m baptized and a pastor doesn’t make everything I do a fruit of the Spirit. Just because you’ve been a Christian for 10 or 20 or more years doesn’t make everything you do holy and good. The challenge for us is to distinguish what are fruit of the Spirit in our life and what are the fruit of this world. When I gave my life to Jesus I was supposed to give him my whole heart, but the reality is that I gave only a portion. As I walk my faith journey, the Spirit reveals more in my life that I have kept to myself and as I repent and believe, Jesus transforms more of me.
Paul’s list of worldly values is also good at helping us to see where the Spirit is NOT at work in the world around us. Where you see the fruit of the world thriving, the Spirit of God is absent. Here is the same list, but from The Message:
“repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.”Galatians 5:19-21 The Message
Love like God, peace that transcends human minds
Dirk Willems was an Anabaptist leader in the 1560’s. He had done no crime deserving death, but was hunted by a thief catcher. As Dirk was running across thin ice while the thief catcher was in close pursuit, he heard the thief catcher break through the ice and plunge into the water. Dirk turned around to save his enemy. The mayor of the town saw the event and commanded the thief catcher to do his duty and capture Dirk Willems. The thief catcher reluctantly did his duty and Dirk Willems was later executed.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.Matthew 5:43-48 NIV
If you use the world’s definition of love or peace or joy or self-control, then the fruit of the Spirit are easy to achieve by the world’s standards. I love people. I have joy. I have peace. And I’m disciplined, I brush my teeth every day! The fruit of the Spirit are more powerful than what the world can imagine.
It is: love for your enemy so that you can forgive them, it is joy while you are suffering, it is peace even when you are surrounded by your enemies, it is forbearance when you are injured, it is kindness to someone who insulted you, it is goodness to people who don’t appreciate you, it is faithfulness to people who are quitters, it is gentleness to the rude and it is self-control while you face your greatest fear.
The church’s history is filled of stories of faithful Christians whose life transcended the worldly understanding of love, joy and peace. Many of these stories exist in a collection called the Martyrs Mirror. For example, In 1561 12 Christians at Bruges were captured by local authorities and sentenced to death because they were baptized as adults. Despite their situation and certain death, they sang songs of joy.
Seeing the fruit of life
Millie and I had a banana tree. This is its final moments. We were pleasantly surprised to see our banana tree, which we expected to produce no fruit, with a small bunch of bananas. It is a reminder to me to look for fruit in places I don’t expect. By-the-way, the bananas were sweet and good.
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.Matthew 7:15-20 NIV
Jesus is teaching his disciples how to discern, or see, what is in someone’s heart. There is a challenge with doing this discernment, because it takes time. When you meet someone, you cannot see the end result of their words and deeds because they appear like a sheep, but eventually, everything is exposed and it becomes plain if they are producing the fruit of the Spirit or the fruit of this world.
How do you recognize a Christian? By their clothes? By their car? Their haircut? How they walk? No, its by the fruit of their actions. When the Spirit inhabits our heart, then our words and work produce love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Not only that, but our love will not be the limited form of love that our world likes. It will be like the perfect love of our Father in Heaven, the kind of love that forgives and prays for our enemies.
How do you recognize when the Spirit is working in someone’s life? You can see it by their hunger for the fruit of the Spirit. Then they are seeking God’s Kingdom.
Millie and I are on a prophetic group mailing list where they occasionally share the prophetic words they feel are important for the church to hear in these days. This past week they shared the following: We sense that Spring 2021 is going to be significant, especially Easter – that there is going to be a “missional moment” when people will be particularly open to God’s message of hope in Jesus. This will be a God-ordained opportunity for renewal and revival. We need to be prepared to get out there with the message.
It is with this in mind that I encourage you to look both in your own life for the fruit of the Spirit and to also look around you to see where your neighbors, friends or family are looking for the fruit of the Spirit. It is in these places where the Spirit of God is inviting you to share the good news.