Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Fruit of the Spirit vs. Fruit of the Flesh
What is a Christian?
If you've ever wondered what the Christian life looks like, or what it consists of, look no more. God, through Paul, tells us point blank.
The Fruit of the Spirit
Galatians 5:22-26, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another."
Let me digress for a moment, what is the spirit of the law? What is it that truly fulfills the law? Love. Just a few verses earlier Paul says "the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' " (Gal 5:14)
Christ Himself said, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:37-40)
Christ says that on those two principles, love for God and love for our neighbor, hang all the Law and the Prophets. The entire word of God can be summed up so purely with those two commands. It is the entirety of our existence.
If we have allowed Christ to come into our hearts, He brings His love with Him. God will place in our hearts a true love, a self-sacrificing love, for Himself and for His creation.
How Love Fulfills The Law
If we love God, we will have no other gods before Him, because He is the ultimate desire and love of our heart, we won't worship idols because our love is directed only at God, we won't take His name in vain because we love Him, and we will save time for Him and Him only, because we love to be near Him.
If we love His creation, our fellow man, we will honor our father and mother because we love them, we won't murder those we love, we will be faithful in body and thought to those we love, we will not steal from those we love, we will not lie to those we love, we will not covet from those we love.
If we truly have love for God in our heart, the first 4 commandments are no longer a burden, but a delight. If we truly have love for our fellow man, the last 6 commandments are not difficult, but as natural as breathing.
So, with one fell swoop, Paul takes care of the law, for the first, and foundational, fruit of the Spirit is love...agape.
The Rest of the Fruit
Joy...chara. Cheerfulness, i.e. Calm delight, gladness, exceedingly joyful. With the Holy Spirit of God dwelling in our hearts, there should come a calm delight, a gladness that we have found and serve our awesome Creator. Sometimes Christians don't seem like they have one bit of joy in their lives...sometimes Christians can be a little judgemental and haughty, sometimes Christians seem to concentrate on the negative instead of the positive. It shouldn't be so. Let's rejoice in our Creator and His creation. Let's look for the good in every situation, knowing that God is in control.
Peace...eirene. One, peace, quietness, rest, set at one again. How beautiful is that! "Set at one again." Indeed the Christian can and should feel a deep sense of peace because we know that in falling prostrate before God and repenting of our sins, He has been faithful and just to forgive us, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We have been truly "set at one again" with our Heavenly Father. Christ has made atonement, "at-one-ment." Let us again remember that our peace comes because we can trust God, that He is always in control, and "all things work together for good to those who love Him." (Rom 8:28)
Longsuffering...makrothumia. Patience, longanimity (good-natured tolerance of delay or incompetence), i.e. forbearance or fortitude. This is a big one, and a tough one for some of us. Since Christians are followers of Christ, and He is our example in all things, we should be longsuffering, since God Himself is "longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." (2 Pet 3:9) We too should not be hasty or rash, but instead patient and kind, especially with other people. And always in a good-natured way.
Kindness...chrestotes. Usefulness, excellence in character or demeanor, kindness. What a blessing to let others see the kindness of Christ in you. I like that the definition includes, usefulness, for as James says, "If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." (James 2:15-17) Therefore let us be useful to our fellow man. Let us be helpers, and "be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." (James 1:22) Let Christ's love compel us to help, as He helped.
Goodness...agathosune. Goodness, i.e. Virtue or beneficence (doing or producing good). This goes along with the previous fruit of the Spirit. If Christians have the Spirit of God dwelling in us, His goodness should shine forth as the sun. "But the path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day." (Proverbs 4:18)
Faithfulness...pistis. Assurance, belief, believe, faith, fidelity. The indwelling Spirit of God will produce in us an assurance that we are Christ's, and He will save us. The word fidelity is an interesting one. These days it speaks of the "accuracy with which an electronic system reproduces the sound or image of its input signal". So too, Christians ought to be an accurate reproduction of the signal that is input into our hearts. We should faithfully reflect the Spirit of God that lives in us. As Paul puts it, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Galatians 2:20) So we see that if we live by faith, it is no longer us who lives, but Christ who lives in us. Amen!
Gentleness...praiotes. Meekness, humility. Since it is Christ who lives in us, we will no longer have a spirit of pride, harshness or compelling. Instead, we will have a meek spirit, a lowly spirit. For Jesus said, "And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Matt 23:12) and "And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Matt 20:27,28). So we too should not seek to be served, but to serve.
Self-control...egkrateia. Temperance (the trait of avoiding excesses). The Seventh-day Adventists have a motto about temperance that goes something like this: "Avoid those things which are harmful and use in moderation those things which are good." Indeed, the Christian should be careful to keep in check those carnal desires and not to overindulge in things like food, drink, spending, sex, or really...anything. The only thing that is acceptable, and profitable, to overindulge in, is God Himself. Let us be moderate in all things and be zealous in prayer and study of the Bible. The Christian should let God control his life, and not his base passions.
So this has been a quick little look at the fruit of the Spirit as found in the fifth chapter of Galatians. Let us spend time each day reflecting on these fruit and how we can incorporate them into our lives. For, to a Christian, they are not optional. I've recently heard it said that all other areas of religion can be counterfeited, but it takes a real vital connection with Christ to produce the fruit of the Spirit. Indeed, in maybe my favorite chapter of the Bible, Christ said, "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." (John 15:5) Let us seek to abide in Him, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.
The Alternative: The Fruit of the Flesh
Many people perhaps do not realize that immediately preceding the fruit of the Spirit, Paul lists the fruit of the flesh.
"Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." (Galatians 5:19-21)
Let that passage be a solemn warning to those who believe that we can die for Christ and still live like the world. Paul is very clear that those who produce the fruit of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God. Let this passage also act as a mirror by which we may look and see ourselves in and say "Woe is me, for I see myself in so many of those things." Let it be a mirror, as the Ten Commandments are a mirror, showing us our desperate need of Christ as a Saviour.
Speaking of the idea of "carnal Christians", I recently found an article by a Baptist pastor about this very subject. Please check it out here. Or copy and paste this link: http://www.godcentered.info/2008.08.13-20-27.09-03WED.Exposing.the.False.Teaching.of.the.Carnal.Christian.html
So we have two lists contrasting the Christian and the worldling. One who bears fruit of the Spirit, one who bears fruit of the flesh. Even if I had no idea who Jesus is or what God is like, even if I had never heard of the Bible, I would certainly look at these two lists and wonder: who in their right mind would want the latter?
I don't know how to close this post, so I'll just close with a written prayer:
Our Father in heaven, please give us Your Holy Spirit and let Him dwell continually in our hearts. Crucify our flesh and make us into Your image that we may glorify You. Teach us to abide in Christ and make us bear fruit. In the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, amen.