(SLIDE #1) Imagine talking a walk in the woods. You spot two fruit trees in the distance.
Drawing nearer to these two trees, you notice they are both blossoming with red apples.
Ripe for the picking, you anticipate taking hold of one of those apples
and enjoying bite after delicious bite.
But then, something happens as you arrive at the base of these two trees.
Upon closer inspection, you immediately see these two trees are not the same.
(SLIDE #2) On the first tree, the apples hang naturally, as you would expect them to, from the stem.
But the appearance of the second tree baffles you. (SLIDE #3)
On the second tree, all of the apples have been tied to the branches of the tree.
Someone has worked very hard, invested perhaps hours of time,
to make this tree appear to be fruitful.
Anyone, however, would recognize this is an illusion.
Hanging apples on a tree does not an apple tree make.
The appearance of fruit on a tree is not the same thing
as the reality of fruit stemming from the branch.
Everyone knows this and yet how many of us
seek to bear fruit in our spiritual lives more like the second tree than the first?
This morning as we continue our series on the person of the Holy Spirit, (SLIDE #4)
we engage what Paul refers to in Galatians, chapter 5, as “the fruit of the Spirit.”
Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control.
That’s the flavor profile of this fruit. It’s robust and desirable to anyone.
But what does Paul mean when he talks about producing this fruit of the Spirit?
How exactly are we intended to reflect this spiritual fruit in our lives?
That’s our focus today. In order to answer these questions, let’s dig a little deeper
into Paul’s conversation with the Galatians in this chapter. (SLIDES #5 – #10)
Let’s step back for a second in order to understand the broader conversation going on here.
(SLIDE #11) Paul is writing to a community of Christians
who are being swayed by the notion that Jesus isn’t enough.
The work of God coming down to be with us
– living with us in the person of Jesus Christ, bearing the cost of our brokenness
while at the same time, wiping our slate clean, through dying for us on the Cross,
God in Christ rising from the dead, conquering our greatest fear
and assuring us His promise of everlasting life through Him is real and true,
this is still the Gospel for the Galatians, still good news.
It’s just no longer GOOD ENOUGH for them.
This community is drinking the Kool-Aid that in order to ensure
we are in a right relationship – a good standing with God, we NEED to follow the rules, to keep the Law God handed down through Moses long ago.
In other words, we’ve got to contribute something to this relationship,
to demonstrate our righteousness, to show our obedience,
to validate our salvation from the Lord.
Paul spends the first four chapters of this letter
taking apart this argument and exposing it as a dangerous lie. (SLIDE #12)
And it all culminates in this famous chapter, where Paul declares our freedom in Christ.
Freedom from having to do anything to earn or merit or justify
the grace, the forgiveness, hope, and eternal life, we have been given through Jesus.
This brings us to where we came in today,
where Paul repeats his emphasis upon our freedom in Christ. (SLIDE #13)
Paul repeats this point to clarify something important
– that we not set free in Christ in order “to use our freedom to indulge in the flesh.”
What Paul is referring to here when he talks about “the flesh”
is our nature or our will lived apart from God. (SLIDE #14)
Living out of “the flesh” is living out of one’s own power
or one’s perceived strength – living for oneself.
It is being self-absorbed, believing one’s life is self-determined, acting self-servingly,
and therefore, ultimately, living as self-centered rather than God-centered.
Now at first, Paul’s caution here might seem way off base.
After all, the Galatians aren’t living for themselves, right?
They’re seeking to live for God out of a conviction
that still is very common today among God-fearing people,
that the Lord helps those who help themselves.
They are just trying to do their part in this relationship with the Almighty
– to demonstrate their commitment, to prove they were worth dying for,
to live up to the glory and righteousness given to them by God in Christ.
That doesn’t sound self-centered? Or does it? (SLIDE #15)
Paul’s point here is the minute we begin to believe
we need to prove ourselves or somehow contribute to or pay back or validate
the work God has done for us in Christ, the work God continues to do in us,
we have pivoted away from being singularly reliant upon the grace of God
and have turned inward – towards being self-focused and self-reliant.
The minute we start worshipping before the altar of self-help,
we begin to move farther away from Jesus – not following in His footsteps
but blazing our own trail, going our own way.
And once I start to become convinced, it’s not all God, it’s not all grace
– that it’s partly up to me, that I can or have to produce something, I will become fixated on what I’m doing or not doing rather than on what Christ is doing in my life.
I’ll become consumed with striving to do enough – wondering and worrying
if I’ve helped myself enough so that God will continue to help me.
Or worse, I’ll become full of myself rather than full of Christ
and I’ll start to evaluate myself in relation to other people
– feeling superior and looking down on others who don’t do as much as I do
– perhaps even passing judgment on them as not really being faithful to Jesus,
maybe going so as to condemn, even if only in the privacy of my heart,
as not really belonging to God. Notice how Paul describes the Galatian community.
(SLIDE #16) In trying to prove themselves as righteous.
Paul says they are biting and devouring each other.
Driven by insecurity and unrelenting in comparing themselves to each other
out of a false front of superiority, this community is eating itself alive.
Admonishing them not to become conceited – not to provoke and envy each other,
Paul warns where this sort of me, myself, and I living inevitably leads
– to consuming, destructive behaviors. (SLIDE #17)
This unpleasant list of what Paul calls the obvious “acts of flesh” are the extremes
– the net results, the dead ends where we end up landing
if we try to live out of our own power and will, if we seek to live for ourselves.
Notice, all these behaviors and practices divide into three realms of self-gratification:
the sexual, the religious, and the relational.
In other words, living primarily for me, myself and I
destroys our relationship with ourselves, with God, and with others.
(SLIDE #18) In fact, Paul goes on to add a sobering caution,
those who live like this “will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”
To be clear, Paul isn’t saying God is going to take away something from us
that He’s already given.
Paul is saying living like this is choosing
to live apart from, to live outside of the grace God offers us.
When we start trying to help ourselves in order to get God to help us,
once we begin to act like we’ve got something to contribute,
that we need to pay back or somehow justify the grace God gives to us,
we aren’t living in the Kingdom God prepares for us.
We are living in our own self-made kingdom.
And from the beginning we start to build those walls, (SLIDE #19)
Paul wants to understand it’s not a castle, it’s a prison – a prison of our own making.
A prison where we become trapped by our ego to the point of addiction to self.
We become so fixated on making a name for ourselves,
commanding attention & respect, & presenting an image of success or accomplishment,
all our relationships – including with God – are motivated by our own self-interest
– whether that means gaining the approval of others
or needing to prove we are superior to others. (SLIDE #20)
As Paul describes it in verse 17, you end “doing what you do not really want to do”
but instead, end up doing what you think you have to do to confirm your worth
or relevance, to maintain your reputation, and to ensure your acceptance.
Being constantly driven by fear, guilt, & shame, that’s not freedom, that’s bondage.
(SLIDE #21) Paul pushes hard here insisting our freedom in Christ is not some
wild, abstract freedom from restraint – to do whatever I want – living for myself.
No, what Paul declares is we have been
freed FROM something in order to be freed FOR something else.
We are freed FROM just serving ourselves
– and dire results of a life lived only for oneself, apart from God (SLIDE #22)
in order to be free TO serve each other – (v. 14) to love our neighbor as ourselves.
It is a freedom that in some ways, mirrors God’s own,
as we are free to love each other as God loves us. (SLIDE #23)
The more complete description of what this freedom we have in Christ
looks and tastes like is what Paul goes on to call the fruit of the Spirit.
At first glance, what Paul outlines here may seem like a random list of qualities,
but taking a closer look helps us to notice they are given to us in very logical divisions.
(SLIDE #24) The first three qualities have to do, primarily,
with the impact of our relationship with God through Christ: “love, joy, peace”.
(SLIDE #25) The second three have to do with our relationships and interactions
with other people: “forbearance [or “patience”], kindness, goodness.”
(SLIDE #26) And the final three have to do, primarily, with our own inner state of being: “faithfulness, gentleness [or “meekness”], self-control.”
Another important way of perceiving the fruit of the Spirit is
these are the character qualities of Jesus.
This description of what it looks like when the character of Christ is
reflected through our lives intended to serve as a contrast to
the outcomes of living out of the works of the flesh – living for ourselves.
Like that list, all of these manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit
impact every relationship we could ever have
but in a positive and edifying manner rather a negative and destructive one.
We are created, we have been saved, set free for a fruitful life in Christ. (SLIDE #27)
What Paul provides here is a simple, vibrant, appealing, and highly accessible way
of understanding the difference – of what the experience of this kind of life is like.
It’s so colorful and attractive,
we begin to teach this part of the Bible to our children when they are preschoolers.
Bible studies and teaching series that break down each of the flavors of
the fruit of the Spirit are among the most popular lessons for both children & adults.
Everybody loves the fruit of the Spirit. No one takes issue with this part of scripture.
The problem is, most of us, apply this part of the Bible, seek the fruit of the Spirit, completely contrary to Paul’s intentions – in the opposite manner to everything
Paul tries to communicate through this letter to the Galatians.
How do we do this? By trying to produce this fruit ourselves. (SLIDE #28)
Too many of us perceive and talk about the fruit of the Spirit as a checklist.
It sounds like this.
Yeah, I know I lost my temper last week and that wasn’t really loving or kind
or demonstrating much self-control, but I’m going to try harder. I can do this.
I just need to work on managing my anger. I can get a handle on this.
With this approach, cultivating the fruit of the Spirit becomes a matter of one’s willpower – getting a grip, being more positive, developing more coping mechanisms.
Making the pursuit of the fruit of the Spirit into a checklist – something we have to cultivate
turns our lives into a game of whack-a-mole. Remember that carnival game? (SLIDE #29)
With the hammer of our willpower in our hands,
we keep trying to nail down the fruit of the Spirit.
We think we’ve got a handle on peace, but then our lack of gentleness pops up.
We take a whack at gentleness and then our lack of patience rears its ugly head.
And with each throw of the hammer of our will, as we strive to be
a little more loving, to exercise a little more patience, or to practice a little more goodness,
we don’t experience more fruit or any fruit for that matter.
We just end up reaching a point of frustration, disappointment, and exhaustion.
I know what my life in Christ is supposed to look like, but I just can’t do it.
In our frustration, some of us turn legalistic.
If we can’t seem to grow the fruit of the Spirit,
then we’ll just create a bunch of self-imposed rules and restrictions
to make our lives appear more fruitful.
We come up with strategies for suppressing all the junk we are carrying inside
– all the bitterness, the prejudice, the hatred, the apathy.
We craft postures of expression and response we can exercise in public
to appear more loving, more joyful, more peaceful, more patient,
more self-controlled than we really are. (SLIDE #30)
But it’s all just wax fruit – looking good but having no real flavor or taste to it.
Others of us, in our exhaustion, become fruit pickers instead. (SLIDE #31)
Convinced we can’t have it all when it comes to the fruit of the Spirit,
we start picking and choosing the qualities that come more naturally to us,
that are easier sources for our personal development.
And when we do this, the excuse is easy, “I’m just not a patient person.”
“I just don’t have any self-control.”
“I wish I would be more kind, but let’s face it, I’m just not a nice person.”
The first problem with this is what Paul outlines here is the fruit of the Spirit.
He does not speak of the “fruits” of the Spirit. The word is singular, not plural.
(SLIDE #32) This indicates there is only one fruit of the Spirit.
There aren’t nine different fruits that we get to pick and choose from,
there is one singular fruit manifested in nine distinct qualities as a whole.
It’s a packaged thing – an all or nothing deal. That means we don’t get to be fruit-pickers.
So, there can be no talk of harvesting “love” this fruit season,
and hopefully, then “peace” the next fruit season, and so on.
What this also means is EVEN the select fruit we CLAIM to possess,
to be growing in our lives isn’t authentic or real.
This is because our spiritual growth, in any flavor variety,
isn’t primarily about us plugging away to make it happen.
We can’t just simply tie the fruit of the Spirit onto the branches of our lives.
We won’t grow spiritually by trying to add love, joy, peace,
and everything else to your life. (SLIDE #33)
Spiritual fruit cannot be produced by an outward change of habit
or a legalistic system of self-improvement.
Beloved, it’s not about the fruit of the believer – fruit that we cultivate and produce.
(SLIDE #34) It is the fruit of the SPIRIT. The person of the Holy Spirit is the key.
Notice, how this whole section of this letter is filled with the Spirit (Mentioned 7x).
The fruit of the Spirit is a picture of
what the Holy Spirit produces in the life of a follower of Jesus.
The fruit of the Spirit is the Holy Spirit growing the character qualities of Christ in us
– cultivating Christlikeness in our lives.
Now, to be clear, while the Holy Spirit is the One who grows this fruit in us,
we are called to position ourselves to bear this fruit.
In John 15, Jesus put it this way,
“I want you to bear fruit – much fruit – in fact, I want you to bear fruit that lasts.”
(SLIDE #35) If the Holy Spirit is the One who produces this fruit,
then how exactly are we supposed to bear it?
(SLIDE #36) Paul tells us, at the end of this chapter, as he encourages the Galatians
to “keep in step” or “to line up with the Spirit.”
Jesus, back in John 15, expresses it with a single word: “Abide.” (SLIDE #37)
Jesus goes on to attach this concept of abiding
to a familiar image from nature as he speaks of a vine and its branches.
The only way a branch can bear fruit, Jesus insists, is to remain connected to the vine.
However, early in John’s Gospel, in chapter 12, Jesus, in referring to a grain of wheat, reveals this fruit bearing process only begins once a seed is planted in the ground & dies.
In other words, abiding begins with dying to self.
The first thing that has to happen
if we are to have the fruit of the Spirit in our lives is that we have to die to self.
(SLIDE #38) We have to come to the point where it is no longer our will controlling our lives,
but instead, we consider ourselves dead & let Jesus live through us. (Galatians 2:20)
How do we die to ourselves? These are questions, the Spirit repeatedly places before me:
Where does my identity come from? Is it Jesus?
Or what other say about me? Or how I want others to see me?
What is my deepest motivation?
To get as much as I can, to protect and secure all I perceive is mine?
Or to become more open and generous realizing nothing I possess is mine
but given to me my God to share in order to reflect His love, His mercy, His grace.
What is my power source? My brilliance? My strength? My ability? My following?
Until we die to self, the seed of salvation, the Spirit of Christ,
that has been planted in us, does not germinate and come to life.
This dying to self is not a one-time experience;
it is a daily process of submitting and yielding to the source of our life – Jesus.
It is not just believing in Christ but actually following Him.
It’s not just about having the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives
but being regularly filled with the Holy Spirit.
This doesn’t mean throwing God a bone once in a while.
Sometimes in our relationships, we step back & realize we are not very present with
the people in our lives – not spending any time with them or giving them our full attention.
So once in a while, we throw them a bone. We bring home a present
or we take them out for a fancy dinner, or we splurge for a really nice vacation.
But abiding is not throwing God a bone once in a while. (SLIDE #39)
Abiding is about our relationship with Christ through the Spirit
becoming the very air we breathe.
To be in His presence, where my whole life can be reoriented to the things of Christ, because I’m in Jesus’ presence through the Holy Spirit.
It’s about entering into the presence of Jesus and staying with Jesus the whole day
– letting Christ through the Spirit direct the trajectory of lives.
Again, what does it look like to let the Spirit direct my life?
It’s not about what I want to do; it’s about what do I need to do.
It’s not about what would Jesus do – but what is Jesus seeking to do through me?
It’s not about praying for that person or situation,
it’s about asking and listening to how Jesus is already speaking there.
It’s not about knowing a lot of scripture (checklist),
but daily being in the word so I have the language and the vocabulary
to understand and sometimes to speak into what is happening.
It’s not always about the Lord changing that person or this situation, more often than not,
it’s about the Spirit changing me – how I relate to that person, how I engage this situation.
When you listen to His voice, and you respond the way He desires and directs you,
spiritual fruit happens – love, joy, peace, patience, and all the other flavors
start to percolate within you and eventually pour out of you.
The blossoming of fruit is a process that takes time – seasons of growth.
None of us would plant an apple seed
and then come out a month later expecting apples.
There is a season of growth before fruit naturally appears.
It is the same with our life in the Spirit.
The fruit of the Spirit does not happen without a season of growth.
Months or years are not necessarily required as with an apple tree,
but it does take a season where the Spirit matures
and builds us up on the inside to bear fruit externally.
Just like with the apple tree, signs of growth will be apparent along the way.
There also will be growing pains. The process of change is the experience of challenge. We are stretched in order to grow. Trails and tests will come.
Abiding means leaning into and walking by faith.
When we stumble and fall or when we get knocked down,
we don’t try to pick ourselves up or carry on in our own strength.
Instead, we drive our roots deep into the Spirit
– content to let Christ live in us rather than on our own.
We don’t try to shortchange the process by looking for a quick fix.
Instead, we embrace ever more Jesus’ love and promise in the Gospel,
growing by learning how to trust Him.
We wait upon the Lord, allowing the Holy Spirit
all the time He wishes in developing the production of His own perfect fruit in us.
The fruit of the Spirit isn’t what saves us or makes us right with God.
The fruit of the Spirit is the reflection, the testimony we are living out of the salvation we have been given, the life we have received in Christ.
This fruit of becoming more and more like Jesus is not something produced BY us,
it is produced IN us through the Holy Spirit who Himself lives WITHIN us.
Fruit that lasts – comes from being, not doing. The doing will take care of itself.
But the fruit that lasts, it comes from being. Being in the presence of the Spirit.
This fruit that lasts takes time – as we abide – dying to ourselves
and holding onto to Christ – through life’s seasons of growth and maturity.
Along the way, as this fruit of the Spirit begins to bud and eventually will blossom,
we are being transformed into our best selves – where the people around us
will not only recognize the difference in us, but more importantly, they will see
and encounter Jesus, the One who seeks to make their lives fruitful too. Amen.