OK, now we’ve got a little bit under four weeks until the end of the year. I planned after we were done with Acts to start on some of the Epistles, but it didn’t turn out that way. I felt it was necessary to clarify some things about relations between the Church and the Jews, since that came up often in Acts. So really I didn’t think we could give the Epistles any kind of justice. So as of now, here’s our plan: We’re going to go through the prophets starting early next year, and then round it out with an overview of the Epistles.
So what about the rest of this month? Well, it’s times like these where I wish I was a whole lot better at titles. I thought about calling it “Keith’s Book of Virtues,” a takeoff from Bill Bennett’s Book of Virtues which he authored several years ago. But then I realized just how pretentious that sounded, so I nixed the title. Basically what I’d like to do for the rest of the year is to focus each day on a Christian virtue, a characteristic which we’re supposed to cultivate in our lives as believers. So we’re going to start with a little talk today about the Fruit of the Spirit, and then cover them individually.
Before we talk about it, I need to give a very brief summary of the point of the book of Galatians, since it’s extremely relevant. Early in his ministry, Paul had to repeatedly face down legalists who were infecting the churches. These legalists were spreading the teaching that Gentiles need to follow the Law of Moses in order to be true Christians; particularly they needed to be circumcised and keep the dietary laws in order to please God. Paul reacted to this heresy in the strongest of terms: We have freedom in Christ, and we’re no longer bound to the Law in order to please God.
But at the same time Paul didn’t want anyone to fall into the opposite error: Antinomianism. Remember that word? It means “No law,” and it’s the teaching that since we’re saved by grace through faith in Christ, we no longer need to be concerned about our lifestyle. I’m going to heaven no matter what I do, so why not live as I please?
Again, Paul hated this heresy as much as he hated the opposite one. His response? “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”
That’s why we need to understand the balance Paul calls for in order to grasp what the Fruit of the Spirit really is. We're not to follow either legalism or antinomianism, but instead we need to walk by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit.
In other words, we need to develop our personal relationship with Christ. You know the old saying that people who are married start acting like each other after a while, picking up each others’ quirks and habits? It’s the same here. As we spend time with Christ, he'll change us from the inside-out.
This is absolutely vital to understand as we start this study on the Christian virtues. Paul calls these nine things the “fruit” of the Spirit, right? Look at a fruit tree. Does it produce fruit by straining and pushing and putting a lot of effort into it? Of course not. The procedure is: 1) You plant the tree, 2) Water it, 3) Make sure it gets the proper nutrients and enough sunshine, 4) Keep predators away from it, and Voila! At the right time you’ll see fruit coming out of the stems.
Yes, there are some hard decisions you need to make. This is not an issue of God working and you just sitting there. In order to produce the proper fruit, you have to cultivate your relationship with him. Primarily that means you read his word, pray (singly and with others), fellowship with other believers, and tell others about him. This takes effort! But the focus is always on developing that relationship, not on the fruit itself. As C.S. Lewis put it, "If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire. If you want joy, peace, eternal life, you must get close to what has them."
So why does Paul even talk about the fruit? Because that’s a sign that the tree is alive and flourishing. When the Bible is talking about "fruit," it's using it as a metaphor for visible results of an inward process. There's no such thing as invisible fruit. If an apple tree's not producing apples, something’s wrong. If you claim to be a follower of Jesus and are not producing these qualities, something’s wrong.
You need to examine yourself, actually let the Spirit examine you, and ask yourself some hard questions: Am I showing these qualities? Can people see that Christ is changing me? If not, why not?
Father, is your Spirit producing fruit in me that way he should? Am I growing? Am I letting you change me?