The Fruit of the Spirit: The Bigger Picture


Yesterday Michelle was kind enough to post for me on “my” day.  I got up this morning and found that she had posted for me in more ways than one.  Her message about freedom was very nearly the post I intended to write today.  I’m going ahead because I am going to look at it from a slightly different angle, and because when God says something important in Scripture you find He has said it again, even a number of times.  Maybe we need to hear this more than once because it’s so important to us right now.  I know I do.

I started looking at the whole passage of Galatians where you find the verse about the fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:16 – 26.  I’ve been blogging about some individual fruits of the Spirit without looking at the bigger picture.

First, Paul has laid out the reason why his instructions are so important:  we are fighting a war.

For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. – Galatians 5:17

Where can I turn when what I see in the mirror of God's Word seems to condemn me?

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves." Where can I turn when what I see in the mirror of God's Word seems to condemn me?

The war is not overseas, it is right here in front of us.  Worse, in this conflict between the Spirit and the sin nature, we feel drawn to the enemy side.  We find the list of sins nauseating when we read them, but they don’t always seem so bad when the opportunity presents itself.

The acts of the sinful nature 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. – Galatians 5:19 – 21a

Sounds awful, doesn’t it, at the moment?  Paul even trails off from naming them all.  Our enemy has plenty of temptations and enticements.  Following along with them brings dire consequences:

I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. – Galatians 5:21b

Why would anybody who lives like this be interested in inheriting the kingdom of God, I wondered.  Then I remembered those many who hear, and like what they hear, and do what they want anyway.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. – James 1:22 – 24

Have we walked away from personal inventory and forgotten what our own soul looks like?  It is an inward act of the sinful nature that is potentially more dangerous than the ones in the list above. In this war, as a soldier on the Kingdom side, I do have my orders:  stay away; flee; cast them off; push them away because they no longer have a part of you.

And we have help:  God knows the battle we fight between our spirits and the sinful nature.  “They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”

Thank God for the hope in these next verses.  Paul proclaims decisively,

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. – Galatians 5:16

It doesn’t say, “With great and sad longing for your sinful ways, you can just eke out a victory, or a draw.”  “You won’t feel freed up, but you can pull it off.”  It says, “You will not gratify.” You can step forward and win the battle and be free, and get away from the law.  After listing the results of living by the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, Paul adds, “Against such there is no law.” – see Galatians 5:22 -24

Now both Michelle and I want always to stress that any command to do something outwardly flows from something inward.  You can’t just take these lists and say, “Okay, don’t do this, do that, and I’ll go to heaven.”  It leaves you still under the law, and you won’t win.  Oh, you may think you win, but there will still be sin balanced against the good works, and the good works may not be as pure in motivation as they seemed, and you need to be cleaned from all sin.   What will wipe clean the sin side of the scales once and for all?

The thing that has cleansed us, given us a second spiritual birth, and given us the power to do good things and feel free in doing them is our belief in Jesus – a belief that is so strong that we have given our lives over to Him.  When we heard His words, when we saw our sinful souls in the mirror, we did not absentmindedly walk away.  Inwardly we have made the decision to serve God.  Look at the power that God gives us in this next verse:

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. – Galatians 5:24

We crucify the sinful nature.  We admit our sins and call our sins a part of all the sins Christ paid for when He was on the cross.  Now, because Jesus Christ is triumphant, we can win our battles.

The last verse in the passage is a warning:

Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. – Galatians 5:26

In other words, avoid the trap of now weighing on the scales your success at producing fruit against that of others, or concerning yourself with the size and scope of the work you are called to in comparison to others.  You just don’t know the way God is working in someone else’s life.  Throw away the scales and let God prune His fruit trees as only He knows best.

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