Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
If you’re like me, maybe you’ve had a complicated relationship with these some time in your life. Perhaps you see it as something you put on a canvas in beautiful script over your living room mantle so that you are always reminded of what you’re aspiring to. Or maybe thinking about the FOS is more cringe-inducing because of just how aware you fall short of them at times. Truth be told, preparing for this talk and having the Fruit on my mind for the last 6 months has made me ever more aware of the lack of the FOS in my life sometimes and it's been discouraging. And yet it’s also given me the privilege of praying, reading, thinking, and talking with others a lot about this topic, and for that I’m so grateful.
b. At the end of our time tonight, I’m going to complete this thought and share how God has specifically met me in my great awareness of my weaknesses. I hope a glimpse into my ruminations and attempts to walk out what I’m going to encourage you with today, is able to both challenge you and help you rest even more securely in the love and faithfulness of Christ for you, specifically.
Before we get to point 1, let’s get a little context for our passage this evening:
One way we can get the fruit of the Spirit wrong is that We don’t understand the passage in context and thus can over-simplify and make it a list of to-dos.
It can be helpful to recall for a moment why Paul was even writing the book of Galatians where this passage about the FOS is found. It might be easily summarized in his rhetorical question in Chapter 3: “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected in the flesh?” Paul’s greatest desire for this church (and for us) is that they do not turn back to trusting in the law for their position before God, but trusting only in His free grace given to us in Jesus alone. So let’s keep Paul’s goal for the Galatians (and us) in our minds as we read our passage for tonight.
Read Galatians 5:13-24
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” If we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”25
Here’s a quick grammar lesson, maybe somewhat obvious: Fruit of the Spirit. It can almost become a catch-phrase if we let it. But what it’s communicating is actually far deeper than that. “Of the Spirit” shows possession. So we can actually say this in more modern terms, as “The Holy Spirit’s Fruit”. Does that change your perspective? It is His Fruit….that He happens bear in us. And that means it all belongs to Him anyway.
Let's continue our time together by giving some thought to what the fruit of the spirit is and what it isn’t. Once we’ve steeped our hearts in that, then and only then are we able to think about the how: how to grow and how to change.
What the FOS is NOT
Sometimes it's helpful to start with what we can exclude. Paul uses the word-picture of fruit for a reason. Fruit is not something that is instantaneous. It takes time. A lot is happening under the surface that we can’t see. Paul wants us to know that the fruit of the Spirit is NOT only our outward actions and behaviors. There’s an illustration that Paul Tripp came up with to help us understand this idea and it goes something like this:
Imagine a farmer waking up one morning to tend to his orchard. He goes to the closet, gets out some cardboard and scissors, and dotingly cuts the cardboard into the shape of an apple. Next, he trudges out to his orchard, climbs up his ladder to get close to the tree, rubs some industrial strength glue onto those apples, and glues them nice and firmly to the ends of those big branches.
Sounds pretty ridiculous when you put it that way, right? I think we can all agree that is not real fruit.
It's true, you can’t glue fruit on the tree and call it real fruit. But when it comes to our souls, it’s actually easier to do this than you think! It should causes us to ask the question:
What does it look like to paste fruit on the tree of my soul?
Here’s an example (totally hypothetical, ahem): After a long morning of cleaning up 3 dirty diapers AND dog vomit, helping three children with varying levels of frustration in their schoolwork, two or three meltdowns from an emotional 5-year-old, all with a splitting headache in the background, a young-(ish) mother wants to give up on the day and go back to bed hoping she can just wake up to another day! What is she to do if she desires to grow in the fruit of the spirit?
Or, how about another one: Walking into work on Friday, after dealing with rude co-workers (who may or may not be gossiping about her), an outbreak of Covid down the hall, dealing with angry clientele all week, a woman sits down to find over fifty emails she needs to respond to ASAP. That dear woman is ready to explode on the next person who blames her for something she didn’t even do. What is this woman to do?
Well, some of us are tempted to buckle down with a forced smile, we DECIDE we must now be joyful, patient, kind, right now, maybe fooling ourselves, but not fooling those around us. Sometimes buckling down is the cardboard fruit in our lives. For others, it's a forced smile like the cardboard fruit. And some of us fall on the other side of the coin. We lose heart, we think we are destined to failure, so why even try? We run away from the issues -- the impatience, joylessness, unkind responses flowing from us either because we are exhausted, disheartened, or have convinced ourselves that we are just being authentic in our misery. Do you hear yourself in either of these women?
And what do these situations have in common?
Well, both women are seeing the fruit as something to be attained. Something that is or isn’t in their grasp. And in the case of the woman who dug her heels in, one might say she was pursuing the “Fruit” in and of itself, rather than pursuing the Giver of that fruit, the Lord himself. And this idea is one we are going to return to several times in our time tonight. Perhaps grinning and bearing it is a real-life example of the farmer gluing cardboard fruit on the tree? And the other woman who runs from her failures and weakness, what is she doing? She’s so focused on her lack, she’s lost heart that the fruit of the spirit is even possible for her. She doesn’t even have the energy to find the scissors and the cardboard, but she still thinks that’s where she should start.
Social Media can also tempt us to see our Christian growth as something we can plan for and make happen, more temptations toward cardboard fruit. . Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest might tell us that we’ll gain the fruit of peace by getting our house more organized, or we will gain the fruit of faithfulness by following that perfect schedule, or our children will learn self-control by doing their chores, or that we will have more joy if we stand up for injustices we see around in the world. These are all good and they will probably result in good things for our lives and those around us, but the act of doing them can’t actually create real change within us….I am not saying we shouldn’t be creating good habits and doing good in our community -- it is obvious that those things bring blessing to our lives and others. However, apart from a deep rootedness in Jesus himself, a living, vibrant relationship with Him, they too are that glued cardboard fruit on the farmer’s tree. The problem is that Pinterest assumes we are capable of change from the outside-in….I can’t count how many times after a bad day where not much fruit of the Spirit was on display in my house that I sat down at the computer and created a new and improved schedule, plan, or life-goal that would fix ALL my problems!
This is compounded by the fact that as women we love to problem-solve and trouble-shoot for each other. And I do actually think God made us that way.
And yet, what if sometimes we asked ourselves (or a friend who was struggling in this way) “Where is God already at work in this situation? or “How can you root yourself more deeply in Christ through this difficulty?” Maybe our goal should be to start there, instead of the practical ideas and troubleshooting? First, we anchor ourselves to our Source, our Root, and only then we look at the practicals of how to grow.
That’s what fruit isn't, now we are going to talk about what the Fruit iS! Still on point, defining the fruit.
What the Fruit IS
1. It is Living, bc real fruit has roots. It means that fruit first started as a seed. First, before any fruit is seen, roots have to grow and take hold, be watered, anchored deeply. Then the trunk needs to shoot up, then branches, and then finally, a culmination of this miraculous process, fruit is finally borne. Yet, if the tree continues to get watered and the soil stays healthy, much continues to happen under the surface. In some ways, the fruit on a tree is the exclamation point to the beauty and health of the tree. It wouldn’t be complete without it, but it also gives emphasis and attention to the tree itself. Perhaps we would benefit from seeing this list of Fruit of the Spirit as the exclamation point to our life as followers of Jesus? We must always start by being deeply rooted in a close relationship with Jesus himself and in His word. (And we can’t forget that this is a two-way relationship -- amazingly, Jesus delights to be near to us and his heart is ever for us.) Being a deeply-rooted woman means the cry of our heart is: “I am my beloved’s and my Beloved is mine”-- we belong to Jesus and Jesus belongs to us. It is only in this context where living fruit will grow.
2. Fruit on a tree is Evidence of health: The fruit is not the health itself, it points to it. It points to life. And the “life” that it's pointing to is Jesus himself. Likewise, the fruit in our lives is always meant to point back to Him, not to ourselves.
Some of us, like me, can be tempted to hear truths like that, and respond with, “Wow, I just need to do more, love better” bc my life needs to point to Jesus. But if you are like me and respond like this, we are missing the point entirely, and thus short-circuiting God’s process of real, lasting change in our lives. God wants us to examine our hearts, not just our behavior. The fruit we bear (or lack) should point us back to our roots. Are our roots hydrated, planted deeply in the soil, and tended to with care? This is where we should go before jumping to just fix our behavior. It’s easy to only look at what’s visible (fruit, buds, leaves), but as we look at ourselves we can water the roots and tend the soil of our souls. (Wright, 26-7 Cultivating Fruit of the Spirit)
3. Fruit grows GRADUALLY.
Isn’t it interesting that Paul chose “fruit” as an analogy for our growth in Christ? Tim Keller in his sermon “How to Change” muses on the fact that Paul calls the list in Galatians about the flesh “works”, but he calls the list about the Spirit “fruit.” Plant imagery reminds us that we can’t actually “see” growth in our Christian lives, just as you cannot see fruit grow. You can only look back on it to become aware of it. Keller says it well: “Works of the flesh are something you do. But the fruit of the Spirit is only something that you can open yourself to.” We do have to position ourselves for growth -- no, you probably won’t remember a word of this talk a few weeks from now, or that prayer meeting, that HG ladies get-together, that chat in the lobby with the older (or younger) lady after church; but let's trust that these things do still play a role in our growth, even when you can't measure it or point specifically to any one thing that changed you. Day after day, year after year, continuing to "show up" even when it doesn't feel like it's going to have an immediate benefit to you, is how real relationships are built, and ultimately your faith is grown.
A practical idea: If you want to spend more time in the Word re-framing your ideas on fruit of the Spirit this weekend on your own, I’d definitely encourage you to spend some time soaking in the rich imagery of plant life as a model for Christian growth, that is scattered throughout the Bible. It will remind you that plants grow slowly but healthily when our roots and soil are in the right conditions. Some good places to start would be:
John 15:4: Jesus is saying, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches.” This is one of my favorites! “Make your home in me” is how the Message translation tries to capture this idea of "abide," a sense of closeness and union that shouldn’t be severed. Jerry Bridges in his book on the Fruit of the Spirit says that “abiding in Jesus is a continual act by which Christians set aside everything he might derive from his own wisdom, strength, merit, to draw all from Christ.”
Also, check out Jeremiah 17:8 and Psalm 1:4, but there are others, and once you begin to see this vivid analogy, you will start seeing it throughout Scripture and I think it will encourage you!
4. Fruit is an OUTWARD expression of an INWARD reality.
We all know that a particular fruit is borne as a result of the kind of tree it belongs to. I’m reminded of Rain For Roots’ great children’s song called “Apples don’t grow on pear trees.” The fruit is identified and completely defined by the kind of tree it is on. The tree is the fruit’s identity -- who it is at its core. That’s why Jesus says in Matthew 12:33 that a tree is known by its fruit.
So let’s apply this idea to the Galatians Paul was writing to, (and thus to us also)
How did the Galatians define themselves--did they define themselves by their works (the fruit on their tree) or by their Savior (the roots and tree)? Paul was warning them not to go back to seeing their identity in the law and in circumcision. Paul was offering them a new identity --
A Gospel Identity -- one who has seen Jesus and known that “for freedom Christ has set you free.”(Gal 5:1) A gospel identity says that you are free to not define yourself by what you do or don’t do (the law), and therefore are free to let your identity be as one who is “in Christ” and in union with him--something that can never be changed or taken from you.
Thus, these fruit are not mere deeds you must do in order to define who you are. The fruit of the Spirit then are expressions of who we already are: “we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Let’s commit ourselves to keep this in the right order! Fruits don’t define us, they express who we already are. As women we can definitely mix this up! Either we see our good fruit as the expression of who we are (our identity) which will lead us right into Legalism, or we see our bad fruit as the expression of who we are (and condemn ourselves as failures). (Repeat) “Fruits don’t define us, they express who we already are.” And we are those who belong to Christ!
After this glorious encouragement that “for freedom Christ has set us free”, Paul also gives a warning: “Stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Why does he say this now, except to acknowledge that it is a very real temptation for us to turn away from our freedom in Christ, and begin focusing again only on our behavior, in some vain effort to justify ourselves or gain more of God’s love. The timing of this warning should not be lost on us -- since Paul is about to give us this unnervingly long list of fruits. But it gives us an opportunity to ask: how do we really define ourselves? Is our identity tucked safely away in Christ, or are we looking to our outward actions to justify ourselves? Have we fully acknowledged and surrendered our other identities to fully accept our Gospel Identity? In light of our gospel identity, we can now see the fruit as outward expressions of our inward identity.
If that’s true then, how do we actually grow?
If fruits NOT cardboard glued on the tree, and it IS living(natural), evidence of health, it grows gradually, and it’s an outward result of an inward reality, then what does real growth look like for us?
So, How Do We Grow?
We as women can fall into some different tendencies: We know how important it is to our families and those we love that we possess these qualities, and so we can work really hard (but sometimes in our own strength) to make our lives seem full of these qualities. Or maybe we didn’t have parents who lived this way and we desperately don’t want to pass on those destructive habits to our own children….Or maybe we fall on the other end of the spectrum: maybe you have a personality that lends itself to at least looking like the fruit of the spirit -- a sunny disposition can appear like joy; a laid-back one can look like Peace, and a quiet one can look like Patience. Or maybe you look at the list and automatically feel like you’re going to fail; maybe you’re depressed and feel like you can’t even “go there” right now. How do women from all walks of life, weaknesses, and different giftings grow in the true Fruit of the Spirit?
4 ways we can grow in creating real, lasting fruit in our lives
-”Remember you are Free”, “Walk by the Spirit”, “Crucify Over-Desires & Keep in Step with the Spirit”, and finally Repent, Rejoice, Repeat.
1. Remember you are Free -- Live out of your Gospel Identity (v. 13)
Who are we now in light of the gospel?
Paul’s goal here is to exhort the Galatians to live in the FREEDOM that they’ve been given in Christ. Freedom to walk BY the Spirit, instead of in their flesh. And the result of that freedom to walk by the Spirit, will be that they (and we) can’t help, but bear Fruit of the Spirit. (Repeat slowly),
Leading with this idea that we are now Free, it reminds us that we once were NOT free and slaves to either the law or to sin. Paul wants us to see that we are still tempted to forget this -- and that we need help to live by grace, and not feel bound by the law. Dane Ortland says it this way about the book of Galatians, that we are tempted “to function out of a subtle belief that our obedience strengthens the love of God.” (pg. 182) Remembering that we are free reminds us what is our new identity as followers of Christ.
“Remember you are free” is a bit like saying remember who you are. And what is this new identity that we possess? Issues of identity are something that Christian women will always struggle with at some level: questions like: “Who am I?” That is, “What is my core identity?” How do I fundamentally conceive of myself?
What does understanding our identity in Christ have to do with the fruit of the Spirit? Well, by reminding ourselves and rejoicing that we are free, that we are indeed God’s beloved, united to Christ, we can have eager expectation for growth in the fruit of the Spirit. Michael Gembola says it this way: “In Christ we find new desires and drives within us to do good. And we start to see new and good deeds. An essential break with the old way has happened, and we have changed, actually. Yes, the righteousness of God we possess is extrinsic, alien, imputed. It is Christ’s righteousness. But conversion is renovative. We’ve become saints….The natural next step is to live in light of what God has done, to live in keeping with the new family name, to be who you NOW are in Christ. It means there is a task at hand. But, we also don't simply start on a project of perfecting ourselves.”
Remember, Paul tells us, “we are Free.” Remember who you really are -- a beloved and ransomed child of your Father, one who is free to love doing the good works and the character growth our father has planned for us.
2. “Walk by the Spirit” (v. 16)
This is another phrase we can easily gloss over or assume we know what it means, so let’s spend some time breaking it down.
a. “By the Spirit”: First, let’s stop and revel for a moment in the fact that we have already been given the very Spirit of God to dwell in us, teach us, encourage us! One of the most beautiful themes of the Bible to me is this idea that God's heart for all of time is for His dwelling place to be with man as it says in Revelation 21:3. For the Jews, God’s dwelling place was His temple. But that was not enough! Because of Jesus' forgiveness of sins, a new age of God's dwelling place had begun! God's Spirit coming to dwell in the very hearts of his children means we and all of creation are one step closer to that great climax when the new heavens and new earth are ushered forth, and God's dwelling place will be FULLY with man. We don’t want to miss the miracle that the indwelling Spirit really is for us in the scope of all of Redemptive History!
So, we aren’t being commanded to walk “by ourselves” or “with your own strength”. We are the ones doing the walking itself, but with an outside strength. The Greek in the phrase “by the Spirit” is called the Instrumental Dative or Dative of Means. It is used to show the "means" or the "instrument’ by which something is accomplished. The dative noun (in our case the Spirit) is typically something concrete as opposed to an abstract idea. Paul is telling us here that the Spirit is the instrument that we use to Walk. Walking by means of the Spirit. Walking by means of God’s very own power. Dane Ortlund likens it to a heating vent in your bedroom that’s connected to the furnace. “If you keep that vent closed on a cold winter day, the heat will be circulating throughout the ducts in your home, but you will not experience warmth because you’re closing it off. Opening the vent floods your room with warmth. The heat was already there, waiting to be accessed. But you were not benefiting from it. Galatians exists to open the vents of our hearts to the felt grace of God.”
b. Now for the “Walk”: The ESV study bible says this word was often used to represent a pattern of conduct, so the scripture is saying let the pattern of your life be one characterized by the dependence on the Holy Spirit. Because this is walking by the Spirit, it is not only a passive yielding to the Spirit, it is WALKING--something active. We actually must do something as we yield to Him. It means we can choose the path of obedience even in the most difficult of seasons and moments. John Piper calls it Blood-bought, Spirit-wrought effort. It’s not a pull yourselves up by your bootstraps kind of obedience. It’s fueled by a deep belief that you are FREE, as the passage begins, and therefore can as choose in a moment to walk with the Holy Spirit in charge, instead of your flesh in charge….All of the Christian life is learning this tension -- this “restless rest” as David Powlison calls it so succinctly.
“Walk by the Spirit” is a command, an imperative; but if followed, like all of God’s commands, there’s a promised result. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Here, “You will not” is in the future tense, Indicative, which means it's a done deal; If you walk by the spirit, you will NOT gratify the desires of the flesh. you just won’t.
There’s an element of faith to all of this, isn’t there? We must trust that we have already been given all we need to walk out the Christian life, including bearing fruit of the spirit, even when we are failing and prone to condemnation. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,” (2 Peter 1:3)
A Practical Idea: Have an image in your mind for this battle.
This has been helpful to me as I’ve used myself as a guinea-pig these last months preparing for this talk: You might find it useful to imagine that in every trying or difficult situation you find yourself in, to picture a fork in a road--on one side is Walking by the Spirit and the other side is Walking in your flesh. Training myself to draw this to mind in hard moments and consciously choose to turn on the path of walking by the Spirit, has saved me many times from a sinful response, or it has stopped me in my tracks as I’ve already started responding in my flesh and redirected my mind to the fact that Jesus is drawing near to me in my weakness (I have his spirit within me as proof!), reminding me that I am FREE to change course, and reminding me that I am His and He is mine. Maybe this image doesn’t jump out to you as much as it does to me. If not, perhaps pray and seek God for another image He might give you to help remind you of the Rescue He gives us with His Spirit.
3. Crucify your over-desires & “Keep in Step with the Spirit” (vs 24)
This next point is heavily derived from Tim Keller’s explanation of this verse (v 5:24) in his sermon called “how to change”.
When Galatians 5:24 says “those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires, that word desires in the Greek can be translated literally as “over-desires”. In one sense, this (the crucifying of desires) has already been done once we belong to Christ. We’ve laid the old man down, and we are living as a new creation, a new woman. But in another sense, this is an ongoing work in our lives. We must continue to crucify the flesh. Keller translates this verse more literally as “crucify the flesh with its over-desires.” In other words, overdesires are the things we desire too much.
So where are the things in your life that are too important to you, that are competing with your love for Jesus Christ? It's these over-desires, these things you love too much, that are tempting you to walk in your flesh, instead of by the Spirit.
Crucifying our over-desires is no small task, but Paul gives us the remedy when he says, “Keep in step with the Spirit”. Sounds kinda vague, doesn’t it?
Maybe it's helpful here to imagine a mother and her toddler playing Follow the Leader. The mom takes two little baby steps, and then the child eagerly echoes her mom’s moves and tiptoes two baby steps right alongside her. We likewise are to “keep in step”, but with the Holy Spirit.
Well, what does the Spirit do, and how do we keep in step with that? Well, the role of the Spirit is to draw our minds and hearts continually to Christ and remind us of the beauty of Jesus Christ. Keller says that, “The whole reason you don’t have love, peace, joy, patience, etc. is because you aren’t seeing the beauty of Christ. We need our love for Jesus to be so real, so big that our desires for these other things in life become smaller and more fitting with their real-value, submitted under the lordship of Christ. And as a result, all the fruit begins to grow.” (Keller, how to change sermon)
2 Corinthians 3:18 says: “And we all, with unveiled face, (as we are) beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.
As we behold Him, we are transformed. It’s the natural cause-and-effect that God has designed for his children. We behold, then He transforms.
A Practical idea: Fill your mind with the beauty of Christ. Regularly study the outworkings of the gospel in the life of the believer, theology, the character of God, the doctrine of grace, etc. as it helps you behold who God is more, and worship him more. In a blood-bought, Spirit-wrought way (and not in just a how-to way), perhaps study the qualities of Jesus’ character and learn from Him what the Holy Spirit’s fruit looks like. So, if you lack patience, study the patience of Jesus. If you lack peace, study the peace of Jesus. If you lack kindness, study the many kindnesses of God.
As Carla said to our HG ladies recently, “How can I position myself to allow Scripture to ignite my curiosity and imagination about God?” When your heart and mind are filled with excitement and curiosity about Jesus, your over-desires for the things of this world will wane, allowing the roots of your heart to anchor deeply in God, and thus positioning yourself to bear fruit, and keeping in step with the Spirit.
4. Repent, Rejoice, Repeat.
-FYI: This phrase is actually taken from a mom-blogger I’ve read named Mysti Winkler.
My five-year-old Laurel has this adorable children’s book we read a lot called There’s No Such Thing as a Dragon. In it, a little boy wakes up to find this adorable, small, pet dragon in his room who starts to grow bigger and bigger every time the boy’s parents deny that there even was a dragon in the house. Continuing to be unnamed and “unseen”, the dragon fills and eventually destroys their house, running off with it on its back, and the father unable to even find his family and home. It was only then they finally admitted there was a dragon in the house! Of course, once they acknowledge there was a dragon, it happily shrank back down to its normal, happy pet-size.
Our desires can be a bit like this, can’t they!? If we don’t know what they are, they begin to grow and grow, until they threaten to wreck our souls, and run off with them….
So what does this have to do with repentance?
1. Repent: Well, in order to repent of these over-desires Paul says we have that can control us, we actually need to know what to repent of! The problem with me telling us all to walk by The Spirit, Keep in Step with the Spirit and Remember our Gospel Identity is that we often don’t do these things because of our lingering sin and weaknesses.
So, perhaps you need to train yourself to identify your “over-desires” and to be able to “spot it” in moments of temptation. Once you know the name of the beast and what it looks like, shrinking it won’t be nearly as hard. You’ll know your dragons, instead of being surprised by it over and over again or denying its existence altogether. but don’t stop there and fixate on yourself and weakness! once you spot it, you can do battle in the moment by repenting from wanting this thing more than Jesus himself. That over-desire will shrink back to size, for some of its power will be gone. Maybe you need to spend some time with the Lord up-front to identify the areas that you are often tempted to walk in the flesh.
To help get you started, I’ll share some current examples of where over-desires pop up in my own life pretty much daily:
#1. When chaos erupts in my house and things feel out of my control
#2. When I think I’m coming up on some “free time” or “rest” and something interrupts me.
I think you’d agree that it's not wrong to desire either of those practical things (peace or rest), but when they tempt me to crave ultimate control over my day, or I feel entitled to peace or autonomy over my day, they’ve become over-desires. Naming these and knowing they are my temptation is of great help to me because when I find myself in one of these situations, I already know where I need to repent, and I’m MUCH more likely to do that on the spot and be able to change course and start to walk by the Spirit.
2. Rejoice! that your sins have been forgiven, that as a child of God you are able to walk in freedom and newness of life. Repentance doesn’t look like lashings or scolding yourself. It can be a joy to lay down the burden of worshipping the wrong thing, to embrace the true worship of our gentle Savior, Jesus himself.
3. “Repeat”: Surprise! Another favorite quote of mine from Tim Keller is “All of life is a never-ending cycle of repentance and faith.” This cycle of Repent, Rejoice, and Repeat is the daily, weekly, yearly, life-long privilege of the Christian and not some sign of your great failure at life.
To finish up my personal story: the more I began to hyper-focus on “where is the fruit in my life?” the more I was aware of my need and lack.
What was I to do? Maybe you are already thinking about the remedy I needed. Repent Rejoice, and Repeat? True story: First I poured my heart out to a good friend, and brought all of the “yuck” out into the light. Then, I went home and spent a few moments repenting of fixing my eyes on myself & my performance, and for losing sight of the fact that anything good I ever possess really is all His fruit anyway. And then I’ve repeated that same cycle several times since then when my mind has started to drift back toward that hyper-focus on “where’s the fruit?”
I’ve realized that I had been imagining a certain amount of God’s revulsion toward me in those moments (not in a permanent way, but in a momentary way, which was only keeping me stuck in my flesh). So, instead, I’ve also started actively imagining Jesus drawing ever closer to me in those exact moments, which has done even more to soften my heart and help stop walking in my flesh in the moment, and start again to walk by the Spirit, instead of continuing to keep the focus on my lack. Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:13-14)
Perhaps you find yourself in a vulnerable place today, and even considering what it means to walk by the Spirit is overwhelming or seems impossible. Let me encourage you for a moment: Our sufferings and weaknesses are so often where God will often do the biggest things for us, show Himself most faithful, most kind, most patient. When we feel UN-able, God wants to show Himself Able. And so, I encourage you to see even the Fruit of the spirit as being forged in the crucible of your trials and in your suffering. Suffering is often the back-drop where God will teach you to walk by the Spirit because you're being “forced” to rely on Him and not your own strength (bc we have none). If we stop seeing these seasons as something to just muscle through or wait-it-out before the Lord works but instead walk through our challenges, weaknesses and even trials knowing that joy, peace, patience, etc. are often borne out of circumstances that deeply challenge the limits of your natural joy, natural peace, natural patience, etc. The Lord’s direct care for you WILL result in the Holy Spirit's fruit being borne in you.
Or maybe you came today most aware of your sins and lack of fruit: I’ll encourage you from experience: your failures actually can draw you nearer to Christ as you feel your need of him, and fueled by knowledge that he wants to be near to you. Dane Ortlund in the book Gentle and Lowly corrects our faulty thinking that God shrinks away from us when we sin. “His mercy is pent up (and)ready to gush forth. We tend to think that divine anger is pent up, spring-loaded; (and) divine mercy is slow to build. It’s just the opposite. Divine mercy is ready to burst forth at the slightest prick.”
What if you began to imagine Jesus drawing closer to you when you fail, rather than shrinking away? How would that affect what you did next? Next time you find yourself there, stuck in your flesh, call upon the great mercy of Jesus that is ready to burst forth, instead of feeling guilty, resigned, or condemned (which only ends up keeping your focus on yourself….Michael Gembola says this idea well, “Looking to Jesus (does) require casting aside our entanglements, but our gaze isn’t (can’t be) fixed on the entanglements. It is fixed on Him.”
So, as we turn our minds tomorrow onto the blood-bought, Spirit-wrought work before us, let’s keep close to our hearts that we are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory. So, by all means, desire more fruit of the Spirit, but do it peacefully knowing they are already your inheritance that God is and will continue to produce in you as his child. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, your heart rooted in relationship with Him, and don’t distract yourself by bemoaning your failures. Rejoice that these gifts are yours bc you are united to Him in Christ Jesus. Our roots will grow deeper and stronger, both as we water them through the Word and in authentic relationship with Jesus, and as we continually acknowledge that it is He who Is faithful and will complete the work he has begun in us.
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