Trees produce fruit. If you were a tree, what kind of fruit would you produce? That would depend on which of two different influences available to you. One is the Holy Spirit—God in us. The other called, in the Bible, “the flesh.” That influence passes to us from our original parents, Adam and Eve. They were infected with it and have passed down to all their children.
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I was thinking back about people I’ve met in my life – Christian people, mostly – and thinking about how hard it is to be a balanced Christian – not just thinking about them, but about myself as well. I’ve noticed that we tend to be drawn off center by all sorts of things – most of time, things that could be good. I know some people who focus on prophecy – even ministers that only speak on that topic – others who focus on following the law of God – that’s a big thing for them – some who thinks the dates for the holy days define the church, others think God’s name must be spoken in Hebrew – that’s vitally important for them – those who believe that being doctrinally correct is the litmus test for Christianity. Almost all of these people give lip service to the idea that a Christian must be a good person, but is not as important as what they have in focus.
So, it’s hard to be balanced. I’ve seen this over and over and over again throughout my life, and had to correct some imbalances myself. But we end up majoring in the minors in focusing on things that really don’t need to be focused on.
In 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul tells us what’s really important. It’s in verse 1. He says:
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 – If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I’m just a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And we know that was a problem they had – people were trying to outdo each other in speaking in tongues to be noticed. And he said in verse 2: If I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. And he, then, goes on to list some of the qualities of Godly love, which sound a lot like what he talked about later in Galatians – the fruits of the Spirit. Since God is love, and by His Spirit He lives in us, that shouldn’t surprise us at all.
But we often blow right by those really important things to settle on something much less important. And this perception causes me to want to start a new series about what the apostle Paul called The Fruits of the Spirit. If you were a tree, what kind of fruit would you bear? So, today I’m going to introduce the concept – I’m not going to go over each one of them today. It would take too long. And I’m also going to show why it is core material for Christians – more central than any of things I mentioned earlier. And, after this presentation today, then, we’ll take an in depth look at each one of the nine fruits that he listed. In times past, I’m pretty sure I’ve spoken on all these, but I don’t know that I’ve done it since I’ve been doing LifeResource Presentations. At any rate, in the case of the fruits of the Spirit, repetition is a good thing, because they’re not intuitive to human beings.
So let’s start where Paul introduces this topic – and he’s also going to explain to us why he’s talking about it. Galatians 5:13 – he tells the Galatian congregation:
Galatians 5:13 – 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. He’s talking to some church folks who are off-center. They were free to do as they pleased, think as they pleased – freedom in Christ – and Paul is warning them about how to conduct themselves in a spiritually free environment. He doesn’t say what the issues are, but it sounds like there might be factions in that group at odds with each other. The two ways I have seen that are longstanding grudges – and we’ve all seen in our churches various factions and splits over every one of the things I mentioned above. So, historically, we haven’t done too well in serving each other in love, as Paul mentions.
I was talking to someone recently who lives a long way from any churches of God, and they have children, so they take their children on Sundays to a local Baptist Church for the socialization and activities. I know some people would never want to do that, but I won’t argue with you about any of that. That’s not my point. But this person mentioned that they’ve tried out a lot of the different churches of God, and the Baptist Church near their house is a much more loving group than any they’ve encountered with us. So we might have more doctrinally – at least we think we do – than they do, but when it comes to the really important things, they seem to be ahead of most of us. Now, that would probably make a lot of people really angry that I would say that, but truth where you find it.
Paul, here, is going to put his finger right on the problem. He says, in verse 14:
V-14-15 – For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
So, have you ever been in a toxic group? That’s what it’s like. If someone else has a focus that was, in your view, extreme, how would you want them to treat you – if you’re going to treat your neighbor as yourself? Would you want them to pester you, and judge you, and act superior to you, and try to convince others to follow them and their ideas – constantly trumpet their ideas all over, even though the rest of the group doesn’t believe as they do? Well, no, you wouldn’t want that, would you? So, if you’re in that situation, you wouldn’t want to do that to others. You’d quietly do what you think you should do.
If there’s a rift between groups in the church about wrongs done in the past, would you want them to maneuver to exclude you and your family? Well, no, you wouldn’t. So, don’t do that with other people. But they apparently did anyway, and Paul is going to explain why as we go along. And he’s going to give us a biblical solution. He says:
V-16 – But I say, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” So, this is not a doctrinal problem or a grudge problem. It’s a spiritual problem. When we play favorites or try to influence others to believe as we do in a group that doesn’t generally believe our way, then we’re being led by the flesh instead of the Spirit.
So, what’s that term flesh? What does that mean? As I’ve explained before, Paul is not talking about the human body here. The word for the that is soma. He’s using a word here: sarx. In one other place, where he talked about his sarx, he said, “… in his sarx dwells no good thing.” Well, we know that God created our bodies and that it’s miraculous and wonderful, so he’s talking about something else. And when God created Adam and Eve, He said that their bodies were wonderful. And they were. But something happened after they were created, didn’t it? And they succumbed to the devil. And they wound up passing that on to us. So, Paul is talking about the part of us that we all carry with us that is not Godly that was put in there. So how would this apply then in the case of people not liking each other and trying to get the better of them? Well, that effort, he says, is of the devil. That’s what the devil wants. And when we function that way, he’s our father rather than God – especially if we’re trying to practice Christianity, following the impulses of the flesh.
There’s a lot of talk about this in the New Testament when it comes to doctrinal struggles. Paul, James, Peter, John and Jude – all the writers of the epistles all talked about division and heresy in the New Testament church. It wasn’t long after Jesus died that people started coming up with all sorts of weird ideas. And, to a man, they all said that the cause of this was self-interest – the desire to control others, to be in power, to have money. So, if we have a little effort going to convince our friends to change their doctrinal positions away from the group, no matter how righteous it feels to us, we are in the grip of the devil. He owns us.
Now, Paul continues. He says:
V-17 – For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit – the Spirit is capitalized there – it’s talking about God’s Spirit – the Holy Spirit – and the desires of the Spirit are against the desires of the flesh. So, if you’re in a big grudge match with somebody at church, or you’re in the minority trying to convince others to believe your way – and I’m not just talking about having a respectful discussion, but talking about the motive behind the discussion being to convert other people to your way – then you’re not doing it the way God wants you to. You’re doing it the way the devil wants you to. He also mentions that:
V-18 – If you are led by the Spirit, you’re not under the law. Well, that’s been one that they’ve really made a lot of hay with. The Spirit he’s talking about is the Spirit of God and Christ living in us. And that Spirit is perfect. So, he’s not saying that you don’t have to obey the law anymore, but that you’re not under the penalty of the law anymore. The death penalty has been removed.
So, it’s the flesh, then, which is at odds with God’s Spirit. And it leads us into sin. Paul said in Romans that the things he wanted to do – meaning to follow God – he was not always able to do, and the things that he didn’t want to do, he would find himself doing. So, there’s that struggle between the Holy Spirit and the flesh warring against one another. We all fail, even though we might want to obey God. The law, for example, tells us not to lie, yet we all have and continue to do. So, we’re all guilty of violating that law. And we also know that, if we break one of the laws, we stand guilty of breaking them all. So, that’s why Paul said, But if you are led by the Spirit, you’re not under the law – can be forgiven.
So, if we’re being led by God’s Spirit instead of our own self-interest, we come under God’s grace – made possible by Christ – and are not under the penalty of the law. But if we’re led by the Spirit, we will not exhibit any of the behaviors and attitudes he lists below. So, he says:
V-19-21 – The works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these, he said. He hasn’t run down through the whole list. These are just some of the main ones that are affecting the situation he’s talking about. He said: I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Nobody will enter God’s Kingdom if they’re following the flesh. And we do quite often. We all lie, for example, like we mentioned. I know it sounds cruel of God to draw that line, but while He says that, He has a plan for everyone – and not just us. So, in the end, most of us – even with our weaknesses and mistakes – will wind up walking in the Spirit and will enter God’s Kingdom – but just not many yet. That’s all something that’s going to happen down the road.
I was having a really good discussion with some nice people recently, and we were trying to figure out where some of our friends stood who knew we kept the Sabbath and the holy days. We were trying to figure out why most of them were closed to the idea of them. What we came to was a bias that they have. And that bias is caused because they are not willing to do whatever God tells them to do. They’re so invested in what they want to do, they’re not willing to follow the clear word of God. Now, I don’t say that to look down on people. I was that way myself one time, and still am sometimes. So, I’m not saying that self-righteously. Because we can be so easily driven by the sarx when we ask God what He wants us to do, we never like the answer we get. So we have to be willing to do what God wants more than what we want. So, it’s not that they don’t know, I think. They see what we’re doing. It’s that they don’t want to. So, when you don’t want to, it’s easy to pile up excuses and reasons why you don’t want.
So, what should we do? Should we go on a campaign to win them over by inviting them to church? Or, go to church with them and try to undermine the effort? Or, suddenly preach our message to them? Well, they’d be all over that instantly, and they would want no part of it, and they would resent us doing that. So, we would be the ones causing the offense, and that means we also would be driven by the sarx too. We want what we want when we want it, and we’re not willing to wait for God to do it His way. So, we’re going to try to be good friends, to enjoy their company, to help them as we’re able with whatever they need help with, and we’re going to thank God that He has smiled on us and graced us the knowledge of His plan through the Sabbath and holy days. And we’re going to wonder why He has chosen us, since we don’t feel in any way superior to our friends who have not yet been so blessed. And we’re going to try to set a good example.
V-22-23 – But the fruit of the Spirit – we’re in verse 22 now – is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – and then he says – against such things there is no law. You know, the sarx always feels like it’s bumping up against some law that God has given, and it doesn’t like that. But these are things we can do! Freedom in Christ means we are free to obey God and to follow God and to walk in the Spirit. Notice – I think I’ve mentioned this before too – notice he says, “…such things.” That implies there are more fruits that he hasn’t mentioned here. So, we might wonder, “Why doesn’t He add to the list?” Well, maybe he thinks this is a pretty big bite already. I mean, none of us do too good at those things we just mentioned.
Plus, if the Galatians all made an effort to acquire only the characteristics he mentioned, problem solved!
V-24 – So those who belong to Christ Jesus – he says in verse 24 – have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Every one of the fruits of the flesh Paul has mentioned involves a violation of God’s spiritual law. And those who saw what Christ did to save them from their sins – the disciples – how He suffered in agony, willing to cover their sins and set them free, realized that they also needed to crucify their wrong motives and desires and behaviors and become Christlike. It’s not free grace. It’s that we have to give up our whole life to receive it.
So, what Paul is doing here – now, pay attention here – what Paul is doing here is the same thing that Jesus was doing in the Sermon on the Mount and everything else He said beside. Instead of comparing our behavior to a codified form of the law, he’s asking us to look at our hearts. Think about that list and the things that he has on it. It’s all about heart stuff. And that’s what He wants. He wants our hearts. But that doesn’t mean that the codified law no longer exists. It was just one of the manifestations of a greater, all-encompassing law of God that always has and always will exist. Jesus just came to amplify the Ten Commandments that the Jews had and expand it out to what God really is after. Of course, I don’t want to make you think that the Old Testament doesn’t have anything to do with salvation, because Paul told Timothy that he had studied the scriptures from a child which were able to make him wise unto salvation. And he only had the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. There was no New Testament writing when he was a kid.
Remember the tool God is using to perfect us is His law. David said the law of God is perfect – converting the soul. So:
V-25 – If we live by the Spirit – he says in verse 25 – let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another or envying one another. Because that means we’re no longer acting like converted people, but have fallen back into the old ways and have gone back to our former father, who we obeyed in times past.
All this is well and good. It’s easy to believe that we have the Holy Spirit, but where are the fruits? We show other by living them. Just mentioning these fruits leaves off something important – at least, in my mind it does – and that is specificity. The flesh would have us read the passage and gloss over the words. The flesh does not like to be patient, kind, loving. So, we, in the rest of this series, are going to define each one of these fruits and consider how we might learn to exhibit them in our everyday lives. And that means, if we can accomplish that, we’ll be walking in the Spirit.
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