The fruit of the Spirit
Sermon: Sunday, 9th May, 2021 Galatians 5:16-25
As most of us know, when we first place our trust in Jesus Christ and what he has done, two things happen. Wonderfully, all of our sins are forgiven, because Jesus paid for them with his blood. We call this justification. God no longer sees us as guilty and dirty, but clean in his sight. The barrier of sin which once kept us from God has been removed. God becomes our loving heavenly Father, and we his children.
But Christianity does not end there. God wants something else to be done: he wants to make us like his own son Jesus Christ. He wants us to grow in holiness, and we call this sanctification. He wants to restore the image of God in us, an image which has been so badly spoiled by sin. He wants to produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
Another way to think about this is to say God wants us to be more human. And he wants to give us true freedom. Who was the best and only perfect example of humanity ever? Of course, it was Jesus. Jesus was the freest person to have ever lived. He was free from selfishness, free from pride, free from rebellion, and free to be devoted to his Father’s will. When we think of this famous 9-fold fruit of the Spirit, we think of Jesus. Never has someone been more loving, joyful or at peace. No one is more patient, kinder, or more righteous. He is the quintessential example of faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. God intends that you become increasingly like this over time.
What does Paul want for the Galatian church? ‘My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!’ (Galatians 4:19-20) God’s plan is that Christ be formed in us.
Imagine our lives before we were Christians as a ruined house, so damaged and vandalised that it is uninhabitable. When we become Christians, God buys the house. Then, throughout our lives, he begins to redecorate the rooms, one by one. It’s not a quick change, but a real one nonetheless, and a beautiful and profound one. In other words, Christians are those who are being changed into the people God designed us to be.
Are you becoming more fruitful as a Christian? Or are you seeing little change, little progress, little of the power of the Spirit at work changing your character, the real you. Stagnating isn’t an option for us. Nor should it be something we want. Surely, we should want to become more like Jesus! Why has God poured out his Spirit to all Christians? Yes, to bring us to spiritual life; we saw that in Ezekiel when we looked at the valley of dry bones. But there is more. The Spirit is given so that we become more human, more like Jesus, more fruitful.
Jesus doesn’t say I want you to bear a ‘wee bit’ of fruit. ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’ (John 15:5) So, here’s the thing, yes, the Christian life is a battle. But we have been given supernatural power to change. We have been given the greatest resource we could ever receive, God’s Spirit.
1. The fruit of the Spirit impacts every area of our lives.
What do I mean by that? Well, it impacts all of our relationships: our relationship with God, with other people, and with ourselves. Sometimes this 9-fold fruit is split up into 3 lots of 3. And that’s quite helpful, as the first three virtues seem to focus primarily (but not only) on our attitude to God.
Our first love is our love for God, our rejoicing as Christians is rejoicing in the Lord, and the deepest peace we can have is peace with God, knowing that our sins have been forgiven. The virtues of patience, kindness and goodness ought to characterise our behaviour towards other people. When at our most human, we are patient with those who wrong and upset us, and seek to be kind and good to all people, just as God has been kind and good to us. The last group of three virtues seem to focus on the inward personal life, our own desires and passions.
When the Holy Spirit indwells us, and remember he indwells every single Christian, no part of our lives is untouched. He gives us a new desire to love God, to be a blessing to others, and to live lives of self-control. He wants our Christlikeness to be on display at work, in the home, when we are with our friends, and when we are on our own watching tv, or surfing the web.
Remember that Paul speaks of the ‘fruit’ of the Spirit too (singular), and this is significant because it means that these virtues cannot be divided. They are one cluster, and that means that where the Spirit is at work we ought to see all 9 of these virtues in our lives. All of these qualities, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, ought to be seen within. It is like 9 segments of one orange
When you go to the cinema, or some supermarkets (remember Woolworths) you sometimes see a ‘pick and mix’ stand, where you can grab a bag and fill it with whatever sweets you want. The ones you don’t like, or aren’t your favourites, you can just ignore. We cannot do that with the fruit of the Spirit. Where the Spirit is at work, all 9 virtues are there, to some extent. And the ones we struggle with more, we need to pray about more, asking for the Spirit’s help.
2. The fruit of the Spirit develop over time.
We can’t expect to become a Christian and to be ‘sorted’ after 5, 10 or even 20 years. Fruit takes time to grow and ripen. I’m a brambles fan, and at this time of year there’s not too much to see. But slowly, as the days pass, the green coloured brambles begin to emerge, which then turn red, and then finally their glorious purple colour. It takes time. You need to wait until mid-September. So, I need to be patient, and just wait. We are all a work-in-progress. We need to develop over time. We see this in the life of Simon Peter. Jesus says to him, you are Simon, but you will be called Peter. Jesus could see the impulsive, self-reliant weakness of Simon, but he could also see that he would become Peter, the rock, as the fruit of the Holy Spirit grew in his life.
And even in the areas where we have grown, we need to keep on growing more and more. We can never say we have ‘arrived’. Remember our studies in 1 Thessalonians. Paul praises the love of the Christians in this church, but he wants them to keep on progressing, maturing, ripening: you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more. (Chapter 4:10)
The fact that fruit comes gradually is both a challenge and a call for patience. It’s a challenge because providing we are nurturing our relationship with God, through Bible study, prayer and worship, we ought to see real change, not day to day, but looking back over longer periods. Are we kinder than we were 5 years ago? Does Jesus mean more to us that he used to, bringing us more joy? Do we lose our temper less often? This is the work of God’s Spirit. At the same time, we must be patient with ourselves and with others, not expecting too much too soon, but must keep on abiding in Christ.
3. The fruit of the Spirit is supernatural: there is always hope for growth in Christlikeness.
Now, it would be easy for us to read about the fruit of the Spirit and to think: ‘I can’t do this. I will never be able to work on all 9 of these areas. Ok maybe 2 or 3 of them. But I’m just not a patient person, and struggle to have joy in the Lord. Life is just too hard.’ I think a lot of people think like that. So, I hope that our time in this passage today will strengthen and encourage you, because of course, left to our own devices, we will not see this fruit. But the fruit is the work of the Holy Spirit within us. It is a supernatural work. What is impossible for us is possible for God. Christ can change us. Christ is changing us, by his Spirit.
We can’t have more love or self-control just by trying our best. I hope that none of you are trying to produce this fruit in your own strength. Jesus says, ‘Apart from me, you can do nothing.’ (John 15:5) If it were just down to us, we’d turn away from the Lord, fall out with others, and gratify our own sinful desires. But there is good news. It’s not just down to us.
The fruit of the Spirit is about our hearts. Our hearts must change and only the Spirit of Christ can change the heart. By his power, hate can be replaced with love, anxiety with peace, harshness with gentleness and self-indulgence with self-control. We become different people through the Spirit’s power. This could not be more encouraging. People who say ‘a leopard can never change its spots’ should never say that to the Christian.
“The Spirit utterly transforms us. He takes selfish, self-centred, prideful, lustful, critical, miserable people, and puts love joy and peace in our hearts, patience, kindness and goodness into our relationships, and faithfulness, gentleness and self-control into our backbone, that is our wills. Do you wish to be a new person? Christ can change us! Are you tired at looking back at the end of a day filled with harsh, mean, selfish behaviour? Do you know that your heart must be changed? Then look to the Spirit of Christ, who not only can, but will bear His fruit in us.’
So, if you are discouraged by areas in your life which haven’t changed for years, perhaps today can be a turning point for you. Satan would have us believe change is impossible. He wants us to give up. God specialises in changing his people for the better. He takes Simon and makes him Peter. He takes Jacob the twister and makes him Israel. He takes us and conforms us into the image of his son Jesus. This should give us hope, yes, but it should also keep us humble, for the spiritual progress we do make is not something we can boast about. It is, after all, the fruit of the Spirit.“ (Terry Johnson)
The power to live a godly life comes from the risen Jesus and we must never forget that. And we draw that power from Christ through our relationship with him. He is the vine and we must remain in him to receive that vital sap. What does it mean to remain in him? To depend on him in a life of prayer, and to behold his glory through the pages of the Bible. This is how we abide in Christ.
In other words, our fruitfulness will increase as we cultivate our relationship with King Jesus more and more. Who is the source of your strength? Listen to what Paul says: ‘I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me’ (Colossians 1:29) We need Christ’s energy to be at work in us.
4. God wants us to play our part in cultivating this fruit.
I’ve just said that the fruit is supernatural. But that doesn’t mean God wants us to sit back and do nothing. What does he want you to do? He wants you to crucify the flesh (verse 24) and he wants us to keep in step with the Spirit (verse 25). If we don’t do these things, then we cannot expect there to be much fruit. This brings a balance to our lives, as though we must not depend on our strength but Christ’s, he still expects us to work hard. We just heard that from Paul: ‘I labour, struggling with all his energy.’
“We need to learn that the Bible teaches both total responsibility and total dependence in all aspects of the Christian life.“ (Jerry Bridges)
Christians are complicated people. Why is that? Our hearts our full of conflict. There’s a tug-of-war going on within us: ‘For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.’ (Galatians 5:17) And because of this internal tension, we need to starve our evil desires, and yield ourselves to the leading of the Spirit.
Imagine learning to dance on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, and being placed with an expert. They are the ones who need to lead, and we need to learn to follow that lead. The same is true spiritually, in that as we read the Bible, and see how the Lord wants us to live, we must follow his lead, not the lead of others. As well as that, each day we must be serious about confessing our sin, and turning away from it.
May the Lord help each one of us to reflect on our own lives, in order to see how we are progressing. As we do so, may we be encouraged to abide in Christ, and to pray each and every day for the Spirit to produce his fruit in us, so that there will be less of the ‘flesh’ and more of the ‘Spirit’.