Posts Tagged ‘fruit of the Spirit’

As a kid growing up in the Catholic Church, my earliest and strongest impression of Jesus was that of Him hanging on the cross.  To my young mind, the fact that God would require this of His Son was pretty strong evidence of how serious He was about sin.  Thus, throughout my formative years I assumed that the mission was essentially to be good, and thereby avoid sin.


That seemed simple enough.  After all, I was a good person, so sidestepping the evil stuff shouldn’t be that big a deal.  It didn’t take long to figure out that there was more to it than that.


By my teen years, I realized that I not only struggled to avoid sin, I was actually quite drawn to it.  For a while this made me wonder whether I was just a bad person, but eventually I came to a deeper understanding of both what is “good” and what is “sin”.


Interestingly, the choice that Adam and Eve faced in the Garden of Eden wasn’t between the fruit of what is good, and of what is evil.  It was fruit from the Tree of Life, or fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  One offered daily provision from the Giver of life, while the other offered the ability to decide for ourselves what is good and what is evil.  The sin occurs every time we shun the former in favor of the latter.  The consequence of that choice is that there is a way that seems right to a man, but that it ultimately leads to death.


While it was good to discover that I wasn’t necessarily an evil person, and that everyone has to battle their fallen nature, how does one begin to battle something that so naturally bubbles up from within them?  Like Paul wrote to the Romans, the good things I wanted to do didn’t seem to be getting done, while I often managed to do the very thing I was trying to avoid doing.  Clearly, I needed some new source of power if I had any hope of winning this battle with my own nature.


It was at this point in my journey that I encountered the Holy Spirit of God, who up until that time had been the Holy Ghost; little more than a sacred mystery to me.  As I reread the scripture, I was amazed by how plainly Jesus spoke of the gift of His Spirit, and of all He meant to accomplish through Him.  He would be the Comforter, the Counselor, an ever present help, and the very presence of God, manifested within His children.  He would be the fulfilment of God’s promise to never leave us, nor forsake us.


Indeed, finding the Holy Spirit changed everything for me.  It brought God out of heaven, and Jesus out of history.  It made the scripture the “Living Word”, and for the first time, it made me feel as though all things were truly possible.  It also provided a profound sense of His nearness, and I can honestly say that since that time I have never really felt alone.  But along with those blessings came a new set of challenges, and a greater understanding of the mission.


Realizing that God wasn’t just speaking figuratively when He said, “My sheep know my voice, they listen, and they follow”, forced me to change the way I made decisions.  Whereas I’d previously just done whatever seemed best, my genuine desire to be a “follower of Christ” compelled me to at least try to consult with Him first.  And while He didn’t (& doesn’t) speak to me about every little thing in my life, I was amazed by how often He does.  At that point in my journey, it became all about being led by the Spirit.


Looking back, I guess I must have thought that following after the Spirit was going to put me on the path to righteousness, and truth, and ultimately to my calling, as though He was just some heavenly tour guide.  But over time I came to understand that I had a rather significant misconception.  Our God isn’t simply a loving God, He is the embodiment of love.  Our God doesn’t just love truth, He is the truth.  And Jesus didn’t just come to show us the way, He is the way.  Following after the Spirit isn’t us trying to get to Jesus, it is Jesus walking with us.  Like the disciples of old, we have to be willing to walk away from our own plans in order to truly follow Him.


Ultimately, our destiny isn’t a location or a vocation, it is a person He’s created us to be.  Paul told the Romans (Rom. 8:29) that God has predestined us to be conformed into the image of His son, and he spoke of this transformation in his letter to the Corinthians (2Cor. 3:18) as well.  Jesus taught that He is the vine and we are the branches.  He promised that those who “abide in the vine” will bear fruit.   Paul went on to describe the fruit of living by the Holy Spirit to the Galatians (Gal. 5:22-23).  Those attributes are Christ’s character, which He intends to be revealed in us.  In this we become the genuine “Body of Christ”.  Indeed, He said that it is Christ in us that is the hope of glory.


I would submit that this vine is the same life giving tree that was offered in the garden.  So at this point in my journey, the mission is mostly about abiding in that vine, and allowing Him to transform me into the person He conceived me to be.  In many ways it’s very simple, if we wake up to find that our phone didn’t charge overnight, the first thing we check is whether the charger is plugged in.  I would suggest that we need to act similarly when we don’t see the fruit of transformation that God promised.  It is from the vine that all provision, power, and life flow.  Apart from it, we can do nothing, but through it, all things are possible.


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I think it is noteworthy that the Apostle Paul doesn’t point to good theology, or sound doctrine, or partaking of the sacraments, or celebrating the Jewish feast days, or righteous acts, or spiritual giftedness, or even the fulfillment of the “Great Commission”, as the fruit of walking with God’s Spirit.  Instead he says that it is the character of Christ (e.g. love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) being revealed in us (Gal. 5:22).  This reaffirms his teaching that those who belong to Christ are destined to be conformed to His image (Rom. 8:29), and that it is ultimately Christ being revealed within us that is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27).

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Just as an apple seed produces an apple tree, which in turn produces apples, the seed of God is meant to produce children of God, who should then manifest the character of God to the world around them.  This is ultimately what the fruit of the Holy Spirit (i.e. love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness) is all about.  The scripture tells us that He has destined us to be transformed into His image (2Cor. 3:18); thus, bearing this fruit is really not meant to be optional.  In fact, the gospel of John (chapter 15) speaks of a rather dire fate for branches that don’t produce any fruit.

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As a father, I care about what my children eat and as such, I’ve become a lot more attuned to what’s written on the packaging of the food I buy for them. One of the patterns that I’ve noticed is some of the interesting claims associated with items that are fruit flavored.  One box proclaims in bold letters, “Real Fruit Flavors”, while a check of the ingredients reveals that it contains no real fruit.  This of course begs the question, “Where does the ‘Real Fruit Flavor’ come from, and what exactly qualifies it as ‘Real’?”


Another good one is the drink that says “Contains No Pulp”, when the ingredients list clearly shows that there is no actual fruit juice used to make the drink. These examples sort of make me grateful for the factual label that boasts “Made With 10% Real Fruit Juice”; but it also makes me wonder when only 10% of the real thing became something worth bragging about.  As I pondered these and other allusions to “real fruit”, I sensed the Lord begin to speak to me about the church that bears His name.


Indeed the scriptures are full of references to fruit and fruitfulness, and undoubtedly God means for it to be a key component of every believer’s walk. Jesus went so far as to tell us that He is the vine and we are the branches, and that any branch which does not produce fruit will eventually be cut off and thrown into the fire.  Not only does this tell us that producing fruit is not optional, it also let’s us know that we don’t get to decide on the variety of fruit our lives will produce.  After all, the branches don’t dictate to the tree what kind of fruit they bear.


I believe this is significant, because God isn’t interested in simply producing any fruit; He’s after a specific kind of fruit, which He describes in His word. John the Baptist challenged the Pharisee’s, who undoubtedly viewed themselves as being very fruitful, to produce the fruit of their supposed repentance.  Paul defined for the Galatians the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which in essence is Christ’s character, revealed in His people.  In today’s church there seems to be much that is considered fruitful, even though it doesn’t seem to fall anywhere near these orchards.


Years ago, I was in one of those jumping & shouting church services, which we Charismatic’s, and our Pentecostal brothers, seem to enjoy so much. It was loud, and there seemed to be a lot going on, when the man on the platform made the declaration that “Lives are being changed!”  And as much as I hoped that was true, I sensed a check in my spirit; so I inquired, “What do you see Lord?”  I immediately sensed the response, “Christmas Trees”.


After wrestling with what that might mean for a few minutes, I sensed the words, “lots of gifts, no fruit”. As I prayed throughout the rest of that service, I felt like the Lord said that we often mistake motion for movement (i.e. progress) and that we often settle for change (generally of our mood or circumstance) instead of seeking transformation.  Only genuine transformation has the potential to produce real fruit, and only real fruit contains the seeds of reproduction.


As I meditated further on this lively scene, the Lord gave me a vision of a chicken running around without its head and He said that even though the chicken still gives the appearance of being full of life, it was truly dead the second it became detached from its head.


Sometime later, a sister in the Lord gave me some interesting information on “hybrid” seeds, which I believe is pertinent to this discussion. A hybrid seed is one that is produced by artificially cross-pollinating plants and they were developed to improve the characteristics of the resulting plants (e.g. better yield, greater uniformity, improved color…).  While in some ways this has been very successful, in other ways it has been counter productive.  As opposed to natural seeds, hybrids tend to require a great deal of fertilizer, water, herbicides and pesticides to achieve the desired outcome; and more importantly most cannot be relied on to reproduce viable seed for a second generation of plants.  That means that the farmer must buy new seed every year.


It seems that the western church’s efforts to make itself relevant to the culture have in many ways compromised the gospel message, and I wonder if the seed we’re trying to sow hasn’t become something of a hybrid; one that is high maintenance and unable to reproduce itself.


Jesus told His followers that the way people would be able to identify them was by the way that they loved each other, which is essentially a manifestation of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. I doubt that many would claim that the church in America is living anywhere near that standard.  He later told them that the way they could differentiate between real and false prophets would be by their fruit; yet in today’s church, giftedness & personality seem to have become a viable substitute for a sincere expression of Christ’s character.


While there is still much being done in the name of Christ, Jesus warned that not everything done in His name would be found acceptable. He taught that it is only the fruit that is bore out of a direct connection to Him that really matters.  We who proclaim the name of the Lord Jesus can tell the world that we have been grafted to the tree of life, but until they see some worthwhile fruit in our lives, our message will likely remain an abstract to them.  Like a grape flavored drink, it may remind them of grapes, but there is nothing of the grape contained within it.

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