“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23
He was only five years old. But he’d hung around the church all his young life. And he’d heard the talk— “Receiving Christ,” “Opening the door to your heart,” “Let Jesus live in you.” And the question arose in his thinking, so he asked it. “If I let Jesus inside me, won’t he stick out?”
He sure will, son. He sure will!
According to a recent Gallop poll, over 70% of the citizens of the United States claim to have been born again. And my question, if that is true, is this: If so many people have Jesus inside them, why doesn’t He stick out more in our schools, in marriages, in art, in the business world and politics?
And this brings us to the text.
The Belief/Behavior Connection
It is clear from Galatians 5:22-23 that there is a connection between belief and behavior.
I was at the local outlet mall one Friday when a bus load of older women pulled up. Out streamed 47 excited shoppers intent on purchasing bargains. I asked one of the women where they came from. “Norfolk,” she said. “We left at 4:00 a.m. to get here!”
A local lawyer quit his practice, sold his home and bought a remote farm. There he stored up a supply of long shelf-life food, as well as an alarming amount of rifles and ammunition.
My neighbor’s 17-year-old spent the afternoon washing and waxing the family car, took a bath, tried on a dozen shirts before he found the one that “worked,” then invested his life savings and four hours in a date with a pretty brunette.
Why such diverse lifestyles, such odd behavior? Simply, each person believes something. And there is a connection between belief and behavior. One woman believes happiness is in shopping for bargains, and no sacrifice is too great for the adventure. Another man feels society is on the verge of collapse, and he is heading for the hills to practice his survivalist theories. A young man believes he is in love, and that goes hand in hand with clean cars, snazzy clothes and a date.
James, the brother of Jesus understood this 19 centuries ago when he wrote, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17). Real belief always leads to real behavior.
If you’ll notice, the text is in two parts. There is the person or belief— “the spirit.” And there is the resulting behavior— “love, joy, peace, patience . . .” And the two are as inseparable as water and wet, inhaling or exhaling.
We’ve missed this today. We think we are Christians because we think about Jesus occasionally. But true conversion is more thorough. It comes when we begin to love God with all our intellect, will, emotion, body and spirit (Mark 12:29-31). And that type of belief sticks out! It shows up in what we do and how we do it.
The Root/Fruit Connection
So, there is a tie-in between belief and behavior. And there is, furthermore, a connection between root and fruit.
I am becoming an avid walker. Over the years I have discovered that when I hurry I pass by more life than I catch up with. So, I’m learning to stroll through life instead of sprinting. And as I walk through my neighborhood and the nearby wood, I’m learning to identify trees. Is it a fig tree, an apple or pear tree? An oak? One of the best ways to decide is to look for the fruit. Acorns are a telltale sign of an oak tree. And so on with mimosa blossoms, pears, walnuts and dogwood flowers. There is a strict connection between root and fruit.
Look at it this way: if Shakespeare could live inside you you’d write some fine plays. If Wordsworth could get inside your skin you’d be a poet. If Wren could crawl inside your head you’d become an incredible architect. And if Rembrandt could live inside you, you’d become one fine painter. But each of these masters is dead. And they cannot live inside you.
Yet Jesus Christ is alive. And in Revelation 3:20 He calls at the portal of your life asking to be invited to live inside you. And when the very presence of God indwells you, then the very character of God becomes yours. This is what the text means when it says that the fruit of the spirit manifests the nature of God in our behavior.
Actually, Galatians 5:22-23 describes the nature of God before it describes the nature of a maturing Christian. Consider…
Love: “God is love,” 1 John 4:16
Joy: “He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy,” Zephaniah 3:17
Peace: “The God of peace . . . ,” Hebrews 13:20
Patience: “God is patient toward you not wishing that any should perish,” 2 Peter 3:9
Kindness: “. . .His kindness toward us in Christ,” Ephesians 2:7
Goodness: “I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,” Psalm 27:13
Faithful: “Great is thy faithfulness,” Lamentations 3:23
Gentleness: “. . .Take my yoke, I am gentle . . . ” Matthew 11:29
Self-control: “He has shown strength with His arm” Luke 1:51. “Strength” is a related Greek word for “self-control.”
So you see the fruit of the spirit is no less than the character of God. And the simply staggering truth is that by allowing the Holy Spirit to come inside us, we are making a decision to become like God in character.
I used to think God’s demands on my life were unrealistic, that He expected too much from me. Like the Junior High football coach whose team lost eight games straight. He went to the sporting goods store and bought action posters of all the greats of the professional league. With them he papered the walls of the locker room. Then he called the team in, pointed to the posters and said, “Study these and try harder!” Just as there is no way a twelve-year-old is going to measure up to a 25-year-old, so there is no way I thought I could ever measure up to God. His commands simply seemed overbearing . . .
Love: “You shall love the Lord . . . ,” Matthew 22:37
Joy: “Rejoice in the Lord always . . . ,” Philippians 4:4
Peace: “Seek peace and pursue it,” 1 Peter 3:11
Patience: “Be patient with them all,” 1 Thessalonians 5:14
Kindness: “Put on kindness,” Colossians 3:12
Goodness: “Let us do good to all men,” Galatians 6:10
Faithfulness: “Be faithful unto death,” Revelation 2:10
Gentleness: “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle . . . ,” Titus 3:2
Self-control: “Supplement your faith with self-control,” 2 Peter 1:16
As I struggled with the whole problem of trying to make my behavior godly, I felt like God may as well have asked me to swim the Atlantic or give Him a million dollars or grow oranges in Alaska. But then I began to realize that what God demanded of me He helped fulfill through the inner working of His Holy Spirit.
Just as one doesn’t move a sailboat by rowing it, but by catching the wind, so one does not live the Christian life by discipline, demandingness or guts. The Christian life is lived in the Holy Spirit’s power. Thus, our character becomes the outdwelling of the indwelling spirit.
When God demands, “You shall love me with all your emotion, will, and intellect . . . ,” He next gives us the gift of the Spirit, promising, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you . . .” (Acts 1:8). “And the fruit of the Spirit is love . . .” (Galatians 5:22). Clearly, then, what God demands He fulfills. He demands love. But then He gives us by the Spirit the very love He demands.
Being Not Doing
So far, we’ve seen that there is a connection between belief and behavior. And there is a connection between root and fruit, or between God’s spirit in us and our character. Now, back to the text for yet a third principle: what you are is more important than what you do.
The text tells us that the “fruit” of the spirit is moral character— love, joy, peace, patience and the like. Notice that it does not say the “bud” of the spirit . . . or the “blossom” of the spirit . . . or even the “leaves” of the spirit. It says, “the fruit of the spirit is love . . . .” In other words, the final product of the spirit is character.
Today, Christians are perilously confused about this. Many believe what one can do is more important than what one is. “Doing” is more important than “being.” Talent is more important than character. So Christians are saying that speaking in tongues is more of a sign of Christian maturity than being a loyal friend who can be counted on. And you get flashy tele-evangelists who raise millions and build empires but cannot control their sex drives and mishandle money.
What the Bible is saying here is that my concentration shouldn’t be in showing off my talents, but in revealing in my character the nature of God. What I am is more important than what I can do. Being before doing. Character before talent. Or as Henry David Thoreau wrote, “What you are speaks so loud I cannot hear what you say.” Here in church, I like to say we don’t care how high you jump in worship as long as you walk straight when you come down!
Certainly there is a connection between belief and behavior, between root and fruit. And what one is is more important that what one can do. And now a fourth principle from the text: The growth of this character within us is a process, not an event.
When Paul selected the word “fruit” to illustrate his point, he was using a word full of ideas. For instance, I cannot plant an apple tree today and come back tomorrow and expect apples. Fruit never suddenly occurs. Rather, it matures gradually. First the bud, then the blossom, then the miniature fruit that swells into the ripened apple. And Paul is saying that as it is with fruit, so it is with character. It matures slowly but surely in our lives over time.
In Galatians 5, Paul reminds us that our maturity toward godly character began with bad character. He described our sinful behavior as the fruits of the flesh— “immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealously, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.”
But then something happens. I begin to believe something— the gospel. I get a new root inside me— “Lord, I’m such a sinner. I’ve fallen so short. Forgive me, come inside me…,” and little by little as God acts in my life and as I obey, a tiny bud of character begins to develop. And it will grow until it becomes the fruit of the spirit— “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
So, you see, this is a process not an event. As Paul explained it, “We are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory into another . . .” (2 Cor. 3:18).
Perhaps this is why we emphasize the gifts or talents of the spirit more than we do the fruits. A performance lasts only an hour or so. But character is a lifetime. Doing can be faked or propped up. But being cannot. Talent can be learned quickly. But character is a long process.
I’ve had fun lately quizzing Christians as to how many fruits of the spirit there are. Some have said eight. Others nine. Some six. But the text says there is only one. For it doesn’t say, “The fruits of the spirit are . . . ,” it says, “The fruit of the spirit is . . . .”
You see, the fruit of the spirit is like one cluster of the same thing. It describes well-rounded character.
When we do not understand this, see what happens! We select our favorite fruit and emphasize it to a fault. Example, I am faithful so I take it to the extreme, never lighten up, or celebrate. Life is far too serious. We must bear down!
Another Christian focuses on joy and strives to be the life of the party, sports a wide grin, and sings all the time.
And in the same fellowship we eye each other warily— dour, stern, faithful me glaring at merry, smiling, don’t-take-anything-too-seriously him.
Actually it is easy to concentrate on the character that comes easily to me and skip the rest. Then I can look down my nose at others who don’t measure up to my standards of “excellence.”
Faithfulness comes easily to my particular temperament. And for several years I’ve been brewing over a friend that has so little of it. And just when I was about to say something to my faithless friend, I saw him do an act of kindness to another Christian that I myself would never have done. And it suddenly occurred to me that though I may be way ahead of him in faithfulness, he is way out ahead of me in kindness.
It is troubling, but true, that our growth in character is often uneven. I can be joyous but not gentle, loving but out of control, or self-controlled but impatient. And it is not good focusing on one or two of our favorite fruits of the spirit and releasing ourselves form any obligation to develop the remainder. The word “fruit” takes away our chance to be picky by making the character of God in our lives a package deal.
Four abiding principles from Galatians 5:22-23: there is a connection between belief and behavior. There is a connection between root and fruit. What one is is more important than what one can do. And God’s character grows in our lives as a process.
Have you invited Jesus Christ to be your Savior and allowed His spirit to come inside you? Does Jesus stick out of your life?
Now for some hard, soul-searching questions. Do your beliefs match your behavior? Are you concentrating on how you look and what you can do, or on what you are? Is it your daily ambition to walk in God’s spirit or in the flesh? Is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control a fitting description of your life?
Jesus, be in me. And make me like you. Amen