The Fruit of the Spirit

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self- control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

On Wednesday I had a great day out in Paris with my friend Clive. We caught an early Eurostar and on arrival in Paris we headed straight for the Eiffel Tower. From there we walked through the Rive Gauche, crossing the Seine at Notre Dame, then through the Rive Droite to the Arc de Triomphe. We finished our day with a lovely meal in Montmartre. All in all a great day. Until we got on the train. We arrived in Ebbsfleet and sat there for about three hours whilst the police tried to find some children playing in the tunnels. By this point I was tired, fed up and very, very annoyed. I knew that I would miss the last train home and so was really not very happy. The thoughts running through my head were not thoughts of joy and happiness, but of exasperation and murder.

Today’s verses are well known. We’ve seen in Galatians 5 how Paul understands the ways of the flesh (sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery etc) lead to disinheritance from the kingdom of God. Anyone who choses to live in this way has turned their back on God and has sealed their fate. Here, in verses 22 and 23 Paul talks about the opposite way of living – living in a way that honours God. If we have renounced evil and turned our back on our sinful ways we will demonstrate love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. What is important to note, though, is that these traits are “the fruit of the Spirit.” If we have the Holy Spirit within us, if we follow Christ, our lives will demonstrate these elements. If we allow the Holy Spirit to take root in our lives we will naturally bear this fruit. It is the Holy Spirit that causes us to act in this way.

Of course, there will be times when we struggle to see this fruit in our lives. Certainly when I was stuck at Ebbsfleet I would not have recognised much goodness or forbearance in my attitude, let alone any kindness or joy. This is the reality of living in a sinful world. We can struggle to accommodate the Spirit in our lives, we can find ourselves pushing it out as we revert to our old, sinful ways. We need to continually feed the Spirit, to nurture it, and to allow it to occupy our hearts, our minds and our bodies. We need to constantly try to walk with the Spirit so that we don’t gratify the desires of the flesh (as we saw in Galatians 5:16-17). We need to ask God to take away our hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh, and allow God to put his Spirit into us (as we saw in Ezekiel 36:26-27).

If we allow God’s Spirit the opportunity to take root in our hearts then our lives will be transformed. We will be able to live as free citizens of God’s kingdom and walk by his Spirit so that our lives will demonstrate the Spirit’s fruit. Let’s pray today that God would transform our lives, help us to put aside earthly thoughts and actions, and ask him to equip us to bear his spiritual fruit.

Walk by the Spirit

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 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 5:16-17

One of my new year resolutions this year was to try and limit the amount of sugar that I consume. There’s been a great deal in the press in recent months about the impact that sugar has on heath, and in particular, on the obesity epidemic that is sweeping the western world. Fat, we’ve been told by some scientists, is not the enemy. In fact it is sugar. So I began the year by cutting fruit juices out of my diet and replacing them with fruit, and trying to minimise the amount of sweets that I eat. It has to be said that I have had limited success. Particularly after a long day at work I find myself craving sugar, and I’m ashamed to admit that on too many occasions I give in to those cravings. If I am to succeed, I am aware that I need to try to build new, healthier habits.

Paul writes of the importance of building healthy habits in the verses from his letter to the Galatians above. He has been telling his readers that they need to avoid “indulging the flesh,” that is, following the desires and temptations that lead them to sin. Instead, Paul has told his readers that they should love one another and serve each other. In the verses above he makes it clear that the desires that lead us to sin are in direct conflict with a Godly life. If we give into sinful desires, we will find it very difficult to lead a Godly life. In contrast, if we “walk by the Spirit,” and follow God’s ways, we will find it very difficult to sin. For Paul the answer is simple, therefore. We need to “walk by the Spirit,” since then we will not find ourselves drawn to sin. We are not, therefore, to do whatever we want, but aspire instead to what God wants us to do.

This prompts the question: how do we walk by the Spirit? I think that part of this is embedding positive habits into our lives so that we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit. If we prayerfully consider what God’s word says to us in the Bible, if we strive to love God, and if we aim to love our neighbour, then we will be walking by the Spirit. Doing so allows the Spirit room in our lives to guide us, and to lead us, in accordance with God’s plan for our lives. And what could possibly be more exciting than that!

You were called to be free

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh ; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Galatians 5:13-14

I’m so old now that I can’t remember how I spent my eighteenth birthday. I suspect that I celebrated at our little place on the beach, probably with family, a few close friends, a barbecue and plenty of sailing. I suspect that that is not the typical way to celebrate an eighteenth birthday, however! I know of lots of people, who, having been freed from the law that forbade them to drink, headed to pubs, bars and night clubs and drank to excess. In some ways I can’t blame them. A typical eighteen year old, freed from the restrictions associated with being a child, wants to get our and enjoy their new found freedom as much as they can.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul has had much to say on the law of the Old Testament. He began chapter five with the bold statement, “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Those who follow Christ are no longer obliged to follow the law of the Old Testament in order to gain their salvation. Their salvation is secure because of Christ’s death and resurrection. There is nothing that we can do to win favour with God or that will result in is losing our salvation, because Jesus has paid the price for us to enter God’s kingdom.

Does that mean, then, that we can run wild and do whatever we want? No, of course not! Paul urges that we do not use our new-found freedom to “indulge the flesh,” that is, seeking out earthly pleasures. Instead we must make the focus of our energies “serving one another humbly in love.” Just as Jesus came as a servant king and washed the feet of his disciples, we must aspire to humility and service to others. We must do so “in love,” not resenting others who do seek out the pleasures of the flesh, or who take advantage of our goodness, or who mock us for our humility. If we do this then, in fact, we fulfil the spirit of the law, which is that we must strive to “love our neighbour as ourselves.”

Let us today renounce our sin and apologise to God for all that we have done wrong and let’s aspire to love all those whom we meet. We will probably need to pray to ask God to help us fulfil this order, since some people can be very hard to love!

You are all one in Christ Jesus

In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:26-28

Do you have any siblings? How do you get on with them? I get on pretty well with my brother and sister, but it wasn’t always that way! Like most siblings, we fought over the most ridiculous things as children. Our arguments were often fed by our sense of childhood injustice, the kind that prompts children the world over to scream “it’s not fair!” at their parents. Perhaps I thought my brother had a bigger slice of cake than me, or he thought my Christmas present was better than his. We often complained to our parents that it wasn’t fair! Actually, like most parents, mine were very fair indeed, always ensuring that they treated us equally. They loved us equally and they were determined to show us that this was the case.

In the verses above, Paul is keen to tell the Galatians just how fair God is to them. Once a person has decided to become a follower of Christ, they become “children of God through faith.” The process of baptism levels out all kinds of different statuses and in God’s eyes means that we are all equal, we are all his dearly beloved children. Whilst that there was a natural hierarchy in Galatian society, this was levelled on entering God’s kingdom. In the ancient world Jewish Christians might have thought that they were “better” than Gentile Christians, since they had followed the law of the Old Testament. Freemen might have lorded it over slaves, and men might have viewed themselves as superior to women, but in God’s eyes, all are equal. Once someone has pledged themselves to follow Jesus, everyone is one. There are no distinctions or divisions in God’s kingdom.

The society that we live in today might not seem to be as fundamentally divided as that of the ancient world but the truth is that there are still some pretty huge divisions. The most significant is surely based on money; there is a super rich strata in our world today who have billions of pounds at their personal disposal. There are many millions more who have practically nothing. Then there are those of us in the middle who make quite a good living and are quite comfortably off in the grand scheme of things. The remarkable thing, however, and a key point for us to remember, is that in God’s eyes we are all equal, no matter who we are or what we have. Just like a model parent, God loves us all equally, and wants the best for us all. I wonder if we allow this realisation to influence our thinking about others in the world today? Do we identify ourselves as brothers and sisters in Christ? Do we support each other as good siblings should? Or do we argue and squabble amongst ourselves, constantly bickering and complaining to our father in heaven “it’s not fair!”

How did you receive the Spirit?

I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?

Galatians 3:2

I do have a tendency to get a little bit worked up about things. If I feel passionate about something and I feel that someone does not share my feelings I can get perhaps a little too loud and a little too vocal as I try to make them see things from my perspective. People say that it’s good to be passionate about things, and whilst I completely agree, sometimes I think that my response can be a little too extreme! Passion can lead to frustration when it’s not possible to change the way that others think and that is most definitely a bad combination for me!

I think that a reader of the verse above can sense Paul’s passion for the core gospel message and also his frustration with the Galatians. Someone has clearly been trying to convince the Galatians that it is possible to become righteous (made right with God) through following the Old Testament law. He is keen to put them right; it is impossible to become righteous in this way. The only way to eradicate our sins and ensure that we are right with God is through a relationship with Jesus. As I read this verse I can almost feel Paul’s frustration boiling over. “I would like to know just one thing from you,” he demands. If he was addressing a person face to face in this way I could see him jabbing his finger into the person’s ribs! He continues by asking a direct question. How did you come by the Holy Spirit? he asks. Did the Holy Spirit fill you because you followed the law? Of course not! The Spirit was received amongst the Galatians because they believed what they heard. The Holy Spirit entered their lives because they heard the gospel of Christ, and they believed that gospel.

Similarly, this is how we receive the Holy Spirit. We receive the Spirit because we believe the gospel and have faith, not because of anything that we have done. And it is this Holy Spirit that assures us of our salvation. Let’s give thanks today that through believing the gospel we have received the Holy Spirit and secured our place in God’s eternal kingdom!