This week, Meredith writes:
How can I cultivate and grow the fruit of the Spirit in my life without being fake?
I’ve got an answer that may shock some of you, but first I need to set the stage with some Scripture. For those who aren’t familiar with the “fruit of the Spirit,” this concept comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia:
Galatians 5:22-25–But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (NIV)
If I’m not mistaken, Meredith’s question is probably born out of the idea that most of us have when it comes to the fruit of the Spirit. That idea is simply that all good Christians should have this list of nine things at work in our lives; and if any one of them seems to be lacking, the believer needs to strive to attain it.
Unfortunately, in the midst of our striving to look more Christian, we often wind up putting on a show for others and eventually drift back into our former condition. That’s probably what Meredith meant when she said, “…without being fake.”
Today I want to set you free from that mindset and show you that it’s not Biblical. There is a better way!
In the first part of the passage, Paul writes, “The fruit of the Spirit is…” Notice that it doesn’t say “The fruits of the Spirit are…” Paul is talking about one fruit–not nine (even the original Greek text reflects this).
In other words: love, joy, peace, and all the others come as one single package and grow in the life of the believer as a whole.
In the natural realm, fruit is evidence of life in a plant. It grows for two purposes: reproduction and the nourishment of others. Likewise, spiritual fruit is evidence of the life of Christ in a believer. It too grows for two purposes: to multiply the Church and to reveal the nature of Christ to others.
There’s the key: the fruit of the Spirit reveals the nature of Christ. Remember, Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would make Him known (John 16:15). The fruit of the Spirit–the nature of Christ–comes as one fruit and is revealed in the believer through death to the old self. That’s why verse 24 says, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”
Before I continue, I need to share one more verse with you:
2 Peter 1:3-4–His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through [knowing Jesus Christ]. Through [his glory and goodness,] he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (NIV, partially paraphrased for clarity)
Therefore, if you need more love in your life, the solution is not to ask God for more love. If Christ is in you, you already have all the love you will ever need. There is enough love already in you for you to be able to “participate in the divine nature!” Don’t ask for more love because you couldn’t possibly receive any more. If you need more love to be expressed in your life, the solution is simply to offer more of your flesh to the cross to be dealt with on a deeper level. Consider your flesh crucified, choose to partner with Jesus, trust the Holy Spirit, and watch more of Jesus shine through.
Here’s a little picture that may help make sense of this: Many Christians joke that you should never pray for patience because God will respond with trials that will challenge your patience. Actually, if trials are coming, their purpose is not to grow patience but rather to crucify the flesh.
2 Corinthians 4:8-11–We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. (NIV, emphasis mine)
Cultivating the fruit of the Spirit is not about gaining more love, joy, peace, or anything else. Cultivating the fruit of the Spirit is about submitting to the cross. It is about being given over to death so that the life of Christ may be revealed through us. It is about weeding out the self-life that gets in the way of His fruit being available to multiply His Church and nourish the spiritual lives of others.
A friend of mine used to grow tomatoes. He said he regularly had to prune off “suckers,” which were pieces of the vine that didn’t bear fruit. By pruning off the suckers, more sap was made available for the fruit, and the resulting tomatoes were larger and healthier than they otherwise would be.
The same goes with the fruit of the Spirit. We need to deal with the self-life.
- We don’t need more love; we need less pride.
- We don’t need more joy; we need less pessimism.
- We don’t need more peace; we need less fear.
- We don’t need more patience; we need less anxiety.
- We don’t need more kindness; we need less apathy.
- We don’t need more goodness; we need less evil.
- We don’t need more faithfulness; we need less selfish ambition.
- We don’t need more gentleness; we need less harshness.
- We don’t need more self-control; we need less self-gratification.
You have everything you need for life and godliness because you know Christ. You don’t need more of anything! You simply need less of your old self! “Crucify the flesh with its passions and desires” so that Christ can be revealed in fuller measure.