“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”Paul, Galatians 5:22, 23
The spiritual journey is all about uniting our will with God’s will, wanting what he wants, loving what he loves, living a life that in all its aspects honors him and gives him glory. Profound simplicity lies at the heart of the journey; it’s all about uniting our will with God’s will.
– Ralph Martin, The Fulfillment of All Desire
43“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.Luke 6:43-45
This teaching is challenging in that we are all convicted at times of bearing “bad fruit.” Likewise, the good fruit can at times seem sparse.
If we examine Paul’s recitation of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians above, we find the bad fruit counterparts to be hatred/apathy/judgment (to love), fear/anxiety/dissention (to peace), agitation (to patience), self-centeredness and mean-spiritedness (to kindness/goodness), treachery (to faithfulness), rage/violent anger (to gentleness) and wanton self-indulgence (to self-control).
Using these simple contrasts as a guide, I undeniably bear bad fruit at times. Yet at the same time, we know the Spirit is at work within us to the extent that we exhibit any of the good fruit. The fact that we are able to bear good fruit at all is a sign of the Spirit’s work in us, providing confidence that we are in fact on the journey of becoming more Christlike.
Jesus teaches that his followers will be “marked” by their fruit, the implication being that, while many will say “Lord, Lord,” they may in fact not be Jesus’ true followers if their lives give no evidence of good fruit.
Let us remember that neither good fruit nor any good works we do nor any virtue we have, saves us. Only God’s grace through faith in Jesus does. Yet as recipients of this grace, we are to become followers of Jesus that take his teaching seriously and seek to obey his words as he commanded. Bottom line, our words and actions are dictated by – and reveal the condition of – our heart: “Out of the overflow of the heart [man’s] mouth speaks.” A heart captivated by God’s grace towards us is a heart that begins to soften and change. God replaces our heart of stone with heart of flesh.
Jesus is expressing the spiritual vision – a remade heart and our wills united to his own – we should aspire to and that is indeed possible through his grace and the work of the Spirit in us. Note that the change in behavior results from change in heart, not trying harder to manufacture “good fruit” by sheer force of will. We doom ourselves to a life of Spiritless legalism and frustration by adopting this approach.
In following Jesus (watching and listening to him), we learn what this transformation looks like – our aim is to become more like him. Again, this is only possible through the Spirit’s work in us and our persistent desire to learn and abide by the teaching and example of Jesus.
To supplement some of the good/bad fruit contrasts above, I went back to an old notebook where I had made a list of the attributes of the life of the old versus new man – a metaphor Paul uses frequently. While this is by no means exhaustive, it is a summary of notes I wrote down while reading through the New Testament while in Italy to celebrate Sara’s birthday a number of years ago (it was a big one, but my lips are sealed on the number . . . ). The framing was looking at the words of Jesus and the apostles and seeing life through the lens of preoccupation with loving God and others versus preoccupation with self.
- Selfishness | Servanthood
- Judgment | Mercy/Compassion
- Pride | Humility
- Unforgiveness | Grace
- Hatred/Indifference | Love
- Confusion | Purpose
- Discord | Peacemaking
- Fear/Anxiety | Peace
- Insecurity | Confidence in Christ
- Greed/Materialism | Generosity
- Consumption | Hospitality
- Agitation | Patience
- Uncertainty | Faith
- Foolishness | Wisdom
- Resentment | Release
- Pleasure | Joy
- Control | Trust
- Bondage | Freedom
- Striving | Relying
- Criticism | Encouragement/Building Up
- Regret | Hope
- Jealousy | Celebration
- Isolation | Community
- Safety | Risk
- Reaction | Creation
- Success | Fruitfulness
These markers represent a very different orientation than what comes naturally, as Paul reflects when he instructs us in Romans to “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Let us continue to move towards and encourage each other in this vision of the new man, with God at work within us and our discipline in seeking him daily. Jesus our Redeemer is our prototype and there is much to learn.
“The woman Folly is loud; she is undisciplined and without knowledge. She sits at the door of her house, on a seat at the highest point of the city, calling out to those who pass by, who go straight on their way. ‘Let all who are simple come in here!’ she says to those who lack judgment. Stolen water is sweet; food eaten is secret is delicious! But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave.”Proverbs 9:13-18
“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.”Psalm 27:1, 3