God sealed you by giving you
The gift of his Holy Spirit.
Every child of God bears the same seal,
Is indwelt by the same Holy Spirit.
- Tom Rees
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are fascinating and exciting. To be a gifted person is to receive accolades from our fellows for our performances or abilities. For these reasons and perhaps others, the gifts of the Spirit receive far more attention in our culture than the fruit of the Spirit. The fruits of the Spirit seem to be doomed to obscurity, hidden in the shadow of the more preferred gifts.
Yet it is the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit that is the mark of our progress in sanctification. Of course, God is pleased when we dutifully exercise the gifts the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon us. But I think God is even more pleased when He sees His people manifest the fruit of the Spirit.
Paul exhorts the Galatians:
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).
The Christian life is a pilgrimage. In the imagery of the Scripture, it is a journey that we travel by foot. Walking is a relatively slow mode of transportation. Most of us move along this journey at a snail's pace. We do not race and leap through the obstacle course of temptation. There are barriers that impede our progress. At every point we face the speed bumps of the flesh. Again Paul writes:
For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish (Gal. 5:17).
Here is the battle. The old man is pitted against the new man. The sin nature of the flesh fights to choke the influence of the Spirit. Though this warfare is internal and invisible, there are clear outward signs of the carnage wrought by the battle. When the Spirit is victorious, we see the fruit of it. When the flesh wins, we also see the outward evidence.
Before Paul elaborates the fruit of the Spirit, he first sets forth the works of the flesh. The works of the flesh stand in stark contrast to the fruit of the Spirit.
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish amibitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21).
This list of the works of the flesh is crucial for two reasons. First, it offers the contrast already mentioned to the fruit of the Spirit. Second, it identifies sinful practices that, the Apostle emphasizes (by repetition), characterize the unregenerate and the lost. Of course, it is possible for a redeemed person to fall into any of these sins for a season. Each one of them has been manifested at one time or another by the greatest of saints. But they are not to be characteristic of the Christian. If this list characterizes the lifestyle of a person, it is evidence that he is unredeemed.
Because this list carries such an ominous warning, it is important to give brief definition to the sins mentioned:
1. Adultery. The first sin mentioned is a prohibition of the Seventh Commandment. It involves the violation of the sanctity of marriage via illicit sexual relations among married persons.
2. Fornication. Fornication usually has reference to sexual intercourse among unmarried people. It is usually associated with premarital sexual intercourse. In this text, however, it has a broader meaning to include illegitimate sexual intercourse in the widest sense of the word. (Homosexual acts are included under this.)
3. Uncleanness. There is a sexual sense implied here. It reflects a kind of behavior that popular language calls “dirty.”
4. Licentiousness. This describes a wild, unruly lifestyle that is unrestrained and out of control.
5. Idolatry. This refers to the pagan worship of idols or false gods. Idolatry in its broadest sense can include such things as worship of material possessions.
6. Sorcery. This involves the practice of magic and the involvement with forbidden practices such as spiritualism, fortune-telling, astrology, and the like.
7. Hatred. This reflects a character of hostility, grudge-bearing, and being unloving.
8. Contentions. This is seen in a quarrelsome attitude. One who is contentious is argumentative and combative. He has a chip on his shoulder.
9. Jealousies. Jealousy reflects a self-centered spirit that despises other people's achievements or victories. It displays a lack of love. Works 7, 8 and 9 are probably some of the pet sins of Christians, possibly because they can be so easily concealed or explained away.
10. Outbursts of wrath. This indicates a character of hotheaded temper fits.
11. Selfish ambitions. This contains the idea of a ruthless desire for personal gain at the expense of others.
12. Dissensions. This does not rule out legitimate forms of dissent. Rather, it characterizes again the contentious spirit that is constantly bickering, feuding, and creating dissension in groups.
13. Heresies. The root meaning of this involves a willful choosing of opinions that go against established truth. It includes more than theological errors, for it can also refer to attitudinal and behavioral errors.
14. Envy. Envy involves the desire to possess what belongs to someone else. This can include nurturing ill will toward those who enjoy certain benefits.
15. Murders. This is self-explanatory. Most Christians are not outright murderers, of course, but Christ's words about hating one's brother (Matt. 5:22) should be kept in mind.
16. Drunkenness. This refers to the intemperate use of alchohol and, by implication, drug abuse.
17. Revelries. This involves the lifestyle of the wild party goer who enjoys uninhibited orgies or drinking bouts.
Over against this life of the works of the flesh Paul sets forth the fruit of the Spirit:
[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law (Gal. 5:22-23).
Here the Apostle exhibits the model of authentic righteousness. The fruit is designated as the fruit of the Spirit. Fruit is something that is produced in us. It is not of ourselves. In ourselves we are only flesh. The flesh produces nothing but more flesh. The flesh profits nothing. Martin Luther declared that “nothing” is not a “little something”.
Like begets like. The product comes from the producer. The progeny recapitulates the ontogeny. Only the Holy Spirit can conceive and bear the fruit of the Spirit. We can be skilled preachers without the Spirit. We can be theological geniuses after the flesh. We can be silver-tongued orators apart from grace. But the only source of the fruit of the Spirit is the work of the Holy Spirit within us.
It is no accident that the fruit of the Spirit is not elevated in our ranks as the highest test of righteousness. There abides so much flesh in us that we prefer another standard. The fruit test is too high; we cannot attain it. So within our Christian subcultures we prefer to elevate some lesser test by which we can measure ourselves with more success. We can compete with each other with greater facility if we mix some flesh together with Spirit.
How hard it is for us to be measured by our love! And please don't evaluate me by the standard of gentleness. I'm far too impatient to deserve patience as my standard mixed with the lead of envy and the alloy of rudeness. It is an inconsistent love.
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13, tells us that love does not envy, boast, or exhibit pride. It is not rude, self-seeking, or easily angered. It keeps no records of wrongs received. It does not delight in evil.
Love is not defined by simplistic abstinence from drinking, dancing, makeup, movies, card-playing, and the like. It was envy that required the cross, not lipstick; it was covetousness that demanded atonement, not poker; it was pride that called forth the need for propitiation, not the cinema.
Some describe true love as “unconditional love”. This concept can be either a coin of pure gold or a gilded rock in the fraud's bag of tricks. It is at once true or grossly false depending upon how it is understood. The preacher who smiles benignly from his pulpit, assuring us that “God accepts you just the way you are” tells a monstrous lie. The kingdom of God is far more rigourous in its requirements than Mr Roger's neighborhood. The gospel of love may not be sugar-coated with saccharin grace. God does not accept the arrogant man in his arrogance. He turns His holy back on the impenitent. To be sure, He demonstrates love toward His fallen creatures, but that love has holy demands. We must come to Him on bended knee and with a contrite heart.
Jonathan Edwards spoke of love in this way:
If love is the sum of Christianity, surely those things which overthrow love are exceedingly unbecoming to Christians. An envious Christian, a malicious Christian, a cold and hard-hearted Christian, is the greatest absurdity and contradiction. It is as if one should speak of dark brightness, or a false truth.
My teacher Dr John Gerstner once spoke of the manifestation of agape in the life of the apostle Paul. He used the four letters of Paul's name as an acrostic to describe the man's character. The P stood for Polluted, since Paul described himself as the chief of sinners. The A stood for his Apostolic office. But it is the U and the L that are relevant here. The U referred to Paul's Uncompromising commitment to truth, the L for Paul's quality ofLove. Gerstner put it this way: “It is not that we say Paul was uncompromising and loving. Or even that he was uncompromising but loving. Rather, we say that Paul was uncompromising, therefore loving.”
Spiritual love is wrought by God. We are able to love Him because He first loved us and because it is His love that is shed abroad in our hearts. This love transcends natural affection. It flows from a h
eart that has been changed by God the Holy Spirit.
Joy is mentioned as a fruit of the Spirit. This joy is not the joy we encounter for a moment when our favorite team wins the Super Bowl. It is not that “happiness of a warm puppy”. Like transcendent agape love, the Christian's joy is a transcendent joy, a joy born of blessedness. An unbeliever experiences positive emotions that evoke smiles, but no unbeliever has ever experienced the beatific joy of salvation.
The joy of the Spirit is permanent. This year's Super Bowl winner may not make the play-offs next season. Warm puppies grow cold in the grave. The joy of salvation is forever. The victory Christ has won for us is not seasonal. The Savior never has a bad year.
The joy of the Spirit is as stable at it is exhilarating. It is the joy that abides in the midst of suffering. It has depth. It penetrates the soul. It sends despair into exile and banishes pessimism. It produces confidence without arrogance, courage without bravado. Jesus of Nazareth was able to weep. Yet His tears could not dissolve the joy He knew in His Father's house.
We rejoice in our hope. Our hope is not the fantasy of the dreamer but the assurance of the redeemed. It is the joy of those who have ears to hear the Savior's command, “[B]e of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
The peace of the Spirit is likewise transcendent. It is the peace, the shalom for which every Jew yearned. It goes beyond what Martin Luther called a carnal peace, the peace offered by the false prophets of Israel. It is not the cowardly peace won by appeasement. It is a peace wrought by permanent victory.
When earthly wars are ended and the peace treaties are signed, there always abides an uneasy truce. A cold war always remains, wherein the slightest rattle of the sword may signal the beginning of new hostilities. There is a vast difference between Neville Chamberlain's leaning over a balcony declaring, “We have achieved peace in our time” and Jesus’ leaning over a table to say, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27).
The legacy of Christ is peace. Peace is our inheritance from the Prince of Peace. It is a peace the world cannot give. This peace is a lasting peace that no one can snatch from us.
The Holy Spirit gives us an inner peace, a peace that passes understanding. But the peace He gives is infinitely more valuable than peace of mind. It transcends the imperturbability of the Stoic and the ataraxia of the Epicurean. It is the peace that flows from our justification. Being justified, we have peace with God. We have heard and received the gospel. We have heard the clarion call of God.
Comfort, yes, comfort My people! … Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, That her warfare is ended, That her iniquity is pardoned” (Isa. 40:1-2).
The worst holocaust of history is the war between a holy God and His rebellious creatures. For the Christian that war is over, once and for all. We may continue to sin and incur God's displeasure. We may grieve the Spirit, but He will never again declare war upon us. It was ratified for us on the cross.
The fruit of the Spirit is long-suffering—that is, patience. This virtue mirrors and reflects the character of God. It has no place for explosive tantrums from a hair-trigger personality. It is slow to anger. It endures the insult and the malice of others. It knows nothing of a judgmental spirit.
It is the stuff of which Job was made when he declared, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15). It has a capacity to wait. Waiting is difficult. We wait for planes and buses. We wait for mail and visitors. We wait for Christ to return. We wait for the promise of His vindication.
The Christian rejects the spirit of pragmatism. He lives in terms of long-term goals. He eschews the expedient. He stores up treasure in heaven. He is willing to wait for the hour of God.
The Spirit is patient with people. The fruit He gives enables us to forbear with each other. We do not demand the instant sanctification of our brothers. Patience and long-suffering do not rail against the speck in our brother's eye. They are married to the love that covers a multitude of sins.
Jesus was strong and tender. When He encountered the powerful and arrogant, He asked no quarter and gave none. When He met the weak and brokenhearted, He was tender. He never broke a bruised reed. His rebuke of the sinner was couched in kindness. “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (John 8:11) was His response to a humiliated woman. The Judge of all the earth was not harsh. He took no glee in condemnation.
Kindness is a virtue of grace. It involves a willingness to keep one's power and authority in check. It does not crush the weak. It is thoughtful and kind. It manifests the judgment of charity, tempering justice with mercy.
Goodness incorporates a basic personal integrity. The fruit of the Spirit promotes a person of guilelessness. Goodness is a relative term. Something or someone is good relative to some standard. The ultimate standard of goodness is the character of God Himself. This is why Jesus said to the rich young ruler, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God” (Luke 18:19).
Yet the quality of goodness is planted in the lives wherein the Holy Spirit works. He works goodness within us. Though our best works remain tainted by sin, nevertheless a real change is wrought within us. In
salvation we gain a cure as well as a pardon. He is making us well.
Not only does God declare us just by the imputation of Christ's righteousness, He indwells us to make us what He declares us to be. Sanctification follows justification. That sanctification is as real as our justification. The fruit is goodness.
Faith is a gift of God. It is also a fruit. The faith by which we are saved is not of our own doing. It comes from God. But it comes to us and is exercised by us. The Spirit works faith in us. This is Luther's fides viva, the living faith that yields works of obedience.
Faith is trust. It means far more than believing in God. It means believing God. The fruit of the Spirit involves trusting God with our lives.
But the fruit of faith involves more than trust. It means that we become trustworthy. A person of faith is not only a person who trusts but a person who can be trusted. His yea means yea and his nay means nay. He keeps his word. He pays his bills. He meets his obligations. He is faithful. He is loyal. Fidelity is a mark of his character.
Gentleness is a godly virtue. A man who is gentle is a gentleman. To be an authentic gentleman is to model Christ. Polls in women's magazines repeatedly reveal that the twin virtues women desire in men are strength and tenderness.
Gentleness—meekness—is not to be confused with weakness. Moses was a meek man. That is, he had the quality of humility. He knew who he was. He was bold without being arrogant. It is the meek who are promised the world. Christ promises they will inherit the earth. Meekness is the flip side of gentleness. They go together, wed by a spirit of humility.
God gives grace to the humble. It is a grace that breeds even more grace.
The last fruit of the Spirit in the list—self-control, or temperance—flows from the other virtues. Immodesty, extremism, and flamboyance do not fit with temperance. Here the moderate level of self-control is manifested. The Spirit is not rude or pushy. He is neither violent nor crude.
These are the fruits of the Holy Spirit. These are the genuine marks of godliness. These are the virtues we see eminently and vividly modeled in the lives of mature Christians.
These are the virtues our Lord wants us to cultivate. These are the virtues that are at the same time gifts of God. God promises to reward these traits in us, not because they flow from our own intrinsic righteousness, but because, as Augustine put it, “God is pleased to crown His own gifts.”
Excerpt from The Mystery of the Holy Spirit by R. C. Sproul