Earlier this week I had the privilege of teaching at the Middle School Chapel of Lifegate Christian School in Omaha, NE. The Middle School has been learning about the Holy Spirit, and so as part of that larger emphasis, I was asked to speak on the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Here's an edited (and somewhat abbreviated) of what I said.
I’ll get right to the point of what I’m writing about today. Here it is: Character counts. Who you are on the inside is a really big deal. The attitudes you have swirling around inside of you, and the values you have - these are way more important than people often think.
I’m generally a fan of superhero movies, so let me pull an example from one of the Spiderman movies. You know the story: Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider and can start doing all this crazy stuff like climbing all walls, he has super strength, and more. In the movie I’m thinking of, Peter Parker - that’s Spiderman - is just starting to realize what he can do with these powers. The thing is, early on he’s not always using his powers well. He’s using his powers in ways that are selfish.
And so Peter’s uncle, Uncle Ben, sees some of what’s going on and he pulls Peter aside and he says these words that are now at the level of "movie quote trivia legend" - even my 8 year olds could finish this line, even though I don't think they’ve never seen the movie. Uncle Ben tells Peter, “With great power comes great responsibility.” (Ready for a video clip? Check out the scene here.)
Peter was so blown away by the power he had that he wasn’t thinking about how to use it. Peter was so impressed by what he could do, that he’d taken his eyes off of who he was becoming.
Here’s why I bring all that up: Christianity isn’t primarily about what you’re doing for God (though that has its place); it’s also about who you’re becoming. We can't get so focused on the things God can do THROUGH us that we ignore who we're becoming. Character counts!
This is one of the things that you can't miss as you study the Holy Spirit.
The more you read your Bible and the more you learn about the Holy Spirit, you’ll see that the Spirit gives every believer in Jesus Christ spiritual gifts that empower us to do great things for God and His church. It’s awesome to know the Spirit of God works through us to accomplish God’s work!
But that’s not all we want to say. Just as importantly, the Spirit is also working inside of us - each of you individually - transforming our character from the inside out.
The Apostle Paul gives us a list of big ways the Holy Spirit should be transforming us from the inside out in Galatians 5:22-23: “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (NIV, 1984).
You see that Paul calls these things the “fruit” of the Holy Spirit. Here’s what he’s getting at: If I planted an apple tree in my back yard I’d eventually expect to see apples growing on it. Eventually that apple seed should produce something in my yard - fruit! Apples!
So too when the Holy Spirit is in our lives, something should happen! Our character - who we are on the inside - should be different! Over the course of time and in increasing ways, the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives should produce this fruit in us - love, joy, peace, patience, and so on.
All this means what we’re talking about in this post is REALLY important. This list of the fruit of the Spirit isn’t some random collection of nice things to consider if you’ve got the time and are interested. This is a clear list of the things that Spirit wants to do in you. This is a clear list of the difference the Holy Spirit should be making inside of all of us.
With all this in mind, then, I want to spend the rest of our time together today asking this question: How can the fruit of the Spirit grow in my life? I’m going to mention three things that followers of Jesus need to keep in mind.
Stay focused on what God wants to do inside of you.
I know I’ve already said this, but let me say it again because it’s a big deal: Who we are on the inside is more important than we often think. You can be serving in lots of ways and DOING lots of things for God, but if that’s not matched by the fruit of the Spirit in you (these character qualities we’ve seen in Galatians 5), you’re in a dangerous spot.
Just think about the Pharisees that we read about in the Gospels - they were doing lots of the right things. But they weren’t loving. They don’t seem that patient or joyful or kind. They were focused on the externals and neglected their inner state, their character. And the scary thing, they didn’t even know they were in a dangerous spot. (Check it out in Matthew 23:25-26.)
If you want another picture of this, think about those Go Go Squeeze applesauce pouches you can buy at the store. On the outside, everything looks great in terms of packaging. 100% fruit. All natural. It says all the right things. But a few years ago there were complaints that some of the packages contain moldy applesauce. In other words, looks good on the outside; maybe not always the case on the inside.
There’s a lesson here. Just because you’re doing lots of good things externally doesn’t mean you can neglect your internal character. Make sure you give attention to who you are on the inside.
The fruit of the Spirit that we saw in Galatians 5 drives this home. All these things the Spirit produces in us - love, joy, peace, patience…the whole list - these are all attitudes. Not one of these is an action. Sure, they lead to action. But they start on the inside. The Spirit works from the inside out. And because this is the case, we can say with anticipation, "Because of the Spirit's work inside of me, I can be loving, and joyful, and peaceful, and patient, and kind, and good, and faithful, and gentle, and full of self-control."
Let's go back to our question: "How can the fruit of the Spirit grow in my life?" Here's a second thing we need to keep in mind:
Don't just "pick your favorites."
Here’s what I mean by this: A few weeks ago we had a bag of jelly beans in our “candy stash” at home. One night after supper we were passing it around and everyone was taking some jelly beans, when someone noticed that all the orange jelly beans were gone! Someone had gotten to the bag first and had selectively picked all the orange jelly beans out and eaten them!
I wonder if we can do the same thing with the fruit of the Spirit sometimes. There are some things on this list that you probably personally gravitate toward. If you’re an athlete or really involved in some activity, you maybe like self-control, because you know how much discipline is involved with the things you do. If you’re someone who gets along with pretty much everyone and doesn’t like conflict, you probably naturally like “peace” and “kindness.” If you’re always happy and can see the bright side to everything, you’ve underlined “joy” in this passage from Galatians 5.
What I want us to see, though, is that this list of the fruit of the Spirit isn’t some buffet line where you just pick the things you like the most. The Spirit wants to produce ALL of these things in us.
This is kind of getting into the nuts and bolts of things a bit, but at the beginning of v. 22 you’ll see that this whole list - all these things - they fall under this title of FRUIT of the Spirit. Not fruits of the Spirit, but fruit (singular) of the Spirit. As the Spirit works in us, we want to see growth in all these areas. Love AND joy AND peace AND patience AND kindness AND goodness AND faithfulness AND gentleness AND self-control.
Here's how you can apply this point: Choose one quality from this list that normally would seem really difficult for you - one of these items from the list that doesn't come naturally. Maybe you’ve always been intimidated by self-control, or you know you need to work on kindness or love. Spend time every day over the next seven days praying that the Spirit would grow this specific trait in your heart.
Remember that growth takes time and effort.
My wife likes to garden - we’ve got some garden beds in our backyard where she plants things like tomatoes, peas, lettuce, carrots, and stuff like that. And springtime is when you normally plant seeds for a garden, so she’s been out doing that these last few weeks. She’s been working really hard - there’s lots of stuff you need to do to get soil ready. She spends lots of time planning her garden and planting her seeds, and then you need to fertilize and water and weed…you get the picture.
The thing is, while she’s doing all of this, she can’t actually point to anything visible that’s happening as a result of her work. Even after she’s planted the seeds, and while she’s still doing some watering and weeding, the garden beds are just a patch of dirt! That’s all you see when you look at them.
But then one day this last weekend, one of our boys came running inside and said “I can see something growing!” Plants were starting to pop out of the ground all over the place.
You know how this works: Even though nothing visible was happening, beneath the surface of the ground the seed is germinating. There's a lot of overlap here with how the fruit of the Spirit grows in us. Growing in the fruit of the Spirit takes time and effort. You may not always “feel” it happening while it’s happening. But as you focus on these character qualities and develop habits that cultivate these qualities, over the course of time you’ll see growth! And then you KEEP growing in them over the course of your lifetime!
Two applications flow out from this point:
All right, let’s zoom back out. Remember that everything we’ve been talking about in this post is connected to the truth that the Holy Spirit should actually make a difference in the way we live our lives. And one of the KEY ways the Holy Spirit wants to make a difference is by transforming us from the inside out. The Holy Spirit wants to transform our character so we show the fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
So as you think about the difference the Holy Spirit makes in your life:
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