“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 (Galatians 5:22,23)
Last summer I shared a meditation upon Spiritual Fruit and Character. This week, I would like to revisit that topic to provide some clarity on how Spiritual Fruit relates to our life Foundation, and our life Effort.
A number of years ago as I reflected upon the Fruits of the Spirit passage in Galatians 5 I realized I had been using the passage to tell myself to be more loving, more kind – to have more self-control, etc. These are all good goals, but they are not the intent of the passage. I came to the realization that the Fruits of the Spirit list is not a series of attributes for us to achieve by Effort – rather, they are a description of the nature of our new character which will result in a new Foundation for our life once we are a new creation in Christ – (2 Cor. 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!)
This brought relief to two common struggles that I had, and I believe most Christians struggle with.
- How do I produce the fruits of the spirit if I notice they are not evidenced in my life and character?
- I know the Bible says I cannot earn my salvation, so where does my effort come into play in my spiritual walk with God.
So, if I cannot earn my Spiritual foundation of Spiritual fruits through effort, how do I produce the Fruits of the Spirit? As I reflected on my changed thinking on this struggle, I thought of a cherry tree my family had in our backyard while growing up in Ohio. As a young child, I would put my ear to the trunk wanting to hear the deep voice of the tree groaning with the effort of producing those cherries – but I never did hear it – Why? Because for a cherry tree, producing cherries is an effortless joy. A cherry tree does not create cherries by an energy-draining effort – producing cherries is not a burdensome effort for it. Rather – it produces cherries effortlessly by virtue of its foundational nature as a cherry tree.
In similar fashion, as Christians – we should not labor under the misconception that we need to screw up our faces and be about the great effort of being more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient etc. – rather, we are invited to be transformed by staying connected to the life-giving force of Christ and abiding in Him through the Holy Spirit. Once this becomes our focus – we naturally produce the Fruits of the Spirit over time effortlessly as part of our new nature in Christ. This is the Foundation of the Christian Life that caused Martin Luther to upend the Church of his day which had fallen into the error of salvation by works or by obtaining or purchasing things to earn merit.
So if effort has no place in obtaining my new identity in Christ and his salvation, what does it mean when Paul says in Philippians 2:12 “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”? The answer, I believe, revolves around understanding the difference between ‘earning’ and ‘effort’.
Trying to earn your salvation is clearly condemned in scripture, especially in the Ephesians 2:8,9 clarification that salvation is by grace, NOT by works.
But producing effort to build upon your freely gifted salvation as a way of “working out” your gratitude for that foundational gift is what Paul is talking about. As Dallas Willard put it in his book, Spirit of the Disciplines, “God is against earning, but he is very supportive of effort.”
Therefore, when I begin to notice that I am sliding into agitation rather than peace, to abruptness rather than kindness, to unhealthy impulsiveness rather than self-control (which happens to me more often than I would like to admit) – I no longer ramp up my effort to be better at love, joy, peace, kindness and self-control etc. Instead, I remember my true character is found in my Foundation in Christ. Jesus compared this process to a branch staying connected and drawing its life from the vine. (John 15:5). Jesus promises me that if I remain in Him, I will bear much fruit, including the Fruits of the Spirit.
Therefore, my singular reaction to the consistent pull to return to my old nature, the way of the world – is to reconnect to my Foundation in Christ, REMAIN in Him, and the Spiritual Fruits show up in my life as sure as a cherry tree produces cherries.
- Does the challenge to reconnect to Christ instead of trying to change your character resonate with you?
- In your EFFORTS to work out the calling of your Christianity, do you sometimes fall into the false mindset that you are somehow EARNING merit with God?
John Wiseman – Corpath Business Forums – www.corpath.ca