A life filled with the “fruit of the Spirit” we find in Galatians 5 and elsewhere, is unattainable if we are left to pursue such a life in our own strength. Christianity is not a self-help or personal development program. The way up, is down. We must not depend upon ourselves to attain it. It is a life of humble dependence. Left to ourselves, we’ll fall short.
This is why the Apostle Paul begins Chapter 1 of his letter to the Galatian church by reminding them of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Of God’s grace. It’s only because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we can have, not only the hope of eternal life, but the promise of a flourishing life here and now.
When we place our faith in Jesus Christ, we’re able to live the life for which we were created because it’s the Spirit of the living Christ who comes to reside within us and live his life through us.
Paul puts it this way in Galatians 2:20,
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."
In Matthew 19:26, Jesus says it like this,
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
The point is this: the flourishing and abundant life God desires for us comes only through him; it comes through the Spirit of the risen Christ dwelling in and through us. He is the one who empowers, directs, and animates our lives.
A Man Named Saul
There was a man named Saul, who had an impressive academic background and was a zealous overachiever in the circles in which he ran. He describes himself this way in Philippians 3,
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
But then, one day, as he was headed to Damascus to round up more Christians to arrest and persecute Saul of Tarsus had an experience with the risen Lord. And after that experience his life was never the same.
Well, as Paul experienced, I want to promise you that your life can become different as well. You really can live the life God desires for you.
- Instead of anger, you can be filled with love.
- Instead of unhappiness, you can have joy.
- Instead of restlessness, you can have peace.
- Instead of frustration, you can have patience.
- Instead of hostility, you can have kindness
- Instead of wrestling with impurity and greed, you can experience goodness and generosity
- Instead of disloyalty, you can be a person of faithfulness… to God and others.
And that brings us to the focus of this lesson.
Even though we will briefly look at Paul’s references in Galatians 5 to goodness and faithfulness, what I really want to do in this lesson is set the context for Paul’s focus on the fruit of the Spirit in the first place. Why did he even bring up the fruit of the Spirit? What issue did he believe he needed to address?
At the beginning of our text (Galatians 5:13-26) Paul says that Christ did not die on the Cross to liberate us from sin so we could live any way we want. That’s not Christian freedom.
Instead, he says in verse 13,
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
In fact, Paul makes the bold claim that we can summarize the whole Law of God by keeping the command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (v. 14). But how do we do that? How do we not indulge the flesh, which is a Bible-way of saying, “How do we not give into our sinful inclinations and desires?”
Paul’s answer can be found in verse 16. He says we are to “walk by the Spirit.” When we walk by the Spirit, by the power of the Holy Spirit, according to Paul, we won’t gratify those sinful desires. We won’t put them into practice.
Have you ever felt like Paul in Romans 7. Here’s the Dale Tedder Paraphrase of Romans 7,
- I know the right thing to do… but I don’t always end up doing that.
- I know the wrong thing not to do… but that’s what I sometimes end up doing.
Can you relate to that? I can. And yet, with God’s help I’m trying, though I am but a slow work in progress.
All that is true, but let’s not miss the point Paul’s making. Paul is saying our “flesh” (which means our sinful nature) in in conflict with the Spirit who lives within us. And if you’re putting your sinful nature first, then you can’t live by the Spirit. And thus, you aren’t living by the Spirit.
However, if you walk by the Spirit… if you live in the power of the Spirit… then you can have victory over those sinful temptations.
Paul’s Sin List
And so, right after driving emphasizing that point, Paul gives us with one of his famous “sin-lists” to watch out for. We find this list in verses 19-21.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Now, maybe after reading that list, you’re breathing a sigh of relief. You’re saying to yourself, “Phew, he didn’t mention the issues that I wrestle with.” Well, Paul has this rhetorical device he uses at the end of his lists. He adds phrases like, “and the like” or, “and things like these.” That’s Paul’s way of saying you’re included too.
I find the last half of verse 21 pretty chilling. Let me share that part again,
I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
I can imagine what you’re thinking right now. You’re saying, “This is really uncomfortable… do something about this.” Well, I’m not looking to get any of us off the hook for when we sin. When we do, we need to repent and cling to God’s grace.
What Paul Means
But pay close attention to what Paul says in this verse. He says, “those who live like this…”
Here are some other ways we could read this part of the text…
- Those who make a practice of doing such things as a pattern of life. (ESV)
- Those who habitually and unrepentantly practice such things (My version)
- Those who use their freedom in Christ in this way (The Message)
Therefore, Paul is not saying “you’re out of the Kingdom of God because, during those times of weakness we all experience, you sin.” We all do that from time to time. Right?
But if you belong to Christ, then the Holy Spirit convicts you of that sin and it grieves your heart, causing you to repent of it and seek God’s forgiveness. What Paul’s talking about are folks who might profess the name of Christ but who show no signs of giving up the sinful patterns of their lives.
Walk in the Spirit
But even here, the Spirit of God can help bring conviction and correction in their lives as well. That’s why Paul says…
- Walk by the Spirit… in verse 16
- Be led by the Spirit… in verse 18
- Live by the Spirit… in verse 25
- And, Keep in step with the Spirit… in verse 25.
It’s only in the power of the Spirit of God that we can live the life for which we were created and redeemed. And what does that life look like? It looks like a life of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” This is the fruit of the Spirit. This is a glimpse of what living by the Spirit ought to look like.
Goodness and Faithfulness
Our fruit for this lesson focuses on goodness and faithfulness. Goodness is the “quality of being good and having praiseworthy character and moral excellence.” It is God’s holiness that is the standard for goodness and so we look to God and his Word to measure our goodness toward others. Paul especially has in mind our generosity toward others.
Faithfulness means “dependability, loyalty, and stability” which primarily highlights our relationship with God, but also other people. And again, our standard is God. From Genesis to Revelation, God showed faithfulness to his people, even when, (especially when) they didn’t deserve it.
We are living in a time when our denomination and church family need to exercise the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. This is especially true in this time of struggle as we seek God’s will. We need Christians who are reflecting the goodness of God toward one another and their faithfulness toward God.
It’s times like these that a church family needs to put on love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control with those we care about, with those we’ve been part of the same church family with… for years.
Now is not the time to turn on one another. Even as we may disagree greatly with one another we must still love one another, show kindness and generosity of spirit to one another. And yet, our disagreements are not trivial. They are real. They are important. They are personal. And for many, they’re nonnegotiable.
But We Can Love
But that only means we must cling to Christ more tightly and walk more dependently by his Spirit as we seek to walk with one another through this difficult time.
And so, as a shepherd and brother in Christ, I implore you to please resolve to walk in the Spirit of God with your brothers and sisters in Christ. I feel the weight of this difficult time as you do. I’m still discerning God’s will in all of this, as I know you are.
Thus, let us contend earnestly for our understandings of the faith, but let’s do so with love, goodness, and faithfulness overflowing in our hearts, and let’s trust the Lord to lead us as he will. This doesn’t mean we’ll all agree with one another at the end of the process. It doesn’t even mean we’ll all remain together as one body.
But to paraphrase a favorite movie quotation of mine, “we can still love one another completely, even without complete agreement.”
And in the midst of this turbulent time, here’s what I do know for sure: Without God we can do nothing. But with God, all things are possible. Let us pray without ceasing.