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"Good Seed, Good Tree, Good Fruit."

MESSAGE FOR DECEMBER 7, 2008 FROM GALATIANS 5:22ff

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          This week, we continue to study a very well known section of the book of Galatians.  In chapter five, Paul is contrasting the sinful works of the flesh—those attitudes and behaviors that are part of the believer’s old nature and which are all self-centered.  Though believers have a new nature in Christ, indwelling sin continues to express itself through these works of the flesh.  These are things like sexual immorality and envy and jealousy and 12 others representative works that Paul lists in the text we looked at last week.  The works of the flesh are opposed to the Holy Spirit who indwells and empowers every genuine follower of Christ.  To continue to illustrate how radically opposed the Spirit is to the flesh, Paul gives a representative list of the fruit of the Spirit in our text for this week.  That is--those attitudes and behaviors that are present in a believer’s life who is led by the Holy Spirit.  Paul wants us to see how different this list is from the one we looked at last week so let’s read beginning with verse 22.  He writes,But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” 

            Just as we did last week, I want to give us three lenses through which to understand these verses because it’s easy to misuse this very familiar text in ways that are not helpful.  First, this list of the fruit of the Spirit, like the list of the works of the flesh is not exhaustive.  Humility and mercy are not here, nor are forgiveness and thankfulness.  Paul is simply giving a representative list of fruit that was originally tailored to speak to the situation in the Galatian churches.  Second, all these fruit are attributes of God. These are the fruit of the Spirit, not our fruit.  That means that when we seek to live them out, we are not simply striving to be nicer people, we are seeking to be like God—godly people.  That means that all of these fruit are by definition supernatural. 

People who don’t know Christ cannot show these because they are from the Holy Spirit and unbelievers don’t have the Holy Spirit.  There are people who don’t know the Lord and who are incredibly kind and patient and gentle on a human level.  They show something theologians call the “common grace” of God.  Because they are created in God’s image, they manage to image him in some ways, but their lives are not marked by the supernatural expressions of God’s character that believers are able to show.  These fruit are rooted in the supernatural character of God and that means that when we manifest these attitudes and behaviors, God gets all the glory because its his fruit. 

          A third lens—a way of understanding the fruit of the Spirit, and the one that we will spend the rest of our time on this morning is simply this:  The fruit of the Spirit always grows out of the gospel.  By “gospel” I mean the truth pertaining to the life, atoning death and resurrection of Jesus.  This is so important on a practical level, but it is frequently overlooked in treatments of the fruit of the Spirit even though the gospel is clearly Paul’s context in Galatians.  Paul’s burden for the Galatians on a practical level is to see them liberated them from the bondage of the law by replacing the false gospel of works righteousness with the gospel of grace found in Jesus Christ.  He says in Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  Because of Jesus Christ and his saving work for them, they were no longer held captive to the requirement of keeping the law perfectly in order to be acceptable to God.  They were not only free from being under the law, as we have seen so far in chapter five, the gospel had liberated them from the controlling power of sin. The freedom we have in Christ to manifest the fruit of the Spirit come through our faith in the gospel.  It’s because of this freedom the gospel brings that we can show forth the fruit of the Spirit.  So often, when we think about bearing fruit or growing in Christ likeness, we manage to leave out this foundational gospel piece and for the sincere believer the result is frustration and discouragement.  That means that when we wage this war against our sinful flesh and strive to show the fruit of the Spirit, our battle is from first to last a fight of faith. 

          As we said several weeks ago, being led by the Spirit is not about hearing a voice; it is about believing the promises of the gospel.  It’s about faith.  Hebrews 11:6 tells us, “And without faith it is impossible to please him…”  First John 5:4 also tells us that faith is the crucial component in this fight for Christ-likeness. “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”  It’s as we believe the gospel and its attendant promises, that we are free to show the fruit of the Spirit in our life.  That’s what releases the ministry of the Spirit in us.  So many believers hear these verses on the fruit of the Spirit and they respond by condemning themselves for not being more holy.  And then, through sheer strength of will, they resolve to be a more fruitful Christian.  When we do that, we not only fail miserably—we are taking this truth of the fruit of the Spirit and wrenching it out of its gospel context in Galatians.

We see this connection between believing the gospel and showing fruit in places other than Galatians.  In Colossians 1:5-6 Paul says, “…the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,”  Paul says the gospel is bearing fruit in the believers in Colossae and in believers all over the world.  That clearly includes the fruit of new converts as the kingdom advanced, but it also means the fruit of the Spirit because he says the gospel is bearing fruit “among you since the day you heard it.”  You heard it and the gospel continues to bear fruit in you.  We see the gospel at the root of two specific fruit of the Spirit in Romans 15:13.  Paul says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”  Joy and peace are both fruit of the Spirit and Paul says they are produced as you believe.  It’s as you believe something that God produces fruit and the main message we are to believe—with which we are to be daily inundated--is the gospel.

          For the rest of our time, I want to answer the question, “Why must our understanding and living out of the fruit of the Spirit be rooted in the gospel?”  Here are two answers to the question why the fruit of the Spirit must be rooted in the gospel.  The first is because a Biblical understanding of “fruit” mandates this gospel-centered understanding.  One of the contrasts between these two ways to live in Galatians chapter five is how Paul refers to  them.  It’s not the works of the flesh versus the “works” of the Spirit.  It’s the “fruit” of the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit through Paul doesn’t choose this fruit metaphor at random.  There are doubtless several reasons for using “fruit,” but one is--to be consistent with the teachings of Jesus.  Jesus speaks of this kind of fruit in several places.  One such place is in Matthew chapter seven where he says beginning with verse 17, “So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.  18A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.  19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  20Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

          The lesson is very simple—good fruit comes from good trees.  The quality of the fruit is consistent with the quality of the tree.  There is however, something that precedes the tree that dictates the quality of the tree…and that is the seed.  If you plant a good seed, then—everything else being equal—you will have a good tree and that good tree will produce good fruit.  In Mark chapter four in the parable of the soils, Jesus identifies the seed.  In this parable, which speaks of salvation and what is necessary for that, Jesus says in verse 14, “The sower sows the word.”  That’s a clear reference to the gospel that is sown into the hearts of people.  We mustn’t miss the connection here between Jesus’ use of the fruit metaphor, which Paul picks up on in Galatians, and the seed of the gospel.  The truth of the gospel is the seed from which the tree grows, which produces the fruit.  Jesus is consistent with this in John 15 where he says beginning with verse four, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  5I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  How do you abide in Christ and thus bear much fruit?  Certainly, it’s by meditating, studying, praying and delighting in his saving work on the cross and its implications for us.  The seed of the gospel produces the tree, which produces the fruit.  The gospel doesn’t just get us born again and then remain useless to us.  The truth of the gospel not only brings us life, but it also sustains our life and strengthens us in Christ.

          Think about the nature of the physical seed.  The DNA that dictates even the largest tree’s fruitfulness is all encapsulated in that little seed.  Its genetic programming for fruitfulness is all right there.  Likewise, all the spiritual programming for our spiritual fruitfulness is found in the good seed of the gospel.  That means that as we saturate ourselves with the truth of the gospel, we can increasingly grow into who the gospel has programmed us to be in Christ.  Think about this--all the fruit of the Spirit is in us right now because we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is part of the inheritance we have through the gospel.  The challenge for believers isn’t that we must manufacture the fruit of the Spirit—the fruit is already in us by the indwelling Holy Spirit.  The challenge for the believer is to SHOW the fruit that is already in us through the Spirit.  And we show the fruit as the gospel continually liberates us from the law and indwelling sin so that we can by God’s grace reveal what God has put into us in Christ.  This is so encouraging when you think about it. This is the fruit of the Spirit—it’s his fruit—it’s within us right now because the Holy Spirit lives in us.  We are in Christ and Christ is in us.  All the spiritual fruit we will ever show is in us right now through the Holy Spirit.  What we do to show the fruit is--by the grace of God--repeatedly and consistently expose ourselves to and believe the gospel at deeper and deeper levels so that through it, we will be liberated to show who we are in Christ.

          Think of it another way.  Remember, we said that all the fruit of the Spirit are attributes of God, which means that if we are showing the fruit of the Spirit, we are being like God.  So, how we are to be like God?  Second Corinthians 3:18 tells us, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”  It’s as we behold the glory of God that we are by degrees being transformed into his image.  Where is the glory of God seen in its most concentrated form?  The gospel.  Paul says that a few verses earlier.  Beginning with verse seven he says, “Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, [the law] came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end,  8will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?  9For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness [through the gospel by the Spirit] must far exceed it in glory. ” 

The ministry of condemnation is the Old Covenant Law of Moses because it laid out God’s standard of righteousness, but gave no power to keep it.  The ministry of righteousness is the New Covenant because we are given new hearts through the Spirit.  That gift of the Spirit is given to us because through the gospel we are forgiven and made righteous.   Jeremiah 31 tells us that at the root of the New Covenant is forgiveness.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” [Jer. 31:34]  If you want to gaze on the glory of God and therefore be increasingly transformed into his image, here’s how you do it--saturate yourself with the most concentrated expression of his glory, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

          So the first reason why the fruit of the Spirit must grow out of the gospel is embedded in a Biblical understanding of “fruit.”  Now, let’s look at the individual “pieces” of fruit to see how the gospel liberates us to increasingly grow in them.  The gospel is implicit in each of the fruit.  That’s the second reason why the fruit of the Spirit must grow out of the gospel.  The first fruit on the list is “love” and that would have to be the first fruit on any Biblical list.  Love is the tap root of all the other fruit because every other fruit is in some way an expression of love.  Paul says in First Corinthians 13:4, “Love is patient and kind…”  Patience and kindness—two fruit Paul lists in Galatians chapter five, are really subsets of love.  When Paul tells us what fulfills all the moral commands of the law, he says in Romans 13:10, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”  If we are mature and comprehensive in our expression of love, then all the other fruit will de-facto be present in our lives.  The New Testament teaches that our capacity to show Biblical love is in direct proportion to how deeply the gospel has penetrated our hearts.  We see this in Luke chapter seven where Jesus is at the home of Simon the Pharisee.  Simon is looking down his self-righteous nose at a woman of ill-repute who is lavishing love on Jesus.  Her love is shown in sharp contrast to Simon’s failure to show Jesus even the most basic expression of hospitality.  Jesus cuts to the heart of the difference between these two and the very different treatment he received from both of them when he says to Simon, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little."  [Luke 7:47]

          Do you want to love God more—the cardinal virtue of the Christian faith?  Do you want to know how to increasingly live in obedience to the Great Commandment?  Jesus says the reason this woman loved him so much is because she was aware that she had been forgiven much.  In other words, love flows out of a deep saturation of the gospel into your heart.  John says the same thing in First John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.”  Our love for God is in response to God’s love for us shown most perfectly in the cross.  Our love for God grows out of the gospel.  And then in verse 20 he says, “If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”  If you love the invisible God, you will love your visible brother as well.  Do you hear what that means?  That means that if you want to love God and your brother, you need to internalize in your heart—take ownership of God’s saving, forgiving, redeeming love for you in the gospel. 

          This is agape—genuine divine, self-sacrificing love, not a fleshly counterfeit.  In fact, it is the truth of the gospel as it penetrates our hearts that helps us to know the difference between when we are showing genuine agape and the self-serving counterfeit.  Love is sacrificial, but you can sacrifice for many reasons.  You can love others Biblically, or you can sacrificially give to others in ways that are ultimately self-serving.  Think about it.  You can just knock yourself out for someone or a church at deep personal cost to yourself, but it isn’t the fruit of Spirit if it’s ultimately about you and not God.  For instance, you give your blood, sweat and tears to someone or some church, NOT because you Biblically love God and them, but because you desperately want their approval—you desperately need them to think highly of you, or to admire you in some way.  That has motivated countless believers to spend themselves for others, but if that is the motive, it’s not agape because those motives are self-serving—to win the approval of others rather show the love of Christ.  Now, there’s always a mixture of motives here—no one except Jesus has shown perfectly untainted, selfless love, but many of us do things that we think are love, when we are primarily motivated by our need for approval.  That’s idolatry because what is ultimately directing and empowering us are other people’s opinions.

          As we expose ourselves to the gospel, it works to purify that self-seeking into more God-centered agape.  As we continue to grow in our knowledge of the gospel—as we continue to truly BELIEVE the gospel, we will increasingly be less dependent upon the approval of others and we will be set free—(that’s what the gospel does—it liberates us) to show the genuine fruit of the Spirit.  The gospel will set you free to love more genuinely.  As you are more and more convinced that you as an undeserving sinner are completely, totally, irrevocably righteous before God and absolutely accepted by him—as you increasingly become convinced that you, as an undeserving sinner, are by God’s mercy approved in Christ because of what he did for you on the cross, your idolatrous desire to please people will gradually loosen its grip on you.  You will be able to say “no” to things that are motivated by your desire to please people because your need to be approved will have been increasingly met in the gospel.

          Tim Keller illustrates this dynamic through a scene in the first “Rocky” movie.  He cites the scene where Rocky confides to his girlfriend before his first championship fight that if he could just go 15 rounds with the champ, he would know he wasn’t a bum.  If he could just DO something good enough, then he would BE someone—that’s works righteousness and so many of us believers are caught in that trap.  The gospel turns that upside down.  Through the gospel, God MAKES US SOMEONE in Christ and that frees us to DO something—show fruit.  If we are convinced in our hearts that though we were “bums,” we have been forgiven and made righteous in Christ, then we will not feel the overwhelmingly strong pull to earn people’s approval through self-serving, counterfeit love.  This sounds so easy, doesn’t it?  That process is at the heart of our sanctification and it’s not easy--it’s very hard because our sinful flesh perpetually pulls us to work to be acceptable apart from Christ and his work and that leads us to be people pleasers.  I wish I could tell you that I have this down.  In reality, I am only beginning here.  Believing the gospel and allowing it to penetrate into every area of our life is a life-long process.  Do I believe--really believe the gospel and therefore liberated to love Biblically, or am I still trying to win approval by killing myself for others?

          That same dynamic holds for each of these fruit of the Spirit.  Joy” –real joy is I think best defined by Philip Ryken.  He says joy is, “the ability to take good cheer from the gospel.”[1]  Joy isn’t about a personality trait.  We often equate joy with people who have a bubbly personality.  That’s twisted.  Joy isn’t rooted in personality or our circumstances.  Joy is the fruit of the Spirit and it comes from being convinced that, no matter what the circumstance, everything in life that really matters…will ultimately be good. God is good and God is glorious and by his incredible, undeserved grace, he has made himself known to me and saved me for all eternity and I will be with him forever.  When that is true—everything else is just details.  But that sounds so idealistic--let’s test that.  For many believers, the worst thing that could happen to us would be if our child or a dearly loved one were to die as an unbeliever.  How do you keep from losing your joy over something like the eternal damnation of your loved ones?  By believing the gospel deeply enough. 

Let me explain.  Though that would be unspeakably grievous to us, we wouldn’t need to lose our joy over it because as you love God more and more in response to what he has done for you through the gospel, you grow in the conviction that what glorifies him the most is what matters to you the most.  Though you still fight in prayer for your loved one’s salvation and grieve deeply over their loss, even their eternal loss does not need to rob you of that deep joy because the gospel has liberated you to love God far more than you love your child.  That means that their eternal destination is not as important to you as the glory of God. And God is glorified whether your child is eternally lost or saved so you can keep your joy.  That’s radical and frankly there aren’t many in the west who are living there, but that is the fruit of the gospel.  This is NOT about loving your kids less—it’s about loving God more and that love for God comes in response to what God has done for us in the gospel.

          Peace” is the absence of both internal and outward interpersonal conflict.  The counterfeit to personal peace is cockiness. A person may have no fear because they are deeply rooted in the gospel of peace, which compels them to trust in God in all circumstances because he sent his only Son to die for them.  Or you can have a counterfeit “peace” because you are so confident that you have what it takes to solve whatever problems you encounter.  That’s not the fruit of the Spirit.  God is so good to put things into our lives that even the most competent person can’t handle and then we discover whether we really believe the gospel.  Patience” is the ability to put up with others even when they are a severe trial to you.  That patience may come in response to the gospel as you become increasingly aware of the seemingly infinite patience God has shown you in the gospel that frees you to show patience to others.  A counterfeit “patience” may be the product of cowardice.  You put up with someone interminably because you are afraid to confront them with the truth.  That’s not the fruit of the Spirit.  That’s a work of the flesh made up to look Christian.  Kindness” and “goodness” are according to one scholar the active side of love.  Patience is passive love—putting up with others.  Kindness and goodness are the active display of loving acts—these are the good works that have been prepared in advance for us to do.  Again, you can counterfeit goodness and kindness if you are trying to convince someone you are a mature Christian by all the great things you do for others.  That’s the flesh.

          Faithfulness” can either be a response to the gospel seen in the fact that we are trustworthy and reliable in response to the fact that Christ’s blood and righteousness have never failed us and so we are free to be faithful to others.  Or we may be faithful and reliable because it feels really great to have the reputation as a faithful person.  Gentleness” is strength under control.  Gentleness may come by beholding the glory of God in the gospel as we meditate on the One who created the world with a word, but who for us chose to be like a Lamb led to slaughter who opened not his mouth.  That’s gospel-driven gentleness.  Or we may be “gentle” because we are people pleasers who don’t like to make waves.  Finally, there is “self-control”—the Spirit’s fruit of being calm in the most stressful or demanding of circumstances.  As it relates to our temper, we may show gospel-driven restraint as we more and more discover how deserving we are of God’s wrath, but by his grace have been given his righteousness instead.  That will produce self-control in you as you are saturated with it.  Or, we may show a measure of restraint for awhile because we are afraid of what others would think if we blew up in anger.  It might be bad for our career.

          We’ve just begun this gospel-driven understanding of the fruit of the Spirit.  Next, week, Lord willing we will finish this section.  For now, may God give us the grace to dispense with the fleshly counterfeits and show fruit rooted in the gospel for our joy and his glory.


[1] Ryken Galatians, p. 233

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