One of my parents’ neighbors is quite a character. He’s lived on their street before my parents moved there in the mid-1980s, and he is probably about 5 years older than me. He has classic car hot rods, and during his late teens and 20s he would rev the engine every morning before going to work. Over and over. I think one time I counted that he did it fifty times, as I was trying to cover my head with a pillow to drown out the sound. The neighbors complained, but it was all part of his persona at the time. What I’m referring to is that he was also a James Dean impersonator. He really looked like the guy, with the big slick wave of hair in front. He would also wear blue jeans and a tucked-in white t-shirt with cigarettes rolled up in the sleeves. As he’s gotten older, my parents have become friends with him, and he really is a good guy. But there was one more thing he did during his teenage years that was part of his persona. He would walk with a super long stride. I remember riding in the bus, watching him crank it out on the sidewalk. We would be wide-eyed looking at his huge steps. And he was fast. It would have been very difficult to keep in step with him.
Are you walking in step with the Spirit? Do you find it awkward or difficult?
In last week’s posts on Galatians 5:16-26, we learned that that when we walk in step with the Spirit we will do two things. First, in verse 24, Paul says that we will crucify the acts of the sinful nature, and second, in verses 22-23, we will leave room for the Spirit to grow his fruit in our lives. Last week we talked about the first part, crucifying the sinful nature. For the next nine sermons we’ll talk about the Fruit of the Spirit. One per week.
As we get started, we need to address a few issues. First, the fruit of the Spirit is not plural. It is not “fruits.” It is a singular noun, meaning that the fruit is a total package. God wants us to grow all these qualities in our lives. Not just one for now, then another one sometime else. When we are led by the Spirit, when we walk with the Spirit, we will see all these qualities growing in us.
Second, growing the fruit of the Spirit is not a passive exchange. As if we are robots waiting for God to upload his fruit into our lives.
Look that words Paul uses. They are activities that we do. They are choices that we make. Qualities that we strive for. We make a choice to be led by the Spirit. This is a very humble posture, saying, “Spirit I need you, lead me.” We also actively walk in step with the Spirit. Have you ever tried to walk in step with someone, like my neighbor? You have watch their gait and then adjust yours so you match.
As I mentioned above, I wonder if we think about the Holy Spirit like that. Wondering if we don’t know how to keep in step with the Spirit, or maybe if we do know what his stride is like, we think to ourselves, “It’s too difficult to live like that.”
That’s why growing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives has a direct connection to discipleship. Let me explain.
To grow the fruit of the Spirit, we must first believe that growing the fruit in our lives is the best way to live. The way of Jesus is what he called The Abundant Life. Too often, though, while we can believe that the fruit of the Spirit describes the best way to live, we might not want to do the work to grow the fruit in our lives. Belief is easy. Wanting to change and then actually working toward change is another story.
Have you ever heard someone use the phrase, “That’s just the way I am”? Maybe you’re one who uses that phrase about yourself. Often people use the phrase like this, “That’s just the way I am, and I am not changing.”
We humans can talk boldly, proudly that way, believing that we are being accepting of ourselves, as if that is mature. It might be mature. But it might not. What it too often masks is an immaturity, a fear of the hard work of change. That’s not how a disciple of Jesus talks.
Certain qualities of the Fruit of the Spirit might be more difficult for you than others. A given personality type might have a hard time with gentleness, kindness and self-control, for example. But disciples of Jesus, no matter your personality type, no matter your upbringing, no matter who you are, will want to have the fruit of the Spirit growing from you and that means you will work towards keeping in step with the Spirit.
When we want the fruit of the Spirit, we take action to adjust our life to get in step with his Spirit. That’s what a disciple does. A disciple changes his own life in order to follow, learn from, and do what Jesus does.
This is hardly possible if your practice of discipleship is primarily summed up by sitting in church worship services for an hour every now and then. Even if you attend worship services every week, what we do in worship services is not what God actually wants. Sermons can too easily be lectures where we listen, maybe think “that was nice,” and then do nothing. As a pastor, I’d rather not preach if that was all there was. Most Christians don’t need to learn all that much more. We need to apply what we know. Make change. We need to actively and intentionally look for the Spirit and seek to make our stride match his. That means seeking to have all these various qualities flowing from our lives.
Where the Lord really speaks and uses sermons is not in the sitting and listening, but in the follow-through. That takes accountability. Do you have a prayer partner or an accountability partner that you meet with on a regular basis? If so, would you talk with them about this blog series, asking them to help you grow the fruit of the Spirit. If you don’t have an accountability partner or mentor, how about selecting one now at the beginning of the series? Maybe you could gather with a small group, or used these posts with your small group.
Finally, my dad pointed out to me that the Fruit of the Spirit are primarily intended to describe how we relate to people. Yes, the Spirit is at work helping to grow these qualities in our lives, but the Spirit grows these qualities to help us in our relationships with people.
There are nine qualities in the list of fruit. This week we start with the most important one, the foundation, love.