Completed by the Spirit Part 15: Producing Fruit, Not Inspecting Fruit

Ed Trefzger

Ed Trefzger

This is the 15th part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

While we have seen that the law is inef­fec­tual against sin, and (as Paul argues) that the law pro­motes sin in sin­ful flesh, and while we have just seen that it is love that ful­fills the two tables of the law, we then must ask, “What, accord­ing to Paul, pro­duces growth in holi­ness?” And that brings us to the great antithe­sis between the Spirit and the flesh that Paul expounds in Gala­tians 5. Let’s empha­size once again that Paul is writ­ing to the church. He is not writ­ing a trea­tise solely on jus­ti­fi­ca­tion by faith. He reminds the Gala­tians, as we noted above, “You were run­ning well!” These are believ­ers that Paul is cau­tion­ing against turn­ing from the Spirit.

[16] But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not grat­ify the desires of the flesh. [17] For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Gal 5:16–17)

While the strug­gling man of Romans 7 may or may not be a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the unre­gen­er­ate man fac­ing despair in try­ing to obey the law, the man addressed by Paul is one who fights the Chris­t­ian fight, the war between the flesh and the Spirit.

[18] But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. [19] Now the works of the flesh are evi­dent: sex­ual immoral­ity, impu­rity, sen­su­al­ity, [20] idolatry, sor­cery, enmity, strife, jeal­ousy, fits of anger, rival­ries, dis­sen­sions, divi­sions, [21] envy, drunk­en­ness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the king­dom of God. (Gal 5:18–21)

There is a con­nec­tion between liv­ing under the influ­ence of the law and liv­ing in the flesh. Paul has already explained to us that the law pro­motes sin in man’s flesh, and Schreiner explains Paul’s argument:

Those who “are led by the Spirit … are not under the law.” (Gal 5:18). Those who yield to the Spirit are free from the law. For Paul, being under law is the equiv­a­lent to being under the power of sin (cf. Rom. 6:14–15). His point is not that those who live in the Spirit are free from all moral norms or moral con­straints, as if those who live in the Spirit enjoy unbri­dled free­dom. Instead, those who yield to the Spirit con­quer sin and live in love. Those who are still sub­ject to the law end up pro­duc­ing the works of the flesh (Gal 5:19–21). Those who are led by and walk by the Spirit pro­duce the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23).[1]

And what is the fruit of the Spirit? The fruit of the Spirit is not cre­ated by inspect­ing fruit. The per­pet­u­ally pen­i­tent believer (see Com­pleted by the Spirit Part 4) who “repeat­edly con­demns him­self, deplores his wretched­ness and despairs over his lack of sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion” is work­ing against the Spirit and try­ing to fix him­self in the flesh. It is the one who relies on the Spirit who obtains the joy that Paul describes; not the one in bondage to self-condemnation:

[22] But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kind­ness, good­ness, faith­ful­ness, [23] gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. [24] And those who belong to Christ Jesus have cru­ci­fied the flesh with its pas­sions and desires.

[25] If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Gal 5:22–25)

That walk by the Spirit finds its pro­to­type in Jesus Him­self declares Sin­clair Fer­gu­son, who writes:

The fact that Jesus was the Man of the Spirit is, there­fore, not merely a the­o­log­i­cal cat­e­go­riza­tion; it was flesh-and-blood real­ity. What was pro­duced in him was fully real­ized human holi­ness. He was the incar­na­tion of the blessed life of the covenant and of the kingdom-beatitudes which are its fruit.[2]

Meyer makes a con­nec­tion between the call in Romans 7 to “serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the writ­ten code,” and the fruit of the Spirit:

Bear­ing fruit for God means serv­ing in the new­ness of the Spirit. That is, the Spirit gives birth to new­ness and fuels “new life” fur­ther. … The com­par­i­son between “fruit” and “new­ness” is enlight­en­ing for the whole dis­cus­sion. Fruit grows on a tree because of the root sys­tem that causes its growth. The root sys­tem accounts for the ori­gin of the fruit (i.e., gives birth to the fruit) and acts as the cat­a­lyst that causes fur­ther growth (i.e., pro­vid­ing the water and nutri­ents that are nec­es­sary for growth). In the same way, the Spirit accounts for the ori­gin of new life (Spirit cre­ates new life) and acts as the cat­a­lyst for future life (Spirit pro­duces new life). … “In new­ness of the Spirit and not in old­ness of the let­ter” of Rom 7:6 is com­pa­ra­ble to the phrase “min­is­ters of a new covenant, not of the let­ter but of the Spirit” in 2 Cor 3:6.[3]

The Holy Spirit work­ing in the God-Man Jesus Christ pro­duced the pro­to­type for our glo­ri­fied selves. That which we will one day be in glory has been given to us now in the Spirit within us.

We strive to be that which we already are by walk­ing in the Spirit until the time when Christ “will trans­form our lowly body to be like his glo­ri­ous body” (Phil 3:21).

We do not do it by becom­ing slaves to sin, we do not do it by becom­ing adul­ter­ers now that the King has come for His betrothed, and we do not do it through anguished, externally-driven, dis­mal self-righteousness pro­duced by the dan­ger­ous doc­trine of the third use of the law.

Next: Com­pleted by the Spirit Part 16: Exhorted in our Union With Christ

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[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, New Tes­ta­ment The­ol­ogy: Mag­ni­fy­ing God in Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Aca­d­e­mic, 2008), 484.
[2] Sin­clair B. Fer­gu­son, The Holy Spirit (Down­ers Grove, IL: 1996), 52.
[3] Jason C. Meyer, The End of the Law: Mosaic Covenant in Pauline The­ol­ogy(Nashville: B&H Pub­lish­ing Group, 2009), 47–8.

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