Recently, I began our study on these verses with the following words, which are worth repeating. “The Christian way of life is based on the good news of Jesus, and it develops through that same good news. Christ died and rose again to set us free, and by the Holy Spirit he continues to set us free. What Jesus Christ does for us is good; in fact when compared with the works of the flesh, it is tremendously, beautifully, overwhelmingly, surpassingly, stunningly good.” Verses like these show the excellence of what our Lord continues to do in us.
It is necessary to start with Christ and the gospel, because of two perspectives that form the true Christian way of life.
The perspective of grace – We do not live for Jesus Christ in the realm of the law or the flesh (human effort). The true Christian happens because we’re united to Christ by grace through faith, and not by works. Being joined to Christ means we are in his spiritual realm and are changed by his almighty power by the Holy Spirit.
The perspective of worship – We live for Jesus Christ in response to the grace we have received in him. Think of what the apostle Paul wrote in Romans. Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Rm 12:1-2).
In the previous message we saw first that the Holy Spirit starts the production of his fruit in a Christian’s life at the time of regeneration. He unites us to the crucified, risen and ascended Christ, who powerfully produces change into his image. This is the fruit of the Spirit. Then we briefly considered each of the nine parts listed in this text of this manifold fruit. The first three are like basic defining traits, and the other six develop in our interactions in the gospel community. Now let us think more about the fruit of the Spirit.
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
III. The Holy Spirit produces this way of life in all Christians to some degree.
A. Two contrasts
1. Contrast the fruit of the Spirit with the works of the flesh. The sin principle expresses itself differently in different people or in different groups of people. Some pursue one course of sin, and others another, due to family background, peer pressure, emotional trauma, personality, local culture, education, opportunity to commit a sin, etc, etc. But the Spirit’s fruit is unified. (Notice the singular.) He means to transform the believer’s way of life in every area.
2. Contrast with the gifts of the Spirit. All believers do not have the same spiritual gift. There is diversity in the body of Christ in regard to gifts received (1 Cor 12:14-31). But the Spirit lives within all of us to produce Christ-likeness (Rm 8:29). This is the great goal.
B. Paul plainly uses the singular, fruit, here rather than the plural.
1. The aim is not to show separate spiritual graces but the various aspects of the one harvest. They are not like nine different jewels, but the various facets of one diamond.
2. You can’t pursue “fractional Christianity”: 1/9, 2/9, 3/9, etc. The Spirit of God aims to produce Christ-like people, not those noted for a few select virtues. Don’t merely strive to be “a joyful Christian”, as if you could be that and not also be kind and faithful.
Apply: We ought to be looking for wholeness in our lives. Do you see all aspects of the Spirit’s fruit developing in your way of life?
IV. The Holy Spirit produces his fruit through the use of spiritual means by his power.
A. The Spirit powerfully uses our responsible activity in cultivating a new way of life in us.
1. He uses the Bible, whether received through preaching, teaching, reading, music (Col 3:16) or individual study, to transform our thinking. For example, “Here is what you are in Christ by saving grace. Now make your condition (your way of life) agree with your position (what you are and have in Christ).” It can happen as we sing a song like “In Christ Alone” or “All I Have Is Christ”.
2. He uses the prayer of faith. The Spirit of Christ burdens us to pray that we in believing may receive Christ’s help (cf. Eph 3:14-19).
3. He uses the fellowship of believers (the gospel community). As we meet together in the Spirit, he uses us to serve one another in love, to encourage one another, to exhort one another and to spur one another on to love and to good works (Heb 3:12-13; 10:24-25). This means of the Spirit’s work has been sadly undervalued and unappreciated in our individualistic culture. We need our thinking radically transformed by the Word at this point.
a. We tend to look at godliness as a personal matter, and so pick-up a “self-made” focus that leads us to boast in our achievements. This is contrary to the Scriptures, where these graces or virtues “are always brought under the viewpoint of brotherly communion and the upbuilding of the church, and not, as in the Greek ethic, under that of character formation…” (Ridderbos, quoted by Fung). Consider also Eph 4:15-16; Col 3:12-15.
b. It takes all of us together to be the bride and body of Christ and the temple in which the Holy Spirit lives with glory. Through our life of love together we show together that we are Christ’s disciples. We are, as Francis Schaffer said in the 1970’s, “the final apologetic”—what demonstrates the reality of Jesus Christ before a watching world. But we must do this together.
Quote: “We all have a part to play in building a home for God. We need one another in order to be a healthy, growing church. This means that everyone else needs you, and you need everyone else. You need to help others change. And you need to let others help you change.
“Together we extol Christ to one another, and we each bring distinct harmonies to the song. We comfort one another with the comfort we have received (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). Our different experiences of God’s grace become part of the rich counsel that we in the church have for one another. Moreover, in the Christian community there is a collective persistence that’s stronger than any individual can manage. When I grow weary of speaking truth to a particular situation, someone else will take up the baton. We’re like a choir singing the praises of Jesus. No one can sustain the song continually on his or her own, but together we can” (Chester, You Can Change, pp. 153-154).
B. The Spirit also directly acts in us to produce his fruit.
1. He strengthens us spiritually (Eph 3:16). He enables us to stand in the evil days when the spiritual forces of evil attack us.
2. He fills us with the knowledge of God’s will (Col 1:9). He gives us a continual renewal to look at life in conformity with the truth that is in Jesus.
3. He testifies that we are God’s children (Rm 8:16). He maintains our sense of our basic identity, so that we may live to please the Lord.
4. He rests on us (1 Pt 4:14). He fills us with a sense of glory when we must walk through suffering. He comes to provide comfort and encouragement during life’s darkest and most difficult circumstances.
Hymn: “How Firm a Foundation”
C. The Spirit produces his fruit over a period of time. There is no instant fruit bearing, no instant transformation. In our culture, we want or even demand instant everything. Yet the Spirit of God works slowly, thoroughly and deeply to produce Christ-likeness.
1. As no fruit farmer plants a tree one day and looks to pick fruit from it the next, so the Holy Spirit patiently works to bring forth fruit in Christ’s followers. And the fruit, a godly way of life, inevitably appears.
2. Different aspects may appear at different times, yet all eventually come. Think of how fruit grows. First, you pick the strawberries, then the cherries and raspberries, then the blueberries and blackberries, and finally the apples.
3. Different types of fruit may appear more plentifully at various times. One year there are more cherries than apples. The next year the opposite may be true. So then, you and I may not always excel in the same areas. In a new test, he may develop other spiritual fruit that we have not yet strongly displayed.
4. Different Christians, like different trees, will vary in their fruitfulness. But don’t say, “I’m just a lousy tree.” Each one is to become more fruitful (Jn 15:2). Since you are united to Christ, the Spirit will make you more fruitful.
Apply: What aspect of his fruit is the Spirit now developing in you? Look at the nine listed in our text. And then meditate on these from Colossians 3:12. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Where is the Holy Spirit transforming you? How is he doing it? Do you desire the change he is bringing in you?