©Douglas Beyer 2000


growing in my CHARACTER
Galatians 5:22-23

The world has always been full of religious nuts. With a long list of do's and don'ts they try to regulate their own and everybody else's behavior to their liking. They are full of good advice, but empty of good news for those whose character fails to conform to their legal regulations. Not even Jesus measured up to their standards. Their religion does not address our deepest need. The one thing we don't need is some religious nut handing us a new rule book. As one man said to his wife who belonged to Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility in Lake Wobegon, "Why do I need to go to church? I already know how to be better than I am."

What Jesus wants is not religious nuts but spiritual fruit. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness self-control; against such there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23).

Christian character is formed not by outward compulsion but by inward compassion—not by legal regulation but by spiritual reformation. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit who lives within you. If you are filled with the Holy Spirit, you will produce the fruits of the Spirit as surely as an apple tree produces apples—not because there is a law on the books saying, "Thou shalt produce apples," but because it is your nature to do so.

The apostle Paul lists three clusters of fruit. The first is personal, the second is interpersonal, and the third is regulatory.

Presonal fruit First Cluster: Personal Fruit

Love is the "first fruit" of the Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4) and since God is love (1 John 4:16), the first effect of the Spirit's presence in your life is love.

The circumference of your character is measured by the radius of your love. Jesus asked, "If you love those who love you, what reward do you get? (Mat. 5:46). Unless your love reaches beyond the close circle of immediate friends, your "reward" is to be confined to the tiny island of self, cut off from the world God loves (John 3:16) and would love through you.

Of course it's difficult. Those who deserve your love least often need it the most. As a bulletin graffiti poet put it:

  To live in love with the saints above,
       O that would be glory!
  But to live below with the saints we know,
       O that's a different story!

Philosopher George Santayana said, "Love is very penetrating because it penetrates to the possibilities in people rather than to the facts about them." The facts may be very ugly, but the possibilities in people are as bright as the promises of God. The same God who though his Spirit lives in you also lives in them — at least potentially. You stand on holy ground whenever you stand close to a Christian brother or sister.

Martin Luther observed, "Too many Christians envy the sinners their pleasure and the saints their joy because they have neither." People lack joy in life not because they are Christians, but because they aren't Christian enough. No one has any greater reason to be happy than spirit-filled Christians. They are joyful not because they are trying to find joy, but because it springs forth from the Holy Spirit within them like fruit on a tree. Their joy is produced not by what is around them but by what is within them. Those who have experienced the true joy of the Lord will never be satisfied with merely having fun.

Peace is not just a human achievement; it is a divine gift (John 14:27). It is the holy calm breathed into the human soul by a forgiving God. Over and above all your frustrated efforts to keep the peace there is a peace that keeps you. "The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7).

Second Cluster: Interpersonal Fruits

Longsuffering (patience)
Interpersonal fruitThe heart that has peace with God has patience with people. Some people seem to be born losers, but Christians are born again losers. They have learned how to lose their lives that they might find them (Mat. 16:25-26). Self-seekers never find themselves. On the other hand, through selfless service to others Christians discover and develop their true selves — the kind of person the Father created, the Son redeemed and the Spirit renews from within.

Suffering itself requires no talent. It attacks us, often without warning, and takes us captive. But what then? The Holy Spirit within us enables us, like Jesus, to suffer long. Because "love suffers long" (1 Corinthians 13:4), when we are slighted, we slight the slight and love the slighter.

It may be that impatient people get things started, but it is patient people who get things done. A young boy was lovingly patting his father's old work horse when someone asked, "Can your horse run fast?"

"No," he answered, "but he can stand fast!"

The Holy Spirit enables us to stand fast under great stress.

Gentleness (kindness)
Gentleness, or kindness, as it is more often translated, is the fruit of the Spirit most highly prized by others in the lives of Christians. Wives look for it in their Christian husbands, and husbands in their Christian wives. Children look for it in their Christian parents and parents in their children. The unsaved especially look for it in the lives of Christians and often take it to be the point at which their faith is validated or judged to be hypocrisy. Kindness has converted many more sinners than zeal, eloquence or argument.

If someone were to pay you a dollar for every kind word you have spoken and collected fifty cents for every unkind word, would you be rich or poor? The most persuasive evidence of the Holy Spirit's presence in the lives of Christians is their kindness. Where kindness is absent, we may assume that the Spirit is absent or, at least grieved (Ephesians 4:29-32).

Abraham Lincoln said, "Kindness is the only service that will stand the storms of life and will not wash out. It will wear well, look well, and be remembered long after the prism of politeness or the complexion of courtesy has faded away. When I am gone, I hope it can be said of me that I plucked a thistle and planted a flower wherever I thought a flower would grow."

The fruit of goodness is a hybrid variety of kindness—the flavor of each enhanced by the other. Goodness is found on everybody's plate, kindness on the plate of the hurting and starving. The spirit-filled Christian is good to everyone, but kind to those who are especially needy.

Jesus quibbled with the lawyer, "Why do you call me good? There is none good but God" (Mark 10:18), thereby making a subtle allusion to his own deity. But if God the Holy Spirit who is good dwells within the Christian, his fruit in the Christian's life is goodness. The fruit of goodness corrects the vitamin deficiency which the Reformed theologians called original sin and total depravity. "Good-nature," Henry Ward Beecher wrote, "is one of the richest fruits of true Christianity."

Regulatory fruitThird Cluster: Regulatory Fruit

The first three fruits of the Spirit are personal. Love, joy and peace are part of the inner consciousness of the Christian. The next three fruits are interpersonal. Longsuffering, gentleness, and goodness are what the Christian needs in dealing with others. The last three fruits are regulatory. Faith, meekness and self-control are what the Christian needs to provide a balanced diet of all spiritual fruits. You cannot grow strong in your Christian character by "pigging out" on any one of the fruits of the Spirit. That's why you need the third cluster.

Faith, or faithfulness, as it is more often translated, is not a mystic sensation that comes on rare occasions, but a sturdy confidence in God who directs all you do. It is saying "Amen," to the Heavenly Father. It is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation. It is not trying to believe something regardless of the evidences, but daring to do something regardless of the consequences.

  "Some bear faith in their hands — like gold,
  A precious thing to own;
  Some build a wall of faith, and crouch
  Behind the sheltering stone.
  But mine shall be a golden flame
  That warms me with its light,
  And all who look will smile to see
  My candle in the night.      (Audrey Carpenter)

All the fruits of the Spirit will begin to stink the moment the mold of spiritual pride touches them. They must be disinfected with meekness.

That is not to say the Christian's character will be timid and mousy. Meekness has been too often confused with weakness. It is strong enough to inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). Anyone can be meek before circumstances or events, but the Spirit-filled Christian is meek before God. That kind of meekness becomes strength when it faces the trials of living. The word translated meekness means "under control, tamed." It was used of taming wild horses. Their spirit is not broken, but broken in and harnessed for service. The spirit of the meek Christian is not broken, but broken in and harnessed for service. The great Biblical expositor, Matthew Henry, defined meekness as "the opposite of self-will toward God and ill-will toward others."

None of the regulatory fruits of the Spirit is suited to the taste of our generation which is sated with the junk-food of self-indulgence. Besides, people of our day much prefer the sweetness of love, joy, and peace to the tartness of faithfulness, meekness, and self-control.

Without self-control, however, the rest of the Spirit's fruits will be unused or misused. Love becomes saccharine sentimentality, joy becomes heady euphoria, peace becomes complacency, patience becomes leniency, kindness becomes blandness, goodness becomes self-righteousness, faithfulness becomes slavishness, and gentleness becomes weakness.

The wise Solomon counseled: "It is better to win control over yourself than over whole cities (Proverbs 16:32 TEV). Aristotle concurs: "I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is the victory over self."

The Spirit produces fruit in our lives enabling us to grow in our character with Christ. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. Against such there is no law. And for such there is no law. It cannot be commanded from without; it must grow from the Spirit within until we are remade in the image of Jesus Christ.


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