The Christian life is not a playground; it’s a battlefield. Since we are in a war, and the world, the flesh, and the devil are always working against the Spirit’s agenda, we must get serious about sanctification, overcoming sin, and becoming like Christ. But we cannot do it without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.Gal. 5:22-26
“But” indicates that what is to follow is in contrast to the works of the sinful flesh, the Holy Spirit produces a harvest of righteousness in the believer’s life. To reap the harvest of walking in the Spirit, you need to occupy yourself with four ongoing actions…
Recognize the outworking of the Spirit’s sanctifying work (vv. 22-23).
“But the fruit” in contrast to the works of the flesh. Jesus used gardening language when describing our growth in Him (John 15:1-5). The fruit of the Spirit is the outworking of the new life of Christ which is active within you. William MacDonald writes, “It is significant that the apostle distinguishes between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. Works are produced by human energy. Fruit is grown as a branch abides in the vine (John 15:5). They differ as a factory and a garden differ.”
Notice that “fruit” is singular. It is not fruits, but fruit. The fruit is Christlike character. The primary evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power in a believer’s life is not some form of bizarre behavior, but that of stable, godly character that reflects Christlikeness. So, again, we are reminded that God’s goal for us is to become conformed to the image of his Son: For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29). Other Scriptures indicate the same Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:13).
What does it look like to be becoming more and more like Jesus? There will be a harvest of righteousness. You and others will see that you are growing in the following nine virtues. No doubt, as the list of the works of the flesh was not exhaustive, so this list is not either.
- LOVE is the supreme Christlike virtue. “The greatest of these is love,” as Paul says in 1 Corinthians. Love holds all the other character qualities together (Col. 3:14). Love is the demonstration of putting others before yourself. It is the outworking of the life of God within you (Eph. 5:1-2).
- JOY is an inner stability of spirit. It’s being satisfied with God and how his will is being worked out in your life. It opposes the striving of the spirit that too often characterizes us, because we are discontent. Joy is finding one’s contentment in Christ, not in our circumstances, and in knowing him more and more.
- PEACE probably includes both dimensions of peace: Peace with God, as the Spirit bears witness with your spirit that you are a child of God, and the peace of God, as you walk in prayerful dependence upon the Spirit your anxiety is brought under his control.
- PATIENCE is longsuffering. This kind of patience is not easily annoyed, but describes the patience that awaits God’s will to be done in your trials and suffering, and in God’s timing. Longsuffering waits for God to vindicate you of false accusations, while you continue to love your enemies and pray for them.
- KINDNESS is as the ESV Study Bible says, “Kindness means showing goodness, generosity, and sympathy toward others.” Romans 2:4 says this is the attribute of God that brings us to repentance. Paul asks the religious person who is trusting in his good works to save him: Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
- GOODNESS is kindness in action. The Good Samaritan models this kind of character. While the Levite and the priest avoided the wounded man, as if he was a leper, the Samaritan outcast drew near and met his needs.
- FAITHFULNESS refers to trust in God which leads to obedience to God. But it also refers to being a person that people can rely upon. Sadly, this is an often-neglected character quality. Everyone just wants to follow their heart, instead of following God and being faithful to others (1 Cor. 4:2).
- GENTLENESS is the combination of humility and servanthood. In the four Gospels, Jesus only once describes himself in a personal way: “I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29).
- SELF-CONTROL is the ability to govern yourself. You don’t need others to govern you, because you have learned to say No to your own fleshly desires, and yes to the Spirit. This quality describes the person whose life is disciplined. It’s the opposite of laziness.
Against this fruit “there is no law.” If these qualities are becoming more and more evident in your life, there is less and less of a need for outside governance. Instead, you are learning to govern yourself from inside, as you walk in the strength of the Spirit.
Represent Christ and your union with Him (v. 24).
“Those who belong to Christ” are true believers. The harvest of fruit, or the lack of a harvest of the fruit of the Spirit, says something about your true spiritual condition. Believers “have crucified the flesh,” which refers to a completed action in the past. It’s referring to what happened at the moment of your conversion. Armand Tiffe has published a helpful personal Bible study of Romans 6. It’s entitled The Liberating Truth of Romans 6. Working through that study will give you a firmer grasp on your position in Christ, and how Christ sets us free from our sinful habits and lazy tendencies. God says that your sinful passions and desires were crucified when you first came to Christ. So why return to them? Why would you want to return to that which once enslaved you?
Relinquish control to the Spirit’s leadership (v.25).
“If” means since. Since you are a new creature in Christ. Since the life of God now dwells within you, in the person of the Holy Spirit, do not be controlled by your sinful flesh. Instead, walk in submission to the Spirit. The word walk here, in verse 25, is a different word than the one used previously. Here it means to keep in step, or march in line, with the Spirit (see also Eph. 5:15-21).
Repent of prideful attitudes and actions (v. 26).
Pride is an enemy. It is the enemy of the development of Christlike character. When you say in your heart, “I’m not going to change that part of my life” then you are demonstrating a stubborn determination to remain in control. Instead, the Holy Spirit wants to help you change—to be humble, flexible, and moldable like a lump of soft clay. Paul mentions three prideful attitudes to repent of.
- Conceited = holding false, empty opinions of yourself. This is the person who enjoys always being the center of attention. Christians should not be puffed up, larger-than-life characters.
- Provoking one another = challenging one another, describes the person who is argumentative simply because they enjoy a verbal fight. It flows from and feeds pride.
- Envying one another = craving what others have, due to your own discontent. MacDonald says, “Envy begrudges another person’s superior success, talents, possessions, or good looks.”
He goes on to say, “All such attributes are foreign to grace.” Wherever you see these attitudes in your life, you need to repent of them. You need to humble yourself and esteem others are more important than yourself.
God’s call is clear. In Christ, we are called to walk in a manner that is worthy of our calling. But we cannot do this successfully without the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. As we yield the control of our mind and heart to the Spirit’s will, as revealed in the Word of God, we will see His fruit become increasingly evident in our lives. Seeing progress in your Christian life is the chief means by which God builds assurance of your salvation (2 Pet. 1:3-11). This is the work of God’s grace in our lives, not only saving us, but transforming us into the image and likeness of Jesus.