Fruit of the Spirit: steady ripening
by Marion Van Driel
Heavenly Father, I pray that this day I may live in your presence and please you more and more.
Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.
Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Prayer that John Stott prayed every morning on rising)
Theologian John Stott was convinced that in addition to the Spirit’s fruit, God’s word must take deep root within us if we are to mature into Christlikeness. Without a steady diet of the word, we are no more able to cultivate the Spirit’s fruit within us than a runner can complete a marathon without adequate hydration. If we make John Stott’s prayer our own, we will naturally be drawn to scripture as our desire to be like Christ becomes more and more urgent.
Untouchable by law
The heart of Christ, characterized by the Spirit’s fruit, is above the law. It is a kind of “high road” that the law does not – indeed cannot – touch. Immediately after describing the Spirit’s fruit, “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” Paul says, “… against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal 5:22-25). In his book, Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit, Christopher J. H. Wright adds that Paul’s view is that no law is able to make people act in this way. This kind of generous living must come from within. Wright explains, “…such behavior flows from the Person who dwells within you, (remember Gal 4:19) as Christ is formed in you and the Spirit of Christ bears his fruit in your life.” For this reason, he reveals, it is not a list to be checked off – as if we might have some but not the others. No, this is a package deal, unlike the gifts of the Spirit that are bestowed specifically and individually. Every characteristic of the Spirit’s fruit joins with the others to make the fruit lovely, desirable and whole.
The opposing directive Paul gives is that we have crucified our old nature and therefore no longer captive to our passions and desires. Wright admits that this is very strong language; simply because we are maturing in the Spirit, does not mean we won’t sin. We are children of a merciful God, saved by grace, even as we are growing by grace. Still, we are called to be intentional about our choices each day as we continue to crucify our old habits that do us and others harm. “It has nothing to do with legalism or earning God’s favour by good behavior,” Wright says. Instead, Paul teaches us that it is all about grace – “the grace that saves us is also the grace that teaches us.” The same grace that offers salvation also teaches us to oppose ungodly desires and passions (Titus 2).
Just as good parents and teachers instruct children to say “no” to harmful behaviours, we do the same as adults. Making it personal, he gives a list of things that, as a Christian saved by grace and taught by grace, I have to say “no” to, making it very clear to myself what they are (see sidebar above). In this way, rather than adopting a legalistic attitude, I accept Christ’s call to a liberating self-discipline that brings deep joy and abundant life.
Paul’s words, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” are translated in Greek, says Wright, as “Since we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us march.” The Spirit directs us into a wholesome and adventurous journey – God living within us through Christ. This life includes risk, trust and obedience. Anyone who has been in a marching band or the military corps knows the importance of paying attention. When the leader says “turn right”, the marchers don’t veer off to the left, or stop, they don’t keep marching. Soldiers are trained to keep in step. Christ’s followers are trained, by the word, to listen to the music and beat of the Spirit, following His cadence.
The apostle James instructs us to place our feet in Jesus’ footsteps, being doers of the word. Our thinking, our doing, our love of mercy, justice and humble walk with the Father, Son and Spirit depend on the Spirit’s fruit ripening within. We say “yes” to the character of Christ as we cultivate the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control that makes His harvest bountiful and beautiful.