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Cultivating Christian character (3) – Healthy and effective fruit

September 2004 | by Kieran Beville

Love can never be fully understood without a spiritual comprehension of the love of God, particularly as it was displayed at Calvary. It is impossible to experience true joy unless we have a right relationship with God.

How can any person know the real meaning of peace, and experience its the true value, if they are not first at peace with God? The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, can only flow from this harmonious relationship — a life lived in reverence for God.

It is in knowing the patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control of God himself — appropriated in our lives through mercy and grace — that we see these virtues in their true light and are enabled to manifest the fruit of the indwelling Spirit.

Healthy development

There is a connection between the root and the fruit — those who are grounded in the Word of God will grow to be healthy and strong, and fruit will be the outcome. The psalmist explains:

‘Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither’ (Psalm 1:1-3).

We too must ensure that we are rooted, not in the scornful ways of the world, but beside the water brooks and fertile soil of God’s Word. The church has a responsibility here — to provide such spiritual irrigation and ‘soil management’ that tender shoots may grow to maturity in Christ.

We also need pest control! There are pests in the spiritual world, just as in horticulture — unscriptural ideas and attitudes that threaten to retard development. In this regard, preventative measures are better than remedial action, though both strategies may need to be employed. Again, God’s Word is our guide.

Lastly, the great Gardener may need to prune the sapling. It is his technique for ensuring healthy development and optimum fruit-bearing (John 15:1-8).

Walking in the Spirit

Galatians 5:16 commands us to ‘walk in the Spirit’. This is something we must do for ourselves. The Holy Spirit does not coerce believers into behaving in a manner consistent with their beliefs.

Rather, he works within us through the Word, increasing our desire to co-operate with his divine activity to modify our attitudes and actions. We grow and mature spiritually as we yield to his divine authority in our lives.

If we are true believers, the Spirit resides in our hearts. But if we are to bring forth his fruit he must reign there also. The Holy Spirit should be sovereign, not subordinate, in heart and mind, emotions and will.

The seed within

Last month we identified some similarities between ordinary fruit and spiritual fruit. Let us develop this a little further, using ‘seed’ as a picture firstly of the inner spiritual life of the believer and secondly of the gospel of Christ.

As physical fruit protects the seed within, so the spiritual fruit of ‘love, joy, peace, [etcetera]’ protects our spiritual lives (the seed that ‘remains’ within us, 1 John 3:9) from harmful influences — such as opposition, ridicule, rejection and persecution.

Secondly, just as God designed natural fruit for the purpose of propagating seed, so God desires that the precious seed of his Word be dispersed in a manner conducive to its positive reception — leading to the regeneration of others. The fruit of the Spirit is a vital ingredient of evangelism.

One example of this is the Christian home, where the new generation receives an excellent start by being surrounded by fruitful example — a true reserve of nutrient material.

Children reared in an environment of love, joy, peace and so on, are better able to survive the strains and stresses of life. But more than that, they are more likely to have receptive hearts — where the seed of the gospel can germinate, take root and grow for the glory of God.

Church life

In the natural world, fruit and the seed it contains are hugely important economically, being a primary source of food. In the spiritual realm also the fruit of the Spirit is of immense value to the well being of the church.

Consider how the fruit of the Spirit in its splendid variety provides nourishment for our souls. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are not only evidence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer — they also provide the perfect conditions for the healthy development of church life.

Such fruit is the nutrient material that sustains healthy and happy relationships within the body of Christ and attracts hungry souls to seek salvation in him.

Fruitlessness condemned

It is instructive to recall the account of Christ and the fig tree in Matthew 21:18-19, where we read these words: ‘Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it, except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered’.

What are we to make of this? Was it an intemperate outburst? Certainly not! In this incident Christ comes as creator to his creation, seeking the fruit it was intended to bear. It is a source of disappointment to Jesus that the fig tree is barren and he leaves us in no doubt that such an object is worthless.

God forbid that he should come to us, as his new creation in Christ, seeking the fruit of the Holy Spirit and find none! If we are barren in this regard we disappoint the heart of God — and call in question our profession.

Being effective

Every true disciple of Jesus desires to be effective and productive (fruitful). When a believer lacks the fruit of the Spirit he is impotent. Thus Peter urges, ‘For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.

‘For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 1:5-8).

The fruit of the Spirit is Christlikeness — and we are challenged to cultivate this essentially Christian character in a corrupt, carnal and cynical world. Let us, therefore, walk in the Spirit and glorify God.

Working for God’s glory

Paul advises the church in Galatia to ‘walk in the Spirit’, which means to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit — the ideal virtues listed in Galatians 5:22-23. We must not think of it as merely human advice. Paul writes as the agent of the Holy Spirit.

We live in an age of ‘non-directive counselling’, when Christian pastors are reluctant to tell their people how to live. Up to a point this is both right and scriptural. But we must not neglect biblical exhortation. It is imperative that we grasp the fact that the admonitions of God’s Word are not ‘take it if you like and leave it if you don’t’ advice.

Rather, prompted by the Holy Spirit, Paul is directing believers everywhere how they should live for the glory of God.

Earlier in the epistle Paul has been talking about freedom in Christ and how Christians have been liberated from the yoke of the law. The Galatian church had become legalistic and Paul had to call them back to grace. But his advice to this troubled church makes it abundantly clear that responsibilities attend such freedom — namely, the obligation to bear fruit!

Central message

The central message of our text is that where the Holy Spirit resides and reigns there will be bountiful evidence of his indwelling presence. Furthermore, this outworking of the Spirit’s inner presence will have a profound impact on the life of the individual and the church (even on society at large).

There is, without doubt, a social dimension to the fruit of the Spirit. These are virtues that ennoble and transform relationships, within the family, the church, and society at large, as believers shine as lights in a dark world.

But we must derive our understanding of the nature of these qualities (love, joy and so on) from the Word of God, rejecting the world’s devalued definitions and descriptions of these virtues.

May God supply the grace we need to make a difference.