Sunday, August 22, 2004

The fruit of abiding with the Spirit - Introduction

I wish to write a series of discussions on the fruits of the Spirit. Before elaborating on each of these, however, it is important to clarify what it is we speak of. We know what the fruit of the Spirit are, but how do they grow? I will endeavour to discuss this here, to show the nature of how we become like Christ when we abide with the Holy Spirit, and to describe the Spirit’s role in producing the fruit. I hope to go through each of the fruit of the Spirit in detail in later posts.

The fruits of the Spirit (the Holy Spirit), and fruits of evil desires (the ‘flesh’) that contrast to these, are the products of the character of our hearts. The ‘flesh’ are those parts of our character that are evil and in direct opposition to the characteristics of the righteous person (Gal 5:17); it refers to the desires and inclinations we have which are contrary to what is Godly and right.

Now I should mention here that not all actions fall into either fruits of the Spirit or fruits of unrighteousness, for some actions do not stem from our character, but rather from merely our humanity. For instance, eating is neither of the Spirit nor of the flesh, but rather necessary for living. Like most ‘neutral’ actions, it can be tainted with righteous or unrighteous flavours because our character – also called our ‘spirit’ - always affects how we behave. This ‘spirit’ is different to the spiritual part of our being, just as the body is different to the mind. All our thoughts and actions flow from the seat of our thoughts and indeed our very being – the heart. It is in the heart that character is found. It is in the heart where our spirit lies.

The Holy Spirit is a person, and though He is a part of the Trinity of the Godhead, the fullness of God Himself is found in Him. He ‘lives in the heart’ of those who are His, and it is like we are no longer alone, but always in the company of the Creator. How we are changed because of this is no mystery, for we naturally adopt the character of those we spend much time with. The Spirit does not forge our character as a blacksmith beats and tempers a sword, but rather the Holy character of the Spirit permeates into our own character as the smell of fresh flowers eventually fills the room and the noses of those present. You cannot point a finger at the fragrance travelling and say, “look, there it goes”, for it is unseen and often very subtle, but it is no mystery.

So, it is by spending time with the Spirit of God that our spirit becomes like His, just as a husband and wife gradually become more similar in character as they abide together. The fruits of the Spirit are the result of the character of God becoming our own. The Spirit Himself does not ‘do’ the things that are referred to as fruits of the Spirit. Christ is the trunk, we are but small branches, and the Spirit is sap that flows in us – giving us food to grow. The fruit are what we produce as a result of abiding with God and having His character in us, in the form of the Holy Spirit.

Do not think that merely by being a Christian the fruits of the Spirit will be manifest. Sadly, I have met Christians who are notably lacking several. For the fruit cannot grow without a healthy branch for the life-giving sap to flow through. We are the branches, and as such we much ensure that we are not blocking the flow of sap to the fruit that could we could produce. Certainly, the Spirit does lives in us if we are merely small shoots rather than large branches, but how freely does it flow through us in our hearts and into our actions?

I never understood the way in which these concepts of the Spirit abiding in us and producing fruit until I experienced it myself. It is somewhat difficult to describe it in a different way, but I will make an attempt.

It is like our heart is a large house. The inner part of us – the sum of our characteristics - resides in this house just as a person would reside in their home. I imagine that different rooms correspond to different states of mind. For instance, one room may be labelled, ‘prayer’, another labelled ‘anger’, and another ‘pride’. There are many such rooms in the mansion of our heart – some are good, and others are bad. Throughout the day, we walk from room to room, sometimes praying, sometimes angry, or sometimes proud. We decorate each room with wall-hangings of our experiences, and furnish our rooms with cupboards and closets of our memories and couches made by the expert hands of habit. We are comfortable in the couches of our habits.

And so, we live. Each day a journey from one room to the next, occasionally adding or removing furniture or wall-hangings. Sometimes we stop to tidy a room by straightening our wall-hangings and picking up the debris of days gone by strewn over the floor.

We let the Holy Spirit in, after He knocks on the door ever so patiently, and we let Him stay with us in the house of our heart. But, too often, we restrict Him to only a few rooms – perhaps ‘prayer’ and ‘church’. Maybe we let Him also come in a join us when we are in our ‘pain’ or ‘hurt’ room. But when we go into some rooms, like pride, we bolt the door shut behind us. We restrict His access to our hearts, and so He cannot spend as much time with us as He should have. If we stop Him from coming with us everywhere in the house of our heart – in all situations and moods – not only can He not be with us in many rooms, but He cannot tidy those rooms by straightening some of the wall-hangings, tidying the cupboards and replacing the couches with better ones.

But, if we let Him have free reign in all places of our heart, what a wonder! It feels like there really is a holy and righteous God living in our hearts when we let Him have freedom there. When we want to sin and the Godly part of us longs to find strength not to, we are given strength in the still and peaceful words of the Spirit who simply says ‘no’, and it is enough. Things we used to want to do gradually change as the Spirit rearranges the furniture – the content – of our hearts.

What could be worse than not letting the Spirit have such freedom in our hearts? Perhaps it is when we let others into our hearts, and they tumble and trip on the mess that’s in our hearts because there’s very little light in some rooms. We seem to enjoy darkness that conceals the disordered and messy rooms of our heart, but we should not. The Holy Spirit should be as a light in our hearts – not placed in a cupboard or small room, but put in the centre of the house so that His light fills every crevice of our beings. When we allow Him to talk and be with us not matter what situation or mood we are in, and listen to what He says, we can truly say God abides with us.

But it is not enough to just hear God without obeying what He says. These are the people who are hearers but not doers of the Word. We must work with God in refurnishing our heart into a state of righteousness. Sometimes this refurnishing, this renewal, involves a shift in our attitudes or thought processes, but other times it can only be achieved by hard work – by doing actions in the real world like loving or being kind to others. For example, how can we say we have the fruits of the Spirit unless we do them? How can we say “I have kindness”, without ever choosing to be kind to others?

Yes, we have a choice about our actions, and we choose what fruit we produce because we choose to a large extent the content of our heart. It is best that we let God have free access to all parts of our heart. If we do this, it is like we are becoming bigger branches that allow the sap to flow more freely through us, so that the Spirit of God will be able to flow through us and into growing righteous fruit in our lives. So, over the next few posts, I hope to cover some practical aspects of the fruit of the Spirit, and hopefully see what they look like in practise.


Philotas said...

Nice work there! :)
we have just finished this topic in our small group.

I was just thinking though, i dont think its possible to only have 1 or 2 of the fruits. I think that if you have the Spirit living in you, you WILL display all those qualities, just as a natural byproduct.

Gifts of the Spirit, sure, not everyone has all of those. some people may not even have any. but if we are living in God, then The Holy Spirit will shine the fruits through our personality.

Does this mean that if someone isnt displaying all fruits then they dont have the Spirit in them? maybe. i havent worked this part out yet! :P maybe the Holy Spirit is still working at their hearts. But yes, i definately think its all or nothing.

incognito said...

I think someone who has the Spirit will develop all those fruits. And once they grow all of them will be shown - but not necessarily ALL THE TIME. The amount of the fruit demonstrated in the day to day could be termed the yield, for want of a better word. This is crucial I think - because it is obvious that even good Christians don't show some of these fruit sometimes. So I'm suggesting that not only is the quality of the fruit increased, but that there should also be an increase in how frequently the fruit are obvious.

There is a real danger, I think, in saying that the fruit of the Spirit in every Christian is the same quality and yield. Some apples are delicious, others are just plain disgusting - but it doesn't change the fact that they are both apples. Some fruit trees yield many fruit, while others (particularly imature trees) yield practically nothing. But although these imature trees are not yielding any fruit presently, it does not mean the fruit is not on the way - perhaps in a few more seasons.

Likewise, the fruit we display is given flavour by our character, and its yield is governed by our maturity in Christ. Spiritually imature Christians may not display any fruit at all, while others may immediately flourish - it depends on the fruit and the character of the person I think. Certainly, the Spirit works to produce ALL the fruit in every believer, but some people require much time to grow or heal before they start producing any fruit. As with well-tended apple trees, the yield of the fruit increases as we mature.

What do you make of these thoughts?

Kelly said...

I think it's quite hard for us to judge if someone is displaying the fruits of the spirit or not, because we tend to judge it from such a worldly point of view. It's impossible, without God's intervention, to really see what the Holy Spirit is doing in someone's life on the inside. yes, I know that we should be displaying the life of Christ through us; but the fact is, a lot of people just do 'the Christian thing' (i.e. say they love, but store hatred or whatever) outwardly and we think they are a good Christian; but then there are those people really letting God work in them who seem to come out harsh and strange -- is it because the fruit "humility" is being worked out in them, or "gentleness" being worked out through revealing their natural harshness? It really has to come from God, and not just be us trying to display the gifts of the spirit on our own.

incognito said...

Yes, these fruits a born from our of the Spirit living in us.

Yet, I have just had another thought. It is important to note that some non-Christians display considerable kindness, humility, etc. Some would ask, "if the Spirit is not in them, are these actions really true kindness, humility, etc.?" If you say they are not true acts of kindness etc then what on earth are they? A facade?

I suggest they are true fruits of the Spirit, because the outworking of the Spirit's influence is not constrained to those who only have the Spirit. Although the Spirit tends to only work IN Christian in whom He abides, those Christians influence many others with the fruit of the Spirit. Such kind non-Christians were no doubt previously influenced by Godly men and women of God, who the Spirit taught kindness, and who passed that kindness on.

This is, in my opinion, the practicality of the blessings of God that last for 1000 generations (you can look that one up if you want). So, in a very corperate sense, the fruits of the Spirit are evidenced in even non-Christian's kind actions, etc, because it was the Spirit that first imparted the fruit to Christians who shared that fruit with even non-Christians.

I have met some very Godly non-Christians.

Philotas said...

Yep, i think i would agree with that Reuben! the fruits ripening. but i would add that in the end everyone will display the same amount of each fruit, (an ideal situation. just based on what you said in the second para about everyone not having the same amount) we are maturing towards that stage i guess!

Hey Kai Li! sorry to be really nitpicky here! i dont think humility is a fruit. (Love joy peace patience, kindness,goodness,faithfulness,gentleness,self control)
*cringes for fear of causing retribution*

I reckon, that it shouldnt be a conscious effort to display the fruits, but rather they permeate your being. (i guess though, this is at the later mautration stage) and having the Spirit living within you, it shines through, therefore God is living through you and His ways become the natural ways. we dont have to make an effort to do it.

What say thee?

incognito said...

Firstly, I don't think the list of the fruits of the Spirit is exhaustive. 'Self-control' covers a large number of virtues, humility included.

Secondly, I think we must sometimes make a very concious effort to choose to show the fruits in our actions. That is part of becoming like Christ - choosing righteousness. It is not only the rightouesness of the Spirit that is revealed out of our hearts, but it everything that is in our hearts - evil included. In my opinion, to think only the good shines out while the evil is not seen is to neglect the obvious. Sure, the Spirit may be shining in us, but that makes the evil that it's shining through even more obvious. Evil acts like putting a dirty cloth over a light.

Kelly said...

Yeah, you cringe in fear of retribution you! Yeah, I agree more with Reuben in that I see fruits of the spirit as anything worked in us by the spirit, which allows a broad definition of the particular ones mentioned by Paul (For how these relate to the aspects of love in 1 Cor 13, read an awesome book by Henry Drummond "Love", he reads it as the fruits of the spirit are Love: (=) joy, peace etc)

Yet I do agree with Philotas more in that our displaying of the fruits should be unaffected -- what I mean is not totally self-conscious. I stole this idea of Oswald Chambers, it really hit me that the people who I consider godly are totally not conscious that they are displaying fruit -- they are looking solely to God, and in their humility see what they should be like but aren't. They are available to help people and have awesome ministries, but they don't think that their meagre displays of fruit have much to do with it -- just through the grace of God.

Yet I do see what Reuben is saying in that it is a conscious decision to follow the leading of the Spirit, and not our own desires. And other times too, like when you don't feel particularly joyful, but you know you have cause for joy so you attempt to rejoice in the Lord -- it's a far cry from a natural spontaneous joy that comes from knowing God intimately, but it's done in faith that God can give it to you eventually.

incognito said...

I think once we make a habit of righteous thoughts, we no longer have to struggle with them or conciously think about them. However, most of the time, to change our thought patters (which stems from our heart, and governs our character) we need to do it conciously.

Yes, if a certain fruit is mature in a believer, he or she is right not to be focussing on it - it would be wrong to be so focussed on doing right, and probably lead to the satesfaction of 'being good' becoming the motivation for doing right. You are quite right that we should fix the gaze of our hearts upon Jesus primarily. When we do this, we naturally begin to include loving others in our focus.

In fact, staying focussed on Christ probably makes it easier to deal with sin in our own lives - because it motivates us to leave behind the evil that weighs us down as we run towards Christ... so to speak.

Jared said...

I completely agree that the lists going on in the bible are not exhaustive for example what Paul lists in 1 Corinthians 12 differs from what he lists in Romans 12. Furthermore I think that it might not be possible to have all the fruits of the spirit in a similar way that no one (except Jesus) has/had all the gifts of the spirit. But that each is cultivated in its time and is in season when it is required. As we walk further with Christ the fruit is more abundant and more ready to appear.
Possibly some fruit come easier to some people than others, some people might be natural givers whereas others naturally humble. In this situation truly displaying the fruits of the spirit would not be performing those actions that come easily to us but rather those that don't come easily. Then these actions come not out of ourselves but out of God and we cannot glorify in ourselves.
As we walk further with God we will close in on having all the fruit of the spirit (glorification) and they will become more and more natural for us to express. Even those that intially were easy for us to perform will be transformed by the work of the spirit in us and it will become harder and harder for us to glorify ourselves. And we will be happier, more joyous for it.
Finally we should be weary of not falling into the same trap as the Rich Young Ruler who thought he had everything and then Jesus pointed out more that he had to do. If ever we think that we have all of the fruits of the spirit God will subtlely slap us across the face with something that will cause us to shudder back (like giving away EVERYTHING). But in the long run God will bring us back to that place and we will take the step with him. As C.S. Lewis said in the Horse and his Boy 'when you do something good often your reward is something even harder' [paraphrased]. The process of glorification is our lifetime and will not be complete while we walk on the green earth.

Anyway those are the thoughts of a coffee-addled mind.

Katherine said...

I tend to think of it in this way (at least at the moment): God doesn't force Himself on us, but works in us to about the degree that we let Him. This is all part of the free will thing. Sure, He can take control of our lives and our characters, but only if we submit to Him, both in a general sense and in each action.

We invite Him to work in us and change us completely, and when we've done that, He will do so, because we've relinquished control and given Him free reign, and then the fruits will start to appear of their own accord.

However, if there are parts of our lives that we haven't submitted to Him (though we may think we have, perhaps), in these areas He withholds His influence. If He did not, He would be violating our free will, which would be against His character and the kind of love He has chosen to show us. We can, of course, ask Him to reveal such areas to us, and make us more willing to relinquish control, and then He will. This is what He wants, but He will not force us.

That said, I think He can also act in people without their knowledge, in response to the prayers of others. The Bible talks of instances in which God controls people, seemingly without their being aware of it, such as when He 'hardened Pharaoh's heart', or moved Artaxerxes to let Nehemiah go and rebuild Jerusalem. These were people who weren't submitted to God themselves, yet God wrought changes in their hearts for the benefit of His people. We routinely ask God to intervene in the world in this way. And presumably He would do the same if we were praying for a Christian, asking Him to speak to them or help them to change. Perhaps God acts in this way only when His people ask Him to.

I might be way off the mark there. Corrections welcome.

incognito said...

Katherine, I posted about the control / sovereignty thing a while ago. I'll be taking a practical line of discussion on these I hope... unfortunately I'm going on skiing holiday now for 10 days so I won't be able to post until I return.

Kelly said...

Yeah Katherine, great comment!

Kelly said...

[notice how I define 'great comment' as something that agrees with my great and infinite knowledge (insert appropriate sarcastic tone), isn't it strange how we often identify good things with ourselves and our own opinions. So I guess I'm saying that intrinsically, Katherine's comment may be just as great as anyone elses, but subjectively I like it. OK?]

Anonymous said...

The thing that I caught in you teaching here is that you say the Holy Ghost is a person, and a third person in a trinity. But the Bible does not state that. The Bible says:

John 4:24 "God is a spirit..."
Ephesians 4:4 "There spirit..."
1 Cor 12:11 "One and the selfsame spirit..."
2 Cor 3:17 "Now the Lord is that Spirit..."
Acts 10:36 "...Jesus Christ(He is Lord of all)"

Mark 12:29 "God is one."
Col 3:11 "Christ is all."
Col 2:10 "And ye are complete in him (Christ)."

Isaiah 43:10-15 "...Believe me,and understand that I am He: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no savior...Thus saith the Lord, your redeemer, The Holy One of Israel...I AM THE LORD **YOUR HOLY ONE** THE CREATOR OF Israel, your King."

2 Cor 11:12 "...I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you TO ONE husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin TO CHRIST. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpant beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ."

If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

From Sonya Marlene Snedden