PRODUCING FRUIT

For the past couple of weeks I have been slowly working my way through a new book by Christopher Wright entitled Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit. I’m not necessarily recommending it, but reading it has challenged me once again to give some thought to just how the fruit of the Spirit is produced in our lives.

To refresh your memory if needed, the Apostle Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 and 23. He contrasts the nine qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control with an undesirable list of “the acts of the flesh.”

While reading Wright’s book I watched a short video online by a pastor who suggested that telling believers the fruit of the Spirit is “character traits we should try to work on” is wrong. He emphasized “the fruit of the Spirit are [sic] the result of walking by the Spirit.”

In his introduction about the fruit of the Sprit, Wright declares “these are the qualities that God himself will produce in a person’s everyday, ordinary human life because the life of God himself is at work within them.” Later in the book, however, when discussing patience, Wright asserts “It is fruit, but at the same time we need to work at it. There is effort and struggle involved.” Those two statements seemed almost contradictory to me.

I then went to a commentary on Galatians by one of my favorite writers, John Stott, and read his observation that the fruit of the Spirit is “the natural produce that appears in the lives of Spirit-led Christians.” I then checked another commentator I like, and writing about love as fruit of the Spirit he noted it requires “deliberate effort” to never seek anything but the best for someone. These two statements also seemed somewhat contradictory.

How is the fruit of the Spirit produced in a believer’s life? Is it automatic? Does the Holy Spirit just make it happen? Or do we have a part to play? Do we have to put forth effort and work at it? We don’t completely understand how the Spirit produces His fruit in us, but it seems obvious we have a part to play.

I think the reality is, that in order to produce this “cluster of nine Christian graces” in our lives, we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit whom the Lord has given to live in us. Citing two phrases from the larger context of Galatians 5:16-26, Stott clarifies: “there is clearly a distinction between ‘being led by the Spirit’ and ‘walking by the Spirit’, for the former expression is passive and the latter is active. It is the Spirit who does the leading, but we who do the walking.”

We have a part in producing the fruit and the Holy Spirit has a part. The Spirit will not do it without our cooperation and we cannot do it without His help. I’d like to see more of this fruit produced in my life. How about you?

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IT MUST BE IMPORTANT!

If something is repeated multiple times in a short space, I think we can assume it is important to the one who is saying or writing it. It may turn out that it is not important to us, but that doesn’t mean it is not important to the writer or speaker. When I teach college classes I let the students know what I think is important (and will be on the test) by saying certain things over and over again.

For no particular reason, I recently sat down and read through the three chapters of the Apostle Paul’s letter to Titus. Their relationship was like a father and son and Paul was writing to encourage and instruct Titus in his ministry and teaching. As I read what Paul wrote, I noted for the first time in my reading of the letter that he told Titus to teach the same thing five times in 21 verses. Being astute as I am, I concluded it must be important.

Here are the references:

In Titus 1:8, concerning qualifications for elders: they must be self-controlled.

In Titus 2:2, he should teach older men: they are to be self-controlled.

In Titus 2:5, he should teach older women: they are to be self-controlled.

In Titus 2:6, he should encourage young men: to be self-controlled.

In Titus 2:12, the grace of God teaches all of us: to live self-controlled.

Would you agree that in Paul’s mind teaching, challenging, encouraging, and expecting Christians to be self-controlled is important? In Galatians 5:23 Paul lists self-control as part of the fruit of the Spirit in a believer’s life. The Greek words translated self-control are different in Galatians and Titus, but the meaning is basically the same.

What is self-control or what does it mean to be self-controlled? I think we all have a sense of what it means to have and express this quality. Both patience and gentleness are certainly related to it. Alternative translations of the Titus references include live wisely, be sensible, and be sober-minded. I don’t think it means we cannot be intense or passionate; it relates to how we handle, express, and live out our intensity and passion.

I’m willing to admit (would confess be a better word?) that at the age of 65, after being a Christian so long, and after all the years I’ve had the privilege of being a pastor, self-control is a quality I need to give attention. And in giving it some thought, I’m most convicted about my eating habits and my short fuse or easily being irritated.

To be self-controlled is important. The lack of self-control can be ugly, dangerous, and destructive in so many ways. Having self-control, however, is healthy, helpful, and attractive. Going back to Galatians 5:22 and 23 and the fruit of the Spirit, let me suggest that we ask the Holy Spirit to help us and that we cooperate with Him to cultivate this important quality. What do you think?

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ARE YOU TROUBLED?

Last week in my reading through the Psalms I came to a phrase that really struck me. In the second part of Psalm 38:18 David states “I am troubled by my sin” (NIV). The Revised English Bible intensifies the thought with “I am troubled because of my sin” (italicize added).

When I first read the verse I thought I can identify with David. I won’t cite specifics, but there have been many times in my life when I have been deeply troubled by a specific sin in my life. But as I continued to consider the big picture it occurred to me that there are also a lot of sins in my life that ought to trouble me but don’t. Sins I don’t think of as big sins, but nevertheless are sins. So my question to you is, “Are you troubled by your sins?”

The purpose of the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit in Christians is sanctification. That big word refers to our becoming the kind of people God has saved us to be. To move forward in actually becoming holy we have to make progress in dealing with our sin; one of the ways the Holy Spirit helps us is to make us aware of our sins.

I believe it is the Holy Spirit who is behind our being troubled by our sin. I think it is a good thing if we are troubled by our sins and that we should be thankful. For a Christian not to be troubled by his or her sins would be a bad sign and perhaps indicative of indifference to sin.  

Two pieces of New Testament instruction for Christians about the Holy Spirit came to my mind as I dwelt on Psalm 38:18b. The first was Ephesians 4:30, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” What grieves the Holy Spirit? Since He is the Holy Spirit, and dwells in us, our sin (unholiness) grieves Him.

The second passage was I Thessalonians 5:19, “Do not quench the Spirit.” To quench has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit’s thirst, but rather has to do with extinguishing a fire. I have always thought of this command in terms of not “throwing a wet blanket” on or spurning the Spirit. While the Holy Spirit wants to help us become more and more what God wants us to be, we can ignore and reject His help. And the more we suppress His urgings the easier it will be to do so.

So I ask you again, “Are you troubled by your sins?” Are your sins grieving the Holy Spirit who lives in you and could He be involved in your being troubled? I think the answer is yes. And a clear biblical response to being troubled by our sins is given in I John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” When we acknowledge our sins and ask for forgiveness we need to believe God’s promise and move forward. Those sins should no longer trouble us. But we should still expect the Holy Spirit to trouble us about future sins.

What you think of this idea of being troubled by our sin? Leave a reply below and share these thoughts on social media if you think others would benefit.

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JESUS’ REPLACEMENT?

I can’t remember where it was I heard him say it, but I’ll never forget something Dr. Lewis Foster said in a Bible study I was attending. Talking about Christians he said, “I don’t think we make enough of the gift of the Holy Spirit in us.”  I didn’t grasp the full impact of what he was saying that day, but after all these years I’m coming to understand it.

When Jesus was preparing His disciples for His death, resurrection, and return to heaven He told them the Father would give them another advocate to be with them (John 14:16). A little later He told them: “Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7b). There is a lot more from Jesus about the Holy Spirit in chapters 14, 15, and 16; but I want to focus on the designation another advocate for the Holy Spirit and as a replacement for Jesus.

The Holy Spirit really isn’t a replacement for Jesus (that is my word to get your attention), except in the sense of Jesus’ presence with and in His followers. Jesus’ absence from them when He returned to heaven was replaced by the coming of the Holy Spirit. I certainly don’t understand exactly what and how it all happened, but after His resurrection Jesus “breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22). Following His ascension they “were filled with the Holy Spirit” on the Day of Pentecost when the church was born (Acts 2:4).

The rest of the New Testament makes it clear that every follower of Jesus has the gift of the Holy Spirit. While much more can and should be said about His role, the basic purpose of the gift of the Holy Spirit in believers is to help them live the Christian life. But the Spirit does not force us—He does not make us do what is right or keep us from doing wrong. He invites us to allow Him to help us and to cooperate with Him.

I’m intrigued by this term advocate for the Holy Spirit. (Remember Jesus said the Spirit would be another advocate, indicating He was the first one.) The Greek word literally means “one called alongside of.”  In addition to advocate, the word is variously translated comforter, helper, counselor, strengthener, supporter, and exhorter. There are no clear distinctions among these meanings as they overlap, but I’m confident we all would agree that at times we need what each meaning suggests.

We will never perfectly understand how God can be three in one as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit or exactly how the Holy Spirit works in our lives. But we know God is three in one and that as Christians we have received the Holy Spirit. Our challenge and privilege is to continue to invite Him more and more into our lives and to cooperate with Him in what He wants to do in us and for us and through us.

I don’t think we make enough of the gift of the Holy Spirit in us. Do you?

Let me and others know what you think by leaving a reply below and I hope you will share this post on social media.

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SOME THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

When I started this blog five months ago I indicated a lot of my posts would be inspired or prompted by the writing of others in articles and books. Over the past couple of weeks I have jotted down several ideas for blog posts from my reading. But instead of choosing one and expanding on it, in this post I want to share a few selections from a variety of places that grabbed my attention and caused me to think. Hopefully they will do the same for you.

From a her.meneutics article in a christianitytoday daily newsletter by Kim Gaines Eckert entitled “A Psychologist Faces Her Own Anxiety”:

“Our always connected, hyper-productive culture creates a perfect breeding ground for anxiety as a way of life, so it can be hard and humbling for us to simply take the time to pause.”

I don’t know how humbling it is to take time to pause but I do know how hard it is when we are so caught up in everything we have to do. Perhaps reading these quotes will give you the occasion to pause and think.

From an article by John Acuff at ChurchLeaders.com:

“Sometimes the frequency of divorce makes us forget the heartache of it. It’s such an ordinary thing these days that we tend to rush right by the extraordinary pain it causes.”

If you have gone through a divorce you know how painful it is. If you haven’t maybe this observation will remind you of the pain of those around you in the midst of divorce.

From How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart:

“We must be careful that we do not make any part of Scripture say what we would like it to say.”

Perhaps preachers may need to hear this more than others, but I think all of us could use the reminder.

From The Holy Spirit by Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon:

“To be a holy people does not mean the church is without sin.”

Have you been too hard on some of the people who attend and/or are a part of your church? Are your expectations unrealistic?

From The Soul of Shame by Curt Thompson:

“Possibly one of the least helpful things a parent can tell his or her child is ‘We only expect you to do your best.’ No one can do his or her best at everything, for no one has that much time or energy.”

Being a parent isn’t easy but it is a great blessing. We may put pressure on our children without even knowing it.

From My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers:

“We should be so one with God that we don’t need to ask continually for guidance.”

We already know a lot about what we should do as well as what we shouldn’t do. Don’t we?

From Jesus is the Christ by Leon Morris:

“Believers [Christians] are not meant to live out the life of Christian service in their own strength, thus the gift of the Spirit if very important.”

I remember one day in a class years ago when Dr. Lewis Foster suggested “I don’t think we make enough of the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit.” I think he was right.

Take a few minutes to read these quotes again and give them an opportunity to challenge and encourage your thinking. Let us know in the comments below which one you most appreciate. (Or if you thought this was a dumb idea!)

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