The previous article covered some pretty ugly “acts of the flesh” (see Galatians 5:19-21). Paul doesn’t continue to dwell on these, though. Rather, he moves onto what it looks like in lives that are walking by the [Holy] Spirit. When our lives are directed by the Holy Spirit, the natural outcome should look something like this, producing positive things as a result:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23 NIV
You may have heard that there is only one fruit (or maybe “harvest” [Boles]) described here. These aren’t necessarily a bunch of individual goals that each Christian needs to accomplish through our own willpower. Instead, I see this as a collective description of what happens when a follower of Jesus is indeed following Him (that is, walking by the Spirit).
Said another way, we don’t necessarily have to focus on trying to produce distinct fruits, like faithfulness and self-control, in our lives. Instead, the output of our lives – the evidence of having Jesus as our Lord and Savior – should manifest all of these characteristics.
And, in the end, we end up not breaking any of God’s laws when our lives result in these good things. However, that’s not because we are trying really hard to keep a bunch of rules; instead, when we give our lives over to the direction of the Holy Spirit, He leads us to do the right things in the first place. Our fear of what will happen if we don’t follow the law has been replaced with the joy of our salvation.
Unfortunately, I think that sometimes this fruit of the Spirit is presented as additional “rules” that we should follow as Christians. There is a risk that they become just more elements of a rules-based life. For instance, have you ever heard it implied that, if people don’t have love, joy, peace, and the other things listed here, they aren’t doing a good job of being a Christian? What do you think people do when they hear that? They may try to create those things in their own lives…on their own. Paul’s explanation of the expected results of a Holy Spirit-led life end up being turned into a law unto themselves (and, in the worst case, a supposed means of salvation), which is the very opposite of what Paul has been trying to explain in the book of Galatians.
If we think of a tree, we don’t try to compel it to produce a certain kind of fruit. I can’t say to the crabapple tree outside of my garage that – in order for it to be good enough – it must produce peaches (although that could be tasty). The trees don’t go around telling each other that if they don’t bear avocados, they aren’t good enough.
What does happen, instead? A tree produces fruit according to what is inside of it. The genetic code inside the tree does exactly what it was created to do, resulting in a certain kind of fruit. God doesn’t call one kind of tree to produce another kind of fruit (and even gardeners that graft one branch onto another still get results from what they spliced). God has each tree produce what it was made for, as it follows the instructions that He put into it (see Genesis 1:11-12).
If you try really hard to produce fruit that is different from what is in your soul, you might achieve the appearance of some of this from the outside, but it will be forced and perhaps unnatural. And, if you trust in your ability to have these aspects of the fruit of the Spirit in your life, through your own power, you’re probably going to be disappointed.
On the other hand, if you let go of trying to make your life produce fruit from sheer willpower, and instead just step back and let the Holy Spirit guide you (which means actively choosing to do what He says), you should expect this sort of fruit to show up in your life naturally. Even for a tree, the fruit that it bears is not a function of its sheer willpower to produce a specific kind of result, but rather the result of following its instructions that God gave it. In the same way, we should fill up on God’s Spirit, God’s Word, and the example of God’s Son (brought to us by the three persons of one God), causing our lives show the results of that decision.
Having said this, the fact that these examples (i.e., the various aspects of the fruit of the Spirit) are in the Bible does confirm to us that they are what is expected from a Spirit-led life. So, I think that their inclusion in the Bible is part of God’s directions for us. It’s just that, without turning our lives over to Him first, we’re unlikely to succeed in producing results like this consistently and wholeheartedly.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for August 29, 2021
- The Lookout, August 29, 2021 © 2021 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Galatians & Ephesians, by Kenneth L. Boles. College Press Publishing Company, © 1993.
2 thoughts on “What Walking by the Spirit Looks Like”
Thanks again for this helpful post. As it turns out (and this happens often), I was thinking about the next lesson I am going to teach the children in our youth program a week from this Wednesday. This will be the fourth lesson in a four lesson series on God’s amazing creation and the truths creation proclaims about God. I was going to talk about DNA: what it is and what it does and how amazingly complex God’s design is. Your post helped me think about how to start the lesson. Thanks!
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As always, the credit for the timing goes to God, but I’m glad to hear how He used this article to help you out. I hope that the lesson goes well!