For the past several weeks, we’ve been studying the “Fruit of Spirit,” the nine Holy Spirit empowered characteristics which evidence “Internal Gospel Growth”. We’ve learned that each highlights an attribute of our glorious God who displayed perfect love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, and self-control in the incarnation. Incredibly, as God’s adopted children we also empowered by the Spirit to exhibit these same divine attributes as we are “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
We’ve also learned that each attribute represents a different component of a single fruit – like a cluster of grapes. Each manifests itself in different ways and at different times in the Christian life. But all are present together in one fruit just as the Spirit of Christ indwells the heart of all believers, yet is not divided.
Paul contrasts this multidimensional gift from the Holy Spirit with the passions and actions that characterize a life of rebellion against God:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).
He calls these the “desires” and “works” of the flesh. These fleshly desires once consumed and defined us. But by God’s grace through his Son Jesus Christ we have been changed.
But Paul also points out in his letter to the Galatians that although we have a new spiritual nature, we still struggle to consistently live Spirit-led lives (Galatians 5:16-17). In fact, if we aren’t careful, we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are exercising kindness, goodness, patience, or the other characteristic elements of the Fruit of the Spirit when in reality, we are sinning.
I read an article this week that illustrates my point. The writer claims you can rid yourself of jealously with two steps:
“The first is for your friend’s benefit: When you congratulate them, don’t let your jealousy leak in. You might be tempted to mention that you were applying for the same promotion, or trying a similar project that went nowhere. ‘That just makes the person feel bad,’ says North, and draws the attention back to you.
“The second is for you: It’s normal to have trouble being happy for your friend even when you know you should. Think selfishly: You want successful friends, don’t you? The better off they are, the more they can help you down the road. Just don’t ask for any favors right away; set yourself a reminder for a few weeks or months down the road.”
Do you see the inherit problem with this approach? It doesn’t treat the sinful, self-centeredness at the source of jealousy. In fact, it celebrates selfishness. The writer posits that it’s best to mask your inward resentment with insincere, superficial well-wishes. In other words, make your congratulations look genuine so that you come across looking good. It will eventually pay off in the future.
This reminds me of Febreze. (Trust me, I’m going somewhere with this.) You’ve probably seen the famous noise-blind commercials. Does your car smell like dog, or does your kitchen counter smell like the fish you prepared last night for dinner? Maybe the stench in your garbage can has infiltrated your kitchen. Mask the unwanted odors with a spritz or two of Febreze – guaranteed to neutralize the nastiest of odors and leave a fresh, clean scent. What struck me about these commercials (especially this one) is that although Febreze does a really good job deodorizing, it doesn’t work well as a cleaning agent. (In all fairness, it’s not suppose to.)
If we’re honest, we are like Febreze. (I bet you’ve never heard anyone tell you that before.) We come up with ingenious ways to mask our sin or camouflage it. We even come up with ways to change our behaviors (via self-discipline or, in the context of the Galatians, the Law of God), thinking that external treatment is sufficient. However, sin is much more pungent, filthy, and deep-rooted than we realize. It’s at the very core of our being, and it can only be conquered by the supernatural, healing power of the gospel.
Are you applying the gospel regularly? The same gospel that justifies (reconciles us with God) also sanctifies (progressively transforms us into greater Christ-likeness).
Take time to reflect on your motives. Is your kindness, patience, goodness (etc.) motivated by self-interest or with a sincere love for others? If not, don’t attempt to fix your motives through any cleverly devised plan, process, or rule set. Look to Jesus whose perfect life, atoning death, and resurrection from the grave sufficiently paid your debt. Repent of sin, depend on Christ’s meritorious work, and experience the joy of internal gospel growth.