The Fruit of the Spirit
by Rev. Adrian Dieleman
Sermon on Galatians 5:16-26
This sermon was preached on May 30, 2004
[This series of sermons on the Fruit of the Spirit is heavily indebted to "The Fruit of the Spirit", a book written by John W. Sanderson.]
Today is Pentecost Sunday. Today, we begin a series of sermons on the fruit of the Spirit.
As all of you know, God is the divine Gardener. He walks through His garden ? the church ? and He looks for fruit in your life and my life. What kind of fruit does He find? Does He find the fruit of the Spirit? Does He find abundant fruit? Does He find people growing and maturing in the faith? I want to tell you, if you are a Spirit-filled Christian then you are a fruitful, growing Christian. And, I want to warn you that "every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. " (Mt 3:10).
I Fruit as Proof of Faith
A.     Why does God want us to bear fruit, good fruit, the fruit of the Spirit? The simple fact is, the fruit of the Spirit is proof of a true and living faith.
You sometimes wonder ? I know I do ? if someone or something is Christian, if they are from God or of Satan. Or, as I look at my sin and shortcomings and failings, I wonder and ask questions about my own faith. The best test or proof of faith is not the miraculous or spectacular but the fruit of the Spirit.
Many people today like to look for the miraculous or spectacular when judging a church or a minister. If the church is big and growing and has lots of staff, then it must be from God. If the minister speaks in tongues and publishes books, then he must be from God. If people are healed in prayer rooms or because hands are laid on them, then this must be from God. If you become healthy and wealthy because of membership in the church, then this must be from God.
Too many people in the course of history have been impressed with miracles and miracle workers and have been led astray by the spectacular. What they need to do, what we need to do, is to look at the fruit instead of the miraculous or spectacular.
B.     In more than one place, Jesus warns us about the spectacular or the miraculous. He says, "An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign!" (Matthew 12:39). Jesus teaches us there is something more meaningful than miracles and more superb than the spectacular. That something is a life filled with the fruit of the Spirit! That something is a Christian and a church growing in the faith!
The blackest hours in church history have been when men have emphasized the spectacular to the neglect of the fruit of the Spirit. Wars have been waged and men have been murdered because of the spectacular. Extremely foolish undertakings have happened for the same reason. Take, as an example, "The Children's Crusade" of A.D. 1212. A shepherd boy of about 12 years old claimed the Lord Jesus had appeared to him and commanded him to preach a crusade. In response to his call, some 30,000 boys and girls under the age of 12 left their homes and parents to free Palestine from the Muslims. Two merchants agreed to transport the children by ship. Instead of taking them to Palestine, however, the merchants betrayed them and sold them as slaves to the highest bidder.
At the end of His Sermon on the Mount, Christ warns us about false prophets who come in sheep's clothing. The church of Galatia, for instance, was infiltrated by Judaizers ? false prophets who threw away the Gospel of grace and mercy and love; false prophets who preached a false Gospel of circumcision and law. After warning about false prophets, Jesus then gives us the perfect formula for discerning who is from God and who is of Satan. He says, "..by their fruits ye shall know them" (Mt 7:20). Jesus did not say, "Look for great signs, wonders, miracles, or the spectacular." Rather, He said men are to be judged by their fruit.
As you all know, today we are also living in an age filled with false prophets. To make the matter worse, many false prophets? as in Galatia? are to be found within the church. The church was and is attacked by its own unbelieving members and leaders. Therefore, as Jesus puts it, a man's enemies are literally "they of his own household" (Mt 10:36). These are trying times when we must know where the prophets stand. But we can't know by the spectacular. For Jesus says,(Mt 24:24) For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect-- if that were possible.We can identify false Christs and prophets not by miracles, but by fruit.
C.     What are the fruit of the Spirit that identifies one as from God or of Satan? In our passage Paul identifies the fruit as: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But this list is not exhaustive. In other places Paul identifies other fruit: perseverance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-5); righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11); teaching, way of life, purpose, faith, patience, love, and endurance (2 Timothy 3:10); faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (2 Peter 1:5-7). In the series of sermons that begins this morning, however, I will confine myself to the fruit mentioned in Galatians 5.
If you are a Spirit-filled Christian? and we all claim that, don't we? then the fruit of the Spirit should be found in your life.
D.     "By their fruit ye shall know them." By the fruit of the Spirit you will know what is from Satan and what is of God. By their fruit you can recognize true from false prophets. And, by your fruit you can judge what is in your own life.
Yet, a warning is in order. Our Adversary, the Devil, sometimes produces in men an artificial fruit, a counterfeit fruit, which confuses people into thinking that what they see is real fruit. But, then, this is nothing new. The Devil does this with miracles and gifts too. The miracles of Moses, for instance, were copied by the magicians of Pharaoh. Remember how Moses threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and it became a snake? Pharaoh's magicians did the same thing by their secret arts (Ex 7:10f). Another time Moses stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt and they turned to blood. And the Egyptian magicians did the same thing by their secret arts (Ex 7:19f). Throughout the ages, false prophets have been able to heal and speaking in tongues has been copied time after time in pagan worship.
What is the artificial fruit that Satan gives? The Spirit gives love? unlimited love; Satan gives love that is limited to those who love us. The Spirit gives everlasting joy; Satan gives temporary joy. The Spirit gives peace; Satan gives numbness and carelessness. The Spirit gives patience; Satan gives laziness and insensitivity. The Spirit gives kindness; Satan gives a kindness that manipulates to get its own way. The Spirit gives goodness; Satan gives hypocrisy. The Spirit gives faithfulness; Satan gives half-heartedness. The Spirit gives gentleness; Satan gives a false sense of modesty. The Spirit gives self-control; Satan makes you satisfied with lesser goods.
Satan loves to give us counterfeit fruit. His goal is to have us stand before the judgment throne of God and hear the sentence, "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity!" (Mt 7:23).When our children are young we give them inoculations against measles. The medication works by giving the child a light case of measles, so mild that no one will be able to detect it, but enough so they will not contract the real thing.Satan's tactic is to give people so light a case of Christianity that they will never get the real thing. Hence it is important for us to discern true fruit from artificial fruit, and thus deliver ourselves from the judgment, "I never knew you."
E.     Christ is the perfect example of One filled with the fruit of the Spirit. He, more than any other, led a life filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. He, more than any other, displayed the true fruit that the divine Gardener wants to see in the life of each of His children. Therefore, we should imitate Christ. We should be like Him and follow His example.
II Fruit and Its Cultivation
A.     God wants fruit in your life and my life. And, He makes it possible for us to produce the fruit He wants and looks for. You see, fruit-bearing always starts with God and the Spirit of Christ. God has to plant new life within us. He has to or we can't bear good fruit. As Jesus puts it,(Mt 7:16-18) Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? (17) Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. (18) A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.Because of sin, we are bad trees that cannot bear good fruit. But by the Spirit of Christ God implants new life within us and makes us into a choice vine. Now we are able, in union with Christ, to produce the fruit of the Spirit He looks for in the lives of us all.
B.     At the same time, we have to realize that there is also a human dimension to fruit bearing ? as I pointed out to the children. Our Scripture reading from Galatians makes plain that we must do what we can? by the power of the Spirit? to cultivate the production of fruit. Paul tells us to "live by the Spirit," to be "led by the Spirit," and to "keep in step with the Spirit."
Let me flesh out what this means.
The prophet Isaiah (chapt 5) tell us a parable of a vineyard which, despite every effort, produces bad fruit. The owner has done everything he could to produce the very best of grapes? he has dug it up and cleared it of stones; he has built a watchtower to protect it from invaders; he has built a winepress and prepared for harvest. And then he waits.
Instead of the full ripe grapes of the cultivated vine, there appear instead wild grapes, perhaps sour, perhaps small, perhaps spoiled, perhaps unripened. In any case, they are utterly unacceptable. He asks, "What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?" (Is 5:4). The fault has to be in the vine!
Applying the parable, Isaiah identifies the vine as the twelve tribes of Israel, and especially Judah (Is 5:7). For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.
... they have cast away the law of the LORD of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
This tells us, this remind us, that fruit-bearing is cultivated only when we love instead of reject the law of God, only when we keep instead of spurn the Word of the Lord. To cultivate the fruit of the Spirit we need to spend time with the Word; we need to read it; we need to study it; we need to hear it preached. To cultivate the fruit of the Spirit we need to spend time in worship. To cultivate the fruit of the Spirit we need a time of prayer.
C.     To cultivate the fruit of the Spirit we also need people, we need each other, we need the communion or fellowship of saints. Let me explain why:Pachomius was an Egyptian solider won to Christ by the kindness of Christians in Thebes. After his release from the military around A.D. 315, he was baptized. Serious about his new faith and determined to grow, Pachomius adopted a life of self-denial and lived the solitary life of a religious hermit.
You need to realize that in early Christianity, the model of devotion was the hermit, someone living apart from the corruption of society. These hermits wandered the desert ? alone, fasting, praying, having visions. Many went to extremes: eating nothing but grass, living in trees, refusing to wash.
Now I ask you: is this the way to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit? How can you learn love if there is no one around to love? How can you show humility if you are living alone? How can you grow in patience if your patience is never tested by the company of other people? How can you learn kindness, gentleness, or goodness in isolation?
In short, developing spiritual fruit requires being around people. Let me further say I don't mean people you have chosen as your friends. You see, you pick your friends because you like them and they like you; they are attractive to you; it is easy or easier to be good, gentle, and patient with them. Rarely does such company cultivate spiritual fruit. Instead, God wants us to develop spiritual fruit within the context of family and church ? two institutions where we can't be selective about our associates. We have no choice about who our parents or brothers or sisters will be; yet we are expected to love them. Neither can we choose who will or will not be in the family of God; any who confess Jesus as Lord we must be patient with and kind towards.
D.     Finally, to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit, we? by the Spirit's help? must fight or crucify "the flesh with the affections and lusts" (Gal 5:24). We must resist all that Paul lists in our Scripture reading:(Gal 5:19-21) ... Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, (20) Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, (21) Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.All of these, says Paul, are "contrary to the Spirit."
On this Pentecost Sunday I want to tell you, if you are a Spirit-filled Christian then you are a fruitful Christian. And, I want to warn you that "... every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." (Mt 3:10).
So let me ask you: is the fruit of the Spirit to be found in your life? and, do you cultivate this fruit?
The Rev. Adrian Dieleman is the pastor of Trinity Christian Reformed Church in Visalia, California. He is father of three college-aged sons and active in local clergy groups. He is also treasurer of The Genesis Project of Tulare County and may be contacted at Trinity Christian Reformed Church, 6400 W Walnut Ave. Visalia, CA 93277.