Jesus Christ taught that his true followers could easily be distinguished from others; by observable, Spirit-directed, good change taking place in their lives.
Using a metaphor; he said: ‘A good tree cannot bear bad fruit; and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. By their fruit, you will recognize them'. (Matt. 7. 16-20).
St. Paul used similar images, to challenge those whose set ideas prevented spiritual development. He wrote: 'Do not be conformed to this world; but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…then you will know what God's will is … his good, perfect and pleasing will’ (Romans 12.2).
Paul went on to use the same metaphorical image as Christ did. He wrote of ‘The fruit of the Spirit’; alongside which, in contrast, he listed bad things, which he might have called: ‘The fruit of worldly living’ (Galatians 5: 16-23).
In the 'By their fruits you will recognize them', teaching of Jesus; and in Paul's continuation of the theme, we are presented with 'either/or' situations…
... either people have been changed for the good; with signs of that change being clearly observable; or else their 'minds' and lives have not been transformed, through not accepting the teaching.
In the main, people do not like 'either/or' situations; because they appear to be too definite, and inflexible: such stark contrasts as good and evil ... right and wrong ... life and death ... and so on.
Those who dislike such inflexibility, try to devise middle-ground positions between the stark contrasts; but, although we live in a day and age, very different from Bible-times, eternal truths and principles do not change.
Now; as then; Jesus offers uncompromising choices; in all-or-nothing situations, with no middle-ground; but he also offers help to those who turn to him; and seek guidance through their situations.
St Paul's 'renewal of your minds’ concept, encourages us to see all things from the spiritual point of view; and, like Jesus, he offers his 'Fruit of the Spirit' teaching, on an all-or-nothing basis.
Paul's first list touches on 'Acts of the sinful nature', and names fifteen evil things. He calls his second list: 'The Fruit of the Spirit’, and names nine beautiful qualities and attributes.
These lists show the powerful, 'either/or' contrast between good and evil; and Paul's teaching strongly promotes ongoing spiritual life, stemming from making the right choice.
When Paul presents us with fifteen evil things, he doesn't expect us to sort through them, and decide which ones are worst; and which ones aren't so bad; as though we could look at them, in the light of changing standards.
Instead, he expects us to reject the entire list; and have nothing to do with evil. So far, so good: but we often take a different view Paul’s second list.
There he presents us with nine spiritual qualities. Again, he doesn't expect us to decide which of the spiritual graces are the most important, and which ones can be set aside for the moment, or even ignored altogether.
Instead, he expects us to accept the entire list; and show forth all those qualities, in who we are; in what we think, say and do.
Many of those who cannot easily accept the stark, 'either/or' choices, in the more practical aspects of their lives; cannot do so in the spiritual aspects of their lives either; and try to create acceptable-to-them, middle-positions.
Those who do this, in relation to the 'Fruit of the Spirit, hope to work out good-sounding reasons, to explain, to themselves at least, just why it is that they weren't loving, joyful or patient in this or that situation or event.
It is not that such Christians are deliberately devious; but simply to say that their minds can get caught up in habitual thinking, based on a form of slightly-twisted logic, which can then lead them astray.
Habitual, worldly thinking, can look at the list of fifteen evil things, and say: 'These aspects of evil can be quite separate from one another. An 'idolater' is not, necessarily, a jealous man; and a selfish man does not, necessarily, get drunk’; and so on.
The 'slightly twisted logic' then argues that; if it isn't to be expected that all aspects of evil will be present in a particular life; then, surely, it isn’t to be expected that all forms of good will be present in a particular life, either.
Worldly common sense may say so; but Christian common faith says that Paul did not list separate, good qualities, but wrote about one, all-embracing quality; Godliness; viewed from different standpoints.
The Holy Spirit of God encourages, and fosters, Godliness in his people; but, whenever they insist on seeing various aspects of Godliness, as being separate qualities, they run the risk of great loss, to themselves and others.
The risk and the loss is this. In rejecting or neglecting some aspect of the ‘Fruit of the Spirit’; we reject, or neglect, the whole; for Godliness is indivisible.
The 'Fruit of the Spirit' is love; joy; peace; patience; kindness; goodness; faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. It is all of that, and possibly more than that; but it is certainly nothing less than that.
Just as in agriculture and horticulture, farmers and gardeners must co-operate with nature, if there is to be a crop; so we must co-operate with God's way of doing things, if the culture of our souls, is to bear the desired 'fruit'.
Here is a brief reminder of the nature of the 'Fruit of the Spirit'.
LOVE. This is 'agape' love, of a far higher quality than those loves which are determined by emotions and feelings. Agape love is of the will in action; allowing nothing to stand in the way of its expression towards the beloved.
JOY. Unlike surface happiness; joy lies very deep in a life; and is not easily disturbed by the ups-and-downs of day-to-day living. True joy has no dependence upon emotions and feelings; but does depend upon depth of relationship with God; and to knowing just who we are, by grace, in Christ
PEACE. Godly peace, is not merely the negative absence of hostility, aggression and war; but also the positive addition of the Shalom of God, which fills up the otherwise empty places of a life.
PATIENCE. This does not mean waiting for something to happen; often with a sense of resignation; and little joy. The original meaning of the word is ‘long-tempered'; the exact opposite of ‘short tempered'.
The word speaks to us of a positive quality being added to life. When steel is 'tempered’, its character changes somewhat. It becomes stronger and more resilient; and less likely to crack under strain.
And so with patience...'long suffering'...or, better still ‘long-temperedness’ in the Christian life. It helps change the character in positive ways, because something of 'Godliness' has been added to it.
KINDNESS. This is far more than being 'kind' to people or animals, in the way that we usually mean. Its Old English root ‘GECYNDE', means to be of a sort .. of a type...of a kind with something, or someone; in this case - God.
Christians are called to be of a sort…of a type...of a kind, with God himself.
GOODNESS. Much the same can be said here; for the Old English root of the word is ‘Godness’, or, as we would say today, ‘Godliness’.
FAITHFULNESS. Today’s use of the word, has come to depict reliability and trustworthiness. But it simply means being 'full of faith'.
GENTLENESS. In today's usage, the word has something of softness about it; but true gentleness always has strength and firmness at is heart. It can be defined as 'soft-handed, with firm intention'...
... in the same way, that doctors and nurses; as 'soft-handedly' as possible; clean a wound with the 'firm intention' of promoting healing. Gentleness, as part of Godliness, always has strength and firmness at its heart.
Lastly, SELF-CONTROL, which means far more than merely keeping our emotions in check. It requires us to take hold of our lives, and shape and direct them towards God, and his will for us; rather than towards the world, and where it might lead us.
Common sense and experience, tells us that gardeners have to use spades; forks, rakes and all the rest, in order that the 'fruit of their labour' should be exactly that: peaches; raspberries; potatoes, carrots, celery and so on.
Very often, Christians forget that, in his parables, Jesus taught that God gives talents and enablements to people, in order that their lives might bring forth the spiritual result, or 'fruit', that he requires of them.
In so doing, such Christians entirely miss the point, that God does not force anything upon people; and that they must co-operate with the way that the Lord does things, if they are to be spiritually effective, and fulfilled.
However, many Christians reject, or ignore, the concept of needing to receive enabling 'gifts' from God; whilst, at the same time; expecting that the 'Fruit of the Spirit' will simply come into being in their lives.
It doesn't work like that! The 'Fruit of the Spirit' is not something which God undertakes for us; and it is not a gift which he makes to us. Instead, it is the result or outcome of lives which believe and receive; for only then can they possibly achieve the product, or 'fruit' that is both desired and required.
Strangely, many Christians persist in believing that the 'Fruit of the Spirit' is something which God produces, in them; rather than accepting that such 'Fruit' is the product of their devotion to Christ, in a Spirit-filled life.
Because of this ‘against-Bible-teaching’ understanding; many Christians, who believe that they are, as far as possible, co-operating with God's ways of doing things; fail to see that they actually go against him, every time they try to do things their way.
They do so, through ignoring important God-given qualities and attributes; such as prophecy; wisdom; knowledge; spiritual discernment, and so much more…
…while, at the same time, they busy themselves praying for love, joy, peace, patience and so on, which, the Bible clearly shows, are not God-given things.
Is it not strange that, in so many churches, Christians consistently pray for the not-given things; fail to ask for the given things; and, therefore, end up with neither.
If we think: 'Now there's a strange way to behave’, we can put ourselves to a very simple test, to see whether or not we do the same.
The 'Fruit of the Spirit' is love; joy; peace; patience; kindness; goodness; faithfulness; gentleness and self-control; and the test is, to ask ourselves: 'How many of these not-given things do I pray for, as though they are given?’.
Most Christians will occasionally, or even regularly, pray for at least five of these not-given aspects of Godliness, and, therefore, because they are 'not given', do not receive them.
Although mankind's back-to-front way of doing things, doesn't produce obedience; blessing, and spiritual 'fruit'; one of the many gracious acts of God, is the giving of new opportunities, and new beginnings.
As Paul taught; in Christ, it is always open for us to renew our minds, and change them where necessary. In so doing, says Paul, we begin to know, though experience, what God's will is; ‘his good, perfect and pleasing will’ ...
... and, as we experience the Lord's will; actively at work; in us and through us; our lives, quite naturally, show forth the 'Fruit of the Spirit'; in testimony of our faith; and as an effective witness to Christ, to the world all around us.