Written by Stephen Cox
I often find living as a Christian a bit of struggle. What I means is that I have a real desire to love and live my life for God and yet I know that sin is close at hand. I am regularly reminded that the Christian life can be a real battle. It is really the struggle that Paul has been talking about in the book of Galatians – the battle between the flesh and the Spirit.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.“
There is a sharp contrast intended by his use of the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. The first owe their origin to, and gain their energy from the flesh. The second is a product of a power that lies outside of us. The one is the product of our activity in our fallen nature. The other comes from our renewed nature (union with Jesus Christ) through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It would be hard to find a greater contrast than that depicted by the two lifestyles.
In Christ I am a new creation.
Paul always chooses his images carefully. It is very revealing that he talks about acts of the sinful nature but then switches to speak of the fruit of the Spirit.
Galatians 5:22 – 25
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. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Christian growth is gradual – as gradual as apple or mangoes growing. With botanical growth you never see it happening – you can only measure it after a time.
With the growth of the fruit of the Spirit, it might be growing in a Christian’s life, but they never realise until trouble or difficulty shows up and they think: A couple of years ago I would never have been so patient or self-controlled in this situation. That shows that the fruit of the Spirit has been growing, gradually and unnoticed.
If someone has the Spirit in them – if they are a Christian – the fruit will grow. What ever a Christian’s life is like, the fruit of the Spirit will burst through. It’s inevitable. This is encouraging as we think of how hard our sinful nature is; but also challenging. It forces us to ask if we’ve been a Christian for a few years or more: is there fruit growing in my life? We are saved by faith, not by growing fruit; but we are not saved by fruitless faith. A person saved by faith will be a person in whom the fruit of the Spirit grows.
How then can the fruit of the Spirit take root in our lives?
Paul says we need to remember that we belong to Christ Jesus. (v24). All that is His, is ours. Our approval and welcome from the father rest not in our character or actions, but on His. We are free to acknowledge where we have given ground to the flesh; free to confess where we have not sought to keep in step with the Spirit; free to realise where we have confused our gifts or natural character with the fruit of the Spirit.
Second, because we belong to Christ we “have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. When we came to Jesus, we repented. We crucified everything we knew to be wrong. We took it and nailed it to the cross. So, Paul says, if we crucified the flesh, we must leave it there to die. We must renew every day this attitude towards sin of ruthless and uncompromising rejection.
Sometimes, having nailed our old life to the cross, we keep wistfully returning to the scene of its execution. We need to learn to leave it there. When some jealous, or proud, or malicious, or impure thought invades our mind we must kick it out at once. It is fatal to begin to examine it and consider whether we are going to give in to it or not. We have declared war on sin; we are not going to resume negotiations.
So we need to ‘keep in step with the Spirit. This is a positive process (not simply giving things up), an active process (which we do), and something more simple than obedience (though it is not less than simple obedience). The Spirit is a living person, who glories in and magnifies the work of Jesus. This is not just an intellectual exercise. We must worship Christ, with the help of the Holy Spirit, adoring Him until our hearts find Him more beautiful than the objects we feel we have to have. As we do that, we will put to death our old nature, clearing room for the fruit of the Spirit to grow; and we will find that fruit growing, changing us more and more into the people we long to be, and God desires us to be.