De-legislating Fruit

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But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23

A very popular phrase used by people who do not appreciate moral truth is “you can’t legislate morality.” You’ve heard it but what does it mean? The phrase is used against people who have moral problems with issues of the day: abortion, death penalty, abstinence among teens, right to die, sexual promiscuity, etc. While it is not the space or time to debate the merits of that phrase, it is very clear that you can’t write a law that forces people to love someone or be patient with someone or to be gentle. Laws do not produce those character traits. Instead, the Spirit of God must impress those upon us.

Paul grappled with the Law and the Spirit throughout the book of Romans. He admitted that he doesn’t always do what he wanted because his flesh told him he needed to do something else (chapter 7). But the crowning verse in Chapter 7: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The bottom line is this: on our own we are weak and helpless. Sin can easily overpower us. But fortunately we have a solution. More than that, we have a Savior, one who knows what temptation is like (Hebrews 4:15). He knows the struggles that we face. He knows our need because, as incredible as it seems, He was one of us – yet was without sin.

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16).

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Out of Control Self-Control

But the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. Galatians 5:22-23

Groan. Nobody enjoys self-control. We just like to do what we want, when we want. Whether it’s our out-of-control eating, our wayward tongue, our selfish temper, our destructive lusts, our bad habits, our limitless spending, or how we entertain ourselves, we don’t like self-control. And we know it.

But the beautiful thing about God is that if we want He’ll point out things that we should have more control over and give us the strength and the power to accomplish it. “For the grace of God …teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright, and Godly lives in this present age.” (Titus 2:12). If we want. He won’t force the issue. He may nudge a bit (until you’ve said, “no” many times) but He won’t force it.

So, what is it? What is the one thing (not 5 or 10 or 20 things, but one) that you need more control over? What is it? Not only does God teach us to live self-controlled lives but He gives us the power: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him…” (2 Peter 1:3).

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Gentleness

But the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness. Galatians 5:22-23

Being gentle does not come easily for me. I struggle against it. I tend to blurt something out because it needs to be said but often it comes across blunt and uncaring. Even as I write this I’m thinking, “yeah, so what? Why is this even an issue? You lay the subjects out on the table and let the chips fall where they may. It’s not as if you’re lying when you tell people.” True. But my gruffness is often misinterpreted as mean and uncaring.

Case in point. This week I was meeting with a high ranking government official for work. She was speaking but I interrupted her (without realizing it at the time) because I had a point I needed to make. It didn’t take me long to realize what I had done (mainly because I happened to glimpse at the horrified looks on the faces of my co-workers in the room).

Part of it, I suppose, is how we were reared and who we hang around with now. (Ask a close friend some time if you come across as gentle and caring in your speech and actions, and you might be surprised at the answer). But it certainly doesn’t mean we can’t change. In fact, if we are this way, we need to change, for if others view us as mean and uncaring, what does that tell them about who we serve?

Here I go again, it’s not about us, is it?

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Faithfulness

But the fruit of the Spirit is faithfulness. Galatians 5:22-23

A number of years ago when we were living in Mongolia, our American pastor prayed for a young gal’s arm to be made whole. It was in a permanently bent position. He prayed with all his might and began to tug lightly on the arm. He continued to pray but nothing seemed to be happening. He opened his eyes, released the arm, and gave the girl a shoulder hug with these words, “I don’t know why God doesn’t heal you. I just don’t know why.” By now there were tears in his eyes.

The girl came back to church the next week and the next, and every week after as far as I can remember. It would have been easy to just give up on this thing called Christianity. After all, it was a foreign religion to the Mongolians and many in her family were calling her back to their religion, Buddhism. It would have been easy to turn away and never come back, to become bitter because God didn’t heal her. But she didn’t.

But she didn’t.

The Spirit of God within her was working and giving her faith despite her ailment. For this girl, it wasn’t about getting healed, as important as that was. It was about continuing to serve the Creator of the Universe even when He doesn’t do what you want.

That’s faithfulness.

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Goodness Gracious

But the fruit of the Spirit is goodness. Galatians 5:22-23

Goodness is a difficult word to define but an easy character quality to spot in others. I think it speaks of motivation. This quality, more than the others in this list, is all about the other person. It has the idea of being helpful, beneficial, and generous. It’s a general quality. Even as I write this, I realize the difficulty in pinning down a coherent definition for it.

Lots of people in this world do good things. We might even call them good people. So, what’s the difference? Motivation. For this discussion it’s not important who or what motivates them. However, ‘who is motivating us’ should be the first question we ask, and it should be very clear who is motivating us (James 1 and 1 Corinthians 13 address this)

God knows that when we do nothing in life, we get stale and rusty. We become complacent. We complain and grumble. We criticize and become skeptical. We’re more tolerant of sin that creeps into our lives.

What does it look like? Think of anything at all that could benefit someone else. A kind word or deed or letter or phone call or gift or service or just about anything you can think of. It doesn’t have to be big or elaborate. Do it without expecting a reward and you’ll do fine.

Each person has a circle of influence of 10-25 people. Care to guess where we should be pouring out our goodness? It’s certainly a good place to start. After that, five billion more people await the goodness of God through you.

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