I would like to complete our study by reviewing some of the concepts Paul has developed in the fifth chapter of Galatians, and then finish with his summary description of the life lived by walking in the Spirit.
Paul is defending against false teachers who are threatening the spiritual stability of this church. They were promoting the idea that in order to retain one's perfect and sanctified standing before God, a person had to adhere to their mix of religious and philosophical teachings and practices, the chief one being mandatory circumcision. Paul refutes their claims and explains to the Galatians that their perfect and sinless status before God is maintained, not by obeying man-made religious practice, but by submission to the Holy Spirit motivated by their faith in Christ. He goes on to show that the best protection against falling back into the world and its sinful lifestyle is to aggressively walk with or in the Spirit.
Based on Paul's teaching, I explained that Christians submit, walk or are "in the Spirit" when they:
- Submit to the Holy Spirit's word (read and obey the Bible).
- Submit to the Holy Spirit's power (follow the direction in which the Holy Spirit leads us).
- Submit to the Holy Spirit's ministry (allow the Spirit to work in our lives through trials, the influence of the church and the development of our prayer life).
We do not produce the fruit of the Spirit through self-will or positive thinking. The Holy Spirit creates these things in us as we submit to Him in the ways I have just described. The deeper and fuller our submission, the greater our spiritual development in Christ. The fruit of the Spirit is the goal, submission to the Holy Spirit is the means.
We finish with the remaining spiritual fruit mentioned by Paul in Galatians 5.
Three Sets of Spiritual Fruit
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
- Galatians 5:22-24
When Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit he mentions three groups of similar experiences and virtues:
Set #1 — Love / Joy / Peace
The willful desire to treat others as God has treated us in Christ. The crowning virtue of the Christian religion.
The happiness we experience when we recognize and accept the grace that is ours because of God's love for us in Christ. Joy is not the transient happiness that we experience as a result of the blessings we have in life (family, health, success, etc.). Joy is the natural experience that comes from contemplating our salvation and the blessings that stem from it.
Peace is the same as assurance. The quietness of the soul (as C. H. Lenski calls it) that is unmoved despite the trials and tribulations here on earth. It is an experience of the soul that transcends suffering, fear and death. It is a spiritual balance that we attain as we walk in submission to the Holy Spirit.
Note that these three (love, joy and peace) refer to the inner experiences that those who follow the Spirit enjoy. The Spirit fashions these experiences in us primarily though our increased knowledge of God and our increased understanding of the revelation of Christ contained in the gospel. Knowing of God's mercy and salvation in Christ, and having this truth pressed into our minds and hearts engenders our own God-like love, provokes joy, and establishes within us a peace that goes beyond human understanding.
Love, joy and peace are the initial fruit produced in the soul of one saved by Christ and led by the Spirit. We make all kinds of litmus tests for finding out who are the legitimate disciples of Christ. Sometimes we resolve tricky religious judgments by saying, "Well, only God can see a person's heart" (meaning, only God knows who are the real Christians). However, when God looks into a person's heart and finds no love, joy or peace created by faith in Christ, it does not matter what other credentials that person may have (religious training, Bible knowledge, position in the church, etc.), that person does not pass the legitimacy test. You are not "in the Spirit" if the fruit of the Spirit is not in you to the degree that not only you are aware of it, but others are as well.
Set #2 — Patience / Kindness / Goodness
Patience is that quality of being where the mind holds out before giving way to action. Patience is the willingness to bear under trial, inconvenience, unkindness and other forms of personal provocation without losing one's composure in Christ. There can be all kinds of provocation of one who is patient but the spirit of that person holds out firmly and quietly.
Our two eldest children, Paul and Julia, tell me numerous stories about their training in the Marine Corps and how the worst failure was to lose what they referred to as their "bearing." They were provoked mercilessly by their drill instructors for months in an effort to teach them how to endure all kinds of psychological and physical attacks without losing their bearing or composure. They said that at times their drill instructor would humiliate one of the recruits in order to get the others in that group to react in some way, but even their laughter was considered a loss of bearing and thus a failure on their part. Of course, this training would become crucial in actual combat where each soldier would have to maintain their composure when surrounded by casualties and chaos. Keeping one's bearing could mean the difference between life and death, victory or defeat.
The same is true when it comes to spiritual warfare. Keeping one's spirit in check is often the difference between spiritual life or a fall into deadly sinfulness, and the pain and sorrow that comes with it.
Kindness refers to an attitude that is well disposed, sweet and gracious. A synonym for kindness is the word "benign" (something that harbors no danger or disease). Kindness is a disposition of character that is best seen in generosity. Kind people are generous in all things. It is the opposite of being mean-spirited, cheap, legalistic or narrow-minded. The kind person is first aware of what God has done for him and is moved to largesse. Kindness is open and generous with time, affection, reward and encouragement. A kind person has no problem giving in various ways because he realizes that everything has been given to him by God to begin with.
The third virtue listed in the second group is very similar to kindness. The main difference is that "goodness" refers to what a person actually does rather than the level of moral excellence they have achieved. Goodness wants good for others, is interested in the plight of others, does good things for the good of others. Kindness is about attitude, goodness is more about acts.
Patience, kindness and goodness are less about how a person feels and more about one's relationship with other people. Of course, one who experiences love, joy and peace will soon cultivate patience, kindness and goodness because one set of virtues stem from the other set. Love, joy and peace are manifestations of God's love stirring our souls; patience, kindness and goodness are manifestations of God's love affecting our dealings with other people. The Holy Spirit provides the revelation of the gospel to produce the first group, and then provides the opportunities, teaching and discipline that produce the second group.
Set #3 — Faithfulness / Gentleness / Self-Control
In the Bible the words faith and faithfulness can describe various things. For example, faith can refer to doctrine (The Faith) or trust and belief, or being a trustworthy person (loyal). In this passage it means that one is faithful or true to God, His word, His will, as well as faithful to human obligations and relationships (e.g. a faithful friend, a faithful Christian, a faithful spouse). In this world of lies and broken promises, a person who is faithful stands out and is especially fruitful if his faithfulness is to Christ and His word.
This term refers to one who is not preoccupied with self. It describes an individual who is not bent on having his will done at all costs. Jesus' meekness was evident when He accepted God's will over His own in going to the cross.
Meekness is not weakness. This virtue is rooted in strength and the knowledge that one has access to power. For example, martial arts masters rarely use their skill and power, knowing that their superior fighting abilities are what give them the strength to walk away from confrontation.
A meek person will not seek his own will for its own sake. He will, however, submit his own will to God in the pursuit of what is best for the other person or the group. Gentle people are not about winning the war, debate, argument, point or issue; they are about winning the peace and winning the favor of God.
Self-control is the key ingredient in a person's relationship with himself. The virtue of self-control determines the rate of a person's growth in Christ and the quality of his or her self-image. It is the ability to maintain the boundaries set for us by God in our thoughts, words and deeds. It is the inner strength created by the repeated exercise of obedience to God's will and the Spirit's leading. Without self-control we cannot love ourselves or love others because love requires that we keep our selfish and sinful impulses in check.
When looked at in total, these three sets of virtues address different needs in our pursuit of effective spiritual living. Love, joy and peace describe the experience we have as the Holy Spirit leads us to deeper levels of truth contained in the gospel of Christ. Patience, kindness and goodness describe the outward manifestation of the life motivated by the grace of Christ shed in our hearts by the Spirit. Faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are those virtues cultivated through the discipline of the Spirit which enable the Christian to maintain salvation and demonstrate the impact of God's grace in a believer's life.
Taken together, these virtues produce a dramatic witness that the perfection one has before God through faith in Christ is actually being felt, seen and acted out in one's daily experience as a Christian. In other words, the "actual perfection" or "fruit of the Spirit" being created in us by the Holy Spirit proves that the "conditional perfection" we have already attained in Christ through faith is truly present in our daily lives.
The false teachers were trying to convince the church that their human methods of ritual and law would guarantee the Galatian's perfection before God. In his response, Paul showed that these false doctrines and ideas paled in comparison to what the Spirit actually accomplished in those who submitted to Him. In still other words, a peaceful heart, a gentle spirit and a faithful life were a much greater witness of one's salvation than a mark in one's flesh like circumcision or adherence to restrictive food laws. In addition to this, Paul said that the things produced by the Holy Spirit were in perfect harmony with God's Law and did not diminish or misrepresent it in any way (unlike the false teachers who had twisted the Law and the Scriptures in order to give their teachings a measure of credibility).
In Galatians 5:24-25; 6:1-ff, Paul will go on in his description of a life lived by the Spirit, showing that the few things mentioned were not the complete list of spiritual fruit that could and needed to be developed in the Christian.
However, having completed our study, I will stop here and leave you with three final thoughts:
1. We are Perfect in Christ
The purpose of this book has been to point out that Christ is perfect and we attain His perfection based on our faith in Him expressed in repentance and baptism. Whether we are rich, poor, sick, young, old, mature, struggling, knocked back, feeling down or feeling great; the only thing that has any bearing on our perfect standing before God is our relationship with Christ in faith.
2. Satan's Great Weapon is Doubt
The false teachers in the first century tried to make the saints doubt the gospel and suggested that there was another way to be saved. Today we have religious teachers trying to convince us that knowing and using God's name properly, or following their own personal prophet, or practicing certain rituals accurately, are the true way to achieve perfection before God. These methods, however, cannot replace the original teaching given to us in the New Testament that being and remaining in Christ through faith is the only way to be perfect before God and thus, permitted entry into the eternal heavens.
3. True Faith is Expressed by Being Baptized; True Repentance is Expressed by Walking in the Spirit
Do not ever think that God's grace is upon you simply because you have received some form of baptism. This is "sacramentalism" where the blessing of God is tied to the proper performance of a ritual by an appointed clergyman.
God's grace, however, is upon those who express their faith in baptism, and act out their repentance by turning away from the deeds of the flesh to a life of submission to the Spirit. The sincerity of our faith will be seen in the sincerity of our repentance, and our repentance will be evident in the fruit we bear through submission to the Spirit.
It is in this way that you successfully pursue and attain the perfection that you see in Christ in order to become, "The More Perfect You."