Summer is smoldering away here in Houston, and it’s got me craving bowlfuls of berries. One of my favorite summertime treats is simply fresh or frozen blueberries with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of natural shredded coconut. My kids call it my pretend ice cream and look at me with pity while they eat their Bluebell, but I’m as happy as can be. Fruit just makes life sweeter, right?
So, I love that fruit pops up all throughout scripture and especially that it’s used as a metaphor for what our lives look like when the Holy Spirit is at work. This summer, I’ll be using one passage in particular as a framework for Bible study. Hope you’ll join me as we let Galatians 5:22-23 send us on a fruitful journey.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
Galatians 5:22-23 is one of those lists of Christlike attributes that can prompt us to do a soul checkup. Am I seeing evidence of love, joy, and peace in my life? No? Then, where do I need to surrender to Christ’s spirit so He can tend the garden of my soul and bring forth that fruit?
As lovely and useful as our key verses are, though, I’m not so sure Paul envisioned them on a pretty coffee mug or in my case, a lap-top wrap, complete with curly fonts and bright colors. Yep, this is the cover of my EliteBook:
Paul’s words are from a very stern letter to his spiritual children, correcting them for trying to add to the simplicity of the gospel with Old Testament laws, particularly circumcision, and he uses tough words that are definitely not gonna show up anywhere on a mug or laptop cover. But Paul needed the believers in Galatia and elsewhere to stop falling for a lie. Outsiders were teaching that trusting Jesus for salvation was not enough to gain right standing with God and that they must observe the strict Hebrew law code, too. In Galatians 5:1 Paul pleads with believers to avoid such a trap, saying,
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
God’s holy law and the code of conduct He established for the Hebrew people had always been impossible to keep perfectly because of the fallen, sinful nature of humans. Trying to live a life of legalistic rule-following was a burden—Paul calls it a yoke of slavery! Even in Old Testament times, an atonement sacrifice was needed to cover the people’s sin with the acknowledgement that being made right in God’s eyes was still an act of faith (see Habbakuk 2:4). The law was intended to point to the need for a savior—Jesus. He fulfilled the old law code and paid the final sacrifice for sin so that a new way of living became a reality for those who trust and follow Him. That life is free and overflowing with things like love, joy, and peace.
And oh yes, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Paul calls this the Spirit-led life or “walking by the Spirit” rather than trying to fix ourselves by a list of impossible rules. Yes, our behaviors, motives, and attitudes change. Indeed, we are encouraged in Galatians 5:13 like this: You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh [our old sin nature]; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
We no longer let our old sin nature call the shots and lead us into every kind of unholy deed, ranging from sexual promiscuity to destructive wrath to back-biting divisiveness (see 5:19-21). However, the power to change comes by allowing the Holy Spirit to instruct and encourage us as we seek to know God. Led by the Spirit, we commune with God through prayer, praise, studying His word, and gathering with other believers, and we begin obeying Him from a place of love and thankfulness rather than burdensome duty.
No wonder Paul says our lives begin looking like a banquet of choice, luscious fruit!
The Holy Spirit is at work in believers, changing us from the inside out. The evidence of His work is on display when we operate out of that Spirit-grown love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That’s good news for a broken world because Paul says that against those attributes of Christ Himself, there is no law. We can let them abound toward one another and bring life into the parched desert around us.
In the next post, we’ll look at how the Holy Spirit helps us grow in love so that it can’t help but overflow to others. Hope you’ll grab your favorite summer fruit treat and meet me back here!
Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash