Spiritual growth 101 – bearing fruit
We are in the middle of a series entitled spiritual growth 101. In week one we noted that spiritual growth can and does happen by attending church services once a week, but that spiritual growth will be augmented and accelerated by personal time in the word, in study, in fellowship, so in short, real progress in spiritual growth requires homework.
Last week we saw that spiritual growth requires not only homework, but heart work. Jesus said blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
So we said that in order to grow spiritually, to make progress in the faith, rid yourselves of impurities, purify your hearts, put to death the things that belong to the flesh, set your minds not on earthly things, but on things above – things that belong to the heavenly realm.
Impurity of heart
does not please God
blurs one’s vision of God
creates relational barriers
stunts spiritual growth
Removing impurities is like waking up and wiping the eye boogers and goopy sleep out of our eyes so that we can see clearly. We can see God more clearly with the eyes of our heart when we remove the gunk of impurity. And that is for our good.
This morning we will move forward by building on the foundation that we have already laid.
Now this series is all about spiritual growth, progress in the FAITH, NOT making progress in keeping the LAW. In other words, this isn’t about me standing up here and saying you guys need to be better at following the ten commandments, and in fact, let’s add a bunch of related commandments to flesh those out more and thus become masters at rule-keeping. It’s not about progress in rule-keeping, but progress in the faith, work upon the heart and out of the overflow of a pure heart will be the things that are pleasing to God.
Throughout the NT, we see a huge contrast between the Law (LOM) and Faith, as believers were entering into fellowship with God through the New Covenant. The Old Covenant was growing obsolete and would soon come to a complete end in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem. Now that the Law has been done away and we are partakers of the New Covenant, our aim is to grow in the faith, which is the vehicle by which God’s work is manifest. Our aim is to grow in the spirit, not the flesh. Our aim is to say, God, Your will be done, not mine. If that means that our thoughts and deeds are more aligned with the ten commandments or any commands in the law, so be it, but our focus is not on that set of commands.
One place where we see this great contrast between the law and faith is in the pastoral epistles, the letters that Paul wrote to Titus and Timothy.
1 Tim 1:3ff
3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer 4 or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. 5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.
You can see this contrast here. Paul says that people who are trying to teach the law and focused on myths and genealogies are promoting controversial speculations rather than God’s work which is by FAITH. And the goal here is LOVE, which comes from a PURE HEART (we talked about this last week), and a sincere FAITH. Paul is encouraging Timothy to squash the LAW promoting teaching and promote FAITH.
Again, it’s not about progress in keeping rules but progress in the FAITH. In our first week in this series I likened progress in the faith to a pregnant woman going through the stages of knowing, growing, and showing. I said that it starts with her
KNOWING: She takes a pregnancy test and the results are positive; she knows that she is pregnant. She KNOWS that her life will never be the same; she is changing and her life is changing. Then she begins
GROWING: She now has conceived; a seed has been planted within her and that seed begins to GROW. And while everyone now knows they may not see that growth that is happening within her but that seed is nonetheless GROWING. In fact, a few months go by before anyone can see the growth, before they can see progress in the pregnancy. But after a few months not only is she GROWING, now she is SHOWING.
SHOWING: You can see her progress. You can see her growth. It shows. Her belly is getting bigger and bigger. That which has been planted in her is now evident to those on the outside. They see that she is different. They see that her life will never be the same. They see progress. And then eventually, there is absolutely no hiding it because the life that is in her is now coming out.
When it comes to our faith, we see the same progression of Knowing, growing, and showing. Progress in the faith begins with knowing. We come to know Jesus through KNOWING the gospel, knowing the truth. A seed is planted within us. God’s spirit comes to make His dwelling in us by his spirit. We KNOW that our life will never be the same; we are changing and our life is changing.
GROWING in the faith
And that seed planted within us begins to GROW. As we spend time in the word, as we come together to worship, to fellowship, to study, as we spend time in conversation with God in prayer, as we develop these spiritual disciplines we GROW spiritually.
And while others may be aware, while others may know that we KNOW Jesus they may not see that growth that is happening within us but that seed is nonetheless GROWING. We don’t necessarily look any different for a while. In fact, some time may go by before anyone can see the growth, before they can see progress in the faith. But after some time not only are we GROWING, now we are SHOWING.
SHOWING in the faith
You can see our progress. You can see our growth. It shows. Our faith is getting bigger and bigger. That which has been planted in us is now evident to those on the outside. The life that was once planted within us that life is now coming out. They see Jesus bursting out of us and spilling over to impact others; they see that we are different. They see that our life will never be the same. They see progress in the faith.
That faith planted in you goes hand in hand with receiving the Holy Spirit.
Gal 3:1ff 1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? 4 Have you experiencedso much in vain—if it really was in vain? 5 So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? 6 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
Paul makes it clear that they (being Gentiles) began their spiritual journey in faith and it was by faith that they received the Holy Spirit – not by obeying the commandments of the Law.
They performed miracles by the power of the Spirit, not by obeying the law.
They became children of Abraham, and thus a part of the family of God by faith – not by obeying the law.
Their lives were changed by faith and the subsequent work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts – not by obeying the law.
Paul was addressing an issue in their day that we are also prone to. People known as the Judaizers had infiltrated the church there and were trying to get believers to adhere to the law. That sounds really religious, it sounds very righteous, it sounds like progress. It’s appealing because it’s measurable like a new PR in Crossfit or the figure on the scale in weightloss, or grades in school. I’m successfully obeying more of the commandments today than I was yesterday.
But Paul points out that they are bewitched to think that they will make any progress by switching from a faith-based mode of existence to a law based mode of existence. They are foolish to think that they will make any progress by switching from a Holy Spirit empowered mode of existence to a flesh entrenched mode of existence. They began with the spirit, which belongs to the new covenant age and they were turning to the Law which belongs to the old covenant age. The law was obsolete and was fading in their day. They were going backwards and I don’t want us to fall into the same trap. That would be like us going from .mp3s on our phones to the cassette tapes like I showed you last week. I mean you can’t even push skip on those things.
No, in the New Covenant age, progress and growth for God’s people must take place in a faith-based Holy Spirit empowered mode of existence in which God’s law is not written upon stone but upon human hearts and God’s Holy Spirit works in our hearts to transform us from the inside out. The progress begins with knowing God through faith, receiving the Holy Spirit, growing in our faith, and that faith – that growth begins to show in the fruit we bear.
Now one receives the spirit by faith, but the way Paul frames it elsewhere does not seem to indicate that one is filled with the spirit as a once and for all kind of exchange, but he makes it a more practical issue. He contrasts it with getting drunk. You don’t get drunk once and stay drunk forever, operating with slurred speech, impaired motor skills, and poor decision making. That wears off you sober up and you have to return to the bottle if you want to stay under the influence – you have to get filled up with alcohol again.
In Eph 5 he contrasts this activity of getting drunk or being filled in excess with and controlled by alcohol to being filled in excess with and controlled by the spirit.
Be filled with spirit Eph 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit
The Greek word Paul uses here means “be being filled.” This seems to indicate a perpetual and continual activity as opposed to a once for all time event. Continue on a daily basis to fill our hearts and minds with the things of God with spiritual things and surrender to him that we may remain under the influence of the spirit.
Again, we start with KNOWING the gospel and by faith KNOWING Jesus Christ, receiving the Holy Spirit, and our faith GROWS as we “be being filled” with the spirit, and as the Spirit transforms us from the inside out we begin SHOWING, by bearing the fruit of the Spirit.
Once again, this is all about making progress in the FAITH, not in the LAW. And Paul contrasts those two modes of existence also in this next passage as he fleshes out this SHOWING aspect.
Galatians 5:13ff 13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. (in other words, you’re not in bondage to the law) But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; (in other words, don’t say I’m free from the law so I can live as self-centered as I like and just bite and devour my neighbors) rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
Catch that? You’re free from bondage to trying to keep all 600+ commands – that’s weary and burdensome – pretty much impossible. You’re free from that. But don’t use your freedom to be selfish and revert to the dog eat dog look out for number one mentality that you were born with. Don’t set your heart on earthly things, but on things above. Use your freedom to live a life of faith expressing itself through love; love your neighbor as yourself, for the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whateveryou want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
As he already said, the whole law is summed up in one command: love. And if you’re walking by the spirit, if you’re under the influence of God’s spirit, then you will walk in love because God is love. And if you’re led by the spirit you are not under law. And if you’re focused on God and doing his will, then you won’t be focused on you and doing your will, you won’t be seeking to gratify the desires of the flesh. What are the acts of the flesh, you ask? Well, the list could go on and on. Paul gives a few different lists in various texts including Romans 1 and 1 Cor 6 and there is some overlap, so we know that these lists aren’t exhaustive, but we certainly get an idea of what he’s talking about here. It’s sin.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Now he contrasts those acts of the flesh, the fruit of the flesh, if you will, with the fruit of the spirit.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Remember, knowing growing showing.
This fruit of the Spirit is what will be SHOWING as we make progress in the faith
Now this good fruit occurs both naturally and intentionally. There is a sense in which a believer takes on new ways as he is transformed by the renewing of his mind, as his earthly mentality is transformed to a heavenly one, as he sets his heart on things above and not on earthly things because as a man thinks so he is and out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. His will becomes more conformed to God’s will. But, the fact remains that he is still vulnerable to temptation, that sin still at times sounds appealing and he gets tricked by sin – remember last week we saw that sin is tricky and it’ll get ya. A man who knows God through faith in Jesus also knows temptation, so he has to be intentional about saying no to sin and yes to God. A man who is growing in his faith is still just as prone to fail as the rest and he has to be intentional to guard his heart. And a man whose progress is showing by the fruit he bears isn’t without his faults and he has to be intentional about watering that seed, pulling weeds out of his garden, and pruning his tree.
I have heard pastors use this text to make Christians insecure and question their salvation. That version goes something like this: a good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit. The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self control and well, if you’re lacking in any one of those things, perhaps you aren’t a Christian, because if you were that is the kind of fruit we would see. Well, yes and no. Again, to a degree, yes, that kind of fruit will occur naturally as one abides in Christ but it won’t occur exclusively. We are still prone to sin so we will see weeds pop up, but the goal is to get them out by the root and feed and water the good fruit with the word of God, fellowship, and prayer. The goal is to make progress so that we see that fruit of the spirit more and more, to be sure, but as we look at those and as I encourage us all to be intentional about growing in them please do not misunderstand this in any way to be condemnation. It is simply encouragement to be intentional about cultivating that which is already occurring naturally to some degree.
An apple tree will bear fruit – it will grow apples, but to what degree? How much fruit will it bear? Depends on how much attention it receives. Nutrients, water, pruning. It takes being intentional for it to bear more fruit. The same is true with fruit of the spirit. It takes being intentional if we want to see the fruit of the spirit growing more and more in our lives.
So I just want to ask a few questions of all of us to get us thinking intentionally.
LOVE – How loving are we? As I said last week, I really could get up every week and say love better, love more, let’s pray and be done with it because that’s really what it all comes down to.
JOY – How joyful are we? Life in Christ should be a joy. When we set our hearts on things above and we are focused on Christ, joy should be present.
PEACE – how much peace is in our lives? When we live by kingdom principles we have more peace. Our hearts are at peace
PATIENCE – How patient are we? Do we have to be the first in line or can we wait our turn? Do we have to have what we want when we want it or can we wait?
GOODNESS – to what degree are our lives characterized by goodness?
KINDNESS – when people observe our words do they sense a tone of kindness or harshness? When people observe our actions, do they see random and planned acts of kindness?
FAITH – are we faithful? Are we full of faith? Do we trust God or do we doubt?
GENTLENESS – are we meek? Or are we constantly asserting ourselves over and against others?
SELF CONTROL – do we fly off the handle or can we keep our cool? When someone says something that hurts or offends us, how do we handle it? Can we keep our emotions under control? Can we overlook an offense or are we like the fool who at once shows his annoyance?
As we wake up in the morning let’s set our hearts on things above and be intentional about being filled with the spirit that God’s spirit would work in our hearts. That we would GROW based on what we KNOW. And that growth would SHOW as God’s ways are lived out in our lives which bear the fruit of the spirit.