Spiritual Gardening: Cultivating the Spirit's Fruit Galatians 5:24-26
August 31, 2014
- Concluded our study on each aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit
- This morning, I want to tie them all together and talk about the one thing absolutely necessary for successful spiritual gardening.
- By way of review, let's look at the fruit of the Spirit again, just at a high level
• Love: Love is a holy, divine affection toward others.
• Joy: Joy is an unshakeable, dynamic feeling of divine gladness in the Lord.
• Peace: Peace is the supernatural experience of reconciliation, harmony, and freedom. • Patience: Patience is the expression of a heartfelt trust in God's sovereign plan.
• Kindness: Kindness is a concern for others leading to acts of grace for their benefit.
• Goodness: Goodness is morally upright generosity toward others.
• Faithfulness: Faithfulness is an unwavering commitment to the truth.
• Gentleness: Gentleness is a courageous, compassionate humility.
• Self-Control: Self-control is mastery over natural desires.
- I've left off one vital part of each definition. Some of you noticed that each definition ended exactly the same way: produced by the Spirit in all believers.
• The final part of the definition is what ties each of these together.
• The final part of the definition is what separates Christian virtue for pagan virtue.
- We are not attempting to change ourselves. We are not trying to become something we are not by the power of the flesh or by an external code of conduct. This is not a self-help or self-improvement lesson.
- These virtues come to us from outside of us. They come to us from the Holy Spirit as God replicates His own character in our hearts, in our thoughts, in our attitudes, and in our words and deeds.
• The final part of this definition indicates that these virtues are true in measure in every Christian's life. An unkind Christian is an oxymoron. A self-indulgent Christian is a contradiction. A Christian characterized by faithlessness is an impossibility. Every Christian manifests these virtues at some level, and, over time, increasingly in his or her life.
• So, this is the fruit of the Spirit. These are the virtues, among others, that He produces in the life of every follower of Jesus Christ.
- Throughout our study, we've looked at some practical things you can do to cultivate the Spirit's fruit. For example, you can spend time in the Word, you can spend time in prayer, you can examine your life and take one step forward in self-control in an area you struggle, you can go back to the basics of the Gospel and remember God's compassion on you, you can give yourself to the Lord so that you recognize all you have is His, and so on. But in all of these practical strategies, there is one thing we have not mentioned. And it is vital. It is central. It is foundational to all of these virtues. Here it is. [Proposition] To succeed at cultivating the Spirit's fruit, we need to know who we are as Christians.
I. It's not so much about knowing what to do, but knowing who we are.
Before any strategies will be effective, we need to know what it means to be a Christian, who we are now that we believe in Jesus Christ.
Galatians 5:24-26 gives us three things that are true of us as Christians. Three things that define who we are that are absolutely crucial to spiritual gardening, to cultivating the Spirit's fruit.
We are people who belong to Christ (v. 24)
A. Notice verse 24. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus.
1. It seems like there is this great need in our culture today to find a place where we belong. I know of two different churches that right now have something on their signs stating, “You belong here,” appealing to this desire to have a place where we belong.
2. Here, Paul tells the Galatians they belong to Christ. They are His people.
B. For the Galatians, the issue of belonging must have loomed large.
1. The Galatians as a people group were often considered to be on the margins of civilization in the Roman empire. Their ancestors were known for plundering temples, destroying cities, and basically creating havoc and terror throughout Asia Minor. They often fought naked when they went to war. So their level of social acceptance already was strained.
2. For the Galatians Christians, the feeling of ostracism was even worse. They were no longer welcome in their former places of worship, which also meant in many cases the loss of social ties. But they also were not welcome in Jewish synagogues as uncircumcised Gentiles who believed Jesus was the Messiah. They thus were double misfits, on the fringes of Roman culture by nationality, and now rejected by their own culture and by the Jewish people as well.
3. When the Judaizers came along teaching that they could be part of the people of God through circumcision, the message had great appeal. It would give them a place to belong. It would give them identity. It would connect them to a historic tradition. And it wouldn’t require them to capitulate on their belief in Jesus as Messiah, or so they thought.
4. Many of them were tempted to be circumcised and to follow the Mosaic Law. This gave them a sense of moral direction and a sense of spiritual identity, something many of them seemed to feel was missing from the faith alone Gospel Paul had preached.
5. Paul thus directly assaults their seeking of an identity in circumcision and the Law and says, “You belong to Christ.” You don’t find your identity in the Law. You don’t find it in circumcision. You don't find it in Judaism. You find it in Christ and Christ alone. You are His people through faith.
C. Today, we seek out our identity in thousands of places.
1. Some people seek it out in their work. Some people in their parenting. Some people in their hobbies. Some people in their favorite sports team. Some people in their local church. Some people in their wealth. Some people in a theological system. On and on and on.
2. Here’s the thing: If we would be people who produce the Spirit’s fruit, we must find our identity in one truth: we belong to Christ. We are His people. He has bought us with His own blood. 1 Cor 6:19-20. And Acts 20:28. God has purchased the church with His own blood, the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.
D. If you’re struggling to see the fruit of the Spirit in your life, let me suggest one of two things is true about you:
1. You are forgetting whose you are. You are forgetting your identity is that you now belong to Christ. You are not your own. Your life is not your own. Your body is not your own. Your time is not your own. Your money is not your own. Your talents are not your own. Christ is your Lord. You belong to Him. Everything that is important about you is defined by this one truth: you belong to Christ Jesus. Never forget that. Never let that take second place in your life. That is who you are.
2. You are not a Christian. It’s possible that the reason you don’t see the Spirit’s fruit is because you don’t belong to Christ. For some, that’s a very unsettling idea. But listen. The Spirit produces His fruit in all believers. Sometimes the fruit might be small. But it will be there. If you don’t see it, you need to examine yourself and make sure you belong to Christ.
E. So, we must know who we are as Christians, and the first thing is that we belong to Christ.
II. We are people who have crucified the flesh (v. 24)
A. Notice verse 24 again. We have crucified the flesh. We have crucified its passions, and we have crucified its desires.
1. The word crucified is put in such a way as to state a universal truth for all Christians.
2. In English, we have maxims, or truisms. People say, “What goes around comes around.” It’s stated like a universal truth.
3. Paul here is stating a universal truth for all those who belong to Christ. They have crucified the flesh.
B. The flesh is the old man. The flesh is the sinner in his natural state a part from God’s Spirit. It’s the aspect of us in which nothing good dwells. It’s the inclination to sin. The NIV uses sinful nature, which isn’t the best translation. The idea is the part of us that awaits final redemption, the part of us we battle that desires to do the evil works of the flesh in verses 19-21.
C. Paul says that we have crucified the flesh. This language is very graphic, and its very active. Notice that Paul says that we have crucified the flesh. It’s not something that was done to us in this context, but something we ourselves have done to the flesh. What does this mean?
1. Crucifying the flesh is a graphic picture of true repentance. The imagery helps us understand what we did when we came to Christ through repentance and faith.
2. Think about crucifixion. Crucifixion was not a neat, tidy method of execution. It was not meant to be painless and humane. It was violent. It was excruciating. It was tortuous. It was brutal. It was bloody. And it took a long time. And it required great strength even on the part of the executioner. To nail a human body to a thick piece of wood with massive nails up to nine inches long demanded great physical exertion. It demanded mercilessness to ignore the screams of pain from the victims. It demanded the cruelest sort of callousness to the suffering of the one dying.
3. Here, then, is the picture of true repentance. The truly repentant person does not have a mild disgust for sin. He does not have a distaste for sin. He does not merely dislike sin or find it objectionable. He has nothing but contempt for sin. He loathes sin with all of his being. He sees sin as so offensive to a holy God that nothing short of the cruelest death will suffice to pay sin what it deserves.
4. Paul is thus saying that all who belong to Christ have turned away from sin, not mildly, not half-heartedly, not flippantly, but with great violence they have severed themselves from sin. We have taken our flesh and nailed it to a cross. We have taken the very seat of our sin, slammed it down onto a piece of wood, held it fast while taking a nail, grasped a hammer, and we have driven the nails through our sinful flesh. We have done violence to sin. Our sin.
5. What’s more, we have sought not only to kill our individual acts of sin, but to kill the very seat of sin in our lives, the flesh. To repent of sin is to hate sin with such a great hatred that we abhor it to the point of annihilating its root, its source, its cause.
D. Paul adds that we have crucified the flesh’s passions and desires.
1. The passions are representative of the power of the flesh. The passions are what seek to control us and move us to sinful acts.
2. The desires are what the passions want to do. The passions compel us toward the desires of the flesh.
3. The point, then, is that repentance is a total destruction of sin in our lives. It is a transformation not just of external behavior, but a transformation of inward desires and inward motivations.
E. Now, you say, “Sometimes I feel tempted by the flesh. I desire sin. I have affections that are unholy. How can this be if I have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires?”
1. Remember what I said about crucifixion. It is not an immediate execution. The crucified person could survive hours upon the cross. He could have conversations while on the cross. The crucified person will die, to be sure, but it takes time.
2. The same is true of our flesh. When we crucified the flesh, the battle was won. But the flesh still yells at us. The flesh still taunts us. The flesh still is set against the Spirit of God.
3. The war has been won, but there are still battles to be fought.
4. This means that the flesh is a defeated foe that is still fighting and trying to win. But we always fight from the vantage point of victors, not ones who are defeated. We are not powerless against the flesh since we have the Spirit.
5. Sometimes it might seem like we are powerless. Sometimes it might seem like we can’t win. Sometimes it might seem impossible to overcome this temptation or that vice. But it’s not. That’s just a lie of the flesh as its taunts you from its cross. If you belong to Christ, you have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. We must understand this.
III. We are people who live by the Spirit (vv. 25-26)
A. Notice vv. 25-26. We are people who live by the Spirit. What does that mean? Simply, it means the Spirit is the source of our life. The hypothetical is not really a hypothetical. It could be rendered, Since we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. This is not a command. This is a fact. It is true of every Christian. Every Christian is alive by the power of the Holy Spirit. The idea, of course, is primarily spiritual life, since everyone physically alive, believe and unbeliever, is sustained by nothing other than the power of the Spirit. But for believers, our true life, our spiritual life, our life in Christ, is life given by and empowered by the Spirit of God.
B. Here, the contrast implicitly is with the Law. We do not live because of the power of the Law. We do not live by our own power. The flesh did not achieve something that gave us true life. We live because the Spirit has made us alive.
C. The command, then, that follows, is to walk by the Spirit. Another way to put it would be to follow the footsteps of the Spirit. Stay in sync with the Spirit. Keep in line with the Spirit.
1. The idea of walking by originally was a military term. It referred to the ranks or lines of the soldiers in battle array. Everyone had their place to stand. And everyone had to follow the one leading them into battle. In fact, the fighting power of the squadron depended on the individual soldiers all being firmly in line, following the leader into battle with precision and without deviation.
2. So here, the idea is similar. It is the idea of the Spirit being the leader. He leads us into battle with the flesh and with sin. Our success in battle demands we stay in line. It demands we follow His lead. It demands we stay in battle formation and don’t wander away from where He is going or how He is leading.
3. We see that it goes beyond even our own power to that of the entire church. Verse 26 makes this corporate. Read v. 26. If we get out of line we begin to fight one another, and that means we stop fighting the enemy, we lose our power, and we risk defeat.
4. The church, then, needs everyone to stay in step with the Spirit. Our ability to battle the evil win demands we all follow the Spirit’s lead.
D. Now, you might be wondering, “Well, what does it mean to follow the Spirit?” It’s a fair question, and I think Paul just answered it. The fruit of the Spirit describes what it looks like when we are in step with the Spirit. Notice how Paul ends verse 23. Against such things there is no law. Meaning, if you stay in step with the Spirit, and your life looks like the fruit of the Spirit, you will fulfill the law of God. You won’t be violating anything, you won’t lack anything, you won’t miss anything.
E. The contrast in verse 26 shows what happens when we forget who we are. We become boastful. We begin to take credit for our obedience. We begin to challenge each other. That term was used of men who challenged other men to drinking contests to show who was more manly. We envy one another, which of course is one of the works of the flesh.
F. When you understand you’re alive because of the Spirit, not because of your obedience to the Law, not because of your good works, not because of anything you have done, it makes you humble, not boastful. It makes you lowly, not conceited.
G. I think one of the reasons why we fail to see the Spirit’s fruit in full bloom in our lives is because we forget who we are, that we are people who live by the Spirit. We begin to think God saved us because of something in us, because of something we did, because of who we are. And the next step is to think we can produce holiness in our lives on our own, because if we were good enough, smart enough, talented enough, wise enough for God to save us, then we have something we contribute and we can contribute something to make ourselves holy. But we can’t. We are entirely dependent on the Spirit of God. We live by His power. We are alive because of His work, not our works.
- Christian, do you know who you are this morning? • Do you know that you belong to Christ?
• Do you know that you have crucified the flesh?
• Do you know that you live by the Spirit?
- If you want to be a spiritual gardener, if you want to see the fruit of the Spirit grow in your life and mature and ripen, you must know who you are as a Christian. You must know what is true about you through the Gospel, through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, and through the power of the Spirit in your life.
• You belong to Christ.
• You have crucified the flesh.
• You live by the Spirit.