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10.02.11 Being Faithful and Bearing Fruit, Gal 5:13-26

by on October 3, 2011

The Bible says that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit? Wouldn’t self-control be a fruit of my will? This raises the important issue of grace and responsibility.

Summary Points

  • Why there is only one fruit of the Spirit
  • The relationship between God’s grace and personal responsibility
  • We live either according to the Law or the Spirit
  • Three things we can do to bear spiritual fruit

Paul the Apostle writes that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Note that there is only one fruit of the Spirit comprised of these nine qualities. This prevents us from picking and choosing which we like, and it also indicates that, unlike spiritual gifts, God doesn’t pick and choose either. If you follow Christ, if you have the Spirit, you will bear all nine qualities of the fruit of the Spirit.

As an organic metaphor, there is no beginning or end. This isn’t a sequential, “one necessarily precedes the other” list. The Spirit is free to begin bearing any one of the nine qualities and move to any of the other depending on the unique circumstances in one’s life.

I want to offer a few observations about self-control, however, because it raises the definitive question for Christianity of the relationship between God’s grace and personal responsibility.

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit in the same way a branch bears fruit on the vine. Paul depicts the inclusion of non-Jews among God’s chosen people as wild branches that are engrafted into a cultured olive tree. This is grace—a branch cannot insert itself into a tree. It must be done for the branch. And Jesus says God prunes the branches so that they may bear fruit. This also is grace—a branch cannot prune itself.

But both Jesus and Paul make clear that the fruit of faith and faithfulness is the responsibility of the branch.

Fruit-bearing is opposite of Law-abiding, according to Paul in Galatians. We are either faithful fruit-bearing people or we are fearful or proud Law-abiding people. Law-abiding people emphasize their responsibility—they measure themselves against what the Law prescribes, and they fearfully fall short of or proudly uphold the Law.

By contrast, people who bear spiritual fruit emphasize grace—they depend on God’s Spirit to work in their lives to make them more loving, joyful, peaceful, etc. And there is no restriction on such growth; Paul says against the fruit of the Spirit there is no Law.

So there are a few things we can do to bear fruit. First, we should focus on being led by Spirit and give up our preoccupation with the Law. For example, instead of memorizing the list of vices in Galatians 5 and avoiding them, memorize the list of virtues and pursue them. Look for the Spirit-led opportunities to be kind, gentle, faithful, etc.

Second, look in your life for the opposites of the fruit of the Spirit. Since the Spirit bears one fruit with nine qualities, one opposite, for example, lack of joy, serves to block the rest. Assess your spiritual health by looking for the opposite of the fruit, and pray God would prune that off your branch.

Third, hydrate your life with baptismal waters. We all know that growing plants require water. Spiritual growth requires the waters of baptism. In baptism, we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection, so our unfruitful lives are crucified with Christ in order that a new fruitful life may emerge from the waters of baptism. (See Romans 6:3-4, and Galatians 2:20).

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

  • Are you more preoccupied with obeying the Law or following the Spirit?
  • Does the Law have any role to play in the Spirit-led life?
  • What’s the relationship like in your life between God’s grace and your responsibility?
  • Which qualities of the fruit of the Spirit are evident in your life? Which are lacking?
  • How are the qualities which are lacking keeping you from growing in the others?
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