The fruit of man
A quick story
I remember a moment in my teenage years sitting in a circle with my Sunday school small group. We were all filling out a personal assessment on the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22). The assessment had us rate ourselves with a scale of “1-10” on where we each thought we were per fruit.
I’m just going to be blunt about it. That’s terrible theology. No one recognized it at the time because I don’t think anyone truly thought about it. For most of us, Christianity and faith was just going to church once a week – maybe an additional outreach or student night. But study theology we must because Biblical illiteracy and false doctrine (even if it’s accidental) is the difference between living by The Gospel of God and man’s self-exalting gospel.
The reason I know rating ourselves according to how well we achieve or embody each fruit is because that’s contrary to what Paul is teaching in Galatians. The assessment exercise taught that having love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control was due to our own ability to produce them. People would put down things like having a “3” in patience, yet a “7” in self-control. A “9” in faithfulness but a “2” in love. In truth, ranking our fruit was a harmful exercise that focused our hearts on the wrong end of the tree.
In one way or another I’ve heard it widely expressed that our relationship with God and endurance of the faith is dependent entirely on our ability to follow God and walk in his ways. I touched on this misguided pursuit in chapter two’s “Your Heart Has Eyes,” but I’ll attack it this week from a different angle. Like we cannot open up our own evil, diseased, selfish heart to see God’s goodness in a state of spiritual blindness, we cannot control our own production of the fruit of the Spirit.
Paul is writing the letter of Galatians to a church body that is being polluted from a heretical group in its midst teaching a gospel that emphasizes works-producing salvation. He touches on this in several places: Galatians 1:6-7, 2:4-5, 2:11-15, 3:1-9, 3:15-20, 4:8-10, 4:21-31, and 5:7-8.
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you to the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” Gal 1:6-7
“Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in – who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery – to them we we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” Gal 2:4-5
These church-attending, gospel-distorting serpents were so convincing that they led astray those who Paul discipled and ministered with. Paul relays an account in which he confronted Cephas and Barnabas for exuding partiality and hypocrisy towards Gentiles about circumcision.
“And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” Gal 2:13-14
A modern-day application of this correction would be like Paul arguing: “How can you, a Christ-believing disciple, expect others to live for God if you don’t even act that way yourself?” This is something that people in church will always struggle with – the desire to live for God according to their own ability and pursuit – it’s in our human nature. We will rank ourselves according to who has best mastered love, or who is the most patient, kind or gentle. And we will completely miss the point of the Gospel, living under a false manmade gospel that puts our own truth and mastery at the center of our hearts. Just like the church of Galatia at the time of Paul’s letter.
The fruit of man
If we want to talk about what the heart of man is able to produce we can look to a neatly organized list that prefaces the fruit of the Spirit. Oddly enough, I don’t recall any assessment in small groups where people ranked themselves according to this list:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Gal 5:19-21
Our hearts are so broken that when we give it our best and try our absolute hardest we will inevitably produce sin. It’s in our broken nature, our hardened heart that lacks eyes to see. So when you look at yourself and try and rank your ability to live for God, if you’re being honest, you are going to find that your scores are all zero. This is because we cannot produce healthy fruit and God-glorifying works. Period.
The Spirit supplies
In chapter 3 Paul exhorts the false gospel that had infiltrated its way into the church. He emphasizes that it is not works that make us righteous, but hearing and believing with faith. He also says something incredibly important that will set up understanding the fruit of the Spirit.
“Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” Gal 3:5.
It is not man that achieves or creates the fruit of the Spirit. It is the Spirit who supplies and produces the fruit in man. The danger with finding lists in the Bible of right and wrong is that we desire to check everything off – to slave over it and make sure that we don’t miss anything. Instead of seeking the heart transformation that replaces our hardened heart of stone with a heart of Christ, we look to achieve our holiness by works. (Eph 2:8-9)
For example, if through the assessment we ranked ourselves with a “3” on kindness, the response might be to look for moral opportunities to be kind in our lives to solve our lack of kindness. This way of thinking trains us to look at a spiritual problem and solve it based on our ability and not God’s Spirit at work in us. Whenever we live from the Spirit, it is not us working, but Christ willing and working through us.
“For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Phil 2:13
A perfect, terrible reference
A scene from the movie “Evan Almighty” is a perfect example of this heresy. In it Morgan Freeman plays “God” and he’s advising Lauren Graham, wife to Steve Carrell who is a modern-day Noah, on how to fulfill their calling. I bet 99.9% of people saw this and were moved by this scene. I remember thinking it was powerful myself when I first watched it back in 2007. But it’s a wonderful picture of The Gospel Of Man on full display.
“Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?” - Morgan Freeman as “God” from “Evan Almighty
Throw that soft piano music bed in that scene and your heart is moved with the same type of false doctrine the Galatian church was up against. You can see how easy it is to be deceived when you don’t study Scripture and attend small groups and church services without any Biblical foundation to stand on.
The fruit of God
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Gal 5:22-2
The fruit are OF the Spirit. They are not called the fruit of man. We cannot create or produce fruit for God. They are given and supplied by the Spirit (Gal 3:5) to us through receiving and hearing with faith (Gal 3:1-9). To hear and receive from the Spirit is to have a heart that is awakened by a miraculous heart transplant approved by surgeon Jesus Christ (Eph 1:17-18).
The fruit of the Spirit are a gauge for us to see if a believer has “crucified his flesh with its passion and desires” (Gal 5:24). When they spring forth from our hearts and actions they are in full bloom – every fruit accounted for. We do not ever exude just a partial amount of them. To be a “10” in love is to also be a “10” in patience, and a “10” in faithfulness, and so forth.
Unlike what Morgan Freeman might say as “God,” beautiful as his voice is, if you lack patience you will most certainly not sanctify yourself by striving for patience. Rather than looking to overcome your impatience and sin by working harder, look within yourself and your heart. What fruit is growing from your tree? If you are impatient, trying to act more patient isn’t going to change the fact that the roots of your tree are impatient by nature. Jesus proclaimed during his most famous sermon of all time:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” Matt. 7:15-20
A better assessment
The only assessment I think that would be Biblically healthy to have with a small group on the fruit of the Spirit wouldn’t be a ranking on scale of 1-10, but to check a box that says “yes” or “no.” The fruit of the Spirit are not a list of attributes that we posses in part and in varying degrees. It’s an all or nothing situation. You either have the Spirit of God in your life that produces live-giving, Christ-exalting fruit, or you have the spirit of man in you, producing selfishness, hatred, anger and jealousy. (And to provide extra clarification, I talking solely about the fruit of the Spirit. Not spiritual gifts).
That being said, we aren’t perfect. On earth, we still struggle, falter and stumble. Our flesh and our spirit are at war with one another. The Gospel of Man is something we stray towards when we rely on our flesh and not the Spirit. But in our stumbling, we should never look for opportunities to overcome our situations with works and deeds, but by looking inward at our heart. It is the Spirit that inwardly renews us and redirects our gaze to the cross and Christ.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Gal 5:16-17
“The Spirit gives life, the flesh is no help at all. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” John 6:63
A beautiful prayer
I will close with an intimate prayer from David in Psalm 51 after he had committed lust, adultery and murder. David didn’t look at his situation and decide it was time to do better and work harder to overcome his situation. He didn’t start ranking himself on areas he needed to improve. He pleaded with the Lord to consecrate his heart and make it clean again! To purge him of his sinful nature and restore Jesus as his greatest treasure. Only from a restored heart can the Spirit produce the fruit in us.