Fruit of the Spirit: FRUIT SALAD
After nine weeks of going through each example of spiritual fruit we read about in Galatians 5, I thought it would be good to bring it all back together into some kind of spiritual fruit salad. The past several weeks have focused on the way spiritual fruit shows up in our lives as followers of Jesus. But today I want us to take the next step and consider how spiritual fruit provides a diagnostic framework to give our lives focus, clarity, and direction. Look at the way the apostle Paul does this in his letter to the Colossians.
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
It is not uncommon at all for the apostle Paul to make these lists in his letters. We could find examples in just about all of his New Testament writings in which he lays out vices and virtues. For those who read the Bible often, a passage like this from the writing of Paul does not surprise us. In fact, maybe we pass over these lists so quickly because we might think we’ve seen this all before. Yup, I’ve heard it: get rid of anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language. Yup, I’ve heard it: clothe myself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience.
Let’s work through this passage as a wrap-up to our Fruit of the Spirit series and pay attention to three features we see here about spiritual fruit in general: that it is an ongoing process, that it provides immediate practical implications, and that it gives us a diagnostic framework for identifying the activity of the Holy Spirit. I know over the past nine weeks we have looked individually at each ingredient of spiritual fruit as its own quality. Today we are working with the combined collection of all those qualities joined together—something of a fruit salad.
The Ongoing Process of Spiritual Fruit
The Ongoing Process of Spiritual Fruit
The first feature we note about spiritual fruit from this passage is that it is an ongoing process.
9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
The taking off of the old self and the putting on of the new self is presented as completed action; that part is already done. When Jesus gave himself on the cross to take away the guilt of our sins, our old self was put to death along with the death of Jesus. When Jesus rose from the tomb and gained the victory of new life, our new self was made possible by Jesus uniting his new resurrection life to us. Those things have already been done, and they have already been done through Jesus.
the new self is continually in the process of being renewed in the image of God
light bulb dimmers
But look at how verse 10 ends. The new self which we have been given in Christ is a life that is continually in the process of being renewed in the image of God. There may be some instances when we only see a glimpse of spiritual fruit, but there may be opportunities over time for those expressions of spiritual fruit to grow and become some significant. Like all of you, the rooms in my house all have lights so that people can see in the house after the sun goes down. Many of those rooms have light switches which simply turn the light on or off. Those lights are either on at full wattage and brightness, or they are completely dark with no voltage at all. Maybe sometimes we look for spiritual fruit to work this way. It is either there or it is not; it is either on at full brightness or it is off in complete darkness. There are other rooms in my house that have dimmer switches for the lights. In those rooms, there is an option for the light to be on, but barely. Some of those lights are connected to the internet in my house so that they can be programmed on a timer. In the morning when it is time to wake up, there are certain lights that are programmed to turn on at a certain time of the morning. But they don’t just all flip on to compete brightness in the morning. Those lights are programmed to slowly fade on with a soft glow, gradually becoming more and more brighter.
spiritual fruit continually grows as we are being renewed
This is how Paul describes the presence of spiritual fruit in the lives of those who are being made alive in Christ. The seeds of that spiritual fruit which have been planted in us gradually become brighter and brighter as we are continually renewed into the image of God. So, on the one hand, it is okay if you are newer to the Christian faith and your life does not always beam radiantly with things like compassion and gentleness and kindness. But, on the other hand, those are qualities that should at least be growing and moving forward to become brighter and brighter. It is a process that should always be at work within the lives of those who follow Jesus as savior and lord.
The Immediate Practical Action of Spiritual Fruit
The Immediate Practical Action of Spiritual Fruit
The second feature we note in this passage is the immediate practical implication of spiritual fruit. Just look at the way Paul directs all of these qualities to be evident in the way we express them towards one another. Look at how this spiritual fruit shows up as practical implication. Verse 9 — “do not lie to each other.” Verse 13 — “forgive one another.”
verse 9 — “do not lie to each other” verse 13 — “forgive one another”
Here is what I am getting at. Spiritual fruit has little value in and of itself. There is no value in having the fruit of compassion unless it shows up as forgiving one another. There is no value in having the fruit of self-control unless it shows up as restraint from lying to each other. Over these past weeks we have been defining spiritual fruit as virtuous qualities and character traits; but those things only count when they translate into real life action. I may be a person who feels a sense of compassion for the poor; but if I never do anything to actually help the poor, then my compassion is rather useless.
spiritual fruit has an automatic outcome — action expressed towards one another
Paul is telling us that these things ought to naturally go hand-in-hand. And I do mean naturally, not forced. The life of Christian spiritual fruit, then, is not a moralistic checklist of ethical behavior chores. Rather, it is the natural outcome—the automatic byproduct—of a life that is being continually renewed into the image of our creator.
The Diagnostic Framework of Spiritual Fruit
The Diagnostic Framework of Spiritual Fruit
Now then, let’s keep those two features in mind—that spiritual fruit is an ongoing process and that spiritual fruit shows up in immediate practical real-life action. For the rest of our time here today I want to turn our attention to something different. Let’s focus on the way in which spiritual fruit provides us with a diagnostic framework. This is going to take a little explanation because those are big words that might sound a little confusing. So, let’s talk first about what a diagnostic framework even is, then we can talk about the way spiritual fruit fits into this.
diagnosis — a critical analysis of the nature of something act or process of identifying or determining the nature and cause of something through evaluation, examination, and review of data
Perhaps we most often associate the term ‘diagnosis’ with the medical field—whether is is mental health or physical health. When people experience an ailment of some kind and have symptoms they know are not right, they seek the advice of doctor or psychiatrist. After examining the symptoms, the doctor or psychiatrist provides a diagnosis—an explanation of what they think the issues are which cause the symptoms we see. And from the diagnosis we hope to gain a path of action forward—we know what needs to be done in light of the diagnosis we have received.
spiritual fruit provides a framework to spiritually diagnose the world around us
Here is where I want us to take this whole series about spiritual fruit into a new direction. You see, perhaps up to this point we have been thinking about spiritual fruit in terms of personal application. How can I be a person who bears spiritual fruit in my life? Or maybe we have been thinking about spiritual fruit in terms of community. How can I be a person who helps others bear spiritual fruit in their life? But after all these weeks digging in a focusing on the nature of spiritual fruit and how to recognize it, I want us to consider this feature of spiritual fruit: that it provides for us a framework which helps us spiritually diagnose the world around us.
we have been equipped by God’s word with the knowledge to diagnose what is spiritually wrong with the world around us
When my body is physically sick, I go to a medical doctor because the doctor has studied human biology and has been equipped with the knowledge to diagnose what is physically wrong. You and I have been equipped by God’s word with the knowledge to diagnose what is spiritually wrong with the world around us. The world is spiritually sick—that’s what sin does to us and to our world; it leaves us in spiritual sickness. The word of God helps us diagnose the symptoms of that spiritual sickness. It gives us a framework though which to analyze the spiritual condition of the world around us. Jesus says it like this.
15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
embrace expressions of spiritual fruit in our world, so that it may flourish and thrive
Once my medical doctor provides a physical diagnosis, there is a course of action which can bring about healing and physical health. Similarly, once you and I give the time and attention to spiritually diagnose the world about us, there is a course of action which can bring bring about healing and spiritual health. It is the fruit of the spirit we see in scripture which gives us this framework to spiritually diagnose the world around us. That is what I mean by spiritual fruit as a diagnostic framework. Wherever, then, we see examples of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in our world around us, we ought to embrace these things so that it may flourish and thrive all the more.
where the Spirit is bearing fruit in the world around us, we should be there too
Sometimes this is easy. Think of the various places in which we partner right out of this church. We partner with Kid’s Food Basket, and with Backpack Buddies, and with Love Your Neighbor Life Skills Program, and with World Renew. We don’t do these things because we have some sort of obligation to check these activities off on bingo card of moral piety. We do these things because we see that there are places which bear spiritual fruit. We use a diagnostic framework of looking at the world around us and figuring out where it is we see expressions of love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control, and we say let’s embrace that, let’s be a part of that. Because where the spirit is bearing fruit in the world around us, we should be there too.
what would it take for a small glimpse of spiritual fruit to become an abundance of spiritual fruit?
Now then, sometimes this can be a little more messy. If the bearing of spiritual fruit is an ongoing process, that means sometimes we might see only faint dim glimpses instead of radiant glaring beams of spiritual light. I think of a ministry like 70X7 Life Recovery which works with formerly incarcerated individuals. It can often be that these are individuals for whom spiritual fruit is faint and dim because many of these people have never had the opportunity to let those qualities develop and grow and become radiant before in their lives. In some of these messy places we have to diagnose what we see the Spirit doing and ask the question, what would it take for a small glimpse of spiritual fruit to become an overwhelming abundance of spiritual fruit?
God often shows up where nobody expects
And perhaps most importantly of all, this diagnostic framework of seeing the world around us through the lens of spiritual fruit should gives us humility. One of the recurrent themes in scripture is that God so often shows up where nobody is expecting. God so often works through means which nobody would have guessed. The prophet Samuel never would have guessed that of all Jesse’s sons, it would be David who God chose to be the greatest of all Israel’s Old Testament kings. Nobody would have guessed that the Messiah of the world would be born in a stable in the small village of Bethlehem. Nobody would have guessed that Jesus would choose for himself a group of twelve disciples that were common ordinary people. Nobody would have guessed that the church would expand beyond the Jewish nation into the gentle gentile world through a zealot like Paul, who had previously devoted his life to persecuting and stamping out these followers of Jesus. God has a habit of showing up in places we do not expect; this should give us a tremendous amount of humility. It is a humility that needs to be ready to confess when I am wrong as I diagnose the presence of spiritual fruit in places around me I never would have guessed or thought possible.
Let me share one of my own examples of how I saw this work out in my own life. I grew up in cutlerville, another suburb of Grand Rapids about five miles southeast of us here in Grandville. My family attended a Christian Reformed Church in Cutlerville that was probably like all the other Christian Reformed Churches in Cutlerville during the 70s and 80s. It was during the 1980s that the issue of women serving in church leadership was a subject that was often addressed. I will tell you that, at that time in my life, I was absolutely indifferent about it. It did not matter to me one bit if women served in ministry leadership, and it did not matter to me one bit if women did not serve in ministry leadership. At that time in my life I simply did not care one way or the other.
Fast forward several years to the time when I served as youth pastor at Westwood Church in Kalamazoo. This happened to be the first church I was a part of which had women in leadership. For part of that time, my family’s district elder was one of those women. It was then that, for the first time, I saw first-hand and experienced the outstanding spiritual care and shepherding of an elder in the church, who also happened to be a woman. She provided elder care in a way which noticeably surpassed anything I had ever experienced before from elders who were men. Now, I do not mean at all to say that the reason her elder care was better was because she happened to be a woman; and I am not saying at all that the reason my experience of elder care before that seemed lesser was because it happened to be men. That’s not the point. The point is, for the first time in my experience I noticeably saw exceptional spiritual fruit coming from a place I did not necessarily expect to see it.
Fast forward a little bit later to when I attended grad school to get my seminary degree. It was there that, for the first time, I heard women preach as many of my classmates in preaching class happened to be female. And it was there that I was struck by the incredible insight and clarity that these women brought to the Word of God as they took to the pulpit and proclaimed the gospel. I noticeably saw exceptional spiritual fruit coming from a place I had not previously expected to see it.
It was during that time in which I realized just how wrong I had been for so many years to be completely indifferent towards women serving in ministry leadership. I recognized that my indifference towards them was in fact indifference towards the Holy Spirit and what the Spirit was doing. I had grown to a point in my life in which spiritual fruit had become for me a diagnostic framework to see the world around me. I could no longer deny the obvious spiritual diagnosis: that God can bear exceptional spiritual fruit through those he calls to be leaders in his church regardless of whether they are men or women.
From that time forward, my attitude has shifted. I am no longer indifferent towards women in ministry leadership. I feel pretty safe to say that out loud here in this church which has so obviously been blessed by many women who have served in the past and continue to serve now. These days, I am no longer indifferent about it. I am an advocate for it. I encourage it. And it all has to do with a diagnostic framework of spiritual fruit. Wherever it is we see expressions of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in our world around us, we ought to embrace these things so that it may flourish and thrive all the more.
spiritual fruit becomes the tangible expression of the gospel always on the lookout for expressions of spiritual fruit celebrate spiritual fruit wherever and whenever we see it
Let’s continue to be people who do that well together. Let’s keep being people who are always on the lookout for expressions of love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control. Let’s be people who celebrate this fruit of the spirit wherever and whenever we see it taking place. Let’s be people who embrace what the Holy Spirit is doing in our church and in our world around us. There is so much bitter fruit out there in our world. Don’t let that fruit of bitterness grab onto you. Hold on tight to a diagnostic framework that always clings to the spiritual fruit we see coming from God all around us. Cling to that and don’t let it go. Because that spiritual fruit becomes the tangible expression of the gospel; it is the way in which the hope that we have comes to life among us; it is the natural overflow of the faith which we have.