Fruit in Ourselves
Our final subject is the last group of fruit segments, viz., those that we see in ourselves.
The seventh segment of the fruit of the Spirit is translated faith in the King James Version and faithfulness in the New King James. Faith sometimes refers to the doctrines of Christianity, and other times it refers more to a Christian’s assent to those doctrines. Faithfulness is the dependability of a Christian’s character. The Greek word can bear any of these meanings.
The proper relation of the word’s three meanings is provided by John W. Sanderson. He says that “faithfulness flows from faith in God.” That is, once a person has been enlightened by the gospel of Jesus Christ and has submitted himself to it, he becomes more and more reliable. This doesn’t come naturally, but is the fruit of the Holy Spirit working in him.
On the other hand, faithfulness, apart from a saving faith in Christ, loses its meaning. Drunks are faithful: they’ll take advantage of every opportunity they can to drink. Thieves are faithful, too — try leaving one with your unguarded jewelry. This kind of faithfulness is NOT the fruit of the Spirit. It’s a worldly faithfulness that begins with a denial of God and his Word.
After years of observing the so-called “dead orthodoxy” of Danish Lutheran churches, Kierkegaard decided that passion is more important than truth. He said that a pagan who worships idols zealously is more religious than an upright Lutheran who shows hardly any zeal. But consider the pagans of Romans 1, who pursued their religion as zealously as any idolaters ever could. In terms of passion, they were as enthusiastic as any man ever was. Did Paul commend them for their enthusiasm? No, he condemned them for their rejection of the truth.
Apparently, Kierkegaard wasn’t very familiar with the Bible. There really is no such thing as dead orthodoxy. As Jesus said, The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life (John 6:63). Heterodoxy is dead, will always be dead, and inevitably results in death. But Biblical truth gives nothing but life to all who are nourished thereby.
Conservative pastors are sometimes criticized for being too negative. Well, we are negative at times, but we have a good reason for it. You see, the church cannot survive if it allows the Scriptures to be undermined. Christian lives cannot be built on the foundation of paganism. Because the world constantly throws its darts our way through politics, the media, education, art and entertainment, the church must counter these things with a Word from God. The sins of day must be addressed from the pulpit.
Unless we build our lives on the doctrines of the faith, we have nothing. We would be like houses built on sand, ready to collapse with the first storm. But those who love the truth will someday say with Paul, I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing (2 Tim. 4:7–8).
From this we see that it’s not enough to acknowledge the objective truth of Christianity, there must be a subjective acceptance of it on our part. When the Philippian jailor asked how to be saved, Paul responded, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house (Acts 16:31). And John gave the other side of the same coin when he wrote, He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:18).
Faith also requires faithfulness, i.e., living in obedience to the faith and doing what pleases God. Such faithfulness means that we must persevere regardless of the outward circumstances of our lives. We must find the answers to our problems in the Word and trust the sovereign God sustain us. This, in turn, demands diligence on our part. As Peter wrote in his second epistle, Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:10–11).
In the first George Bush’s speech at the 1988 Republican Convention, he expressed his desire for America to become a kinder and gentler nation. We haven’t quite made it. But our Lord predicted something far more profound, viz., that the meek would someday inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5).
Meekness is the eighth segment in the fruit of the Holy Spirit. But just what is it? Some of its synonyms include submissiveness, humility and modesty. In a minute, we’ll look at some examples of meekness in the Bible. But before we do this, I must also say what meekness is not. The world thinks that meekness means weakness. My thesaurus even lists spineless as one of its synonyms.
Anyone can go along with the crowd. Caving in to the expectations of friends and colleagues requires no intestinal fortitude. But meekness comes from conviction. A person who knows where he stands does not have to prove himself to others. He can state his opinion in a non-offensive, non-threatening way, and yet not back down from what he knows is right.
Look at Jesus. The forty-second chapter of Isaiah foretold his meekness eight hundred years before he was born: Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law (Isa. 42:1–4). According to the prophet, Jesus was so meek that a split reed was completely safe in his presence, and so was a candle that was about to go out. Was he a pansy? Not a chance. No matter how fierce the opposition, he stood fast. He continued in obedience to the Word of God until he had accomplished everything he came to do.
Imagine the courage it must have taken for our Lord to bear all the insults and beatings that he endured during the final hours before his crucifixion. Did Jesus lash out against his enemies? Did he cave in just to avoid the pain? Isaiah also wrote, He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth (Isa. 53:7). This is the same meekness that we should imitate today. Listen to what Peter wrote: For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth (1 Pet. 2:21–22).
The lesson here is simple: meekness teaches us humbly to accept whatever lot the Lord gives us. Often the Lord sends difficult things our way. How many of us have felt trapped sometime in our lives? Maybe we felt trapped in an unhappy marriage, or were single and didn’t like it. Maybe we had a meaningless job. Perhaps we were overwhelmed with family problems, illnesses and accidents. And then there are all those times when we’ve just been foolish and brought calamity upon our own heads.
We all know what I’m talking about. Fortunately, God has given us the answer. We must accept ourselves and the circumstances of our lives. We must learn to say with David, But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? for all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee (1 Chron. 29:14). And with Paul: Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me (Phil. 4:11–13).
Once we have accepted ourselves, then we are in a better position to help others. We won’t have to prove ourselves anymore or shout to be heard. And it won’t bother us if others pay no attention to us.
But can the meek prevail in a world dominated by sin? Though it may not seem so, the answer, as always, depends on the Lord’s will. Moses was the meekest man on the face of the earth in his day (Num. 12:3). But to the natural eye of man, it looked like he was losing. After al, who was he to stand up against Pharaoh, the mightiest king in the world? Even Korah, Dathan and Abiram were younger and stronger than he. Yet, Pharaoh’s army drowned in the Red Sea, and the earth swallowed Korah and his band of rebels. Meekness won.
With Jesus, the situation was less hopeful. Can you imagine how the devil must have celebrated when Jesus’ heart stopped beating? The Jews certainly were. They thought they had done a wonderful service for God. But Jesus rose from his tomb two days later, and the walls of hell came tumbling down. Again, meekness won.
Now, how about you? Are you accepting God’s mission for your life, or are you resisting what you know to be his will? Are you confident enough in God’s goodness and grace to fight the good fight with the meekness that comes from above? If so, you too will inherit the earth. It might not look so now, but you will. God says so.
Now, we come to the last segment of fruit: temperance or self-control. Why is this at the end of the list? It’s possible that it’s here because it’s one of the hardest segments to come by.
Mike Tyson, most everyone knows, was a world-renown, champion heavyweight boxer. His wife, according to rumors, left him because he frequently beat her up. For a while he made his home in an Indiana penitentiary, having been convicted of raping a beauty contestant in a hotel room. What a shame! He conquered his body, but he couldn’t control his sinful desires.
But the problem is even worse than this. Most people cannot control even their own bodies. How many television commercials are there for diet aids? Most of them promise that you don’t have to control yourself. You can eat whatever you want. You don’t have to exercise. And yet the pounds of fat will just melt right off of you.
The reason people cannot control their bodies is that they do not have their spirits in subjection.
I wonder, though, if self-control is really what Paul had in mind when he wrote Galatians. I say this because it seems that the main problem with sinners is not that they lack self-control, but that they have too much of it. A couch potato who sits around all day watching television and eating junk food is doing exactly what he wants to do. He doesn’t want to lose weight. He wants to indulge himself. He’s perfectly in control of himself. He’s just not controlling himself by the Word of God. Paul wrote in Romans 13: Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying (v. 13). These works of the flesh are the exact opposites of temperance. The apostle exhorts us not to do them.
But one thing is still missing: we need to know how to avoid the sinful works of the flesh. If the control we need is not within ourselves, where will we find it? Paul continues, But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof (v. 14). Place yourselves under the sovereign reign of King Jesus. This is the only effective way of shedding ourselves of our natural inclinations, habits and desires.
Paul made the same point in Ephesians 5, where he says that we must put on the Lord Jesus by submitting to his Word and will: See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God (vv. 15–21).
The Israelites had to submit themselves to the Lord as described here. They, no doubt, wondered what the Egyptians would do to them if they ever caught them. They said that they would have been better off under Pharaoh. They even said to Moses, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? (Exod. 14:12). But the prophet encouraged them to look beyond the circumstances, to see with the eyes of their soul. He said, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace (vv. 13–14).
Here we learn the most valuable lesson about temperance. Standing still and holding one’s peace is very difficult at times, especially when it looks like we have no place to go. By nature we want to handle our own problems. We want to find our own solutions. But this is not the Lord’s way. Before fear takes root in our souls, we must look for the Lord’s salvation. He it is who fights our battles.
The book of Ephesians gives several instances in which temperance must be exercised.
We’ll start with Ephesians 4:25. We all know lying is wrong. Sometimes, though, it almost seems necessary to lie in order to defend our actions, to protect our reputation, or to make ourselves look better than someone else. Does Paul say, “Well, if the circumstances are this or that, it’s okay to lie?” No, he commands us to put away lying and speak the truth to our neighbor. That is to say, we must be restrained by God and his will for us as it is defined by his Word. If we need defense or protection, God will supply it. If our neighbor has made a fool of himself, that will show up too.
A couple verses later the Lord gives us permission to be angry when someone wrongs us (Eph. 4:26). However, he does not allow us to administer our own justice. To do anything else, Paul says, grieves the Holy Spirit of God (v. 30).
Likewise, filthy language reveals hearts not controlled by the Spirit of the Almighty (Eph. 4:29). Fornication and coarse jesting do the same (Eph. 5:3–5). Contrariwise, a God-controlled heart looks for more and more ways to give thanks (v. 4) and glorify the Lord.
They key to temperance, and ultimately to all the fruit of the Spirit, is submitting ourselves entirely to the revealed will of God. Only in the Bible does God tell us what kind of behavior pleases him and brings glory to his name.
Now that we’ve looked at each of the segments of the fruit of the Spirit, I want to emphasize once again that we do not have nine separate fruits, but one single fruit. It’s one fruit because Jesus Christ earned it for us by his life of perfect obedience and death on the cross, because the Holy Spirit applies it to us sovereignly according to his eternal purposes, and because all the segments grow and develop together. We cannot love God unless we also love our neighbor and have a right evaluation of ourselves. Nor can we evaluate ourselves correctly unless we know what we are in relation to God and others. The fruit of the Spirit stands or falls together.
And we must also strive after this fruit. Although it is true that this fruit is not the product of our labor, we must still seek it. If we lack love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness or temperance, then we need to cry out to the Spirit for his blessing. Remember the words of Jesus: Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you (Matt. 7:7). This promise applies here as much as it does anywhere else. Amen.