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The Fruit of the Spirit or the Flesh?

February 27, 2017

I hope to be a gardener someday, with a patch of land filled with rich fruits and vegetables to feed my family and others—but at this moment I have little experience as a green thumb.

However, the Holy Spirit is the Master Gardener. He makes our hearts grow to glorify the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world so that many would become righteous through his death. Actually, if you think about it, Jesus didn’t die to plant a garden, but an orchard.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)

The Fruit Produced

What kind of fruit did Jesus’ death produce?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

How’s the health of your orchard? What categorizes your life: the fruit of the Spirit, or something else? Consider the opposite of each component of the fruit of the Spirit listed in Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

Fruit of the Spirit Fruit of the Flesh
Love Hate/Indifference
Joy Despair
Peace Anxiety
Patience Impatience
Kindness Rudeness
Goodness Evil
Faithfulness Unreliable
Gentleness Abrasive/Harsh
Self-Control Undisciplined

A Caution to Heed

When I’m impatient, rude, harsh, undisciplined, and anxious, what am I saying about what God has done in me? Am I living by his Spirit, or by the flesh? Our answer will determine which one we’re feeding more often.

A caution: The enemy and the flesh appeal to our performance-driven mentality. They will cling to this as a checklist and say, “I need to be more loving, patient, kind, disciplined, etc.” But that’s anti-gospel. The gospel stands in the face of our works-based pursuit for security and reminds us we can never have love, joy, peace, patience, or any fruit apart from his Spirit at work in us.

This isn’t about pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps or turning over a new leaf in order to be better. But both flesh and Spirit are at work in us, and we can choose which one is stronger.

So what are you feeding more, the flesh or the Spirit? It’s impossible to have the fruit of the Spirit without the Spirit. If there are two tigers, but you only feed one, which will be stronger? So we must feed the Spirit and starve the flesh. How do we do that? By setting our gaze on something (Someone) outside ourselves.

The Power to Fight

God has given us his very best: Jesus Christ. He’s given us a new address in a new kingdom, he’s planted within us his Spirit, and he’s given us all things that pertain to life and godliness (Colossians 1:13; John 14:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3).

In Christ, we have been given everything we need to thrive and flourish in the gospel and bear fruit for the exaltation of the Vinedresser (John 15:1-5).

So, if we say, “I can’t help it” after we sin, we’re directly disregarding—denying, even—that God gave us self-control along with our new heart:

Defining ourselves by sin has devastating results. First, it can allow us to excuse that sin instead of working to kill it. We may recognize that worry, harsh speech, overspending, overeating, or any other sin in our lives is wrong, but when we start to believe that’s just the way we are, we stop fighting against it. (Monica Hall)

We join God in his tending to the soil of our souls. We work and participate with him in the weeding and feeding of our orchards. How do we do that?

The Means to Grow

Though we work in cooperation with the Lord, our produce stands won’t be full due to our own power. We operate by the Spirit, not resisting, and not simply tolerating sanctification, but joyfully embracing whatever will make us most like Christ. This looks less like trying to build a garden in our souls and more like allowing him to produce shoots of vegetation out of the soil of regenerated hearts.

Sometimes it feels like we’re being buried beneath a load of smelly, trashy, rotten circumstances. While that might be true, remember that applying compost to a garden is what magnifies and intensifies the nutrients. Compost is never applied out of hatred for the soil but in order to yield the most bountiful and rich harvest possible.

Elisabeth Elliot once said,

Our vision is so limited we can hardly imagine a love that does not show itself in protection from suffering. The love of God is of a different nature altogether. It does not hate tragedy. It never denies reality. It stands in the very teeth of suffering. The love of God did not protect his own Son. The cross was the proof of his love—that he gave that Son, that he let him go to Calvary’s cross, though “legions of angels” might have rescued him. He will not necessarily protect us—not from anything it takes to make us like his Son. A lot of hammering and chiseling and purifying by fire will have to go into the process.

May we intentionally feed our hearts with nothing but the nutrient-rich and life-sustaining food of the gospel. And, as we live and operate out of the Spirit, fruit will come.

The Author
Sophie McDonald

Sophie McDonald is a writer, Bible teacher, and nanny. She’s a fan of blue ink pens, theology, books, coffee, and journals. Her primary aim is the fulfillment of the Great Commission and a life drenched in holiness. You can read more of her writing on her blog and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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