“Look at that!” exclaimed Manuel. He pointed to two thermometers hanging side by side on the wall next to the window in his grandparents’ kitchen. “One of these says seventy-two degrees, and the other says forty. This one closest to the window must be wrong–it’s warmer than forty in here.”
“Nope. They’re both right,” said Grandpa. He pointed to a small tube running from one of the thermometers out through the window frame. “This tube allows that thermometer to show the temperature outside. The other one shows the temperature in this room. That’s why they can be right next to each other and have two very different readings.” His eyebrows furrowed in thought.
“Uh, oh!” said Manuel with a grin. “Grandpa’s about to give us a mini-sermon. I can tell by the look on his face.”
Grandpa ruffled his grandson’s hair. “These thermometers might be compared with two Christians standing side by side,” suggested Grandpa. “One is warm when it comes to God while the other is cold–far from God and not really interested in the things of the Lord.”
“So neither of them are good?” asked Manuel. “My teacher at church said it wasn’t good to be a lukewarm Christian.”
“She’s right,” agreed Grandpa, “but I’m not talking about a lukewarm Christian. I’m talking about one who has warmth and love for God and His people–one who spends time with the Lord and serves Him by serving others. One who prays, attends church, enjoys spending time with Christian friends, and reads and obeys God’s Word.”
“And I guess the cold Christian knows the Lord but isn’t interested in learning more about God or serving Him, right?” asked Manuel.
Grandpa nodded. “They’re probably more often involved in the things of the world, hanging out with the wrong crowd, and not concerned about sharing God’s love with others.” Grandpa took his Bible from the kitchen table. “Time for our daily Bible reading,” he said. “Let’s read some verses from Galatians that describe some of the characteristics of a warm and cold Christians, shall we?”
“Okay,” agreed Manuel. “I definitely don’t want to be a cold Christian!”
What is the difference between the fruit of the Spirit and the works of the flesh? The Spirit wants to please God, and the flesh wants to please itself and the world. The condition of our souls strongly influences the fruit that comes out of our lives. If there are any areas of our souls that have been damaged in some way, we will produce bad fruit in those areas. Bad fruit doesn’t necessarily point to a horrific past or abuse. It can simply mean that there are areas of our soul that are still not Christlike.
Which will we allow to dominate our lives-the works of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit? As long as we are in the flesh there will be a conflict between the flesh and the Spirit. If we give ourselves over to the world of the flesh, serve that world and allow ourselves to be determined by it, the flesh will continue to assert its desires in opposition to the Spirit. The Spirit who lives in every Christian opposes the flesh. We can be certain that the Spirit will be triumphant if we walk in the Spirit.
The flesh is a menace to our eternal destiny-a menace that we have to fight every day. The battle won’t be won overnight. We might win an initial victory, but the war continues because we are continually exposed to the flesh.
So what are the works of the flesh? They fall into three categories: sensual sins, spiritual sins, and social sins. These wicked deeds are clearly seen and are performed out in the open. Paul lists them as:
- Fornication. The word fornication is often associated with sexual vice, but it also means everything that defiles us and distracts us from a right relationship with God and thus from right living.
- Uncleanness. Paul is concerned about moral impurity that soils our lives and separates us from God.
- Licentiousness. It describes lewdness and sensuality, but it also refers to unrestrained violence, pleasure at any cost, and desire and lust that doesn’t care for what other people think.
- Idolatry, or allowing anything to take the place of God. It is the act of worshipping anything other than God. We are created to worship God, love people and use things. Too often we use people, love self and worship things.
- Sorcery, including the reading of horoscopes. Magic and witchcraft are man’s effort to control God, to compel God to fit into man’s plans and do man’s bidding.
- Murder. Envy leads to jealousy and a bitter mind, which can lead to murder. In Genesis, envy and murder stood with man’s rebellion against God as the original sin.
- Drunkenness and revelry. They were socially-acceptable forms of recreation in Paul’s time, as they are in our time. Today, they are more destructive. People are killed or injured in car accidents caused by drunk drivers. Families have been destroyed by alcohol. Children are neglected because of money spent on alcohol.
Notice that most of the works of the flesh are social sins. It is in our personal relationships that the flesh most often appears. By adding the phrase, “those who practice such things,” Paul wants readers to understand that this is merely a short catalog of common sins, not an exhaustive or complete list. Paul does not say that anyone who has ever done any of these things will be excluded from heaven. Rather, those who have a habit of sin are excluded from the kingdom because they were never really included-they were never truly saved.
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, and each following fruit of the Spirit is another expression of love. This distinction between the fruit of the Spirit and the work of the flesh was a result of Paul’s experience. He rebelled against God and thus he was at war with himself. Christ’s love reconciled Paul to God. Paul’s life was integrated with God and with other Christians. It brought him together inside.
Paul lists nine character traits that the Holy Spirit produces in a believers’ life. Jesus Christ is the supreme example of every spiritual quality, having embodied the fruit of the spirit perfectly because each one is inextricable linked to who He is. The fruit of the Spirit is godly attitudes that characterize the lives of those who belong to God, have faith in Christ and possess the Holy Spirit. The Spirit produces fruit which consists of 9 characteristics or attitudes that are linked with each other and are commanded of believers throughout the New Testament. Specifically, they are:
- Love. It is the summing up not merely of the law, but of all true spiritual life.
- Joy. It’s the only source of obedience to God.
- Peace-with God and with each other.
controlling ourselves and supporting other people. Patience is hard for three
- Overload. We have too much to do and not enough time to do it. It leaves no breathing room, which leads to impatience.
- Unrealistic expectations. We place high expectations on people who are close to us-people such as our spouses, children and close friends. When they don’t live up to our expectations, we get impatient. We forget that people aren’t perfect, so they can’t live up to every expectation that we place on them.
- Pride. When we think we deserve better treatment than the treatment we receive, our egos get inflated and we get impatient.
- Goodness-the type that afflicts the comforted and comforts the afflicted.
- Faithfulness-our trusting response to God in Jesus Christ. Because our faith is in God’s faithfulness, we can be faithful in word and deed and reliable in our discipleships. It is at the heart of all relationships. It prevents families and societies from falling apart. It is the one element that has the ability to encourage us to persevere in times of failure and heartache.
- Gentleness-being faithful and submissive to God even in the midst of trial. A gentle person knows his or her strength but submits that strength to Christ in a ministry of love and caring for others. For example, Albert Schweitzer was once asked to name the greatest person in the world. He replied, “No one can properly determine the greatest person in the world. The greatest person…is some unknown person who at this very moment has gone to help another person in the name and with the loving Spirit of Jesus Christ.”
- Self-control-temperance, or refusal to give free reign to impulse and desire. It makes us fit for God, fit for ourselves and fit to serve others.
The fruit of the Spirit reveals our dependency on and sensitivity to the promptings of the Spirit. Calling these Spirit-produced characteristics “fruit” indicates beauty, spontaneity, quietness and growth instead of effort, labour, strain and toil. The use of the singular word “fruit” indicates that there is a unity and coherence in the outworking of these virtues.
The spiritual person has a body and a soul. He has been changed from what he was before spiritual birth. When he was converted, his spirit became united with God’s Spirit. He received his impetus from the Spirit and not from the flesh. His mind was being renewed and transformed. His emotions were characterized by peace and joy instead of turmoil. The Spirit gives us the tools we need to deal properly with life’s trials, but if the fruit of the Spirit has not matured in our lives, we will face even more problems.
Why is there often such a great difference between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit? Why are so many believers living so far below their potential in Christ? Why are so few of us enjoying the abundant, productive life we have already inherited?
Part of the answer is related to the process of growth and maturity as the individual believer appropriates and applies his spiritual identity to his day-to-day experience. Another part of the answer is due to our ignorance of how the kingdom of darkness affects our progress to maturity. Satan actively tries to block our attempts to grow into maturity as God’s children. We must know how to stand against him.
Everyone who is Christ’s died with Him on the cross, but believers must also crucify the fleshly desires connected with their as yet unglorified bodies. The struggle between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit is similar to a tug of war contest. Paul looks back to the cross of Christ, where the death of the flesh and its power to reign over believers was actually accomplished. Christians must wait until their glorification before they are finally rid of their unredeemed humanness, but by walking in the Spirit they can please God in this world.
For Paul, the word “flesh” is a reference to our entire selves, not just a part of us that is dirty and distasteful. To live in the flesh is to live as a member of human society in a physical body. The word “flesh” also means a domain of power, or a sphere of influence in which we live. Paul urges the Galatians and us to remember that as Christians we are to walk in the Spirit. It is the regulating force in our lives. If we walk in the Spirit, our Christian liberty won’t be an opportunity for the works of the flesh to take hold. The Spirit is the daily, sustaining, inspiring, and guiding power of the Christian’s life. It makes real the Christ that lives in us. It sanctifies us and brings us to real maturity.
The flesh and the Spirit are so contrary to one another that walking in the Spirit automatically excludes walking in the flesh. Although believers still experience fleshly desires, they will battle those desires rather than repeatedly indulging in them. Over time, a Christian should increasingly bear the fruit of the Spirit and be more successful in his or her battle against sin.
Freedom is not unrestrained behaviour. A life of doing whatever we want, whenever we want, is in reality a life of bondage rather than freedom. To be led by the Spirit implies that we are allowing ourselves to be led. As we invite the Holy Spirit to direct us, He enables us to defeat the power of the flesh more and more so we can walk in the way of freedom and righteousness.
Victory comes through surrender to Christ, not self-effort. Because our flesh has already been crucified and we have already received the Spirit, Paul urges us to live in our practice what we are already living in principle. Walking in the Spirit leads to helpfulness and service, not to provoking one another, pride or conceit. Such characteristics are incompatible with the fruit of the Spirit.
We have a choice. Either we live by the power of the Holy Spirit, which leads to righteous behaviour and spiritual attitudes, or we live by the law, which can only produce unrighteous behaviour and attitudes. Walking by the Spirit should be part of our active obedience to God. Our desire for sin will be left unfulfilled and overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In our flesh we are very poor imitations of Christ because of ignorance and not being able. Instead of trying to imitate Jesus, we can be excellent dwelling places for His Spirit. When Christ enters us, everything that is possible for Christ becomes possible for us.
How is your relationship with the Holy Spirit today? Have you spoken with Him yet? Are you listening for His voice in your heart as you read the Bible, listen to a sermon, sing songs of praise and worship Him? When you read the Bible, is it real and personal for you? Are you following the Holy Spirit as He convicts you of sin or moves you to pray or suggests that you speak to someone about Christ? Does your way of life bring joy to Him or does it grieve Him?
What would your temperature be on a spiritual thermometer–warm or cold? Is your life filled with love for God and for those around you? If not, you’re probably focusing on the world instead of God. Warm up your spiritual life by reading the Bible and talking to God every day.
Our one desire should be to be made whole and to be as much like Christ as we can be. When we do, we’ll find God putting on our heart the desire and the courage to carry the message of hope and healing to people who are hurting. God knows the best way for us to learn is to get out and experience life for ourselves, walking in the Spirit and listening to Him as we go. If we want to get the most out of life, we have to be reachable. We have to let the Holy Spirit guide our steps. That’s the only way we can learn how to excel in every aspect of life.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 1631-1632)
- Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 31: Galatians/Ephesians/Philippians/Colossians/Philemon (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; pp. 106-118)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “A Higher Law.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Paul Schreiber, “Help for the Fight.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Doug Fields, “The Enemies of Patience.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Dr. Tony Evans, “The Raging Battle.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Neil Anderson, “Living Below Our Potential.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Neil Anderson, “The Spiritual Person.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Steve Arterburn, “Recovery is Like an Onion.” Retrieved from Christianity.firstname.lastname@example.org
- Peter Briscoe, “Experiencing Life Today-April 13, 2015.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Dr. Jack Graham, “How You Can Excel in Life.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Christine Caine, “Good Fruit.” Retrieved from Biblegateway@e.biblegateway.com
- Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “Closer than a Brother.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- John North, “Galatians 5:16-25.” Retrieved from Christianity.firstname.lastname@example.org
- “Spiritual Thermometer.” Retrieved from email@example.com