The last couple of years, I have alluded to the practice of using the Fruit of the Spirit as a way to review the previous year. At the beginning of each new year, I try to evaluate my development in each of these characteristics of a person who is vitally connected to God.
I first raised this issue under the post Resolution of Reflection? Then I went into a bit more detail by giving my definitions of The Fruit of the Spirit. Since I am embarking on this reflective time once again, I thought I would make it a series over the coming weeks and delve into each piece of fruit a little deeper. And I am even kicking around the idea of turning it into a little eBook so that others can engage in this reflection. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts as well.
So what follows is a brief introduction to the practice.
Fruit was a common metaphor used throughout Scripture. Jesus was quoted as saying things like, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit …Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:18,20). By fruit, Jesus is referring to the actions and characteristics that distinguish his followers from the world around them. Sometimes bad fruit is offered as way to recognize false prophets, or those who claim to be followers, but their actions do not support their claim. Indeed, immediately preceding the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, Paul lists the less popular acts of the flesh as a contrast to the characteristics of a follower of Jesus.
Nevertheless, it is an easy image to understand. If I plant a tomato seed, the sure sign that plant is healthy and thriving is whether it actually produces tomatoes. If the plant turns out brownish and wilted, it is not healthy. Even if it is green and sturdy, but does not produce tomatoes, it is a sign that something is off. It is not enough to observe that it is most likely a good, strong plant even though it has yielded no tomatoes. And something is certainly awry if it instead produces apples. The most reliable way to tell if a tomato plant is healthy is if it is yielding plump, red tomatoes.
Jesus makes things similarly straightforward when it comes to people who are being led by his teachings and who are filled with his Spirit. The most reliable way to tell if someone is being led by God’s Spirit is if he or she is manifesting characteristics reflective of Jesus and his teachings.
Paul makes a list of some of these most telling of character traits in Galatians. It should be noted that this was probably not an exhaustive list. Yet it was a good enough litmus test for Paul to utilize when contrasting a life driven by every whim of the body to a life led by God’s Spirit.
So without getting into an exhaustive commentary or theological exposition, this list of eight qualities in Galatians is simple, yet surprisingly capable of distinguishing followers of Jesus. While it might be tempting to employ these qualities as a measure of others’ spirituality – or lack thereof – it is best utilized as a tool for self-examination.
What will follow over the next couple of weeks is a brief look at each piece of fruit and how one might determine the presence of that characteristic in his or her life. Each description comes from a combination of the meaning of the word in the original language and the context in which it appears to be most commonly utilized in Scripture. When possible, a tangible action is attached to each piece of fruit. After all, while we tend to associate much of this fruit with a feeling or an emotion, Scripture inevitably associates them with an action or something readily evident within our character.
In other words, it can be tricky to determine whether or not I am increasing in, say, goodness unless I have really thought through what Scripture means by goodness. It is one thing to say, “I think I am a basically a good person” and another to actually pinpoint tangible ways in which goodness is developing in my life.
Finally, be honest! Yet live in the grace that is offered through God’s Spirit. The point is not to beat yourself up, but to open up areas of your life to the further healing work of God’s love and grace.