This week and next, PSPC will be focusing on the Fruit of the Spirit in our sermon series. In line with this, I would like to invite you to reflect with me on Galatians 5:19-24 where the Apostle Paul reminds us of the constant battle raging inside us, and exhorts us to replace our old nature with our newly-endowed nature given to us through the Holy Spirit.
Our old nature in the flesh…
Paul described our nature in the flesh as being characterised by, “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like” (Galatians 5:19-21, NIV). Sometimes when we read this list, I suspect that some of us may tend to brush these off as “N.A.” (Not Applicable). This is a very dangerous position to take because once we don’t see ourselves as helpless sinners in need of a Saviour all the time, we can easily become complacent and forget that there is a war going on between our flesh and the Spirit in us. And once our guards are down, sin creeps right back in and we fail to recognise it for all its evil and destructive power in our lives and in the church as a whole.
But the fruit of the Spirit is…
The first three aspects of the Spirit’s fruit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 are love, joy and peace. Of these, the word “love” appears 686 times in the entire Bible (NIV). “Joy” has a total count of 242 times, and “peace” is close, appearing 249 times. The rest of the characteristics of the Spirit’s fruit are mentioned much less, although no less important.
As I reflected on that, I think “love” rightly deserves to be at the top of the list because it describes a central attribute of God, and as Christians, we have been commanded to love one another (John 13:34) for indeed, “love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). Loving one another as Brothers and Sisters in His Body demonstrates our unity in Christ and reflects the nature of God so that others will know that we are His disciples (John 13:35) – it is a central characteristic of being a Christian, and being a Church! But our love must also extend beyond fellow believers. Jesus taught us to love our neighbours because loving them is only second to loving God (Mark 12:31), and in Matthew 5:44, He further challenges us to not only love our neighbours, but to also love our enemies.
Godly love is self-giving and does not seek self-gratification. But the world’s love is lustful and self–indulgent. It should not be surprising that the misguided quest for that kind of love leads inevitably to immorality and impurity, because that kind of love is selfish and destructive, a deceptive counterfeit of God’s love. Growing in our love for God, and cultivating godly love for people, would annihilate all the behaviours of the fleshly nature listed by Paul!
Next is joy. 1 Chronicles 16:27 tells us that, “Splendour and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his dwelling place”. Indeed, God is the source of true joy and we must worship and serve Him joyfully. The Book of Psalms in itself records 57 times where “joy” is mentioned, where the writers exhorted their readers to “sing for joy”, to “shout for joy” in their worship. Joy was to characterise the people of God. In fact, Moses warned the Israelites in Deuteronomy 28:47-48 that, “Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you.”
As Christians, the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10), and this joy is anchored to our salvation through Christ (Psalm 51:12), and our future glory and reward in heaven (Matthew 5:11-12; Luke 6:22-23). God-given joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness usually comes when our selfish desires are met, but true joy comes when we fulfill God’s desire for us. It is this same joy that will see us through the trials of life, and even persecution for our faith. Like godly love, godly joy also nullifies the influence of our sinful nature as listed by Paul.
Then there is peace. Christians who are firmly rooted in the redemptive love of God can find true peace. It is the peace that only Christ can give – Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). The peace that Jesus is talking about here is not the inner peace that can be gained from some form of meditation or yoga technique that is transient because that takes reference only in oneself. That is as good as tying a ship to a piece of drift wood for mooring. When the waves of troubles come, in the storms of life, it is not hard to imagine what will happen to the ship! No, a good captain will tie his ship to a permanent structure like a wharf or an anchor. Christian peace comes from the One who has overcome the world: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Christ and His immovable, unchangeable promises are what we are moored to, and that guarantees our peace even in the fiercest storms of life.
When we are at peace with God, we know we are valued by Him, and we fully depend on Him for our every need, His peace will dwell in us. We will no longer need to strive for the world’s attention, and chase after what the world values. Once again, godly peace will mute the cries from our fleshly nature for more and thus subdue the evils listed by Paul.
As we continue to go down the list of characteristics describing the fruit of the Spirit, we will see very clearly that each aspect of the fruit confronts head-on our sinful nature and brings about a new transformed life. While Paul acknowledges that our two natures are at war, with the power of the Holy Spirit – the same power that raised Jesus from the dead – and by deliberately not feeding our sinful desires but allowing the Spirit to do its work in us, we can win this war and look forward eagerly to inherit the Kingdom that God has promised us. Amen!
Eld Aaron Tan