Friday, January 23, 2009

It's All Legal

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

                        Galatians 5.21-23

How We Live

Christ’s followers lead productive lives. We grow stronger every day. When times are sunny and bright, we flourish in the warmth of God’s blessings. When storms darken the skies and blistering torrents pound on us, we bend with the wind and soak up the rain. Winters of hardship and discontent leave us brittle without breaking us. Our fallen leaves are never lost; they replenish the ground and we re-absorb their nutrients into our lives. Year after year and season after season we gain new height. We broaden our reach. Our roots deepen to ground us more securely in God’s love and knowledge. As we draw more of His Spirit into our beings, we blossom anew to produce increasingly richer fruit. This is how we live.


In this respect, spiritual life splendidly mirrors creation’s perennial cycles and changes. Yet we defy nature because the fruit we yield is not all of a kind. Our limbs hang heavy with a wide variety of flavors and shapes that thrive in various ways, respond to different circumstances, satisfy different tastes, and ripen in different seasons. We produce summer fruits bursting with color and sweetness, winter fruits that nourish and sustain, and useful fruits encasing seeds of rare qualities. Useful fruits are less conspicuous and tasty. They’re meant to fall—sometimes stripped away by hostile weather—in order to propagate the virtues housed at their cores.

In Galatians 5, Paul identifies nine fruits of the Spirit every productive believer bears. His assortment is so widely embraced many of us can recite it blindfolded. Simply because the list is familiar (and because it’s a list), we tend to lump its items together as characteristics we display all the time. Yet reading it as a sort of what-are-good-Christians-made-of nursery rhyme severely reduces its force and relevance. A way to mine its riches is organizing the fruits in three groups—summer fruits (love, joy, and peace), winter fruits (patience, kindness, and goodness), and useful fruits (faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control). Over the next nine days, we’ll adopt this approach as we dissect one fruit at a time. I pray we’ll conclude the series as bona fide connoisseurs of spiritual fruit.

Denying Nature

Before jumping in, we should note what prompts Paul to itemize the fruits of the Spirit. He starts by saying, “Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Galatians 5.16) He proceeds to call out myriad sinful activities: sexual promiscuity, false worship, self-centered strife, and insatiable pleasures. It’s a long, ugly roster of natural desires that directly contradict the ways of the Spirit. “Those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God,” Paul writes in verse 21, immediately turning from what we shouldn’t do to fruit we should produce.

There’s a reason for Paul’s abrupt segue. No New Testament writer is more committed than he to steering minds from negatively motivating “don’ts” to positively challenging “do’s.” After the Law’s pernicious power in his own life drove him to murder Christians before his conversion, Paul was determined to rip out any legalistic roots before they entangled and destroyed faith’s tender seed. In verse 18, he stresses, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law,” and resounds this note after listing the Spirit’s fruits: “Against such things there is no law.” Bearing fruit, not obeying rules, is our focus. We produce fruit that defies nature by denying nature and behaviors it yields. We ignore what we shouldn’t do to do what must be done. When our sole concern is what’s right, what’s wrong is irrelevant. From our perspective, it’s all legal. There is no law against fruit.

We bear various kinds of fruit in varying conditions and seasons for different purposes.

(Tomorrow: Producing Love)

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