Works of the Flesh and Fruit of the Spirit Defined

Today, my sermon text was Galatians 5:16-26.  I didn’t spend much time defining each word in both of the lists in the text (works of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit), so here is John MacArthur’s brief but helpful explanation of each word. To listen to the sermon, click here.

WORKS OF THE FLESH

Impurity is from akatharsia, which literally means “unclean” and was used medically to refer to an infected, oozing wound. It is the negative form of katharsia, which means “clean” and is the word from which we get catharsis, a cleansing. In Scripture the term is used of both moral and ceremonial uncleanness, any impurity that prevents a person from approaching God.

Sensuality is from aselgeia, which originally referred to any excess or lack of restraint but came to be associated primarily with sexual excess. It is unrestrained sexual indulgence, such as has become so common in the modern Western world. It refers to uninhibited sexual indulgence without shame and without concern for what others think or how they may be affected (or infected).

Idolatry is the obvious sin of worshiping man-made images of whatever sort. Sorcery translates pharmakeia, from which we get pharmacy and pharmaceutical. It was originally used of medicines in general but came to be used primarily of mood-and mind-altering drugs similar to those that create so much havoc in our own day. Many ancient religious ceremonies involved occultic practices in which drugs were used to induce supposed communication with deities, and pharmakeia thereby came to be closely related to witchcraft and magic. Aristotle and other ancient Greek writers used the word as a synonym for witchcraft and black magic, because drugs were so commonly used in their practice.

Enmities is in the plural and refers to hateful attitudes, which result in strife among individuals, including bitter conflicts. Wrong attitudes invariably bring wrong actions.

Jealousy is a form of anger and hateful resentment caused by coveting for oneself what belongs to someone else. Outbursts of anger are sudden, unrestrained expressions of hostility toward others, often with little or no provocation or justification. It is the all-too-common sin of unbridled temper. Although jealousy does not necessarily result in outbursts of anger in the way that enmities result in strife, the first sin in each case refers to attitude or motive and the second to action.

Disputes, dissensions, factions, and envyings are more particular and ongoing expressions of the general sins that precede them in this list. They represent animosities between individuals and groups that sometimes continue to fester and grow long after the original cause of conflict has passed. From the feuds of old-time mountain clans that lasted for generations to national hostilities that last for centuries, these sins can become an established and destructive way of life.

Drunkenness and carousing probably had special reference to the orgies that so often characterized the pagan worship ceremonies that many of the Gentile converts of Galatia had once participated in. In a more general and universal sense, however, they refer to becoming drunk under any circumstance and to all rowdy, boisterous, and crude behavior.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT

Love. The first characteristic of spiritual fruit is love, the supreme virtue of Christian living (1 Cor. 13:13). Some commentators insist that in this context love is a synonym for fruit and therefore encompasses the other characteristics in the list. In any case, love is clearly dominant. As Paul has just declared, “the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Gal. 5:14; cf. Rom. 13:10).

Agapē love is the form of love that most reflects personal choice, referring not simply to pleasant emotions or good feelings but to willing, self-giving service. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). In the same way, the most extreme sacrificial choice a loving person can make is to “lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The apostle John expresses those two truths together in his first letter: “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). But love is tested long before it is called on to offer that supreme sacrifice. As John goes on to say, “Whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (v. 17). A person who thinks his love is great enough to sacrifice his life for fellow believers but who fails to help them when they have less extreme needs is simply fooling himself.

True agapē love is a sure mark of salvation. “We know that we have passed out of death into life,” John says, “because we love the brethren… Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 3:14; 4:7). By the same token, as John repeatedly makes clear throughout the same letter, having a habitually unloving spirit toward fellow Christians is reason for a person to question his salvation (see e.g., 2:9,11; 3:15; 4:8, 20).

Jesus Christ is the supreme example of this supreme virtue. It was not only the Father’s love but also His own love that led Jesus to lay down His life for us, demonstrating with His own self-sacrifice the love that gives its life for its friends. And before He made the ultimate sacrifice, He demonstrated the same self-giving love in many lesser ways. As Jesus saw Mary and the others weeping because of Lazarus’s death, He, too, wept (John 11:33-35). He did not grieve for the fact that Lazarus had died, because He purposely delayed coming to Bethany until His dear friend was dead, in order to demonstrate His power to raise him from the grave. Jesus wept because of the great evil, destruction, and human misery caused by sin, whose final wages is always death (Rom. 6:23).

For believers, love is not an option but a command. “Walk in love,” Paul declared, “just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2). Yet the command cannot be fulfilled apart from the Holy Spirit, the source of this and all the other manifestations of spiritual fruit. “The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us,” Paul explained to Roman believers (Rom. 5:5), and it was for such “love in the Spirit” that he gave thanks for the believers in Colossae (Col. 1:8).

Joy. The second manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit is joy. Chara (joy) is used some 70 times in the New Testament, always to signify a feeling of happiness that is based on spiritual realities. Joy is the deep-down sense of well-being that abides in the heart of the person who knows all is well between himself and the Lord. It is not an experience that comes from favorable circumstances or even a human emotion that is divinely stimulated. It is God’s gift to believers. As Nehemiah declared, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). Joy is a part of God’s own nature and Spirit that He manifests in His children.

Speaking of how we feel about the Lord Jesus Christ, Peter wrote, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Pet. 1:8). Joy is the inevitable overflow of receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and of the believer’s knowing His continuing presence.

Joy not only does not come from favorable human circumstances but is sometimes greatest when those circumstances are the most painful and severe. Shortly before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned to joy” (John 16:20). To illustrate that truth Jesus compared divine joy to a woman in childbirth. “She has sorrow because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she remembers the anguish no more, for joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too now have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one takes your joy away from you” (vv. 21-22).

God’s joy is full, complete in every way. Nothing human or circumstantial can add to it or detract from it. But it is not fulfilled in a believer’s life except through reliance on and obedience to the Lord. “Ask, and you will receive,” Jesus went on to explain, “that your joy may be made full” (John 16:24). One of John’s motivations in writing his first epistle was that his joy might “be made complete” (1 John 1:4).

Jesus Himself is again our supreme example. He was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3; cf. Luke 18:31-33), but, just as He had promised for His disciples, His sorrow was turned into joy. “For the joy set before Him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Despite the misunderstanding, the rejection, the hatred, and the pain He endured from men while incarnate among them, the Lord never lost His joy in the relationship He had with His Father. And that joy He gives to each of His followers.

Although joy is a gift of God through His Spirit to those who belong to Christ, it is also commanded of them. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Paul commands (Phil. 4:4; cf. 3:1). Because joy comes as a gift from Him, the command obviously is not for believers to manufacture or try to imitate it. The command is to gratefully accept and revel in this great blessing they already possess. “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).

Peace. If joy speaks of the exhilaration of heart that comes from being right with God, then peace (eirēnē) refers to the tranquillity of mind that comes from that saving relationship. The verb form has to do with binding together and is reflected in the modern expression “having it all together.” Everything is in place and as it ought to be.

Like joy, peace has no relationship to circumstances. Christians know “that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Because God is in control of all aspects of a believer’s life, how his circumstances may appear from a human perspective makes no ultimate difference. That is why Jesus could say without qualification to those who trust in Him, “Let not your heart be troubled” (John 14:1). There is absolutely no reason for a believer to be anxious or afraid.

Jesus was the Prince of Peace, both in the sense that He was supremely peaceful Himself and in the sense that He dispenses His peace to those who are His. Even when He confronted Satan face-to-face in the wilderness, Jesus had perfect peace, knowing His heavenly Father was continually with Him and would supply His every need (Matt. 4:1-11). It is His own peace that He bequeaths to His disciples: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you” (John 14:27).

“The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things,” Paul said; “and the God of peace shall be with you” (Phil. 4:9). Because they have the God of peace in their hearts, believers need “be anxious for nothing,” having “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, [to] guard [their] hearts and [their] minds in Christ Jesus” (v. 6-7).

Patience. Makrothumia (patience) has to do with tolerance and long-suffering that endure injuries inflicted by others, the calm willingness to accept situations that are irritating or painful.

God Himself is “slow to anger” (Ps. 86:15) and expects His children to be the same. Just as believers should never “think lightly of the riches of [God’s own] kindness and forbearance and patience” (Rom. 2:4), they should themselves manifest those attributes of their heavenly Father.

In the last days, arrogant unbelievers will taunt Christians by asking, “Where is the promise of [Christ’s] coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:4). In their sin-darkened minds unbelievers will fail to see that, just as in the days of Noah, when God patiently delayed the Flood in order to give men more time to repent (1 Pet. 3:20), it is also because of His merciful patience that He forestalls Christ’s second coming and the accompanying judgment on unbelievers, “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

Paul confessed that, as the foremost of sinners, he found mercy in God’s sight “in order that in [him] as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:15-16).

Believers are commanded to emulate their Lord’s patience. “As those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved,” they are to “put on a heart of… patience” (Col. 3:12), especially with fellow believers, “showing forbearance to one another in love” (Eph. 4:2). Like Timothy, all Christian teachers and leaders are to minister “with great patience” (2 Tim. 4:2).

Kindness. Chrēstotēs (kindness) relates to tender concern for others. It has nothing to do with weakness or lack of conviction but is the genuine desire of a believer to treat others gently, just as the Lord treats him. Paul reminded the Thessalonians that, even though he was an apostle, he “proved to be gentle among [them], as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children” (1 Thess. 2:6-7).

Jesus’ kindness is the believer’s example. When “some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them,… Jesus said, ‘Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these'” (Matt. 19:13-14). On another occasion He said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29).

Just as their Lord is kind, His servants are commanded not to “be quarrelsome, but [to] be kind to all” (2 Tim. 2:24). And just as He does with all the other manifestations of His divine fruit, the Holy Spirit gives God’s children kindness (2 Cor. 6:6).

Goodness. Agathos (goodness) has to do with moral and spiritual excellence that is known by its sweetness and active kindness. Paul helped define this virtue when he observed that “one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die” (Rom. 5:7). A Christian can be morally upright but still not manifest the grace of goodness. He may be admired and respected for his high moral standards and might even have a friend who would risk his life for him. But the upright person who also has goodness is much more likely to have self-sacrificing friends.

Joseph was such a righteous and good man. When he learned that Mary was pregnant but did not yet know it was by the Holy Spirit, “being a righteous man” he could not bring himself to marry her, assuming she had been unfaithful. But being also a good man, he could not bear the thought of disgracing his beloved Mary and therefore “desired to put her away secretly” (Matt. 1:19).

David had a deep understanding of God’s goodness, as he repeatedly reveals in his psalms. “Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” he rejoiced (Ps. 23:6). He confessed that he would, in fact, “have despaired unless [he] had believed that [he] would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13).

As with every grace the Spirit provides, believers are commanded to exemplify goodness. Later in the letter Paul exhorts, “While we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:10). “To this end also we pray for you always,” he wrote to the Thessalonians, “that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the word of faith with power” (2 Thess. 1:11).

Faithfulness. Pistis (faithfulness) is the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit that pertains to loyalty and trustworthiness. Jeremiah declared that “the Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22).

Because Jesus was faithful, He “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” And because of the Son’s faithfulness, the Father “highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:7-9).

And as He was faithful when He came to earth the first time, He will be faithful to come again “in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). “Faithful is He who calls you,” Paul said, “and He also will bring it to pass” (1 Thess. 5:24). In his great vision on Patmos, John saw Christ seated on “a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True” (Rev. 19:11).

The “servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God” are to be like their Lord in being “found trustworthy” (1 Cor. 4:1-2). “Be faithful unto death,” the Lord assures His followers, “and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).

Gentleness. Prautēs includes the idea of gentleness, but is usually better translated meekness. In his helpful volume Synonyms of the New Testament, R. C. Trench writes that prautēs does not consist in a person’s “outward behaviour only; nor yet in his relations to his fellow-men; as little in his mere natural disposition. Rather it is an inwrought grace of the soul; and the exercises of it are first and chiefly towards God. It is that temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting” (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953). It is that humble and gentle attitude that is patiently submissive in every offense, while being free of any desire for revenge or retribution.

Of the nine characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit, this one and the one following do not apply to God as God. The Old Testament never refers to God as being meek, and in the New Testament only the Son is spoken of as meek, and that only in His incarnation. In the New Testament prautēs is used to describe three attitudes: submissiveness to the will of God (Col. 3:12), teachableness (James 1:21), and consideration of others (Eph. 4:2). Although He was God, while He lived on earth as the Son of Man, Jesus was “gentle [prautēs] and humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29; cf. 21:5; 2 Cor. 10:1). Like their Lord, believers are to actively pursue meekness and gentleness (1 Tim. 6:11) and to wear them like a garment (Col. 3:12).

Self-control. Enkrateia (self-control) has reference to restraining passions and appetites. As with meekness, however, this grace does not apply to God, who obviously does not need to restrain Himself. “For I, the Lord, do not change,” He informs us (Mal. 3:6). In His eternal being, the Lord “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Perfect holiness possesses perfect control.   But in His incarnation Christ was the epitome of self-control. He was never tempted or tricked into doing or saying anything that was not consistent with His Father’s will and His own divine nature. Again like Jesus, believers should “exercise self-control in all things” (1 Cor. 9:25; cf. 7:9), “applying all diligence, in [their] faith [to] supply… self-control” (2 Pet. 1:5-6).

This is taken from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary – Galatians.

Lent Has Begun!

Today is Ash Wednesday, a day that begins the season of Lent for Christians.  There are 40 days (minus Sundays) until Easter, and the season of Lent is a time for Christians everywhere to prepare themselves to celebrate that glorious day.  Tonight, I will observe the beginning of the Lent season with my congregation by administering (and receiving) ashes on our foreheads.

Tonight, my congregation will be reminded that the Lent season is all about preparing for Easter through repentance and renewal.  We will be reminded of our sin, and we will be called upon to repent.  In our service tonight, we will sing together, we will recite Scripture together, we will pray together, and we will receive a cross of ashes on our foreheads.  The ash will serve as a reminder of the biblical principle from Genesis 3:19 which says, “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  And because we are dust, and because to dust we shall return, repentance and renewal is essential. We will be reminded again tonight that  full and complete reliance upon our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is essential.

The  practice of placing ashes on the forehead has its roots in the Old Testament (book of Ezekiel) when an angel of the Lord was told to “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.”  Tonight will be a night when we will be reminded of our sin (reminded to sigh and groan over it), and then encouraged to begin a time of remembrance and thanksgiving for the work of Christ on the cross when He – once and for all – forgave us of our sins and cleansed us from all of our unrighteousness.

Lent is to be marked by discipline and fasting with the goal of death to sin, but our eyes must not stay down.  They must look ahead to Easter, a day when the fasting comes to end…a day of unbridled laughter and celebration.  A day when all creation rejoices and marvels at the gift from God: our Savior, Lord, and King, Jesus Christ.

Death Bed Confessions

deathbedAs a pastor, I’ve been invited to experience the final moments of several people’s lives.  Each time I walk through the death process with someone, it causes me pause and deep reflection.  It reminds me of my mortality and my absolute trust in the Lord for my life and breath.  It reminds me that my days are numbered.

I’ve been called to homes minutes after a troubled father committed suicide, minutes after a woman died in her sleep, and minutes after a woman accidentally overdosed on drugs.  I arrived at the hospital literally one minute after an older gentleman died after a long bout with cancer.  In all these situations, I did not experience the final minutes of these precious lives.  But, with a few people, I have experienced that moment when they take their final breath.  What a privileged position I’m in to be invited in by family members to experience their loved one’s final moment on earth.  It’s a sobering, spiritual, powerful experience.  Some have gone quietly; some have not.  But none have delivered profound final words so often seen in the movies.  But just because I’ve not experienced this doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

Recently, a user on social platform, Reddit, posed this question: “To the doctors nurses, police, paramedics etc. of Reddit. Did you ever hear a death bed confession and what was it? Did you feel like it brought relief to the person confessing?” More than 8,000 comments have been posted in response. None of them has been verified. User privacy is an important part of Reddit, but the community is also quick to police itself when fraud is suspected.  Here are some of the fascinating experiences users shared in response to this question:

Mayaseye: “When I first started as a 911 dispatcher I had a call come in and all that the person said was ‘Tell them I’m sorry,’ and hung up.  I knew right away what we were going to find when we got there. It was the worst feeling. I just felt so dirty that I was the last one to talk to this guy, and no matter how fast we sent help it didn’t matter it was just too late. So I guess he was confessing, but it just made me feel icky.”

Orange_Penguin: “This may not seem like much, but the last words my mom said to me before she died were ‘Baby, I’m scared.’ She wasn’t scared of anything – she was a paramedic for over 20 years and had practically seen it all. That was the most horrifying part about watching her die. In all the times she’d been forced to go to the hospital, I had NEVER heard her say that she was scared.”

Buddynacho: “My grandma went a little loopy before she went, but she left a voice mail for her best friend in the last days along the lines of ‘Maggie, it’s Deborah. I’m dying, and it’s a lot of fun! Call me back!’ ”

CopWithoutVest: “A call had come out of a shooting that had just occurred. It was in a neighboring division, but we were close so we decided to go. We were the first unit and there is a guy, shot right in the forehead walking back and forth. He is on his cell phone screaming and crying and asking his mother to please forgive him for everything he has done because he got shot and was going to die.” He posted later that he never found out whether the man died.

CommercialPilot: “My great-grandmother went to bed one evening and didn’t wake up for a number of days. Finally, 4 or 5 days later, she awoke, lifted her head, looked at her husband of 70 years marriage and said softly “I’ve loved you for 70 years now and I would do it all over again.” Then she looked at her daughter and said “Daughter” nodded her head, laid back down and died in her sleep shortly thereafter.”

CNN.com did an article about this.  You can read it here.  Or, you can go straight to the thread on Reddit.com by clicking here.

 

The Battle Between the Flesh and the Spirit

walkbythespiritIn Galatians 5:17, the Apostle Paul says that the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other.  Here are the quotes I shared in my sermon this morning from Martin Luther and John Piper.  In these quotes, we get insight and encouragement about the battle Christians are engaged in between the Spirit and the flesh.

Do not despair if you feel the flesh battling against the Spirit or if you cannot make it behave. For you to follow the guidance of the Spirit in all things without interference on the part of the flesh is impossible. – Luther

When I was a monk I thought I was lost forever whenever I felt an evil emotion, carnal lust, wrath, hatred, or envy. I tried to quiet my conscience in many ways, but it did not work, because lust would always come back and give me no rest. I told myself: “You have permitted this and that sin. Your joining this holy order has been in vain, and all your good works are good for nothing.” If at that time I had understood this passage, “The flesh is against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh,” I could have spared myself many a day of self- torment. I would have said to myself: “Martin, you will never be without sin, for you have flesh. Despair not, but resist the flesh. – Luther

The better Christian a man is, the more he will experience the heat of the conflict. This explains the many expressions of regret in the Psalms and in the entire Bible. Everybody is to determine his peculiar weakness and guard against it. Watch and wrestle in spirit against your weakness. Even if you cannot completely overcome it, at least you ought to fight against it. – Luther

When the flesh begins to rage, the only remedy is to take the sword of the Spirit, the Word of salvation, and fight against the flesh. If you set the Word out of sight, you are helpless against the flesh. I know this to be a fact. I have been assailed by many violent passions, but as soon as I took hold of some Scripture passage, my temptations left me. Without the Word I could not have helped myself against the flesh. – Luther

A Christian is not a person who experiences no bad desires. A Christian is a person who is at war with those desires by the power of the Spirit. Conflict in your soul is not all bad.  Even though we long for the day when our flesh will be utterly defunct and only pure and loving desires will fill our hearts, yet there is something worse than the war within between flesh and Spirit—namely, no war within because the flesh controls the citadel and all the outposts. Praise God for the war within! So take heart if your soul feels like a battlefield at times. The sign of whether you are indwelt by the Spirit is not that you have no bad desires, but that you are at war with them! – Piper

To listen to my entire sermon from Galatians 5:16-26, click here.