You ever read something that put into words everything you were thinking and feeling but never knew quite how to communicate yourself?
I want to read something to you that I stumbled onto the other day that’s done this for me time and time again. This writer poignantly conveys what very few others have been able to express so well.
He writes this, “I do not understand my own actions… I do not do what I want [to do], but I do the very thing that I hate …I have the desire to do what’s right, but not the ability to carry it out… I do not do the good that I want, but the evil that I do not want [to do] is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:15,18b-19)
Have you ever experienced this tension? …this deep, inner struggle? You have a longing to do what’s right and yet, there seems to be an equally strong desire to do the very opposite.
Let me speak concretely:
You intend to live a life of generosity, but each time you start the process of putting bags of clothes together to give away at goodwill, you end up leaving with more than you came with?
You want to stop yelling at your spouse, but he’s also a total moron, so you continue losing your temper when he says or does something frustrating to you?
You want to quit getting drunk, you try to stop looking at porn, you attempt to gain control over your eating, over your anxiety, over your addictions, but you just haven’t been able to get any traction yet?
Like those words we read earlier: “You can’t seem to do what you want [to do], but you do the things that you hate… you have the desire to do what’s right, but not the ability to carry it out…?”
Have you ever felt like a casualty in a war for who you are and what you do?
In a book published just before the year 2000, two authors tell of a Native American Elder who once described his own inner struggles in this way. He said, “Inside of me there are two dogs. One dog represents evil; the other dog, good. The evil dog fights the good dog at all times.” And when asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, “The one that I feed the most.”
In a letter written nearly 2000 years earlier, the Apostle Paul wrote this:
16 Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For 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, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
That’s found in Galatians, Ch.5, v16-17…go ahead and turn there with me. Gal. 5:13-25.
Inside the christian is a war. A battle between two entities known as the flesh and the Spirit.
The flesh desires everything opposed to God and his will. It’s the part of who we are that is shaped by sin, resulting in a fixation on self and self-indulgence, leaving us with no concern for anyone but ourselves.
Paul says this a few verses back in Gal. 5:13-14.
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (he says serve others, because that is the opposite of what the flesh desires. The flesh only wants to serve itself) 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Want to see evidence of the flesh at work? Look at v15.
15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
The flesh consumes. It devours. It pits your desires against the wishes of others and it’s what leaves you with this dog-eat-dog worldview. “I better get them before they get me.” That attitude stems from the flesh.
But the Spirit opposes the flesh. The Holy Spirit is placed in you by God at the moment you turn your life to Jesus. Paul puts it best in Ephesians 1:13-14 where he writes that when we heard the gospel and believed in Jesus, we were “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, the deposit guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
We had a wedding here a couple weeks back. When Deven listened to Beyonce and decided to propose to Mackenzie and “put a ring on it,” he was saying: “this ring is meant to point you to the fact the wedding’s coming. It’s not here yet, but it will be. In the meantime, I want you to wait for me and get ready because the day’s coming.” The ring didn’t mean they were married, BUT it was a sign that the wedding was coming. That’s the imagery Ephesians 1 is conveying to us.
When Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to a believer, it is a sign of two things: it’s a sign that you belong to Jesus and it’s a sign he’s coming back to you. John 14:18, Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come back to you.” Then he promises them the Holy Spirit. There’s a great inheritance coming for those who trust in Jesus. A great day when Christ will return and bring us back to himself. In the meantime, the Spirit is the deposit, guaranteeing to the believer that Christ will return, and in the meantime, we eagerly await him, and like a bride adorning herself for the coming of her love, we as the church are preparing ourselves as well.
That’s what the Spirit is doing in your heart if you belong to Jesus. He’s making you ready, so that as Revelation 19 says, one day we would stand before Christ, as a bride presented to him in white—spotless and blameless before him—because of the work Christ has done and the fruit that the Spirit is producing in and through our lives until that coming day.
But have you ever tried quitting something cold-turkey, and had lapses?
Maybe it was a new years resolution to stop eating after 8pm, or to stop drinking soda, to quit smoking, to only speak kind words that build people up instead of speaking sarcastically, maybe you got a fitbit and wanted to start walking 10,000 steps a day…but whatever it was, despite your best efforts, there were days where you couldn’t keep up?
Your new desire to do good was outweighed by your previously established habits?
That’s what the struggle in the believer between the Spirit vs. the Flesh looks like. The Spirit is cultivating new characteristics in your life according to your new identity, but the Flesh is trying to choke them out and pull you back to who you used to be.
We read this earlier, but Gal. 5:16 says, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” There’s a direct correlation between the two. Think of a treadmill: as soon as you stop walking by the Spirit, you will fall back and give into the desires of the flesh. That’s the correlation. That’s the war.
So, which one is winning in your life? The Flesh or the Spirit?
Paul gives us some evidences of each to help us discern. First, the flesh. Let’s read v19-21… 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
No need to answer out loud, but anyone here been jealous recently? Perhaps angry? Have you experienced envy? Are you given to idolatry or drunkenness or any form of sexual immorality? Paul says, “if you want to know what it looks like to be controlled by the flesh, here you go.”
Join. the. club, right? We can call ourselves the “Flesh-man, Spirit-haters club” and I’ll be President because I fit into that description more often than I’d ever like to admit. That’s why it’s a war. It’s a struggle. But as I’ve been reminded by a dear friend of mine, struggle is a sign of life. If you see in yourself a desire to fight against those things, then it’s very likely you’re struggling to live, and that’s a good thing.
The Spirit of God in you is there to fight for the freedom that Christ has set you free to. A freedom, not to indulge in the selfish endeavors of the flesh, but a freedom that cannot be contained. A freedom found in the Spirit that, as Connor told us several weeks ago, leaves us “free as the wind.”
The Spirit is trying to cultivate a freedom the flesh that looks like this…v22-23…
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Now, let me pause and say something. When we anticipated that we’d be doing a series on the fruit of the Spirit, I decided to do a quick search online to see what other churches have done on the subject and quite frankly, I noticed something very disappointing.
Churches talk more about what the Spirit can give you (such as spiritual gifts) and less on what he wants to change in you. Churches seem to focus more on what the Spirit can change through you, but devote very little time to what the Spirit wants to change in you.
“C’mon, tell me what my gifts are! I want to know what I can do! I want to teach. I want to lead! I want to preach and prophesy and…What’s my spiritual gift?!”
The church’s preference to discuss gifts of the Spirit over fruit of the Spirit reveals that what we really want is for God to empower us, not change us. This obsession is killing the church. And the vast number of moral failures in ministry is evidence of it! By and large, our talents and our gifts have outpaced our character, and it’s been to our demise.
We said this last week. The apostle Peter’s calling to shepherd the church followed the question and assertion of his Love for Jesus. It’s because God is trying to grow followers of Jesus, not a PR team. Jesus said, “Follow me…” (and THEN he continued) “I’ll make you fishers of men.” It’s always in that order. Know Jesus, and make him known.
Though the Spirit does give gifts of teaching and leading and so forth, he’s after a far greater work in your life. See, we want God to use us to change the world in our lifetime, but we forget that it’ll take a lifetime for God to change us. Let God change you by his Spirit… As you do, he’ll use you too.
Anybody ever watched Bourne Identity? Matt Damon plays Jason Bourne. I hope you’ve seen it… such a great movie. It starts off with him waking up, but he doesn’t remember anything. He’s got a bad case of amnesia and spends the first part of the movie trying to figure out who he is.
But all these bizarre things start happening. As he walks through a parking lot, he unintentionally memorizes every license plate of every car there. As he sits in a restaurant, and blinks his eyes, he realizes he’s inadvertently memorized every face of every person at every table in the room.
He’s talking to people in foreign languages he never thought he would’ve known. When he’s attacked, he responds with catlike reflexes, dodging every attack and doing things he didn’t realize he could do.
After all of this, he finally exclaims: “WHO DOES THIS KIND OF THING?”
…A trained spy does, that’s who.
Have you ever seen a parent or teacher respond patiently toward angry kids? Or have you seen a person respond to harsh criticism with a spirit of gentleness? or like me this week, have you ever witnessed a family respond to their five-year-old daughter’s diagnosis of leukemia with a deep, steadfast, unwavering joy that is so out. of. this. world?
If so, you may have wondered, “who does this kind of thing?”
…a christian does, that’s who.
Because what you do is the fruit borne from who you are.
It’s your Borne (b-o-r-n-e) Identity. What you do is the fruit borne from who you are, and who you are is your identity borne from whose you are.
Whose you are transforms who you are and changes what you do.
Watch this, Galatians 5, v24-25 tells us “Those who belong to Christ (whose you are) have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires…if we have been made alive by the Spirit (who you are—new life, new identity), then let us also walk according to the Spirit (what you do—which is the fruit of our new identity).” Then back up to v16 again which says if you “walk by the Spirit, you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
New actions. New fruit. Why? It’s new fruit borne out of your new identity, because of whose you are now. Whose you are (Christ’s) transforms who are you (alive) and changes what you do (walk according to the Spirit, not the flesh). That’s the progression.
Whose you are transforms who you are and changes what you do.
The works of the flesh that Paul lists in v.19-21 are evidence of a former identity. A dead identity. But the fruit of the Spirit in v22-23 are the fruit borne from your new identity as belonging to Christ.
Now, I want you to notice something. It’s so easy to miss this. Look how Paul lists off these new behaviors borne from our new identity. He says this: “the Fruit of the Spirit is…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness” and so on. “The fruit of the Spirit (NOT “the fruits of the Spirit), the FRUIT—singular—of the spirit is…” then he writes out what appears to be a plural number of changed character traits. Why is this so important?
I know this is the last thing you want to do, but I’d like you to jump back to 4th grade english class.
Remember when Mrs. Lupos taught us about subject and verb agreements, and the use of direct objects in sentences? That when the noun and verb are singular (that is, referring to only one person or thing), then the direct object needs to be singular as well? And when the noun and verb are plural (and referring to at least two or more), then the D.O. must be plural too?
Paul may not have been in my 4th grade grammar class, but he knew what was up grammatically speaking. So…why does he say FRUIT, singular—not fruits, plural—when he lists out what appears to be more than one fruit? He doesn’t just say “the fruit…is love,” or “the fruit…is joy.” No, he says, “the fruit is…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. What’s he up to?
Paul is telling us two very specific things: 1st, when you belong to Jesus, when the Spirit of God enters into your life and begins to change you, he doesn’t just change one aspect of your life, he changes everything.
But also, and perhaps more subtle and easily missed is this. I’ll illustrate it this way:
Say you planted a tree that was genetically engineered to bear apples, pears, plums, and peaches, but over the span of its entire lifetime of bearing fruit it’s only yielded Apples and Pears, but never Plums or Peaches? What does that reveal about the tree? It was never an Apple, Pear, Plum, Peach tree.
Jesus said in Luke 6 that “A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit,” because what you do reveals who you are.
Paul says the fruit—singular—of the Spirit because every trait he lists is part of a 9-fold singular composite whole that God is transforming within those who belong to Jesus. If the Spirit is in your life, you won’t just become more loving, you’ll also become more joyful too. You won’t just have more self-control, you’ll become gentle and faithful and kind as well.
And if you’re not—if only some traits are present but others aren’t—then it’s possible those traits are not fruit of the Spirit at all, because the fruit of the Spirit grow together with one another. ALL those traits—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control—ALL of them make up the singular evidence of the singular work of the Spirit in your life.
You can tell if the fruit of the Spirit in your life is real if they grow at a similar rate, but if one or more are glaringly missing from this entire list of singular fruit, it’s likely you have some counterfeits growing in your garden. Counterfeits that you thought were fruit but never actually were. At best, they’re works of our own efforts and personality. At worst, they become marks of personal pride and self-interest.
What you thought was peace was actually ease of circumstances. What you thought was joy was actually fleeting happiness (or a blind optimism maintained by simply running away from your problems). What you thought was faithfulness was actually a sort of stubborn hard-headedness that may look like loyalty but is entirely self-serving.
Are there counterfeits growing in the soil of your soul that you’ve settled for instead of learning what it means to abide in Jesus and live out your true borne identity?
Which, we just need to read that verse from John 15:5. Jesus says this, “5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
The secret to bearing the fruit of the Spirit in your life is this: abide in Jesus.
When we learn to abide in Jesus, we bear fruit, like a branch that can only produce fruit if it’s continually connected to the vine.
We’re not trying to manufacture change—we don’t want any “how-to” books of living your best life now and settling for behavior modification in the process—what we’re really after is a total life transformation that only the Spirit of God can do within us. So if you’re interested in digging your roots deep here, then grab a shovel and let’s begin, because over the next 9 weeks, we’ll be looking at the fruit of the Spirit.
How do you cultivate love and joy and patience in your life? And what counterfeits do we sometimes settle for instead of the actual fruit? We’ll tackle these questions and more as we consider each week how the Spirit wants to grow us up in our Borne Identity.
So…if you want to know who you are, you can get clues by looking at what you do…but the only thing that will truly change WHO you are and WHAT you do is whose. you. are. And that’s why Paul puts it this way in v24…“Those who belong to Christ, have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
In order to crucify the flesh, you have to belong to Jesus first. You can’t wage war against the flesh in your own power; it can only be done in His. You must believe in and belong to Jesus, first, before you’ll ever become like Jesus. Before you can know his effect in your life, you need to know Jesus.
And when you do, you’ll crucify the flesh. But this is both frustrating, and comforting.
It’s frustrating because it’s a long process. Crucifixion was THE preferred form of capital punishment in that day, but unlike the electric chair or lethal injection today where the person dies instantaneously, crucifixion was a slow and painful death. It didn’t happen all at once. At times, it would take upwards of one week! Death would only come when the victim became too weak to physically lift himself up to catch a breath.
The flesh is a crucified victim. Yet it will do whatever it can till its dying breath to wage war against the Spirit’s work inside you. But here’s the comfort…though the flesh may linger, it is dying. If you belong to Jesus, then the flesh has been crucified. It won’t get the final say. It will die.
…but… if you keep feeding it, you’ll prolong the process.
Any Walking Dead fans here? There’s this one scene that kept coming to my mind this week. It’s in season 3, when you first start getting to know the Governor. He’s, combing his daughter’s hair. He’s, singing to her and whispering to her. It’s all kind of sweet at first… But then the camera pans and you realize there’s something very wrong with this picture… yeah he’s taking care of her, yeah he’s feeding her and loving her, but… the daughter is actually a zombie.
She growls at him and bites at him, but he’s got her chained up. He loved who she used to be, so he doesn’t want to let her go and he’s keeping this thing alive that just needs to die.
It’s a bizarre scene, but it gives us incredible insight into what it looks like when christians feed the flesh. The flesh has been crucified. It’s dying and it needs to die. But the longer we keep feeding it, the greater the struggle will be between the flesh and the spirit.
Two dogs in a fight, which one wins?
Small personal example. At different times in my life, I’ve done a Facebook fast…
Not because social media is inherently wrong or anything like that, but sometimes it becomes an outlet for the part of me that doesn’t want to engage in real life. When I’m frustrated or depressed or bored, I have a tendency to want to escape into the world of—ironically—the frustrations and depression and boredom of other people.
So most recently when I took a break from Facebook, which I slipped up during a few times over the predetermined length of time, I noticed something: my desire to look at Facebook became stronger when I gave into the impulse to look.
I’d try justifying it: “Well, if I give in this time, then it won’t bug me so much.” And at first, it didn’t. But then, it got worse. Then it wasn’t just on my mind a little bit, it was on my mind a lot. I craved it. I needed it.
My impulse to indulge increased every time I gave into my impulse to indulge.
You don’t need me to tell you: this applies to so much more than Facebook.
If you want to gain control over your eating, you have to stop indulging the impulse to snack. If you want freedom from pornography, you have to stop indulging the impulse to look. If you want to stop yelling at your kids, you have to stop indulging that impulse.
If you want to quit smoking, if you want to stop spreading gossip, if you want to be done with whatever it is that’s destroying you, then you have to stop indulging those impulses.
You’re feeding the crucified part of who you once were, and it’s trying to undo whatever good the Spirit of God has been doing in you.
Flesh and the Spirit are at war…which one wins? The one that you feed…
We’ll look at this in the coming weeks, but how do you feed the Spirit?
By digging the roots of your identity deep in Jesus. “Abide in me,” Jesus said, “Then,” He says, “then you will bear fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
This is not a war we can win in our own power. It’s only by rooting all that we are in Jesus, because whose you are transforms who you are and changes what you do.
So, whose are you? Do you belong to Christ?
If you’re here and you wondering who this Jesus is, well, let me tell you!
Jesus is the reason for life, He’s the one you’ve been looking for and the one who’s been looking for you (no matter how many times you’ve run away). He’s the source of lasting joy and the True Temple and bridge to God, which means He’s not just for you; He’s for all who call on him!
When you come to him in your sin, Jesus is left empty-handed with no stones of condemnation to throw at you because he took them all for you. When you come to him in your weakness, He reveals himself as Lord and says “Follow me.” When you come to him in your pain, Jesus waits and He weeps with you, because: he’s the crucified God. BUT THAT’S NOT WHERE THE STORY ENDS!
JESUS. IS. ALIVE! He’s alive, and no matter what your story has been, no matter who you are and no matter what you’ve done, Jesus isn’t done with you yet.
THAT’s Jesus. THAT’s who I belong to. Dig your roots deep in who he is and you’ll never be the same. If you’re looking for transformation—for a new identity and a fruitful life—yes, it’s a long process, but this is where it all begins. So, whose are you?
Because whose you are transforms who you are and changes what you do.