The Fruit Of The Spirit
Preached by Pastor Benjamin Vrbicek
This morning we are picking up right where we left off last week in the book of Galatians. If you are new here, this is typically what we do. Jason and I, or someone else, rotate sermons through one book of the Bible, and then when we finish one book, we go to the next. Speaking of which, this summer, in case you’d like to brush up the book we are going to next, I’ll let you know we are going to the book of Judges in the OT, and we’ll be in it all summer.
But this morning, we are going to the book of Galatians 5:16-26, and you can probably already tell by the way that the communion table is set up that we are going to share the Lord’s Supper after the sermon, so let’s get started.
I’m going to read the passage and then pray. Follow along with me as I read from Galatians 5:16-26.
16 But I say, 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. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 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,1 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. 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. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
About 5 weeks ago, on a week Jason was preaching, he began his sermon by confessing that he and I had been recently been rebuked by young man in the church. (I won’t say whether or not the young man in question is one of Jason’s children or not.) But the rebuke, as Jason shared, was for this: not preaching enough about the Holy Spirit.
When Jason shared this, it was, conveniently, on a weekend that he was about to preach on the Holy Spirit. And, if you remember, he then looked over at me in the front row and told me that I’d have to make amends in my own time.
My thought, at the time was, “Well, sooner or later I guess I’ll get a passage that talks a lot about the Holy Spirit.” Well, it didn’t take too long, because this morning in Galatians 5:16-26 we have before us a passage saturated in the Spirit. I’m sure you weren’t counting them as I read it, but the Spirit is mentioned seven times in this short section of scripture.
And just to be clear, when I say Spirit, and when this passage talks about the Spirit, it’s referring to the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity. This is why Spirit is capitalized in the passage. It’s talking about God. The Bible speaks of one God in three persons who are all equally divine and eternally existing. And the Holy Spirit is the third member of the God-head, as it’s often called—the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.
I wonder if you think the rebuke was that we do not preach about the Spirit enough is accurate. For my part, I don’t have a manual that tells me exactly what percentage to preach about different topics. We certainly have the Bible, but it’s not a manual in that sense.
As I thought more about the rebuke, I think it might be accurate. Within me there is probably an unhealthy tendency not to emphasis the Spirit in my preaching. There might be a few reasons for this, but I’ll mention one of them. I think my under-emphasis on the Spirit is probably an over-correction to what I consider to be a hyper-emphasis, or wrong-emphasis, on the Holy Spirit that I see in others.
Here’s what I mean. It’s possible that I have backed away from teaching about the Spirit because too many churches either talk too much about the Spirit, or when they do talk about the Spirit, they get it wrong.
For example, there are those who speak of the Spirit, as if he is a genie in the sky whose only purpose is to bless God’s people, and those “blessings” are understood in a very worldly sense. That’s wrong and needs to be called such.
Or, I might have subconsciously backed away from preaching about the Spirit because, for example, there are those that teach that the marks of a mature Christian are extravagant expressions of the Spirit, perhaps by speaking in strange languages. In some churches, the emphasis on the extravagant works of the Spirit goes so far that it’s believed that if the Spirit has not caused you to speak in a strange language, then you certainly can’t be in church leadership, and you are treated as a second-class Christians, and in fact, you might not even be a Christian, they might say. I know a woman that when she was growing up, the church peer pressure to manifest certain extravagant expressions of the Spirit was so strong, that she was lead to “fake it” just so that people would leave her alone. And her experience, I fear, is not uncommon. This is wrong.
Or, I might have subconsciously backed away from preaching about the Spirit because, for example, there are those churches that are full of disorder, chaos, and commotion and they attribute this “work” to the Spirit. It’s not.
Now, to be clear, I am not talking about sensible, Bible-believing churches that are more expressive than we are. I wish you and I were more expressive than we are. I do. I’m not talking about sensible, charismatic churches. Rather, I’m talking about churches that do things in the name of the Spirit that have nothing to do with God. You can find whole television programs devoted to this, and it’s wrong.
Perhaps you are not a Christians and as soon as I mention “the Spirit” you grimace because you think, “Ohhh, this is about to get weird.”
So, I suppose I do have a pause in myself when it comes to talking about the Sprit. However, I’m constrained to the Bible. Always. And in Galatians 5:16-26, there are two undeniably clear things that the Spirit of God produces in the life of believers. What are those things? Good conflict and good fruit.
So as a roadmap for the sermon, we are going to talk about these two things (conflict and good fruit), and then as we close, I’ll try to address one theological question that this passage raises.
Let’s start with conflict.
1. The Spirit Produces Good Conflict in the Believer
We see that one of the things that the Holy Spirit produces in the believer is conflict, war, struggle, and opposition. As you hear that, you might be thinking, “Wait, wait; aren’t ‘conflict, war, struggle, opposition’ bad?”
Well they can be. But this is a good kind of conflict. Let me read vv. 16-21 again.
16 But I say, 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. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 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.
Do you see the conflict?
When the passage says “flesh” it’s not talking about the part of us that is skin and bones. Flesh can be used in that way in other places, but here “flesh” means that part of us that doesn’t love God and doesn’t gladly submit to him as king. It’s that part of us that doesn’t want to follow him with devotion and zeal and humility. It’s that part of the Christian, that even though the Christian has have trusted in Jesus, it’s that part that remains yet unredeemed and still fights against goodness and truth and grace and holiness.
And Paul writes, “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 conflict, war, struggle, and opposition—but the good kind. And we need to see it that way—as a good thing.
Think about it. What a blessing that God, through the Spirit, personally invests himself in the life of every believer so that he or she doesn’t have to fight the Christian life alone. There is nothing weird or crazy and extravagant about this work of the Spirit, but it is beautiful!
Christians, in this world with so many temptation around us, you don’t have to fight against them alone. That’s good conflict, although it might not be pleasant in the moment.
For example, no one likes to be critiqued when they drive a car, do they? But have you ever been driving when someone, perhaps someone in the passenger seat, was like, “Hey, hey, HEY! The light is RED!”
If that has happened to you, you probably felt two things. First, you felt this: “Leave me alone! I’ve driving.” Second, as the tractor trailer blows through the intersection, and you calm down, and you realize that sure and swift disaster was just averted, then you grumble, “Thanks… I guess.”
As Christians we should be so thankful for this work of the Spirit, even if at first he keeps us from doing what we want. And O, that we listened to him more attentively. O, that we listened when he whispers.
Paul writes, “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.”
Friends, has God been talking to you. Maybe it was a wispier, just a light press on the shoulder. Is the Spirit is saying to you, “Hey, I now you are entertaining that thought or you want to send that email, but don’t.” Or maybe for you it’s not a whisper anymore, it’s not a soft tap on the shoulder. Perhaps the Spirit is digging in hard and he is shouting, “It’s a red light! Stop!”
Don’t resist. Don’t resist. Be led by the Spirit. He wants what is best for you.
Well, that was the first point: the Spirit produces conflict in the believer. Let’s move to the second point.
2. The Spirit Produces Good Fruit in the Believer
The second thing the Spirit produces in the believer is good fruit.
Fruit is sort of a church-y word, but it’s a good word. It’s also a Bible world, as we’ll see. It’s an agricultural metaphor. Fruit gets at the idea that a living thing produces evidence that it’s alive. And if the thing is a good living thing, then the evidence is good as well. A good, living tree means there will be good, living fruit. Let me read vv. 22-23 again.
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.
There is lot’s that could be said about these verses, as with the whole passage, but I only want to say one thing: do you value you these? Do we as a church value this fruit of the Spirit?
We should. Think about this: God the Father planned from all eternity that he might one day send his Son Jesus Christ to earth to live a perfect life, die on the cross for the sins of his people, rise again on the third day, and then have him sit in Heaven, and from there the Father planned to send the Holy Spirit to produce in the lives of Christians the beautiful fruit of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” And I’m asking—in light of all of this planning and execution—do we look this fruit and say “Yes, more of that!”
Maybe, but I think too often we think, “That’s so plain; I wish the Spirit would do something extravagant and wild.”
A little over 10 years ago, I preached my first sermon, and Pastor Jason was actually there. It wasn’t here, but in Missouri of course, where we are both from. In fact, Jason helped me with that sermon.
And because it was my first sermon, I had some friends drive up to encourage me as I preached for the first time. It was great.
But if I backed up a few days before the sermon, I remember sitting around with my friends and they were busting my chops a little. And one of them said, “Oooh, I know. When you really get going, I’ll stand up and yell, ‘My eyes! I can see! I can see!’” as though she had just been healed. Then my other friend said, “Ooooh, I’ll yell, ‘My legs! My legs! I can walk again!’”
They did not do that, thankfully. But it was funny to joke about. But why was it funny? I think it was funny because we are not very impressed with the ordinary work of the Spirit.
What if—by the result of the Spirit’s help though my preaching that day—what if, a Christians who was there was able to go to work on Monday and she had the self-control not respond in anger when she was criticized unjustly?
What if—by the result of the Spirit’s help though my preaching that day—what if, a Christian was not healed from cancer, but rather in the midst of a thunderstorm of difficulties, God’s Spirit produced peace and faithfulness.
What if there was a Christians who had recently been laid off work and they were enabled to say, “You know, if this had happened to me 6 years ago, before I knew Jesus, well… I suppose I would have been drunk every day for a month. But now, well… it’s hard, but I can do this.”
What if a person was able to love someone that was otherwise unlovable? Paul says elsewhere that if he died as a martyr or if he could speak in fancy tongues (1 Cor. 13:1ff), well, that’s nothing if he does not have love. Love. The first fruit of the spirit.
The ordinary, plain, typical, normative “fruit of the Spirit” may not be flashy, but they have substance. Praise God for the ordinary work of his Spirit in producing good fruit.
More could be said, but we should keep moving.
3. And One Theological Question…
If you are looking at your outline, you can see this last point is strangely titled, “And One Theological Question.” It’s the sort of heading that you give something when you have no smooth way to make it fit in with the rest of the points—and now for a theological question.
So, here’s the question:
Is salvation conditional or unconditional?
How would you answer that question?
I know how you want to answer that question. Because you are a Christian, and because you know the beauty of the Gospel of free, undeserved grace, you want to shout, “Of course salvation is unconditional! Jesus saves people that are sinners. If there is a condition, I guess it’s just that we are sinners!”
You want to answer that way, but you pause because you feel like this is a trick question, because why else would I ask something so basic.
Or maybe you pause because you stumbled a bit as I read vv. 19-21. In those verses there is a long list of sins—some of them religious sins (such as, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions), and some of them are ill-religious sins (such as, sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, drunkenness, orgies). And maybe you have pause because at the end of the list you noticed Paul said this:
I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (21b)
“Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Hummm. What does that mean? Is that a condition? “Inherit the kingdom of God,” that sounds salvation, and it sounds conditional. If I live a certain way, then I won’t go to heaven.
I could have left this verse off, but I’m highlighting it intentionally because there is gold here.
Back to the question: Is salvation conditional or unconditional? Here’s how I answer that question (as well as many others). The initial coming to God in salvation is unconditional—there are not conditions for coming to God. You don’t have to have a certain intelligence, you don’t have to have done enough good deeds and not done a certain amount of bad deeds. God’s salvation is fee and unconditional. This means no matter how bad a person is, God can save them—free and unconditionally.
That’s true. But final salvation has conditions. In this passage, it says that a person can’t live a life dominated by “works of the flesh” and still go to heaven. In this passage, it says that the Spirit must produce good fruit in a believer. And although not mentioned in this passage, there are plenty of other conditions. For example, believing in Jesus. And continuing to repent. Other passages take about persevering until the end. These are conditions.
But here is the beauty of this passage: Paul is saying that Christianity is a living, breathing, supernatural thing. And the beauty of the Christian story is that when God sovereignly undertakes salvation unconditionally, then the Spirit will then produce within every believer conditions we need. In other words, this passage celebrates that what we need—bearing good fruit, engaging in a conflict—the Spirit himself helps bring this about so that we can ultimately be saved.
What Paul is saying when he says, “that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God,” is that if a person is consumed with works of the flesh, it’s not that they couldn’t come to Jesus and be saved, but that the way a person is living is providing evidence that the person has not been saved already.
I’m not sure if you were at the talks that we did last week about sexuality, but if you were, then you know that at one point during the Q&A the question was asked: Are you really saying if I struggle with pornography that I’ll go to hell?
If you were there, our answer was, No, that’s not what we are saying. What we are saying is that if a person does not struggle with sin then they will go to hell, because the very fact that a person is not struggling with sin testifies that the Spirit is not working inside of him or her because that’s what the Spirit does—cause people to fight their sin.
Listen, preaching is so hard to do because at every moment there are always those that need to hear different things. There are some here who are tender, sincere Christians that know they are sinners and are constantly struggling with their sin, and they wish their “fruit” was growing faster. To you, my aim is not to trouble you. That wasn’t Paul’s aim either.
Rather, Paul was dealing with some who were either self-assured or complacent, and he’s trying to rouse them to walk in step with the Spirit. Paul is saying, “Look, you are dead, and you’ve stapled “good fruit” on to yourself, but let’s not pretend that you are alive. The tree is dead.”
Paul is trying to say that Christianity is a living, breathing, supernatural thing. And the beauty of the Christian story is that when God sovereignly undertakes salvation unconditionally, then the Spirit will then produce within us the conditions we need to finish the race.
As I pray, I’ll invite the worship team back up and Mike to lead us through communion. Let’s pray…