At the end of 2006 we did a series of lessons called “Having the Good Life Now” where we examined the teachings of the Proverbs. I want to begin a new series today that is an extension of that series, looking at “Having the Fruitful Life Now.” This series will center around the characteristics taught by Paul in Galatians 5, described as the fruit of the Spirit.
The Need For Fruitfulness
In numerous places the scriptures command disciples to be fruitful.
“Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God” (Romans 7:4; NASU).
“9 For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, 10 so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9-10; HCSB).
There is an expectation of disciples that they will have a fruitful life. It is stated without question that people who belong to Jesus will bear fruit. So we want to spend some lessons talking about how we can have a fruitful life. Fruitfulness centers around adopting God’s character. We are called to transform ourselves into the image of God.
“We all, with unveiled faces, are reflecting the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18; HCSB).
Before we can read about the fruit that Christians are to bear, we need to spend this first lesson talking about how to adopt these characteristics.
Basic Principles For Adopting God’s Character
The Right Motivation
Devotion to God is the only acceptable motive for actions that are pleasing to God. The reason we should want to be fruitful is because we are motivated to be found pleasing to God. Too often our actions are defined by other motivations. Too often our decisions are based upon other inputs besides what God wants us to do. Our motivations are often self-centered rather than God-centered. We would want to feel good, be comfortable, or be happy. Therefore, we make the majority of our decisions based upon fulfilling our selfish desires. Godly people throughout the scriptures were motivated by trying to be found pleasing to God.
Joseph is a tremendous example of this. When presented with the temptation of committing sexual immorality with Potiphar’s wife, Joseph’s response was not that he would get thrown in prison if we committed such an act. Nor was Joseph’s response, “That sounds great!” and attempt to fulfill his own desires. Notice what motivated Joseph:
“No one in this house is greater than I am. He has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. So how could I do such a great evil and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9).
We will never have a fruitful life if we are not motivated to be like God. If we are filled with selfish motivations, then fruitfulness is not possible. So we must begin with the need to change our thinking so that we first make decisions based upon godly considerations, rather than selfish considerations.
The responsibility is on each of our shoulders to transform ourselves into the image of God. We are very much in a society that places responsibility for the way we are upon everyone else. We excuse ourselves for not being like God because we “were born that way.” While I have a new appreciation for genetics and our dispositions we carry, we clearly must decide that are called to make life changes. We cannot say that we are lustful people, therefore we are sexually immoral. We cannot say that we just have a temper so that is why we are angry. God knows how you are. But God is calling us to change. We may not have been given various advantages that others may have. But God is still calling us to transform ourselves into His image. Fruitfulness will not simply land on us one day. Notice the various scriptures that call us to work to be like God.
“Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12).
“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
“Train yourself in godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7).
“So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
God is telling us that we need to be responsible for ourselves. We have some deficient genes. We may have grown up in a terrible environment. But we are called to overcome our obstacles and take on the image of God.
The “Put Off/Put On” Principle
Another important principle taught in the scriptures is the need to take things off in order to put on the character of God.
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24; NIV).
Too often we fail at having the good, fruitful life that God wants to have because we do not apply this “put off/put on” principle. Usually we try to either put off without putting righteousness on, or we try to put on righteousness without putting off the former way of life.
Many disciples try to add the righteous characteristics of God to their lives but fail because they have removed the former way of living. Joy will not come without removing bitterness. Gentleness will not come without removing anger. Love will not come without removing selfish ambition. Peace will not come without removing envy and jealousy. We fail in our efforts to be better people who are godly because we often are trying to add righteous characteristics without removing the evil.
By the same token, many disciples seem to do well at stopping sin for a time. They put off sexual immorality, selfish ambitions, and strife for a time, but then the problems return. Frequently the reason why this failure occurs is because we do not put on righteousness. We try to stop sin cold turkey, and rightfully so, but do not replace it with something to occupy that time. Sexual immorality will not stop until the activity is replaced with something pure and wholesome. Otherwise we will fall right back into the sin. We have to put our minds on something else, keeping ourselves occupied with righteousness if we are to be successful in godliness.
To take on God’s character, we have to decide we are going to stop and what we are going to replace it with. I want to read my Bible more. Then I have to cut something else out of my life so that reading will be my new activity. If I want to overcome a particular sin, then I need to find a fulfillment of that desire in something lawful by God. I need to do something that will keep my mind on righteousness, not allowing me to fall back into the same traps.
Prepare For Continuing Balanced Growth
All of the characteristics listed in Galatians 5:22-23 make up the fruit of the Spirit. We cannot focus on only one or two characteristics and think that we have the fruit of the Spirit. We must add every piece to have this fruit. We cannot pat ourselves on the back because we are doing well in a few areas. We have to press on toward the goal, as Paul described, to be fruitful to God. To put it simply, we are responsible for exhibiting all of the traits of godly character in a balanced fashion. Some traits will be more difficult for us than others. But we need growth in every aspect.
The relationship between character and conduct are inseparable. We cannot be one thing yet do another. As Jesus said in Matthew 7, a good tree does not bear bad fruit and a bad tree does not bear good fruit. What we do defines who we are. Who we are will define what we do. It is an endless circle. Therefore, if I am going to be godly and fruitful, I have to change my character so that I will do godly things. If I am not performing righteousness, then I am not godly. We do not like labels, but what we do defines who we are. If I lie, I am a liar. If I am sexually immoral, then I am a fornicator. We cannot think that we are godly disciples when our conduct does not reflect the image of God. Let us build a foundation together of readiness to change as we study in the upcoming weeks the fruit of the Spirit so that we can have the fruitful life now.