What marks my life? As a flawed human being, the backwash of my own poor decisions, selfish desires and sinful choices characterizes much of my life. But how do I move beyond that broken condition?

Some suggest that it is a matter of moral improvement—doing better at doing better. But that’s a recipe for failure and guilt. Legalistic Christianity, with a moral code of dos and don’ts that we can never attain, is not just frustrating—it is impossibly beyond our reach. Self-help and self-improvement, while noble, will always be hindered by the same inabilities that inhibit any attempts to live up high standards. So, if I’m going to experience something different, how does that occur?

The apostle Paul wrote, “So I say, walk [live] by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). This challenge was made to a church wrestling with religious codes and performance demands. Paul’s words reveal a different path to walk—it is not a walk of our own muscle power, but in the presence and provision of the Spirit.

What does this look like? Paul describes it as the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22–23, saying, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” This hopeful description is in contrast to the sample list of broken behaviors found in vv.19–21—and that contrast is not merely one of the quality of life being described. The primary contrast is in the source behind those very different outcomes in life.

The reason self-improvement can never really accomplish the intended goal is because we are starting from a place that feeds our worst inclinations (what Paul calls “the flesh”—our broken humanity, Gal. 5:16). To take a different kind of walk, we need to draw from a different source. That’s why this Spirit walk is described as the fruit of the Spirit. It’s only as we allow the Spirit to produce these life-transforming qualities in our lives that we see the kind of life-change that most of us, in our best moments, recognize that we desperately need.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Fruit is always the miraculous, the created; it is never the result of willing, but always a growth. The fruit of the Spirit is a gift of God, and only He can produce it. They who bear it know as little about it as the tree knows of its fruit. They know only the power of Him on whom their life depends”

Consider the fruit of the Spirit that Paul pictures:

  • Love: self-sacrificing love that is at the root of all the other expressions of spiritual fruit
  • Joy: a deep-seated sense of celebration for the goodness of God
  • Peace: a life that has right relationships with God and others
  • Forbearance: patience when provoked that is capable of not retaliating
  • Kindness: a characteristic of God Himself that we can show to others, as He has shown kindness to us
  • Goodness: a heart of kindness, perhaps with the added quality of generosity
  • Faithfulness: dependability in the face of difficult times
  • Gentleness: concern and consideration for others from submitting to God
  • Self-control: the kind of control that only comes through the Spirit’s control shaping our hearts

For many, some combination of this list of character qualities would mark the ideal life. In the very least, it’s a dramatic and welcome contrast to the self-driven, self-seeking life described in vv. 19–21.

The important and wonderful reality is that such a heart and life are achievable—but not by something you and I can do. As we yield control of our lives to the Spirit of God (Ephesians 5:17), we will have the opportunity to see Him produce the different kind of walk that we desperately need, deeply long for, but could never achieve in our own strength. As Dan Kimball wrote, “The fruit of the Spirit wasn’t intended to be a list of goals for us to produce—it is the Holy Spirit through us that produces fruit.”

Bill Crowder

To read more about overcoming sin visit https://discoveryseries.org/courses/walking-free/

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