Chapter 3

Keeping in Step with the Spirit

We’ve explored what the fruit of the Spirit is (and what it isn’t) and why it matters. We turn now to consider how the fruit of the Spirit shapes Christian living.

It is wonderful to consider all that God has done for us in Christ and continues to do through the Holy Spirit. For all He has done, our responsibility is simple: Keep in step with the Spirit and resist the flesh. We are to cooperate with the work He is doing as we look forward to the day when the power of the flesh will be conquered.

One of the most important things the Spirit does is to point us to Christ.

One of the most important things the Spirit does is to point us to Christ. That means one way we can keep in step with the Spirit is to fix our eyes on Jesus. Let our daily thoughts and meditations return to Him time and time again. Let Him be the center of our thoughts, our imagination, and our desires. As we choose to follow Christ, to depend on Him, and to submit to Him, we will be keeping in step with the Spirit.

As we reflect on Jesus, we have opportunity to express our dependence on Him for all things, not least our salvation. He is the source of eternal life, and indeed of all life as the ruler and sustainer of the entire cosmos. Our prayerful dependence on Christ brings Him honor and is the right disposition of our hearts. All such reflection on Christ and expression of our dependence on Him is produced through the influence of the Spirit.

But we all know too well the reality that the Christian life is a struggle. While the Spirit does indeed work powerfully within us, the Scriptures exhort us to resist living according to the flesh. This assumes that we can still give ourselves over to the power of the flesh. We are not given the option of being passive. And so, throughout the Christian life, there is an ongoing tension between living by the Spirit and giving in to our own selfish desires.

A good daily prayer is to ask God for the strength to remain engaged in the struggle. There are only two ways the struggle can stop feeling like a struggle. The first is to die and be with the Lord. The second is to give up the struggle and give in to the flesh. This is the option we must avoid! So we need to be on our guard against feelings of hopelessness that discourage us to remain in the fight.

Though it will sometimes feel like it, our battle against the flesh is not hopeless.

Though it will sometimes feel like it, our battle against the flesh is not hopeless. There are two major reasons for this: We are no longer under the authority of sin, and the Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing our future inheritance. Let’s explore these in turn.

We are no longer under the authority of sin. Paul develops this point in greatest detail in Romans 6. If we have died with Christ, we have been set free from sin (romans 6:7). What Paul means by “sin” in Romans 6 is sin as a power, or ruler. The point he is making is that, by dying with Christ, believers have been released from sin’s power; we now live under Christ’s authority. Yet Paul appeals to the Romans not to put themselves under sin again 6:12–13). While sin is no longer our master (6:14), the pull to go on “obeying” sin is real and powerful. But Paul wants us to realize that we don’t have to give in.

The famous Welsh preacher D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones illustrated this struggle well. In 1865 the work of Abraham Lincoln and others to abolish slavery in the United States finally came to fruition. All slaves were declared free. Lloyd-Jones says to imagine you had grown up a slave in Alabama. One minute, you’re a slave. The next, you are free—legally, officially, and forever free. While you may now have your freedom, your internal grasp of that freedom may take some time to catch up to the reality. Imagine that one day you ran into your former slave-owner on the street, and he calls out to you, “Come here, boy!” At that moment, will you feel like a slave? I think you probably would. Your whole life, you’ve responded to him as your master. You’re conditioned to obey that voice. Every muscle and fiber in your body is inclined to obey.

But the reality is that you are free. You are not a slave. Your former master has no authority over you at all. He cannot tell you what to do, and you have no obligation to obey him.

Our struggle with sin is just like this. Sin once ruled over us, and our bodies were conditioned to obey its demands. It’s the way we lived our entire lives until we were set free by Christ. Now that we know spiritual freedom, our comprehension of it can take a while to catch up. Occasionally, sin calls out, “Come here, boy!” and our initial impulse is to obey. But in Christ we are no longer slaves to sin. We do not need to obey its call. And yet we will feel its pull and even struggle with our first reaction to give in to its demands. Even though we are free, we can choose to do what it says, even though sin has no right to tell us what to do.

Let us keep in step with the Spirit, and deny the illegitimate call of the conquered powers of sin and the flesh.

And so, we live this life with an ongoing tension between the Spirit and our former rulers, sin and the flesh. We are to go on choosing the Spirit. We belong to Christ now, and His Spirit is powerful. Let us keep in step with the Spirit, and deny the illegitimate call of the conquered powers of sin and the flesh.

The second major reason our battle against the flesh is not hopeless is that it will one day come to an end. As Paul says in Ephesians 1:13–14, the Spirit is a seal marking the fact that we belong to Christ. And He is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance, until He finally redeems us. This means that the Spirit is the proof of our future. As the sign of the new age, we know that Spirit-filled people will one day be fully transformed, with new resurrection bodies, and we will be, once and for all, totally free from sinning.

Christianity is not a set of rules, nor is the Bible a manual for good living. Christianity is about a relationship with God the Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Paul puts this in a similar way in Romans 8:14–17. Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God, since He is the Spirit of adoption. In fact, the Spirit enables us to cry “Abba, Father,” and testifies that we are God’s children. The punch line comes in verse 17, “If we are children [of God] , then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” While we suffer with Him, we will also be glorified with Him. So we see that the presence of the Spirit in our lives points forward to a glorious future—a future without sin, suffering, or shame as the glorified children of God.

The tension between the flesh and the Spirit goes on until that day. But as we continue to live according to the Spirit, as we strive to keep in step with Him, and as we resist the call of the flesh, the Spirit will continue to produce His fruit in us.

Harvest time

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, as well as other Christlike characteristics. The Spirit lives in us because new life has come in Christ, and we have been set free from slavery to the flesh, sin, and the law. He is the sign of the new age and is the seal of our membership in God’s family. The Spirit works in us to produce fruit that is in keeping with the family likeness, as we fix our eyes on Jesus, remain fully dependent upon Him, and seek to worship Him in all of life.

The fruit of the Spirit is not a to-do list to check off. The Spirit produces the fruit in us. Christianity is not a set of rules, nor is the Bible a manual for good living. Christianity is about a relationship with God the Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit.