But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. – Galatians 5:22-24
No Christian in the world can read this list without feeling a little sheepish. This spiritual fruit looks great on paper, but oftentimes in the nitty gritty of daily life these qualities can feel elusive and ethereal. Instead of serving as encouraging reminders of God’s grace in our lives, this list exposes how we’re falling short. It shows us what we’re not. It’s like someone who’s dairy-free looking at that giant piece of cheesecake in the shop window with longing, disappointment, and discouragement.
Not only do they feel elusive, but our spiritual laziness can lead us to breeze through this fruit without making the appropriate applications in each area of our life. We leave these qualities as pretty framed pictures in our living room instead of treating them like a utility tool that gets used in every situation imaginable. There are obviously countless contexts in which these qualities should be applied, but for many of us there’s one area in particular where there is no shortage of struggling, shame, and shortcoming. Parenting.
Not an Easy Task
Parenting is plain old hard work. Sinful adults who sin against each other every day are somehow supposed to help little sinners not only sin less, but actually know and love the Everlasting God of the Universe. It’s an uphill battle for sure, but instead of this passage acting like an anchor that weighs us down, it can serve as fresh wind in our sails in the journey towards raising our kids to follow Christ.
To help us the feel this fresh spiritual breeze, I’ll be taking the next few weeks to apply each of these qualities to parenting. But before we can do that, we have to do some important spade work so that we’re actually looking at these qualities through the lens of the gospel. There’s no better place to start than what Paul has been saying throughout the whole of Galatians.
Not an Ordinary Fruit
In Galatians, Paul spends the opening chapters of the book talking about the centrality of the gospel of Jesus. Like the Galatians, we are often tempted to set aside the gospel of grace to the slave master of works. In chapter 2, Paul reminds us that we are made right before God by faith alone. Trying to earn God’s favor through our works is worthless and actually an affront to the grace of God.
This in no way, however, means that God is unconcerned with how we live. Paul knows that any attempt to live for Christ apart from real spiritual change by the Holy Spirit will only lead to legalism and burnout. Real change is only possible through the Holy Spirit’s presence and power in the life of a Christian. But even in this new life, we still struggle with our sinful flesh. Galatians 5 tells us that our flesh is at war against the Spirit’s work within us. Both the Spirit and our sinful flesh are at work to produce things within us.
I take the time to look at this broader context, because it shows us that these aren’t qualities that we should emulate like good boys and girls who want to be brave and nice and all those good things. This spiritual fruit is a natural byproduct of the Holy Spirit that dwells within believers. You can’t improve just by working really hard. We don’t merely need help. We need the supernatural new birth of the Spirit.
This is a long-winded way of saying that this spiritual fruit is for Christians. We can’t staple this spiritual fruit to a tree that isn’t rooted and grounded in Christ. Parents, if we’re ever going to disciple our children to know and love Jesus, it starts with us. That means we need to be daily reminding ourselves of the gospel. We must preach it to ourselves every day. If we spend more time looking at our own faces on Instagram than we do looking at the face of Christ in the Bible, then we shouldn’t be surprised when we struggle as parents. As the saying goes, our input determines our output.
Not a Spiritual Grocery List
There’s one more thing we need to keep in mind as we look at this list. We have a tendency to look at lists like this like a spiritual checklist. Love? Check. Joy? Meh. Peace? Sure. Patience…? Nope! We treat these as completely different qualities that can be separated out. There’s a subtle, but important clue that this isn’t how we’re meant to view the list. Paul says, “the fruit (singular) of the Spirit is (singular)…” These aren’t separate spiritual fruits. This spiritual fruit is one piece of produce with many aspects. So instead of divvying these things out in different categories, think of this as a diamond that sparkles with various colors and hues as it’s held up to the light. It also means that these grow together. They’re interconnected. We can’t really say we’re without being patience. We can’t say we’re patient without being self-controlled.
These spiritual qualities grow and flourish together. That being said, they are multi-faceted and are worth looking at individually. That’s what I hope to do in the coming articles. I want to take time to look at each of these qualities and make specific, practical applications to the work of Christian parenting. For each one, I’ll choose an appropriate portion of Scripture that focuses on that quality. By the end, I hope that we can all see areas of growth, evidences of grace, and feel the power of the Spirit as we seek to help our children follow us as we follow Christ.
Pastor Tyler Eason