Galatians Part 12: Jesus Plus the Fruit of the Spirit

Our Bible study brings us to one of the best known passages in the New Testament, the one about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.

Most of Paul’s letter to the Galatians addresses the problem of grace.  Yes, grace is a big problem for the person who has legalism in their soul, even just a pinch:  “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough” (Galatians 5:9).

We are not saved by human effort, nor does human effort sustain our salvation.  Our relationship with God rests on his unconditional grace alone, from beginning to end.  It’s important to keep pointing this out, because Galatians is not about getting saved, entering God’s family by grace alone.  It’s about the problem of Christians who believe you need unconditional grace to be saved, but who fall back on a little or a lot of effort to keep themselves in the family of God.

A good friend of mine objects to Jesus+nothing.  He says you’ve got to balance grace and responsibility.  I wholeheartedly agree!  Paul states, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Romans 6:1-2)

Galatians 5 makes it clear, however, that “balancing” grace and responsibility is not about grace plus our effort, something I call Jesus+something.  Our obedience after we’re saved is just as much about unconditional grace as initial salvation.  To make this clear in Galatians 5, Paul contrast the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit.

Furthermore, those who live in the “works of the flesh” will not inherit the kingdom of God.  Paul doesn’t say, “Those people will never go to heaven.”  The kingdom of God is, as Paul defines it in Romans, “righteousness [and all its positive consequences], joy and peace in the Holy Spirit”  (Romans 14:17).

Once you are saved, living for God is not the pathway to heaven.  Only Jesus can get you through the pearly gates!  No, obedience to God is the road to the best possible life in this life, the most fruitful life for God and others in this life, and rewards in heaven.  Listen to this:

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)

With these things in mind, let’s look at the last half of Galatians 5.

13a.  You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh…

Jesus+nothing is not an excuse to sin. It doesn’t eliminate or even minimize human responsibility.  Yet grace is never about rigorous rules or human effort.  God is love, which is why Paul’s logic in Galatians moves from unconditional grace for salvation to the “royal law” of love:

13b.  …rather, serve one another humbly in love 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other [italics mine].

In the verses that follow Paul tells us simply and clearly what love is and what it isn’t.  Love is not the gratifying of your own needs and selfish desires.  It’s not about you.  Instead, it’s entirely about the work of the Holy Spirit in you, not your personal effort.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

What pleases God is the very nature of God in you, because Jesus is in you, and the Holy Spirit works that out of you.  This is parallel:  “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13).

Work out your salvation.  Don’t work for it.  Or on it.  Work it out, because it’s already in you.  You need it.  People around you need it.  They need to see the treasure that’s in your earthen vessel.

I’m jumping ahead here—and going back to something I’ve written in an earlier study.  Christians are fruit trees, not Christmas trees.  The work of God in our lives is entirely inside out and never outside in.  It’s the Spirit in us producing fruit.

Christmas trees are lifeless, while live trees have the capacity and power to bear fruit.  They don’t have to work on it, stress about it.  They don’t have to be coerced.  It’s in their nature.  Psalm 1 tells us that those who spend time with God are like a deeply rooted tree that “yields its fruit in season.”

Fruit bearing is natural. It’s the tree working out its inner nature and capacity.  Yet trees don’t bear fruit year round.  They do it “in season,” and some seasons are better than others.  Some days I look more like a follower of Jesus than others!

Every tree needs pruning from time to time, too.  This would be parallel to Father God disciplining his children, but never throwing them out of the family.

More on the fruit of the Spirit in a moment.  For now, though, let’s go back to archenemy of the Spirit:  the works of the flesh.

17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21a and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.

Ooh.  Nasty.  All of these “acts of the flesh” are diametrically and diabolically contrary to the fruit of the Spirit, so much so that Paul writes:

21b. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

“The kingdom of God” is everything in order in this life.  The Hebrew equivalent is shalom. Jesus called it “abundant life.”  The kingdom of God is God-life, eternal life in this life.  Those who live by the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Using the list of the “acts of the flesh” in verses 19-21 above, let’s talk about Jesus+something.  For you to go to heaven, is it necessary for you to believe in Jesus plus

  • … never engage in sexual immorality for the rest of your life?  Or only occasionally?  Or just once or twice, but nothing too perverted, like “debauchery” or “orgies”?  If it’s Jesus plus sexual purity, how pure?  Would this include no lustful thoughts, because Jesus said lust is the same as adultery?

    Don’t you see the impossibility of Jesus+something?  Yes, you should be sexually pure, but if you’re not, does it mean you’re going to hell even though you’ve been born again?

    For sure, if you live like the devil, you will deprive yourself of the life of God.  You’ll make yourself and others miserable.  Your life will feel like hell, but will you go to hell when you die too?  No!

    Certainly, you won’t experience rich kingdom life in this life, and to use the words of Paul in the 1 Corinthians passage above, you “will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”

  • … have no idols in your garage?  What about your career?  Is that an idol?   How about this:  “Put to death … greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5).  Are greedy Christians going to hell?  How greedy do you have to be?  Or is this just referring to all-you-can eat buffets?

    I don’t believe you will burn forever for wanting something really bad, or wanting more and more, but greed in any form will push God-life out of your life.

  • … live free of hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions.  Oops, I guess that rules out everybody who’s ever been in the middle of a church split.  Or at least one side of the faction is sure to go to hell, right?

    Take each of these “acts of the flesh.”  At which point, in the practice of any of these behaviors, does God say, “Enough!  Out you go!”  Is the Christian life Jesus plus no jealousy?  Ever?  Or no fits of rage or selfish ambition?  Ever?  Or just rarely?

    Again, do this stuff, and God-life will drain out of your heart and mind.  Hell will fill the void.  Right here.  Right now.  But does anger send Christians to hell?  And if so, how much?

    Personally, I’ve struggled with anger issues.  I’ve had fits of rage.  At home.  Even at times in pastoral leadership.  It’s shamed me.  It’s limited my effectiveness.  It’s cause pain for others.  The Holy Spirit has been grieved, and his presence has lifted from my life when I give in to the flesh.  But does God love me less?  Is his saving grace conditional?  No and no!

    I may be a disobedient son.  A son that embarrasses the Father.  A prodigal.  But I’m still a son.  Yet if I don’t make things right with God before life ends, I “will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”

  • never envious?   Actually, I’ve never met a Christian who doesn’t struggle with envy.

Christians who do things open their lives to the spirit of darkness.  Those who persist in the acts of the flesh create their own hell on earth, making life miserable for themselves and others.  They’ve emptied the Lord’s prayer of it’s power:  Your kingdom come … ­on earth as it is in heaven.”  God’s rich purposes and blessings for them in this life are not realized.  In the end, they “will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”

In fantastic contrast,

22 … the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

This is the God-life I’m talkin’ about!  It’s the kingdom.  Shalom.  Everything right in your world, all rooted in the supreme fruit of the Spirit:  love.

To sum it up, Paul exclaims,

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

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