The Fruit of the Spirit

 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. – Galatians 5:16-24

The fruit of the Holy Spirit is one of the most neglected aspects of the biblical teaching on sanctification. There are various reasons for this:

Preoccupation with externals. Though students often murmur and grumble when facing tests in the classroom, there is a sense in which we really want to have them. Tests that measure skill, achievement, and knowledge are even standard fare in magazines. People like to know how they rate. Have I achieved excellence in a certain endeavor, or am I mired in mediocrity?

Christians are no different. We tend to measure our progress in sanctification by examining our performance against external standards. Do we curse? Do we drink? Do we go to movies? These standards are often used to measure spirituality. The real test—evidence of the fruit of the Spirit—is often ignored or minimized. This is the trap the Pharisees fell into.

We recoil from the real test because the fruit of the Spirit is too nebulous. It is far more demanding of personal character than superficial externals are. It is a lot easier to refrain from cursing than it is to acquire a habit of godly patience.

2. Preoccupation with gifts. The same Holy Spirit who leads us into holiness and bears fruit in us also gives spiritual gifts to believers. We seem to be far more interested in the gifts of the Spirit than the fruit, despite the clear biblical teaching that one may possess gifts while being immature in spiritual progress. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians make that abundantly clear.

3. The problem of righteous unbelievers. It is frustrating to measure our progress in sanctification by the fruit of the Spirit when the virtues listed among the fruit are sometimes exhibited to a greater degree by non-Christians. We all know nonbelievers who exhibit more gentleness or patience than many Christians. If people can have the “fruit of the Spirit” apart from the Spirit, how can we determine our spiritual growth in this manner?

There is a qualitative difference between the virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, etc., engendered in us by the Holy Spirit and those exhibited by nonbelievers. Nonbelievers operate from motives that are ultimately selfish. But when believers exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, they are exhibiting characteristics that are ultimately directed toward God and others. Being filled with the Spirit means that one’s life is controlled by the Holy Spirit; nonbelievers can only exhibit these spiritual virtues to the extent of human ability.

Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). These virtues are to characterize the Christian life. If we are filled with the Spirit, we will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. But, of course, this takes time. These are not superficial character adjustments that happen overnight. They involve a reshaping of the innermost dispositions of the heart, which is a lifelong process of sanctification by the Spirit.

  1. We tend to neglect the study of the fruit of the Spirit because: (1) we are preoccupied with externals; (2) we are preoccupied with spiritual gifts; and (3) we recognize that many nonbelievers exhibit the spiritual virtues better than Christians.
  2. It is easier to measure spirituality by externals than by the fruit of the Spirit.
  3. We can have spiritual gifts and still be immature.
  4. There is a qualitative difference between the presence of the spiritual virtues in nonbelievers and believers. With nonbelievers, it is merely human effort. With Christians, it is God the Holy Spirit producing spiritual fruit in measure beyond mere human ability.

R.C. Sproul,
Essential Truths of the Christian Faith

6 Secrets that Will Transform the Way You Pray

Do you remember anything about your college commencement address? Stop for a moment and try. Do you remember what it was about? Any profound words of wisdom? Any helpful tips about the way life works? Any life-changing truths?
Still thinking?

Most people who went to college don’t remember their commencement speaker, much less what he or she said. There’s a certain irony to this, since a commencement address is supposed to sum up a philosophy of life and lay out what someone believes are the most essential principles for living. It’s supposed to be one of the most memorable and profound speeches a person gives.

Your commencement address might be lost somewhere in the cobwebs of your memory, but there’s a more important commencement address preserved for us in the pages of Scripture. In 1 Kings 8, King Solomon gives the people of Israel a “commencement address” in the form of a prayer offered at the dedication of the Temple he had built. And it’s one worth listening to.

Solomon, whom God had made the wisest man on earth, explained that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10 CSB). This prayer is the embodiment of Solomon’s knowledge of God, which forms the foundation of his wisdom.

A.W. Tozer said in The Knowledge of the Holy,  “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us .… We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. The most [determining] fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.”

Our knowledge of God is the core, shaping influence on our lives. Here are the things Solomon knew about God that transformed the way he prayed. If you grasp them, they can transform the way you pray, too.

1. God is a mysterious-yet-accessible God (1 Kings 8:12-13).

God is incomprehensible (dwelling in total darkness) but approachable (through the Temple he has built).

Depending on our experience, most of us have a hard time accepting both of these truths. For many, the idea of God coming near is unbelievable. But as a human race, our most chronic shortfall is that we constantly minimize God and downplay his glory. We want him to be approachable, but we don’t like him being mysterious.
But God isn’t just a slightly bigger, slightly smarter version of us. He exists without beginning or end. He stands outside of a universe at least 12 trillion light years across, having spoken it into existence with a word.

God isn’t just a slightly bigger, slightly smarter version of us. Believe that, and it’ll transform the way you pray.

It is not wise for someone with capacities as limited as ours to expect to comprehend everything about God or grasp how he exists eternally, how he is a Trinity, or how all things are working for his good purposes.

2. God is a narrowly-accessible God (1 Kings 8:27-29).

If God really does dwell in darkness but has revealed himself in a specific place and specific way, it follows that the only way to really know him is to seek him at the place he has designated.

The place that God has put his name and the continued power of his Spirit in is his church. That means if you are going to experience the blessing of God, you have to be committed to the church. You can’t have a casual relationship to the church and rich access to the blessing of God.

3. God is a promise-keeping God (1 Kings 8:15, 56).

Solomon first utters a phrase in verse 15 that he repeats over and over throughout his prayer: “[God] has fulfilled the promise by his power.” Solomon ordered his life around the assumption that the promises of God were true.

Wisdom means aligning your life around the promises of God—not becoming more moral or filling your head with more Bible knowledge. It means living in a way that if the promises of God aren’t true, you would be a fool.

4. God is a grace-extending God (1 Kings 8:46-50).

The biggest chunk of Solomon’s prayer is all about God’s willingness to forgive and restore after we sin. The whole prayer is built on the assumption that we are desperate sinners who need God’s help after we mess things up—which we’ll do pretty often.
The ceremony to dedicate the temple, in fact, was so closely linked to our need for forgiveness that it was literally bathed in blood. Verse 5 tells us that before the prayer, King Solomon offered hundreds of thousands of animals as sacrifices to atone for the people’s sins, so the ground he was standing on would have been saturated with blood. That grosses us out, and it should: It represents the heinousness of our sin.

All this blood pointed to the blood of the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus, who would one day be slain for the forgiveness of our sin. When we walk into the presence of God, we stand on ground soaked in the blood of Jesus. And when we pray in the power of this new sacrifice, we can rebound from defeat (vv. 33-34), regain lost blessings (vv. 35-36), request personal healing (vv. 37-39), regroup for spiritual victory (vv. 44-45), and repent and be restored (vv. 46-49).

5. God is a justice-conscious God (1 Kings 8:32).

Solomon says, “May you judge your servants, condemning the wicked man by bringing what he has done on his own head and providing justice for the righteous by rewarding him according to his righteousness” (1 Kings 8:32).

Solomon knows that there will be times when you feel like you were deprived of justice. You’ve tried confrontation, maybe even taking things to the authorities … and you still can’t get justice. When that happens, Solomon says, you have two options: Either let that injustice fester until you are forced to take vengeance yourself, or lay it at God’s feet, knowing that one day he will restore justice to you. The first option will only lead to bitterness and despair, even if you get the vengeance you’re after. Only entrusting justice to God can renew your life and lift your weary heart.

6. God is an outward-focused God (1 Kings 8:41-43).

At every point in Israel’s history, God had the outsider in mind. He saved Israel to make them a blessing to others. The Temple was built with the salvation of the nations in mind. And the church is built with the salvation of the nations in mind. Because he cares about outsiders, God is furious when we treat the church as if it is all about us.

If you’ve been saved by God’s great generosity toward you, then you become scandalously generous with what you have. How could you help it? You were an outsider when God brought you in. Shouldn’t you focus your life on helping to bring others in?

J.D. Greear

Six Benefits of Ordinary Daily Devotions

Private devotions aren’t magic. We know that (for the most part).

But still, we can be tempted to think that if we just figure out the secret formula — the right mixture of Bible meditation and prayer — we will experience euphoric moments of rapturous communion with the Lord. And if that doesn’t happen, our formula must be wrong.

The danger of this misconception is that it can produce chronic disappointment and discouragement. Cynicism sets in and we give up or whip through them to alleviate guilt because devotions don’t seem to work for us.

Our longing for intimate communion with God is God-given. It’s a good thing to desire, ask for, and pursue. The Spirit does give us wonderful, occasional tastes. And this longing will be satisfied to overflowing some day (Psalm 16:11).But God has other purposes for us in the discipline of daily Bible meditation and prayer. Here are a few:

  1. Soul Exercise (1 Corinthians 9:24Romans 15:4): We exercise our bodies to increase strength and endurance, promote general health, and keep unnecessary weight off. Devotions are like exercise for our souls. They force our attention off of self-indulgent distractions and pursuits, and on to God’s purposes and promises. If we neglect this exercise, our souls will go to pot.
  2. Soul Shaping (Romans 12:2): The body will generally take the shape of how we exercise it. Running shapes one way, weight training shapes another way. The same is true for the soul. It will conform to how we exercise (or don’t exercise) it. This is why changing your exercise routine can be helpful. Read through the Bible one year, camp in a book and memorize it another year, take a few months to meditate on and pray through texts related to an area of special concern, etc.
  3. Bible Copiousness (Psalm 119:11Psalm 119:97Proverbs 23:12): A thorough, repeated soaking in the Bible over the course of years increases our overall biblical knowledge, providing fuel for the fire of worship and increasing our ability to draw from all parts of the Bible in applying God’s wisdom to life.
  4. Fight Training (Ephesians 6:10–17): Marines undergo rigorous training in order to so ingrain their weapons knowledge that when suddenly faced with the chaos of combat they instinctively know how to handle their weapons. Similarly, daily handling and using the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) makes us more skilled spiritual warriors.
  5. Sight Training (2 Corinthians 5:72 Corinthians 4:18): Jesus really does want us to see and savor him. Savoring comes through seeing. But only the eyes of faith see him. “Blind faith” is a contradiction, at least biblically. Faith is not blind. Unbelief is blind (John 9:38–41). Faith is seeing a reality that physical eyes can’t see and believing it (1 Peter 1:8). And “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). So if we’re going to savor Jesus, we must see him in the word he speaks. Faith is a gift (Ephesians 2:8). And like most of God’s gifts, they are intended to be cultivated. Daily devotions are an important way to train our faith-eyes to see the glory of Jesus in his word and to train our emotions to respond to what our faith-eyes see. Keep looking for glory. Jesus will give you Emmaus moments (Luke 24:31–32).
  6. Delight Cultivation (Psalm 37:3–4James 4:8Psalm 130:5): When a couple falls in love, there are hormonal fireworks. But when married, they must cultivate delight in one another. It is the consistent, persistent, faithful, intentional, affectionate pursuit of one another during better and worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health that cultivates a capacity for delight in each other far deeper and richer than the fireworks phase. Similarly, devotions are one of the ways we cultivate delight in God. Many days it may seem mundane. But we will be surprised at the cumulative power they have to deepen our love for and awareness of him.

There are many more benefits. You could certainly add to this list. But the bottom line is this: Don’t give up on daily devotions. Don’t whip through them. Don’t let them get crowded out by other demands.

Brick upon brick a building is built. Lesson upon lesson a degree is earned. Stroke upon stroke a painting is created. Your devotions may have seemed ordinary today, but God is making something extraordinary through it. Press on. Don’t short-change the process.

Burnout Begins with Bad Theology

Innumerable books and articles have been published over the last several years on the subject of burnout. But for all the millions of words that have been spent, the statistics continue to rise at an alarming pace. And behind the cold statistics is a conflagration of relationships, families, careers, lives, and souls.

The reason the vast majority of cures and solutions for burnout don’t work is that they merely focus on various techniques to manage stress or reduce anxiety. Some of these practical remedies can be helpful, but they don’t address the heart of the issue. They may put out the fire around the edges, but, because they don’t extinguish the central blaze, the fire within keeps erupting and charred remains keep piling up.

Can’t Sleep?

So, what leads us to burnout? Ultimately, it’s false theology. Behind every exhausted person are bogus beliefs that must be identified and doused by replacing them with true theology. Let’s start by pointing our fire extinguisher at our (false) theology of sleep.

“Behind every exhausted person are bogus beliefs that must be identified and doused with truth.”

Perhaps the greatest contributor to burnout today is sleep deprivation (usually defined as sleeping less than 6–7 hours a night). Sleep researchers have published numerous studies highlighting the horrendous physical, emotional, mental, relational, and even moral damage that results from sleeping too little. Hence the multibillion-dollar industry in computerized mattresses, hi-tech pillows, and various exotic scents. In Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture, I list a number of practical steps that scientists have found to be effective in promoting better sleep.

But often the core problem behind our sleeplessness are wrong views of God and of ourselves.

For example, ask yourself what’s behind your sleep deprivation. What beliefs are driving your decisions about bed-times and rise-times? How about some of these:

I am indispensable. Sure, I believe God is sovereign, but he needs all the help I can give him. If I don’t do the work, who will? Although Christ has promised to build his church, who’s doing the night shift?

I am indestructible. I am strong enough to cope without God’s gift of sufficient daily sleep. I refuse to accept my creaturely limitations and bodily needs. I see myself more as a machine than a human being.

I am infinite. I can neglect my body, and my soul will not suffer. I can weaken my body and not weaken my mind, conscience, or will.

I am an idolater. What I do instead of sleep shines a spotlight on my idols, whether it be late-night football, cultivating my online persona, surfing the Internet, ministry success, or promotion. Why sleep when it does nothing to burnish my reputation or advance my glory?

Lullaby Gospel Truths

The only way to suffocate these destructive flames is with health-giving truths such as:

God is my heavenly Father. As God cares for me more than the sparrows, I can trust him to provide for me in every way and so I cast all my cares, including my career and my children, upon him (Matthew 6:25–27).

God is good. His command to sleep is not optional advice for the weak, but a loving gift that I must gratefully receive (Psalm 3:5).

God is truthful. Therefore, when he says that it is vain, it is utterly pointless, for me to rise too early or stay up too late (Psalm 127:1–2), he’s telling me the truth. I will believe this even when I’m convinced that sleeping less and working longer will benefit me or the church.

“Often the core problem behind our sleeplessness are wrong views of God and of ourselves.”

God is my protector. “Father, I’m sometimes afraid for my job, my church, or my country, but I believe Psalm 4:8, which says, ‘In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.’”

God is strong. I am not. I will therefore respect rather than stretch the limitations of my weak humanity and trust far more his almighty divinity.

Do you see that when and how long we sleep makes a huge statement about what we believe about ourselves and God?

What About the Puritans?

One burned-out pastor confessed to me that he had been depriving himself of sleep for years because “that’s what the Puritans did.” If they could do it, why couldn’t he? After eventually accepting that his frail humanity needed rest, he said,

As long as we are working hard while we work and getting the sleep our body needs, we are honoring the Lord. In fact, I was quite dishonoring God by saying, “I realize you tell me in Psalm 127 that sleep is a gift. But really, why don’t you give it to somebody else? Somebody more needy. Somebody less superhuman. Some mere mortal, on whom the world is not depending so much?”

I was also abusing coffee, trying to compensate. I was a paper Calvinist, but a closet Pelagian, working more by law than by love. Work is good. But it’s only good if it’s anchored and totally conditioned by grace. Now I’m receiving grace and receiving the grace of sleep. Because my Father is good and I am needy.

Many godly Christians who have tried to follow the reported sleeping practices of the Reformers and Puritans died as young as many of them did.

Firefighter with Faith

“When and how long we sleep makes a huge statement about what we believe about ourselves and God.”

Hopefully this step-by-step guide to replacing false theology with true theology in the area of sleep will encourage you to tackle other fires that may be burning you up from within. After lack of sleep, the three biggest and most common fires I’ve seen in the lives of charred counselees have been neglect of a weekly Sabbath, digital intoxication, and false identity.

Regarding the latter, the most common false identities I encounter are “I am my children” (mainly women), and “I am my career” (mainly men). Not surprisingly, anticipating this future problem, God put a specific gender-related curse on each of these areas to ensure they would never satisfy or fulfill us (Genesis 3:16–19).

Ask yourself what false beliefs stoke these and other fires, and what biblical truths will put them out in your heart.