Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original. Galatians 5:25-26 (MSG)
The Christian walk is not concerned with how good we feel about ourselves for being Christians. While we don’t need to do things for God to get His attention, we do still have a part to play. Even a simple game of follow the leader requires effort.
Grace is the free gift of God, but it did not come cheaply. If we had no role to play in working out our own salvation, then what would be the point of getting saved in the first place?
The work that God does within us by the power of the Holy Spirit ought to be evident externally. We have been changed from within so that we may bring change to the world without. So what does that look like?
In Part 3, we began by listing the nine “fruits” of the Holy Spirit, that is to say, the characteristics that are produced by Him in us, which are the evidence of His existence in our lives.
- Love. As we have discussed previously, love is an action word, not an emotion. Love involves sacrifice, or always putting the needs of others before your own.
- Joy. Like love, joy is more substantial than just a feeling of superficial happiness. It is a powerful force that is God’s response to our praise and thanksgiving. This strength renews and refuels us, giving us the proper attitude to carry on with whatever comes our way next.
- Peace. More than just an absence of discord, a spirit of peace involves trusting that God is strong enough to bring us through whatever trials await us, no matter how dire they may seem at first.
- Patience. I KNOW this one’s coming from the Lord, because it sure didn’t originate with me! This is the supernatural ability to stay chilled and let things roll off your back. In many people, this is the first fruit of the Spirit that others notice when they detect a change in a new believer. Short fuses get a lot longer.
- Kindness. Kindness is love in motion. This is the act of lifting up another who needs it. Before the Spirit’s work in your life, there were people you might not have even noticed. Afterward, though, you might find yourself helping these folks out without giving it a second thought.
- Goodness. I’ve always wondered why this one was listed after “kindness,” because goodness is the attitude from which kindness flows. For us to be able to do good for others, we have to first have the general mindset of doing good for good’s sake.
- Faithfulness. A person under the influence of the Spirit will live a life of integrity. He will say what he means, mean what he says, finish what he starts, and always, ALWAYS keep his word. Lack of faithfulness is one of the quickest ways to spot a fake Christian. Someone who is timid, wishy-washy, unreliable or just plain dishonest is not living by the Spirit, regardless of how long he or she has been going to church.
- Gentleness. Along with patience, this is another very obvious sign that God is working in someone’s life. If a person has a history of anger issues (as I have), and you see that person holding his tongue, not raising his voice, being less competitive, etc., it’s a good bet that person didn’t learn those techniques from a self-help book.
- Self-Control. Along with gentleness, people under the control of the Spirit are able to keep themselves together, hold themselves back, and keep themselves from going to pieces in stressful situations. Again, when you see someone with a reactive nature not taking the bait and going for the throat anymore when someone tries to start an argument, you know that something’s up that didn’t start with that person.
I can not stress enough that this list is not intended to be a to-do list for you to check off.
The goal here is not to get these things done. It’s to keep in step with the Holy Spirit by letting His influence in our lives rule our conduct. If our goal is to live lives of strong moral character and integrity, then the characteristics in the list above will shine through naturally, sometimes without our even being aware of them.
Other people will notice, however, just as they notice when we claim to be filled with the Spirit, but fail to display these characteristics.
Again, the characteristics are not the goal. The character is.
(For more on living this out, come back for Part 5—As Far as it Depends on You)