A little over a year ago, I began trying to do a very particular “Christian thing,” excited that this venture would finally begin a chapter of redeeming qualities blossoming in my life after what felt like continual seasons of failure. I started my venture as I always do: excited, eager to read the Bible so I would know how to best train and instruct, and ready to pour in whatever it would take to finally show a productive crop of the fruit of the Spirit in my life.
Five months into my “very Christian thing,” I was exasperated, tired, hurt, and the fruit my life displayed was the sum total of antonyms to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. What I had anticipated being my harvest season of “superb Christianity” ended in the typical failure I always fear and dread….
Producing the Fruit of the Spirit My Way
There were many times when I was attempting to do the “very Christian thing” that I knew I did not exude the fruit of the Spirit. But since I was attempting “the very Christian thing,” I, by my own strength, began to try and be patient, kind, loving, gentle, etc. At the end of the day — having attempted the spiritual in the flesh — I was, of course, more exhausted and frustrated.
Typically, at this point, I began the long conversation with my husband where I vented about how hard I was working at my “very Christian thing,” dragging him into similar exasperation and an unintended feeling of ineptness that the Gospel doesn’t really change difficult situations or people.
At the end of my pity party I was always left with the big question: what went wrong? I have the Holy Spirit, I’m trying to do the right thing — why is it that in difficult situations (even when equipped with my memorized list from Galatians 5:22-23 I learned for a candy bribe during VBS as a child), there isn’t any fruit blooming?
Abiding in the Vine
To learn what went wrong with my attempt at the “very Christian thing,” I went to John’s account of Jesus’ final discourse to the disciples in John 15. In the garden, I found God the Father, the great Gardener (John 15:1), keeping watch over His Vine (Jesus) with the promise to carefully prune His crop. Jesus, wanting the Father to be glorified as He glorified the Father, wanted His disciples to bear much fruit (John 15:8). And, being our faithful teacher, Jesus as the Vine Himself gives us the how-to instructions for bearing much fruit.
Simply put, Jesus instructed His disciples to remain in Him and His love (John 15:4-9). So, how do we know that we are remaining in Jesus’ love? Jesus said, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in His love” (John 15:10). What did Jesus command? “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).
Confronted with Truth
With this, I began to unravel what was not glorifying to the Father and what was not obedience to Jesus’ command. When I attempted my “very Christian thing,” did I continually forgive as Jesus forgave His persecutors? Did I die to my own desires in order to love as Jesus loved His bumbling disciples? Did I expect nothing in return as Jesus did? Did I continually seek the good of others at a great cost to myself — even when they acted as my enemies…?
Hardly. And there’s hardly any fruit to show for it — and, obviously, none of the Spirit-filled characteristics listed in Galatians 5:22-23 given by the Holy Spirit.
In the context of the book of Galatians, I found another reminder of what I was missing in attempting my “very Christian thing.” Some days I deceive myself — not as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work but instead as a result of my own vanity and selfish ambition — I consciously work hard at being loving, kind, gentle, faithful, and self-controlled. However, on days when I am in a God-ordained situation and still required to do “a very Christian thing,” attempting the list without the Spirit leads to failure that should push me to my knees and to the Word.
I’ll Do It His Way
If I remembered the whole context of Galatians surrounding the list which only the Holy Spirit can produce, I would remember that there’s nothing I can do (especially religiously) to add to what Christ has done (Galatians 3:11). And, if there were something I could do, then Christ died for nothing (Galatians 2:21). I would remember that my identity is now in Christ, so I can’t and don’t need to prove anything (Galatians 3:26, 4:4-7).
I would ask myself, am I simply being true to my identity in Christ as the daughter God made me to be in Christ? Is that enough, or do I want people to look at me for what I am doing and thus exalt me instead of my ever-loving, perfect, faithful Father? Is being an heir enough (Galatians 4:7)?
When I honestly think about it, everything else I want just exalts me — not the Vine or the Gardener. In light of Galatians, I can live free instead of working for my own kingdom and enslavement (Galatians 5:1). Instead of self-ward focus, I can be free to not gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). But I must remain in Christ to do this. By remembering how He loved and commanded me to love, by remembering all I have in Him, I can abide in Him and allow the Spirit to produce what is humanly impossible to bear. I can be free from my own burden to prove something when “very Christian things” come up, and instead be free to bear others’ burdens (Galatians 6:2-5).
When we abide in Christ, we bear fruit. Apart from Jesus, our lives produce nothing in and of themselves.