Faith and Fruit

“We walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor 5:7).  The New Testament speaks of faith in primarily two ways.  A saving faith, which we wrote about in our last post, and a living faith, today’s topic.  Our introduction into Christ, into the family of God, required saving faith.  A belief that Jesus of Nazareth lived, died, and rose again as the promised Messiah, our substitute who paid the debt of our sins.  Likewise, our walk, our experience of the supernatural Christian life also requires faith.

When I embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, God placed within me a new nature, a new heart, and new Holy Spirit.  I can’t feel my new nature.  I can’t see my new heart.  I can’t observe the Holy Spirit roaming around inside His new home.  I believe they are there, not by what I see, but by faith.  My experience of these influences in my daily life is made active by a living faith.

A fruit tree is genetically bound to produce a certain type of fruit.  It cannot produce any other.  We are genetically bound by our new birth to produce a certain kind of fruit, the fruit of the Spirit.  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).  But our fruit production is not automatic.  The Bible speaks about two enemies:  Satan with his accusations, and the flesh with its temptations.  Just as a fruit tree’s production can be diminished by disease, so our experience of the Spirit’s fruit can be hindered by our enemies.

What is the key to overcoming our enemies?  Our faith.  “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” (I Jn 5:4).  In Ephesians 6:16, Paul identifies one of our weapons in the fight against Satan and his accusations as “the shield of faith.”  Our faith matters.

The fruit of the Spirit is just that, fruit.  It is not work.  It is not a set of traits to aspire to, to work toward.  They are a holistic set of attributes that flow from the Spirit living inside us.  Faith is not one of the fruits.  Faith is the action whereby we appropriate the fruit.  I begin to practice the fruit of the Spirit and see its work in my life because I believe, by faith, that what God says about the new me and my spiritual capacity is true.  Let me say it again.  The fruit of the Spirit is appropriated by faith, not by working harder!

Faith Enters the Picture

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1).  Faith is the “assurance” that God’s testimony is true.  And because it is “the conviction of things not seen”, it solely rests on God’s revelation, not our experience.  Faith is believing that what God says is true.

It was by faith that we first entered the Christian life.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Eph 2:8-9).  Our deliverance from the penalty of sin and our instantaneous new birth came about by our faith in God’s free gift of salvation.  When we, by faith, embrace the gospel message of Jesus Christ, all is forgiven.  There is no probationary period.  There is no “good works” requirement of being better than my neighbor, attending a church, or performing acts of penance.  This is the absolute beauty and uniqueness of the Christian message.  Redemption is acquired by faith, not works.

A specific work, well understood by the Jewish background believers of the early church, was the keeping of the Old Testament Law.  Paul writes, “We are Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles; nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal 2:15-16).  Paul repeats himself for emphasis.  We are justified, made right in God’s eyes, by our faith in Christ Jesus.

Somehow, in God’s sovereign plan for our salvation, He included our faith, our choice to believe.  Exactly how, I do not know.  I only know that our faith played a role since it receives prominence in many salvation passages (Lk 7:50, Ac 26:18, Rom 3:22, 4:5, 5:1, I Pet 1:9).  A theology that places salvation in too narrow of a pigeon-hole solely filled by God’s choice will miss this mystery.  The mystery is this:  our faith is of tremendous consequence in our salvation.

It was much the same among the diseased in Jesus’ day.  On more than one occasion, Jesus assured the healed, “Your faith has made you well” (Mk 5:34, 10:52).  As with our salvation, the efficacy of the healing was somehow made complete by their faith.  Your faith matters.

How does this apply to our walk?  The message of Paul’s letter to the Galatians can be summed up with this exhortation, “You came to salvation by faith, now live the Christian life by faith” (Gal 3:1-5).  If we think our faith was of no consequence in our salvation, we won’t understand the consequence of faith, sheer necessity really, in living the Christian life.  Paul summarized the connection between our introduction to life in Christ and the next step of living by faith in a single verse of Scripture.  “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal 2:20).  More about living by faith in our next post.

Spirit vs. Flesh

One of the constant sources of conflict in living the supernatural Christian life is our flesh.  Not in the biology sense of our physical skin, but in the biblical sense of our flesh being the source of our sinward inclinations.  Remember, sin was not eradicated at the new birth.  It only had a change in status (it no longer reigns) and our relationship to it (we are no longer slaves).  Sin’s presence and nature still exist in the believer and its summary term, the flesh, is the source of many a conflict.

Our role in the conflict with the flesh is two-fold.  First, we are to choose the way of the Spirit over the way of the flesh.  “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another” (Gal 5:17-18).  Believers have a choice.  We can choose the way of the Spirit in keeping with who we are or we can choose the way of the flesh.  The Spirit and the flesh are opposing entities each vying for our allegiance.

The same choice is set before us in Romans 6:12-13, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”  Do not let sin reign.  Do not let sin back on the throne.  Do not go back into sin’s employ.  Remember, sin is still present in the believer; it just lost its employee, its slave.  Don’t go back to work for your former master.  Choose to obey your new master.

Secondly, we are to crucify the flesh.  “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passion and desires” (Gal 5:24).  This “death to the flesh” includes both the one-time choice to follow Christ and our continual habit of crucifying the flesh.  The flesh was dealt a death blow at our conversion, but, like the bad guy in a horror movie, keeps coming back (albeit with less power) and must be repulsed again and again.  We seek to destroy that about the flesh that gives it its strength and power.

Crucifying the flesh also has two aspects.  On the positive side, we run to practice God’s commands.  By the implantation and practice of the Spirit’s fruits; “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23), we weaken the influence of the flesh.

At the same time we avoid situations and habits that strengthen the flesh.  We consider what occasions sin uses to its advantage and act carefully.  John Owen wrote in 1656 in The Mortification of Sin, “Consider what ways, what kinds of company, what opportunities, what studies, what occupations, what conditions have at any time given, or do usually give, advantages to your sins, and set yourself against them all.  Men will do this with their bodily infirmities.  The season, the diet, and the air that have proved offensive are avoided.  Are things of the soul of less importance?”

Walking in the Spirit

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal 5:17).  Up to now, our posts have explained the foundational aspects of our new identity.  When we embrace the gospel message of Jesus Christ, we become a new creation with a new nature, a new master, new clothes, and a new heart.  We have also done the accounting to register these new facts in our ledger.  At this point we might say, “So what?”

How does this knowledge affect our daily thoughts, choices, and actions?  How do we address our besetting or recurring sins?  Does a new identity mean sinless perfection is possible?  Or at the other extreme, does sin even matter now that we have been set free from the law?  So far, we have developed the basis for our new position in Christ that became effective the hour we believed.  This is “positional sanctification”; the setting apart and equipping for holiness that happened when we accepted Christ’s gift.  Now we want to address how we move forward from here.  This is “progressive sanctification”; the continual setting apart as we become more like Christ over time.

Paul summarizes how we are to proceed in Galatians 5:17, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”  Our victory over sin and the flesh was won at the cross.  Experiencing the fruit or result of that victory is another matter altogether.  When we walk in the Spirit, we take the truth we know in fact and begin to live it in experience.  On the flip side, if I do not walk in the Spirit, then what is true of me in fact is not expressed through me.

Walking in the Spirit is not about willpower, but about trust in God’s promise of provision in our conflict with sin.  Walking in the Spirit is not trust in a set of rules, but a constant dependence on and communication with God Himself.  Instead of a determined effort to change myself, I reckon myself dead to sin and rely on the Holy Spirit to change me into a person of humility, generosity, patience, etc.  In essence, walking in the Spirit is walking by faith that is energized by love.  We have come round now to the heart of living out what has already happened inside.  Faith and Love, although somewhat abstract and difficult to measure, are critical to the task at hand.  They are indeed the twin pillars upon which we will build the supernatural Christian life.

Accounting 101

“Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8) is a fact of Scripture that we are quite comfortable with.  If you are part of God’s family, you are not only comfortable with that fact, but you believe it.  So what do you think of the fact stated one chapter later, “Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (Rom 6:6-7)?  The fact that “our old self died with Christ…” carries the same scriptural weight as “Christ died for us”, something we readily accept and embrace.  So what does God want us to do with “our old self died with Christ…”?

God wants us to do some bookkeeping.  God wants us to enter this fact into our ledger.  “Even so reckon yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:11).  Because our old self was crucified with Christ (Rom 6:6), God is asking us to go to the ledger and remove our name from the “sinner by nature” column and instead place it in the “dead to sin” column.  A little cut and paste, if you will.  The Greek word, logizomai, translated “reckon” in Romans 6:11 is an accounting term.  And proper accounting, as we have learned from numerous business scandals, is the recording of facts, not fabrications.  God is asking us to record a fact that is true.  The fact is, the life of Christ has been planted in us by the new birth and its nature is not to commit sin (I Jn 3:9).  And God would not ask us to put in our ledger something that is not true.

Satan, on the other hand, has made a living out of challenging divine fact (Gen 3:4).  Why?  Because lying and deceit are at the center of Satan’s nature.  Jesus said, “[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.  Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44).

Satan’s work continues today in his suggestion that we doubt God’s divine facts.  And his exhibit A is our daily experience.  Satan holds up a mirror to our life and asks, “Does this look like someone who resembles the moral excellence of Christ?”  Satan, the accuser, says you aren’t good enough to receive the promise of a life set free from the power of sin.

How should we respond to this accusation?  After all, maybe our experience with sin does not line up with God’s promise about its diminished power.  We start by going to the ledger, going to God’s Word and believing what is written there.  This is a critical fork in the road.  Are we going to believe Satan’s accusation or God’s divine fact?  Are we going to turn the mirror back to Satan and show him Christ’s image etched on our new heart?  When we go through the reckoning exercise and believe what is written in the ledger, we are ready to tackle the next question.  “How do I put the divine fact to work in my day-to-day conflict with sin?”  The short answer is by walking in the Spirit.  The long answer is what the remainder of this blog is all about.