This is the second of two posts about spiritual living. The first post is about spiritual gifts and natural talents. The second post is about the fruits of the Spirit and spiritual disciplines.
To review, spiritual gifts are gifts from God, at least one of which is given to all Christians for the purpose of serving others, building up the Church and glorifying God. Natural talents are also gifts from God, but they are given to all people and can be used for any purpose, while spiritual gifts are intended and expected to be used for God’s purposes.
Fruits of the Spirit
The fruits of the Spirit are recorded for us in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there are no law.”
These are nine attributes that describe a Spirit-filled life.
Three thoughts on the fruits of the Spirit.
1. Unlike spiritual gifts or natural talents, all Christians should strive to have each fruit of the Spirit to the fullest. These are not attributes granted selectively; they are the signs of the Christian life. We should all have all of them.
Paul says these “fruits” are the outward signs of our life in the Spirit as opposed to our life as slaves to the flesh. Before listing the fruits, Paul describes the opposite attributes, the ones that are the outward signs of the sinful life: “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”
While those who manifest the fleshly attributes have not been transformed by the Spirit, those who have been filled with the Spirit will want to — and need to — live out the good fruits visibly and fully.
2. It is by the fruits of the Spirit that Christians will be recognized as such, both by other Christians and by unbelievers.
A person cannot rightly claim to be a Christian if she does not bear the good fruit. And if a person bears the good fruit, it is because of the Spirit in her. Believers would be right to wonder at the sincerity of a person who says he is a Christian if he does not exhibit the signs of the Spirit.
In a similar way, non-Christians should see the fruit of the Spirit in us and recognize us as followers of Christ. The difference here between Christians and non-Christians isn’t in the way they see us — we should exhibit these attributes to everyone — it’s simply that Christians know what to look for and what (or, rather, who) the source is, while non-Christians will be left to wonder why we are the way we are.
John says in his thirteenth chapter that people will know Christians by their love. And while love is the greatest commandment, I think it is fair to say that people should also know us by the other eight fruits of the Spirit. Our joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control should stand out to the world and make people see there is something different about us. And the difference is Christ and his Spirit in us.
3. The fruits of the Spirit are both an alternative to the law and the fulfillment of the law.
The acts of the flesh are forbidden under the law, making us slaves to legalism. But the signs of the Spirit are a result of God’s call for us to be free and to serve one another in humility (Gal. 5:13). “Against such things there is no law.”
We are told to walk according to the ways of the Spirit, not the cravings of the flesh. In the same way, it might be said that we are called to walk in freedom and grace rather than in sin. The two are at odds. We cannot show off the fruits of the Spirit and also the acts of the flesh.
And if we choose the way of freedom and grace, we are not bound to legalism: “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Not only that, but by living lives of love, along with the other fruits of the Spirit, the whole law has been kept — the Greatest Commandment has been fulfilled by the Spirit in us.
Of the four subjects I’ve examined — the three others being spiritual gifts, natural talents and fruits of the Spirit — spiritual disciplines is the one I know the least about. My explorations took me far and wide, and there was some disagreement between the authors I looked to for thoughts.
What seems certain is that spiritual disciplines are actual activities Christians should engage in, activities made valuable by their purpose.
Yes, that’s pretty vague.
Here are some of the views out there:
1. Donald S. Whitney, who wrote Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life looks at the following disciplines: prayer, worship, evangelism, service, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling and learning. Although, he acknowledges there are other disciplines, confession, accountability, celebration, affirmation and sacrifice among them. He says the purpose of spiritual disciplines is to strive for godliness.
2. D.A. Carson describes a narrower view of spiritual disciplines, one that assumes such activities should be at least mentioned in the New Testament. As such, for him, journaling and creation care, while they may be admirable things, are not necessarily spiritual disciplines. The purpose Carson sees as universally recognized for spiritual disciplines is simply the increasing of spirituality. However, he says that, for Christians, “it is simply not possible to increase one’s spirituality without possessing the Holy Spirit and submitting to his transforming instruction and power.”
3. In the classic Celebration of Discipline, Richard A. Foster splits spiritual disciplines into three categories: Inward Disciplines — meditation, prayer, fasting, study; Outward Disciplines — simplicity, solitude, submission, service; and Corporate Disciplines — confession, worship, guidance, celebration. He says the purpose of the disciplines is “liberation from the stifling slavery to self-interest and fear.” Presumably, if I were to read on, this liberation would also produce an openness and movement toward God.
Presently, I see spiritual disciplines as acts that, while maybe not specifically instituted by scripture (as with the sacraments), are helpful in spiritual growth. They should bring us toward a fuller relationship with God and with the Church. It seems that all Christians should engage in at least some of the disciplines, but I’m not quite sure if all or some (surely some!) are required. They can be introspective or communal. They can be physical or psychological. They are all spiritual. And they all take practice and effort.