Sunday, December 11, 2011

Living The Fruity Life

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 12.17.11

Now, before anybody gets too worried, by “the fruity life” I mean the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”  Galatians 5:22-23
That’s quite a list, isn’t it?  I think we all skim through it like it’s a checklist, mentally ticking all the traits we’re pretty sure we’ve mastered, right?  We’ve got this whole fruit of the Spirit thing under control; we’re good to go…in our own minds.  Ahem…time for a reality check.
“Here's some good news: if you're like most people, you're way above average—at almost everything. Psychologists call this the state of ‘illusory superiority.’ (It's also called ‘The Lake Wobegone Effect,’ from Garrison Keillor's fictional Minnesota town where ‘all the children are above average.’) It simply means that we tend to inflate our positive qualities and abilities, especially in comparison to other people.
“Numerous research studies have revealed this tendency to overestimate ourselves. For instance, when researches asked a million high school students how well they got along with their peers, none of the students rated themselves below average. As a matter of fact, 60 percent of students believed they were in the top 10 percent; 25 percent rated themselves in the top one percent. You'd think college professors might have more self-insight, but they were just as biased about their abilities. Two percent rated themselves below average; 10 percent were average and 63 were above average; while 25 percent rated themselves as truly exceptional.
“Of course this is statistically impossible. One researcher summarized the data this way: ‘It's the great contradiction: the average person believes he is a better person than the average person.’ Christian psychologist Mark McMinn contends that the ‘Lake Wobegone Effect’ reveals our pride. He writes, ‘One of the clearest conclusions of social science research is that we are proud. We think better of ourselves than we really are, we see our faults in faint black and white rather than in vivid color, and we assume the worst in others while assuming the best in ourselves.”[1]
Wow!  No wonder Paul reminds the Romans: 
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”  Romans 12:3
So, IRL (I’ve just learned from my children that IRL stands for In Real Life) can we be so quick to assign all the elements of the fruit of the Spirit to ourselves?  I’m not saying that we don’t have one or two of them at one time or another, unless there’s a big deadline at work, or somebody else got a raise/promotion, or our kids/spouse/pets are making us crazy…but, you know, anybody would lose it under those circumstances, right? We don’t have to have all those attributes all the time, do we?

Let’s look at the verses around 22 and 23:  
“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”  Galatians 5:16-26
Hang on there, there’s another list we need to read through carefully.  It’s pretty easy, once again, to decide we don’t have a problem with any of those “acts of the flesh.”  I meant, sorcery? Really?  Heresies?   Murders?  Don’t be silly!

But there are some other things on that list:  hatred, envy, jealousy, and a couple of things the New International Version calls “fits of rage” and “selfish ambition.”  That hits a little closer to home, doesn’t it?

The truth is that we can try to create the fruit of the Spirit ourselves, but sheer force of will, and we might be able to manage things for a little while, but our “flesh lusts against the Spirit.”  It wants to pitch fits and be jealous and envious and petty; we just cannot resist the pull toward the “acts of the flesh” on our own.  It isn’t possible.
“Love, joy, and all that other good stuff are the fruit of the Spirit, not the fruit of our efforts. We can't produce them on our own. Period. The fruit comes only as we submit our lives and let the Spirit control us.”[2]
That’s why Paul tells us over and over again to “walk in the Spirit.”  And “those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”  The fruit of the Spirit only becomes a part of us when we quit fighting ourselves and surrender completely to Jesus.
“The fruits of the Holy Spirit are, it seems to me, largely fruits of sustained interaction with God. Just as a child picks up traits more or less simply by dwelling in the presence of her parent, so the Christian develops tenderheartedness, compassion, humility, forgiveness, joy, and hope through ‘the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’--that is, by dwelling in the presence of God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son.”[3]  
I’m ready to live the fruity life.  I want to admit that I’m less than I would like to think I am, that my only chance is to stop struggling against “the flesh.”  It’s time to surrender and, as the Alcohol Anonymous folks say, “Let go; Let God.”

[1] Matt Woodley, managing editor,; sources: "Study: Self-Images Often Erroneously Inflate," ABC News (11-9-05); Mark McMinn, Why Sin Matters (Tyndale, 2004), pp. 69-71
[2] Susan Maycinik (now Susan Nikaido), editor of Discipleship Journal, "Who's Afraid of the Holy Spirit?" Discipleship Journal (Issue 91)
[3] Robert C. Roberts in The Reformed Journal (Feb. 1987). Christianity Today, Vol. 32, no. 10.

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