Category Archives: Character

The fruit of the Spirit – Self-control

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the spirit is…self-control

“I can’t believe I did it again.” How many times have we all found ourselves in the situation that leads to such a thought? We tried to control ourselves, but that one thing that just always seems to creep back into our lives overtook our willpower once again. Yes, we gave in to temptation.

It’s a likely scenario, both for the nonbeliever and the Christ follower. It can be very difficult to keep our fleshly urges under control, whether those urges are overeating, lusting, drinking heavily, cheating, stealing, lying, or any other number of sins. The difference between us and those who are not redeemed by the blood of Christ through accepting His gift of salvation, is that we have been granted power above what we are humanly capable of possessing. We are not impotent to change our situation. We have the Holy Spirit working in us.

In the matter of self-control, the name given to this trait referenced in the Fruit of the Spirit scripture may be a bit of a misnomer. For it is not really “self” control that we possess, so much as it is “Spirit-control”. We have been given the ability to restrain ourselves through the help of the Holy Spirit living within us, as believers. We are told in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians that “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” That one passage is reason enough to believe that we are quite capable of bearing the fruit of self-control in our lives.

Self-control is not about trying our hardest not to sin. Rather, self-control, like the other Fruit of the Spirit, is attained through submission of our lives to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The fruit of the Spirit – Gentleness

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the spirit is…gentleness

How are we to react to the aggravating situations that we sometimes face in life? Now answer the question how do we react in those situations. The answers often do not line up with each other.

Using Jesus as an example (see Matthew 11:29), we should always treat others with gentleness. We’ve spoken of kindness, and this differs just slightly. While kindness is more of a way of acting, gentleness brings up more of an idea of a state of spiritual being. While one acts in kindness, one is of gentle spirit.

We are told that “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” in Proverbs 15:1, to “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” in Ephesians 4:2, and also to”Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” in Philippians 4:5. Our instructions are clear. Be gentle, not harsh. Speak words of love, not hate.

We can bear this fruit through the Holy Spirit living inside of us. And we should let it show to all the world to bring glory to God and to fulfill His will.

The fruit of the Spirit – Faithfulness

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the spirit is…faithfulness

Our main goal as followers of Christ should be to act with the character of Jesus, our Savior. There is no better way to lead others to Him than to show them exactly who Christ is. Words make a huge impact, but nothing can compare with the example we set through our actions.

In His earthly ministry, we see that Jesus was always faithful. There is never a time that our Lord makes a promise that He does not fulfill. We also should strive for this quality. We should be faithful in all we do.

In this world filled with so many excuses to get out of everything from paying what we owe on debt to facing the consequences of sin, it takes little effort from us to be unreliable. But as Christians, we are to set the example of what faithfulness means.

Faithfulness in our jobs means putting in a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. Faithfulness in our marriage means remaining true to our vows, keeping ourselves pure, not only physically by mentally as well. Faithfulness to our children means not making promises that we don’t intend to keep.

And, just as important as those examples is our faithfulness in areas that can be seen in public by nonbelievers. The world must see us living the qualities we profess to believe in. Making excuses is not Christlike. Ask the Holy Spirit to bear this fruit in your life for all to see, for it brings glory to God.

The fruit of the Spirit – Goodness

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the spirit is…goodness

The Christian faith is one that is plagued with a sometimes unflattering past. The view that nonbelievers take of the religion to which we belong is not always a positive one. Despite our best efforts to put forth a good face to Christianity, some will focus on the negative events that have taken place in history.

This is all the more reason why we, as Christ followers, should put forth the very best example at all times. In all that we do, we need to show goodness. When we are wronged, we need to react, not with more wrong, but with good.

We need to be using our time to help the poor, the widows, and the orphans. Wherever there is need, it is those who follow Christ and do His will that should be at the forefront of the effort to bring good to the situation.

And in all these things, it is not our effort that brings about good. It is the Holy Spirit in us that bears this fruit for all to see.

The fruit of the Spirit – Kindness

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the spirit is…kindness

Kindness is hard to come by in today’s society. Even kind acts are sometimes done out of selfish motives. But if we are to truly bear the fruit that God has in mind, we must act in kindness out of love, not out of selfish ambition. Our motives matter a lot to God.

It’s true, that we are often rewarded for our kindness in this life. This, however, should not be our objective in doing kind things for others. Our main focus is to bring glory to God through our actions. Whether that is helping the poor, tutoring children, reading to our own kids, or whatever.

Kindness, again like so many attribute of the fruit of the spirit, comes out of love and it related to the other fruit. Without joy, we will not be able to show kindness because we will not be in the right state to do so. Without patience we will never be able to show kindness because sometimes we’re required to show kindness to those that are hard to love.

Show kindness from your heart, and show the love of God the Father to those who don’t know Him.

Cleaning up

1 John 1:9 (ESV) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

When it comes to cleaning up our lives, many people get things backwards. If you think that you’ve got to clean up your act to become a Christian, you don’t understand how this thing works. You and I are incapable of getting ourselves cleaned up until after we give things over to Jesus.

All of the hurts, habits, and hangups that keep us from following after the Savior are exactly the things He came to heal us from. We don’t get ourselves into shape before going into the gym, we go to the gym to get into shape. Likewise, we don’t come to Jesus after we’ve saved ourselves. We go to Him for salvation.

If you’re struggling with something right now that’s keeping you from giving your life over to Christ, like I was before I took that step, look what God’s Word has to say about the subject. There’s no command to “get right” before coming to Him. There is, however, plenty to be said about giving ourselves over to Him so that He can be the one to cleanse us.

Don’t get it twisted. Jesus does the cleaning up. We’re not able to do it on our own, even if we try our hardest. God isn’t impressed with our efforts, He wants our repentance. What are you waiting for?

Let your light shine

lightstock_827_small_user_3963721Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Jesus spent most of the Sermon on the Mount telling His followers about the Kingdom of God and about who they are. He didn’t begin by telling them anything to do, He led up to that. The Sermon on the Mount is mostly descriptive, not prescriptive. First came the statements and the definitions, then came the mission.
In Matthew 5:14, notice that Jesus does not tell His followers to go be the light of the world. He tells us that we ARE the light of the world. We are the light of the world because God illuminated our hearts so that we’ll know Him. He then shines through us for others to see Him and know Him. Our testimonies as Christians are not always verbal. Sometimes it’s the good works we perform that ultimately lead people to see Jesus working in our lives. So what are “good works?”
There are obvious things that we can do for others to show them the character of God, like caring for the poor and loving the lost. There are other things that might not be as obvious, attitudes of the heart that manifest themselves in our actions. Sometimes pointing the way to God is as simple as doing things without complaining. One thing is for sure, others are watching. We are the light of the world whether we want to shine or not.
Salvation brings transformation and a Christian who has no good works to show for their transformation isn’t a very good witness. The Bible is very clear that works don’t save us from God’s wrath and reconcile us to Him. Only Jesus’ work on the cross can do that. It’s equally clear, though, that we’re supposed to do good works. We’re created with a purpose and given a mission, to point others to the Father by shining the light He’s put within us.

Waging war

Ephesians 4:14-16 so that we may no longer be children, lightstock_116370_small_user_3963721tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

In WWII, the U.S. Army developed a new tactic: airborne operations. Under this new tactic, specially trained units would parachute in behind enemy lines before a major offensive. Their objective was to take strategic pieces of land, such as bridges and roads, and to eliminate particular sections of the enemy defenses. In essence, their job description was to be surrounded by large numbers of enemy troops and accomplish highly dangerous missions. Sounds fun, right?

Well, time to rise and shine, soldier – you are in the Airborne as you read this devotional. Anyone who follows Christ is most definitely behind enemy lines in this world. We are surrounded by a mass of enemy fortifications. Our circumstance in this respect is certain, and there is no way around it. Now we must choose whether to pick up our rifle and march forward, or crouch down in the ditch and pretend there’s not a war going on.

This reality is what Paul speaks to in 4:14. Spiritual warfare is all around us, and is infinitely more real than the game on TV last night. We ought not be shocked when the bullets start flying, not if we accept and understand our position. We’re supposed to be maturing and growing in our stature in Christ. We are supposed to be warriors who see the danger and are engaged in the fight.

The particular battle described here is one of the Church drawing people to Christ through our actions, our true selves, not just the bulletins that we pass out at bake sales. Fighting this battle involves growing into the fullness of Christ (verse 15), so that each member of the body functions properly. Thus, the whole unit becomes effective.

The Christian life is far from passive. Read over this passage several times and grasp the all -encompassing nature of our calling. Make no mistake, the enemy is playing for keeps, and he means to wreck, steal, and devour. Never stop seeking after Christ and allow Him to use you. Become a weapon in His hand.

———-  How are you letting yourself be used by God to wage war against the enemy?

Equipped for service

325064_2851984026582_830175113_oEphesians 4:11-13 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

The idea of gifting and that each person has a unique gifting is certainly a familiar one; however, there is a good chance that we need to widen our perspective. Take all of Ephesians 3 and the first section of chapter 4 as your context. Paul describes the radical love of Christ in chapter 3, and then goes on to make several radical statements about how the church is supposed to represent that love. Our lives ought to be worthy of this calling, and it is with that foundation that Christ gifted each of us.

In 4:12, we see the purpose clearly – we have our gifts so that we can be equipped for service, and so that the Body might be built up for Christ’s glory. Verse 13 tells us what each man must do. In present day language, it might go something like this:

“Look, each one of you has a skill set. But those skills and gifts are not an end in themselves. We have been called by Christ and given our lives to Him, and our purpose now is to create, in our interactions and daily lives, a picture for the world to see that represents the Love that has been showered on us. Every man must apply himself to growing in Christ. Just as children grow physically, we need to grow spiritually so that each part of the Body is mature and functioning. The people in Ephesus that don’t know Jesus, they should be drawn in by their interactions with you, and that will happen when each of us pursues Christ above all else.”

Don’t be passive. You have certain strengths that will bless other people. Those strengths must be put into action, and they must be under the headship of Christ and used with this over-arching perspective.

———-  In what area of ministry are you currently using your God-given gifts and abilities?

A Genuine Man

F1ONRF-00003778-001Ephesians 4:25-32  Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,  and give no opportunity to the devil.  Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Nobody likes a phony. We can often accept imperfections as long as people are genuine. Paul speaks to that in verse 25, saying to get rid of all the falsehood and smoke screens in our lives, and be real with each other. This comes directly after encouraging us to “put on our new self” in Christ. I believe that the vulnerability and honesty Paul mentions is critical to the overall goal here – we have to break down all the walls and barriers that human nature puts in the way of true relationship.

A major component of that effort is found in verse 29 – “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth.” Rather, we ought to lift each other up and be Givers of Life. When people walk away after interacting with us they should feel encouraged and touched, whether they are fellow believers or not. Go back to the “salt of the earth” idea. What is the aroma surrounding your personality? Is it pleasant to those whom in reaches? Taking it one step further, nobody ever said, “This is the best salt I have ever tasted!” While we are supposed to flavor and enlighten, this is not about us as all. Unless our efforts point to Christ, we are wasting our time and making it about us.

In verse 31, Paul describes the inner chaos and turmoil that marks a lost soul, much like the smoke-filled room from yesterday. In contrast, we are to be “tender hearted.” Tendons in the body connect, reach out, and enable. However, they are not weak and malleable. Tendons are among the toughest fibers in the human body – they do not break easily. I think we ought to be the same. Connecting hearts, forgiving one another, engaging someone else’s life with thoughtfulness and care…these are crucial tasks, and it says nothing about weakness.

Forget the stereotypes of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, but at the same time, strongly reject the soft male idea that was projected in the 1970’s – one of passivity and lack of direction. (Ladies, please don’t feel left out. Becoming and raising tender, Godly men is a job for both sexes.) Jesus was tender hearted and understood the feelings of others, yet was the strongest man that ever lived. This is our calling.

———-  Take an honest, prayerful look within yourself and ask, “How am I doing at being the kind of Christian Paul describes in Ephesians? Where can I improve?” Seek God’s guidance in making you more into the image of Christ.

*This devotion by Jeremy Bunge first appeared in February of 2011.