Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
Every February our patio here at church looks a little bit like a fruit stand. Citrus, which grows in abundance here in Arizona, is placed in bags on the patio for people to take. And I know that many winter visitors are appreciative of the oranges and grapefruit.
Yes, here at Calvary fruit abounds! Now, I’m not talking about the citrus in February, nor do I mean that every potluck here looks like the produce department at Sprouts. No, what I’m referring to is the fruit of the Spirit. As the Holy Spirit works through the Word and convicts us of our sins then comforts us with the Gospel, he also moves us to live lives of thanks to God. And when we do, we produce good works, or fruits. But this fruit isn’t something we grow of ourselves. It’s something the Holy Spirit works in us.
Today, as we review the third article of the Apostles’ Creed, finishing up our summer sermon series on the Apostles’ Creed, we rejoice in that work of the Holy Spirit who “sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” The Apostle Paul described how the Spirit does this Growing Fruit in Galatians 5:16-26:
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. The acts of the sinful nature 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. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Let’s face it. Deep down we’re all selfish, just like the Galatians were. That selfishness, the Bible calls our sinful nature. And my sinful nature loves to serve me first. It desires to rebel against God who demands that we live for him and others. It “desires what is contrary to the Spirit.” And the Apostle Paul gives us a bunch of examples of how that’s the case. He says, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery.” That is, sexual sins of all kinds, including lust, promiscuity, pornography. Viewing others as objects to be used certainly isn’t loving them as we love ourselves. He continues with “idolatry and witchcraft” Serving other so-called gods like money, the pursuit of more stuff, drugs or alcohol, our own self-interests. All these are idolatry. And Paul keeps going: “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition (which we sometimes even parade as a virtue! “He really has drive!”), dissensions, factions and envy.” All these are sins in our relationships, when we love ourselves more than the people around us, when we viciously bite and devour one another like wild animals. Paul adds a few more sins to the list, but he can’t conclude it. He ends with, “drunkenness, orgies, and the like,” because the list goes on and on.
And Paul gives the stern warning “that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” And you know the alternative. Those who live like this—that is, those whose lifestyle is marked by such sins, showing on the outside the impenitence on the inside—those will inherit hell. That was all of us at one point, before the Spirit acted. How badly we need to be free from ourselves and our sinful natures.
Now, while here in our text we just look at a few verses of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, it’s important to remember that the entire book of Galatians is Paul’s single sermon. So even though he doesn’t cover specific gospel in these verses, he doesn’t need to. He’s already done that in the first half of the book.
In that first half, Paul underscored God’s salvation. He sent Jesus to set us free from our sin. And he reminds us of that at the beginning of this chapter (5:1) where he writes “Christ has set us free.” And we’ve been reminded in recent weeks that our freedom didn’t come cheap. There was a huge price that had to be paid—a price that only Jesus could pay: the very life of God himself! Jesus, true God, died on a cross to take the punishment that our selfish acts have earned. And far worse than physical death, he went to hell on that cross to pay for our rotten fruit. That was the price of our freedom.
But now we don’t have to pay a thing. We weren’t a part of that fierce battle that took place to win our spiritual freedom any more than we were a part of the Revolutionary War. But we receive the blessings of the victory, nevertheless—even though we didn’t participate in the war. God did it all from start to finish. He chose us to be his own. He sent his Son to rescue us. He led us to trust that good news. That’s why we confess, “the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts” And by bringing us to faith he’s connected us to God’s family tree. And the Holy Spirit continues to keep us in the true faith, connected to the nourishing roots of the Word and Sacraments.
Yes, indeed! “Christ has set us free.” But setting us free from sin and death and hell by connecting us to the vine of Jesus, also makes us free from our sinful natures. Oh, we will have that sinful nature with us until we die, but we can say no to it and fight against it. Setting us free from sin and death and hell by connecting us to the vine of Jesus makes us free to live by the Spirit and produce the fruit of faith as we grow in the vine.
For the Galatians, being a part of God’s family tree made them want to change. They no longer wanted to live by the sinful nature, but living by the Spirit, they produced the fruit of the Spirit. And it’s the same way with us. We aren’t content to believe in what Christ has done for us and then sit back and do nothing. While it’s very true that we don’t have to do anything to be saved, it’s precisely because we don’t have to do anything that we want to do everything to show our gratitude and thanks. The good news of Jesus’ forgiveness delivered to us by the Spirit moves us to that kind of grateful living.
The Spirit moves us to be sanctified or set apart. He moves us to be set apart from our old, selfish way of thinking and living. He moves us to be set apart for a special, noble purpose as we live to serve God and others.
Now that kind of living isn’t easy. And it’s not something we can do on our own. But thankfully we don’t have to do it on our own! We have help that’s far more powerful than we could ever imagine. We have the Holy Spirit working with us and in us.
Paul says, “live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature... if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law... Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” And when we live by the Spirit, guided and directed by him in the Word, strengthened by him in the Sacrament, with him as our ally, keeping us focused on Jesus and the freedom that he won for us, we will produce the fruit of faith. It’s not optional. In fact, as we grow in our faith, we aren’t able to prevent the fruit from coming.
Did you notice that while Paul described what the sinful nature does he called those things acts—things we try to do. But when he talked about what the Spirit does he didn’t call them acts, but fruit. These aren’t things we work at. They’re natural by-products of being a Christian, of living by the Spirit.
What does that fruit look like? Paul says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Of course, there’s enough in these two verses for an entire series of sermons (which, I promise I won’t try to preach right now—You’re welcome). But in contrast to self-serving acts of the sinful-nature, these are the selfless fruit of the Spirit:
Loving others as much as we love ourselves, filled with the joy of knowing how our Savior has loved us and freed us from our sin, eager to be patient with them when they’re on our nerves, just as God has been patient with us. We can’t help but be kind and good to others, mimicking how kind and good our God is to us. We will be faithful in our work and in our studies, and faithful to our friends and our spouses. We will be gentle and humble as our Savior was for us. And we will be self-controlled—that is, controlled by the new self, not the sinful-nature anymore.
We will produce this fruit. And note too that it’s singular (one fruit, not many). You can’t just pick and choose saying, “Well, I’m patient, so I don’t need to be kind.” No. This is a package deal, like the mixed fruit you get in the fruit basket. But we naturally do it all in response to all that our Savior has done for us. We won’t be perfect in this until we get to heaven, so how great is the forgiveness the Lord gives us each day. In view of that, how much more we want to live for our Lord.
Yes, oranges and grapefruit may abound here in Arizona in February, but here at Calvary we will always be like a cornucopia full of fresh fruit as we live by the Spirit, giving thanks to God in all that we do until, “On the Last Day [the Holy Spirit raises you and] me and all the dead, and give[s] eternal life to [us] and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.” Amen.