We often believe that victory is a matter of choice. There are, however, things we wish we could stop, but we are too weak to do so. The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. In Galatians 5, Paul talks about the works of the flesh. There are four noticeable things we discover about these works that distinguish them from the fruit of the Spirit.
A Matter of Conniving
There is a difference between work and fruit. When we think of work, we think of something that is connived, the product of our own hands.
Work is an attempt at self-effort. But when Paul moves to his list of authentic Christian virtues, he moves from the realm of technology to the world of nature. When we think of fruit, we don’t think of industry. It does take work to produce fruit. Someone has to plant the seed, water the seed, fertilize the ground, and cultivate the plant, but in fruit production, there’s an element that’s beyond human control. Though much effort goes into it, when fruit occurs, it is a gift of God. Human effort alone cannot make a tree produce fruit.
Work is something that I do with my hands, but fruit is something that is produced from within as God’s Spirit fills me. As the life of God flows through us, God produces those things that He desires to exist in us. What God produces is fruit, and what I produce is works. Christian virtue is not a matter of conniving.
A Matter of Chaos
We also see a different way in which these lists are structured. The first list is plural—works. The second list is singular—fruit. It is not the fruits of the Spirit or the work of the flesh. It is the works (plural) of the flesh and the fruit (singular) of the Spirit. There are all kinds of wicked vices. Fruit, however, is a cohesive whole.
Have you ever met people who look tired all the time? Their lives look fractured and fragmented. Fruit is not like that. An apple has a stem, a core, and seeds, but we don’t usually think of an apple in terms of its individual components. In the same way, God doesn’t want our lives to be fragmented. If we fear Him and keep His commandments, our lives will be holistic. God wants to end fragmented living and give us a cohesiveness that does not presently exist. He wants to replace our works with His fruit.
A Matter of Conglomeration
When the works of the flesh are listed, the list is not exhaustive. Notice the postscript: “and such like.” In other words, Paul can’t list all the perversions that can dominate a person’s life. There is no end to depravity. In fact, only God can end depravity. Sin is so plural and intermingled, there is no way that we can free ourselves from it.
The more our society erodes, the more we will encounter people whose lives have been completely twisted by sin. Sin is always a conglomerate mess whereas righteousness is always a cohesive whole.
A Matter of Contrast
Paul stands in contrast to the great philosophers. To Paul, the flesh and the Spirit are not merely lists; they are opposing powers. These lists do not contain mere choices. This is the difference between life and death.
Too many times people are living the Christian life by grit rather than by dependence upon the Spirit. You cannot save yourself from the power of sin any more than you can save yourself from the penalty of sin. You have to depend on God to do in you what you cannot do for yourself.
Living the Christian life is beyond you and me. Only when we depend upon God and allow His life to flow through us will we have the wholeness that God desires us to have.
We need to quit trying to produce works and trust God to produce fruit. Are you going to be a person who is characterized by the works of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit? These are the only two choices you have for ministry, and your choice will make all the difference in the world. Choose wisely.