Greater Growth

      Several years ago when I spoke at a woman's retreat in Bellingham, Washington, I stayed overnight in the home of a warm and gracious couple.  After parking the car in the garage behind their house, we walked through their backyard garden and right past an exquisite apple tree.  Being from southern California where all we know are orange trees, I commented on how beautiful the tree was.  With that, my hostess Jennifer began telling me the story of their apple tree.
      Since moving into their home, Jennifer's husband, Tom, has tended this magnificent tree.  Wanting to enjoy its Golden Russet apples, Tom has worked hard to improve the tree's production.  After doing some research, he even grafted on some branches from their older Gravenstein apple tree as well as several new shoots from a Spartan apple tree.  Through the years, Tom has nurtured, fertilized, watered, pruned, trained, sprayed, and protected this tree, and his efforts have paid off as he's seen the tree improve over time.
      And that tree's yield is quite incredible.  Tom has to prop up the branches to keep them from breaking when they're loaded with apples!  Then, when the fruit is ripe, it's Jennifer's turn.  She takes the tree's three kinds of apples and cooks, cans, mashes, sauces, dries, stews, slices, dices, and freezes them.  Anything you can do with apples, she does!  In fact, for dessert the evening I was there, Jennifer served apple crisp, and when I left the next morning she handed me a plastic bag full of dried apples to eat on the plane.
      As I think about this couple's apple tree, I can't help but wonder about the fruit of our lives as Christian women.  Should you and I as women of God pay any less attention to our own fruitfulness, in our case the spiritual kind, than Jennifer and Tom do to their apple tree?  Shouldn't we be actively cultivating the fruit of the Spirit in our lives in order to reflect the glory of God and the beauty of Christ?  But what exactly can you and I do to grow these spiritual fruit?  What practical steps can we take toward becoming more like Christ as we walk alongside Him day by day?

Understanding the Fruit of the Spirit
      Well, my friend, just as Tom studied to learn more about his apple tree and the fruit it bears, you and I need to study God's Word so we can better understand the fruit of the Holy Spirit and how it grows.  Throughout the Bible, the word "fruit" refers to evidence of what is within.  If what's inside a person is good, then the fruit of that person's life will be good.  But if what's inside is rotten, the fruit of that person's life will be bad.  Any person who has received Jesus as Savior and Lord and has Christ living within will bear good fruit - the "fruit of righteousness" (Philippians 1:11) - as God shines forth in his or her life.
      The fruit of the Spirit has been described as "those gracious habits which the Holy Spirit produces in the Christian."  In Galatians 5:22-23, the apostle Paul lists these "gracious habits": "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control."  I'm sure that, like me, you've undoubtedly longed for these noble traits to be characteristic of your life - but how can we make that happen?  Perhaps if I just try harder... we may find ourselves thinking.  But Jesus teaches and models such an individual, do-it-yourself effort isn't the answer.  Instead, it's exciting (and comforting!) to realize that the fruit of the Spirit can be produced in our lives the same way it was produced in Jesus' life!  We will enjoy a harvest of spirituality when we yield to God and allow His Spirit to work in us as we walk through life.
      As you and I walk together through God's list of fruit He deserves in our life, we'll look not only at their beauty and bounty but also at each individual fruit.  But we must never forget that all nine fruit stand together: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control make up our walk with God.  They are like a string of Christmas lights - there is one string with many lights that, when plugged into an electrical socket, all light up at once.  However, if one bulb goes out, the entire string goes out.  That's how God's fruit is borne in our lives.  No one of them can be missing, and all must be evident to be God's fruit.
      We also need to remember that because these fruit act as one, they are each borne in our lives in the same way.  They are like a watch, which contains many parts.  A watch can be taken apart for cleaning and repair, but each piece must be in place for the watch to run.  In this book, you and I will carefully take apart each fruit of the Spirit, and then we'll see how they all work together to present a whole.
      And as a whole, these characteristics are all produced in the same way.  Everything that is said of one characteristic is true of the other eight.  They are one and the same fruit, interwoven and related to one another, produced as we look to God.
      Walking by the Spirit and cultivating the fruit of the Spirit is what this book is all about.  You and I can enjoy a closer walk with God and bear much fruit as we surrender our lives to Him.  As we examine each fruit of the Spirit, we'll also be looking at Jesus' life to see its expression in His life.  As we follow the real-life example of God's Son, and walk in obedience, we will indeed bear fruit that glorifies our Creator and Lord.

Understanding the Problems
      Before we begin learning about our walk with God, we would do well to acknowledge a couple of "stumbling stones" we'll encounter along the path.  First, legalism is a problem for us Christians today just as it was for believers in Paul's day.  Legalism is the careful keeping of a set of rules which exceeds what is written in Scripture (1 Corinthians 4:6).  In fact, Paul wrote to the Galatians because some false teachers (called Judaizers) were teaching that, despite their faith in Christ, they must follow the Old Testament laws.  This teaching ran counter to all that Jesus taught and to the fundamental truth that people come to God by faith alone.  It also fostered an ugly form of legalism and religion based strictly on works.  So Paul called believers to allow the Spirit of God to fulfill the Law for and through them.  If they would only "walk by the Spirit" (Galatians 5:16, 25), they would be abiding by the Law in a natural and beautiful way.
      Another problem you and I have in common with Galation believers, dear friend, is one we'll face until the day we die, and that is the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit which begins the instant we put our faith in Jesus Christ.  Paul writes, "For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please" (Galatians 5:17).  These fleshly pursuits result in "deeds of the flesh"(5:19), sins and vices which Paul lists in Galatians 5:19-21 - "immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and thing like these."
      Which weaknesses are evident in your life, beloved?  Ask God to help you recognize your fleshly tendencies and deeds by praying David's heartfelt words:  "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me" (Psalm 139:23-24,KJV).  Then confess anything God reveals to you and submit once again to the transforming power of His Spirit.  That's what walking by the Spirit is all about!

Understanding the Call to "Walk by the Spirit"
      Aren't you glad that right after the ugly list of sins, Paul moves on to the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22)? In sharp contrast to the deeds of the flesh, Paul paints a lovely picture of the fruit produced in our lives as we walk by the Spirit.  When you and I walk by the Spirit we "will not carry out the desire of the flesh" (5:16) and we can have victory over the flesh.  But how exactly do we as Christians walk by the Spirit?
      In simple terms, walking in the Spirit means living each moment in submission to God.  Walking by the Spirit means seeking to please Him with the thoughts we choose to think, the words we choose to say, and the actions we choose to take.  And walking by the Spirit means letting Him guide us each step of the way.  It's letting Him work within us so that we can bring glory to God.

Understanding "Abiding in Christ"
      Although I'll be giving you many practical suggestions for cultivating the fruit of the Spirit in our lives as we journey through this book, we must never lose sight of the fact that the Bible clearly teaches, "There is none who does good, there is not even one" (Romans 3:12).  Paul himself lamented, "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh" (Romans 3:12).  It is only as we walk by His Spirit that we show forth Christ in our lives.  And God gives us the grace to do this as we abide in Christ.
      Do you ever wonder what "abiding in Christ" means?  In the eloquent allegory of John 15, Jesus says, "I am the true vine" and calls his disciples - then and now - to "abide in Me" (verse 4).  Only by abiding in Him can Jesus' followers bear fruit (verses 2,4,5).  This call comes as Jesus shares His final words of instruction with His small flock - words concerning His death, words of comfort and warning, words of peace and prayer.  He explained that, although He will be gone, they will still have fellowship with Him if they "abide" in Him.  The same opportunity exists for you and me today, my friend.  To bear fruit for God's kingdom, we must abide in Christ.  Such "abiding" has been defined as "continued fellowship with the Lord," "dwelling in His fellowship and being submissive to His will," and keeping "contact with Jesus... a constant contact."
      I'm sure you join me in wanting to abide in Christ!  But what can we do to keep our contact with Jesus constant?  What can we do to abide in our Lord - to remain close to God and dwell in Him as He dwells in us?  What can you and I do to share more of His life and experience more fully His presence in our lives? 


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