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  • Writer's pictureRalph Felzer

THE LIFE OF CHRIST & THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT


Still Life with Flowers and Fruit, Rijksmuseum, Netherlands from Unspalsh.com

"Waybread" is food designed to strengthen travelers on a long journey.  This little weekly column is intended to offer reflections that will strengthen and encourage you in your own long journey in following Christ.


THE LIFE OF CHRIST & THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT

"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 

gentleness, and self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23).


Have you ever thought to yourself:  "Boy, I sure wish I were more loving than I am."  "What I wouldn't give to be a more patient man."  "I'd love to be a more generous person."  "I wish I had more peace and joy in my life."


And if you really think deeply about these desires, you start to ask yourself how you can genuinely become that kind of person.  You start to strategize about techniques or habits or methods or disciplines that will help you become that kind of person.  I've done this a lot!  And isn't this the thinking behind most of our New Year's resolutions and most of our Lenten practices?


I've been a Christian for over 40 years now, and it only occurred to me this past weekend(!) that this is almost entirely the wrong approach to a way of life lived in the fruit of the Spirit.


The problem is that we want the right things (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.), we really do, but we don't understand how to go about getting them, or even entering into them.  Interesting, isn't it, to think that these are not just qualities or traits to develop, but a way of life to enter into?  If we don't want God first, if we don't want Jesus first, if we don't want to walk in and with the Holy Spirit first, we will never have authentic, genuine love, joy, peace, patience, or any of the other fruit of the Spirit.


If we don't want God first, if we don't want Jesus first, if we don't want to walk in and with the Holy Spirit first, we will never have authentic, genuine love, joy, peace, patience, or any of the other fruit of the Spirit.

I want more than anything for Christ's life to have more sway in my heart?  Don't you, too–more than anything?  I want Him to have more room to spread out into every part of my being–my thinking, my feeling, my dreaming and imagining, my planning, my relationships, my emotions, my decision-making–every part of who I am I want to be shaped by Christ's abundant life in me.  I want His life to rise up within me like new spring shoots in our back garden.  I want to see new growth in my heart, life, mind, and soul every morning, just as I can look out into the woods behind our house in March and April and see new growth every single morning.  I want Christ.  Only Christ.  I don't even want just my idea of Christ (because, after all, my idea or perception of who Christ is is likely different from yours–the living Christ has a personality that entirely transcends our perceptions of Him–are we willing to have Him and not just our ideas of Him?).  If I pray not just for my idea of Christ to be made real in me, but actually Christ Himself to be formed in me, to hold greater sway in me, to have more room in me to live, and move, and breathe in me, to speak and love and serve through me, then I am (finally!) on my way to a life saturated by the fruit of the Spirit, a life that exudes love, joy, peace, patience, and all the rest.  (And by the way, I think Paul's list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians is just the Cliff's Notes of life in Christ!  How could the bountiful, inexhaustible life of the Author, Sustainer, Savior, and Redeemer of all of creation be adequately described in a verse of just 16 words?)


I'll go farther.  Your true self–your whole being, the man or woman you are intended by the Creator of the universe to be, is itself a fruit.  Your true self is the outgrowth, the blossoming, of the Christ-life in you.  I spoke last week of the Kingdom of God invading this world and transforming it from flat black-and-white into vibrant color.  That's what happens when the Spirit and Presence of God begin to move and spread in youa mere place becomes a kingdom, a mere person becomes a little Christ, and the aroma of Christ wafts through the whole air of our activity through the day.


This is the whole secret of Lenten discipline, friends!  The whole idea isn't death, it's life!  But if it requires dying in order to live, if I (in my old self) have to die in order for my true self (my new self indwelt, filled, and transformed by the Spirit of the living God) then so be it!  Come, Lord Jesus–fill me to overflowing!  Let all that I am be all that You are.  Let Your thoughts be my thoughts, and Your ways my ways.  Let what pleases You please me.  Let what breaks Your heart break mine.  I want to be swallowed up by Your Holy Spirit.  Consume me so that I may truly live!


The 16th century poet, John Donne, wrote a sonnet called "Batter My Heart" (the full poem is at the end).  In it, he invites God to do no less than hammer at, invade, and even ravish him.  Our prayer ought to be the same–I don't want to dabble in character traits and mission statements and action plans, I want Christ, all of Him, in every corner of my being.  And whatever practice I take up during Lent, let it serve that goal.  Let it work in me and on me to make me more entirely His.


When Christ truly becomes my life, when I can say with the Apostle Paul "it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me," then and only then can the fruit of the Spirit blossom in all its ripe, abundant fullness, only then will I be completely His, and (mystery of mysteries!) only then will I be truly, wonderfully, gloriously myself.  And you too will become like Christ–and the two of us, each mirroring Him in our own unique and glorious way, will become at one and the same time marvelously distinct and yet unmistakably Jesus to the world.  We, all of us–together–will become the Church, the Body of Christ, even (again such a beautiful mystery!) the Bride of Christ!


In addition to all this, the fruit of the Spirit is not just the result of Christ's life in us, it is the means of ever newer growth and transformation in the Spirit.  There is power in the Spirit of Christ.  The very power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in us!  


I remember an old neighbor's neglected garage years ago.  A rose vine had grown up the side of the garage from a small garden plot next to it.  As it grew, untended, it worked its way into and along the siding and the corner boards and they began to break away.  Even weeds growing unchecked in the cracks of your driveway can fracture the pavement–yet the very same plants that split siding and break concrete can themselves be broken in my bare hands.  This power can work in us, breaking up hard hearts, shattering strongholds, truly making us "more than conquerors" in Him.


Friends, when Christ's life lives in us–and we allow Him the room to live, breathe, and stretch Himself out in us–the hardness of our hearts and habits is no match for the lively, supple, organic, earth-rending power of His life!


So the question for us becomes not so much how to I learn to love better or be more patient or have more peace.  Instead, I learn to ask: "What is there in my heart and life that's getting in the way of the Spirit's fruit blossoming and blooming more abundantly in me?  How can I give Him greater sway, more room to stretch out in my soul?  What can I invite Him to crumble into dust in me?  What new, abundant growth do You want to grow in me, Jesus?"  


If this really were an "action plan" for growing in Christlikeness, I would give you a list of disciplines to choose from (fasting, Bible study, stewardship, service, etc.) and encourage you to spare no effort to enter into that practice with all you've got.  But, and this may disappoint you, I don't have an action plan.  I've got better.  


What if you sat down and invited Jesus to enter into your life afresh, maybe even for the first time.  I'm talking about much more here than "making a decision" for Christ!  Talk to Him.  Ask Him to come in and spread out, make Himself at home, re-arrange the furniture if He needs to.  Ask Him what needs to be given away or even thrown out.  And then don't hesitate for a second–give it away or throw it out!  Do this all day, every day, and I believe with all my heart that you will surprise yourself.  You will be amazed to discover that, without even aiming for it, you have begun to walk in the Spirit, and you and those around you will begin to notice love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control virtually oozing out of you!  Without even trying to "be good," rich, luscious fruit will increasingly be yours because, as C.S. Lewis once said, you weren't looking for it, you were looking for Him.  


I want Christ, all of Him, in every corner of my being.

Be encouraged, friend, for God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, who spoke all worlds into being, is both with you and for you.


*"Batter My Heart" by John Donne

Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you

As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend

Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

I, like an usurp'd town to another due,

Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,

But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd fain,

But am betroth'd unto your enemy;

Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.



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