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Living the Spirit

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

"... the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law."

(The New American Bible revised, Saint Joseph Edition, Galatians 5:22)

Fruit appears throughout the bible as a symbol of the covenant between God and his people. I have often dwelled on this passage from Galatians and considered it's full meaning. In fact, if you were to ask me what my favorite bible passage is, this one is second only to the Armor of God. The power of this message cannot be overstated and yet I think most of us underestimate it's significance. To delve into this passage is to examine the very nature of relationship between God, his Son, the Holy Spirit, followers of Christ, seekers, and unbelievers - so, everyone. It's a complete description of the expectations for our lives as both recipients and conduits of the Holy Spirit.

Origins of the Scripture

Galatians is a letter written by Paul to his converts in Galatia, a Roman province located somewhere near the present day city of Ankara, Turkey in the north east Mediterranean. Paul took many missionary journeys throughout his life and wrote to these peoples following his journeys as a way to reinforce Christ's teachings. It is impossible to miss the genuine care and concern Paul has for his convert churches and the love with which he teaches, admonishes, and encourages. Some of the most beautiful passages in the bible can be found in his letters of which the fruit of the Spirit is a remarkable example. As an extension of the commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself" (interestingly, he calls this commandment "the whole law"), Paul describes the importance of "liv[ing] by the Spirit" rather than "gratify[ing] the desires of the flesh" (Gal 5:14-16) and only through doing so can true service to God be fulfilled. It is through relationships - with God, ourselves, and our neighbors - that we are called to live the fruit of the Spirit.

Fruit of the Spirit

Let's establish a basic understanding of the nine fruit delineated in Paul's letter:

Love: an unconditional desire for the well-being of ourselves and others

Joy: the experience of God working in our lives

Peace: a sense of contentment and freedom based in God's presence

Patience: prioritization of understanding over vengeance or anger

Kindness: an extension of God's mercy to ourselves and others

Generosity: selfless giving of ourselves regardless of what others may deserve

Faithfulness: steadfastness in devotion to God and loyalty to His will

Gentleness: humbleness, calmness grounded in the strength of God's authority

Self-control: behaving based on God's will rather than our own

An examination of Jesus' life as depicted in the bible reveals that he was deeply committed to these characteristics as the basis for his relationships with his Father, his family, his disciples and ultimately everyone he encountered. Interestingly, there are times that Jesus fails to uphold these ideals. These situations exhibit God's perfection and His willingness to show these gifts to Jesus and by extension, his followers. Jesus may thus be viewed as the example of living the Spirit as both a receiver of God's grace and mercy and a giver of this same grace and mercy through living the Spirit, the perfect model of God's desires for each of us.

Jesus as Example

In present day, the trinity represents a single being comprised of the three entities of God - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. During Jesus' life, Christ manifested the Spirit Himself. That is to say, that Jesus embodied a walking, talking, and teaching Holy Spirit. His life, through God's desire to know his creation, emulated the fruit of the Spirit in real life for all that encountered him. God, the Father, reigned in heaven while His Son, Jesus lived on Earth and channeled the Spirit sent by God into his every word and action. As followers of Christ, God expects that we behave as He did. What Would Jesus Do (WWJD) takes on a much more tangible meaning and the answer is clear: Jesus accepted the Spirit through God as we are called to do, and lived as an instrument of God by living the Spirit in His day-to-day life, as we must also do.

Living the Spirit

God's promise tells us that if we truly accept Him into our hearts, adopting His will as our own, we will receive from Him the fruit of the Spirit. Receiving is only the first part - we must also give the fruit of the Spirit to ourselves and our neighbors. Only by exhibiting love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control do we truly honor God's plans for us. We must strive to live as Jesus did, everyday with everyone. What we learn from Jesus, and Paul through his letters, is that when we choose to live the fruit of the Spirit, forgoing our own selfish desires, we become stewards of Christ on Earth. It is by words and actions that we, as Christians, share the glory of God. And through sharing, we keep Jesus alive in our hearts and minds and present in the world.

As you consider your life and your relationships, look at the fruit present there, what fruit may only be seedling, or not yet planted. Seek to find ways to be like Jesus, a conduit for the Spirit. You will find that your core self is transformed and resiliency is bolstered. Taking a broader view is not only possible, but makes sense and becomes second nature. Life will continue to be challenging. Pain is inevitable. But, perhaps, if each of us were grounded in the Spirit, living the Spirit every day, we can look up from the daily minutiae and see God's plans for us a bit more clearly.

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