But the Holy Spirit products this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! – Galatians 5:22 NLT
Not only are we free to love others, but we are free to live under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit. But if we're not careful, we are also free to live according to the desires of our own sinful flesh – our sin nature. It's a choice. I can choose to let the Holy Spirit guide and direct my life, or I can give in to the constant cravings of my sin nature. It's not only a choice, it's a daily battle. "These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions" (Galatians 5:17b NLT). The Holy Spirit directs us one way, while our sin nature prompts us to take an opposite and radically dangerous path. Allowing ourselves to get enslaved to the law only feeds our sin nature. Paul pointed this out in Romans 7. "…it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, 'You must not covet.' But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me!" (Romans 7:7-8 NLT). The law tells me what I should not do, and then my sin nature desires to do just that. It's like telling a young child not to touch a hot stove, and that becomes the one thing they want to try and do. Their sin nature creates a desire for the very thing they have been denied. Like Eve in the Garden, we can't seem to stay away from the one thing God has told us is off limits. When you attempt to live according to laws, decrees, rules and standards, your sin nature will always resist, tempting you to break those rules or justify your ignoring of them. When you try to do what God wants in your own strength, you will fail. But when you live empowered and guided by the Spirit of God, you will have all the strength you need and the motivation to do what needs to be done.
Following the desires of our sin nature produces obvious outcomes. Paul gives us a comprehensive list. Sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these" (Galatians 5:19-21 NLT). Notice the diverse nature of his list. He includes sexual immorality alongside jealousy. Drunkenness makes the list right there by envy. All of these things, from the dramatic to the seeming inconsequential, all have one thing in common – they are focused on self. They are self-centered and driven by selfish desires. This list contains destructive behaviors that are anything but conducive to community and selfless servanthood. Trying to live your life according to some set of standards or rules will feed your sin nature and produce an unhealthy and destructive list of outcomes. You'll end up comparing yourself with others. You'll compete and attempt to outdo others in rule-keeping. You'll attempt to justify your own insufficiencies and expose those of others. All this will lead to division, dissension, quarreling, jealousy, anger, and more.
It's interesting that when we try to produce the fruit of the Spirit on our own, we end up with results that look nothing like what we were aiming for. Rather than love that is focused on others, we end up loving ourselves. In place of joy, we find ourselves with discontentment and dissatisfaction. Instead of producing patience, we become irritable, judgmental and angry. Kindness gets replaced with pettiness and an overwhelming need to find fault in others so that we can feel better about ourselves. Goodness gets trumped by selfishness. Faithfulness comes out as unreliability and self-seeking. Gentleness becomes harshness. And self-control goes out the window, as love of self takes over our lives, turning out attention inwardly rather than outwardly.
Only the Spirit of God can produce the fruit God is looking for in our lives. These things are not self-produced. We are incapable of manufacturing any of them on our own. If we try, we only end up with cheap imitations that are like those knock-off perfumes you can buy at the local drug store. They may cost less, but they stink in comparison to the real thing. Paul encourages us to live by the Spirit, according to His power, not our own. Rather than having to live enslaved to the desires of our old sin nature, we are now free to live in the Spirit's power, allowing Him to produce in and through us what we could never have done on our own. He produces in us supernaturally what we could never have produced naturally. Like our salvation, it is the work of God, not man. This is no longer about trying to live up to some kind of standards, rules or laws. It is not about trying to behave in such a way that we somehow make God happy and satisfied with us. It is not about comparing ourselves with others and measuring our righteousness based on that of others. This is learning to recognize that our righteousness is the work of God, from beginning to end. It is the fruit of His Spirit, not our flesh. It is made possible by the work of Christ, not anything we do or don't do. So Paul encourages us, "Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit's leading in every part of our lives" (Galatians 5:25 NLT). Let's live in His power. Let's operate according to His agenda. Let's seek His will, not our own. Let's watch Him produce His fruit in us, rather than try to produce it on our own. "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death" (Romans 8:1-2 NLT). We are free to live in the power of the Spirit and to bear the fruit of the Spirit – for the good of others, not ourselves.
Father, I want to live increasingly in the power of Your Spirit. I want to say no to my sin nature and yes to Your Spirit's leading. I desire to see His fruit produced in and through me. My attempts at fruitfulness always fall short and never produce what You're looking for. My sin nature tends to make everything about ME. But I want to live for You. Continue to patiently show me how to live in Your power, according to Your will, and expressing Your love for others through my life. Amen.