How does Spiritual Growth work?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little process to follow? A list of rules and regulations to keep or obey that somehow guaranteed my spiritual growth in Christ and resulted in God loving and accepting me for having achieved perfection (or at the very least, given it a red-hot go!)?

Galatians 5:16-26 is a passage of New Testament scripture that discusses “the fruit of the Spirit.” Here, in a neat little summary, is both the method and result of spiritual growth in Christ.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

1st thing I noticed when I read this is the chiastic pattern these verses follow. This aids our interpretation of the verses and provides a picture of how God The Holy Spirit works in our life to produce life and spiritual fruitfulness.

A chiasm is a literary device that helps us see the structure of the flow of thought. He starts and ends with “walking” a way of referring to their “conduct”, or way of life. In the middle is a pivotal warning about – “inheriting the kingdom of God.” This tells us the importance of this discussion and the consequences if we get this wrong. This is how I outlined the passage:

A. Conduct – v.16
…..B. Conflict – v.17
……….C. Construction – v.19-21a
……………D. Consequence – v.21b
……….C`. Cultivation – v.22-23
…..B`. Crucifixion – v.24
A`. Conduct – v.25-26

The basic, big idea of this passage, is that your spiritual growth in Christ isn’t caused by improving your behaviour or knowledge. It comes from and is caused by the Holy Spirit himself working in you.

He starts it, he continues it, he finishes it.

He does this by applying the work of Jesus Christ to you. All the benefits and rewards due to Jesus for his obedience to the Father are made yours. They are transferred to you through your adoption into God’s family when you turn away from self effort to save you and trust only in Jesus Christ.

Essentially, to fulfill and obey the command to “walk by the Spirit” you need the life of and from the Spirit. The consequence of not having the Spirit is exclusion from the kingdom of God.

God says, you can’t operate under the control, influence and power of the law and of the Holy Spirit at the same time. They are mutually exclusive.

If you operate on the level of the flesh – you are focused totally on external appearance.

Everything about you becomes an effort to save face, to make sure that people dress suitably, talk suitably, sing suitably, pray suitably. Anything that represents a flaw or a failure must be concealed. Any change or any aberration from the accepted norm must not be tolerated.

As you do that, you will suppress and internalize the true nature of your sin and the result of this effort is the worst condition and deepest depravity of human nature.

The way through to Spiritual life and Spiritual growth is not by constructing rules, morals and external processes that give the appearance or imitation of life – attempts to constrain the flesh and repress something that will not be contained and does not bring us closer to God.

The way to Spiritual life is through death. Death must come before resurrection. Without resurrection we are not remade in the image of Jesus and have no share in the righteousness of God through him.

All our attempts to build a culture of exclusivity will indeed meet their purpose – we will be excluded from God’s life, and kingdom forever.

But, if we are led by the Spirit, then we are able to walk by the Spirit.

As we walk by the Spirit, following the revelation of God in scripture, then we will not gratify the desires of our flesh to build morals, systems, processes, to please God.

We please God, when we die to self, crucify the passions and desires of our flesh to save face and look good in front of others and we live under the influence, power and control of the Holy Spirit.

As we saturate our lives with the heart and mind of God revealed in scripture (letting it dwell in us richly) – we are filled with the Holy Spirit and will give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The fruit of the Spirit is the natural outcome of the Holy Spirit being at work in us and among us.

Are you led by the Spirit or by the flesh?


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