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Are you growing in spiritual fruitfulness?

There are many questions that can be asked to evaluate one’s spiritual life. (Don Whitney’s book, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health is a particularly helpful resource).

But I ask this question because I think it encompasses many other questions that we might ask about the spiritual life, like —

  • Are you growing in your knowledge of and adherence to the Scriptures?
  • Are you growing in faithfulness?
  • Are you growing in your love for others?
  • Are you growing in your commitment to minister in the church?
  • Are you growing in your hatred of your sin?
  • Are you growing in your longing for heaven?

All those questions (and more) are essentially asking whether we are growing in Christlikeness.  And, “Spiritual fruit, simply defined, is Christlike character in our personal lives.” [Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit.]  So asking whether we are growing in fruitfulness is another way of summarizing most other questions about our spiritual life.

The most important reality about spiritual fruit is the origination of that fruit.  Note what Paul says about fruit in Galatians 5:22 — it is “the fruit of the Spirit” (my emphasis).  At the risk of being overly obvious and simplistic, let me make this observation.  It’s His fruit, not mine.  Spiritual fruit is what the Spirit produces, not me.  So, the key to growing in Christ and living a Christlike life is to live in conscious, moment-by-moment dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

This phrase emphasizes that it is the work of God to progressively sanctify every believer, and this sanctification “does not proceed from self-effort or from the will of the natural man, nor does it proceed from the new nature in itself.  It is a product of the Holy Spirit wrought in a yielded life.  The all-important fact is that true Christian character cannot be produced by apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.  The appeal of the Scriptures, accordingly, is for right adjustment to the Spirit of God first, with the promise that through the filling of the Spirit the longings of the new nature for a holy life in the will of God may be satisfied.” [John Walvoord, The Holy Spirit; my emphasis.]

Paul himself says it straightforwardly and simply:  “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25).  In other words, the Holy Spirit has given every believer in Christ spiritual life; and having received that spiritual life from the Spirit, the only appropriate response is to live in conscious dependence upon Him for everything we do and are.

How do we do that?  By consciously walking (living) according to the rule and under the control and domination of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.  We live every day, every moment, actively and volitionally depending on Him to instruct us, guide us, control us, and sanctify us.  John Piper has well noted that the Word of God is essential to keep us in submission to the Spirit of God and producing spiritual fruit:

We are commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit: “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). How does the Spirit come? In Galatians 3:2, Paul asks, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” The answer, of course, is “by hearing with faith.” Hearing what? The Word of God!

The Spirit inspired the Word and therefore goes where the Word goes. The more of God’s Word you know and love, the more of God’s Spirit you will experience. Instead of being drunk on wine, we should be drunk on the Spirit. How? By setting our minds on the things of the Spirit: “Those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5).

So what is this fruit?  It is this (and more) —

  • love
  • joy
  • peace
  • patience
  • kindness
  • goodness
  • faithfulness
  • gentleness
  • self-control

You’ve read that list before — many times before, probably.  But have you noticed this before:  the fruit of the Spirit is not so much actions as inward transformation.  Spiritual fruit is not as much what we do, but what we are.  One demonstration of spiritual fruit might be if we have had the privilege of leading someone to Christ.  A better test of spiritual fruit is if a violent anger has become controlled to the point that we are now known as being peaceable and peacemakers.  A significant indication of spiritual fruit is when a believer evidences character that is fundamentally unnatural to him.

So here is a question to meditate on today:  is the product (fruit) of my life evidencing increasing conformity into the image and likeness of Christ?