Praying for the Fruit of the Spirit

A few years ago now we studied through Galatians 5:16-24 together as a church and we saw very clearly that the fruit that ought to be increasingly evident in the life of a believer in Jesus is the fruit that only the Spirit of God can produce in us. According to Galatians 5:16 as we  “walk by the Spirit…you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” The effect of walking by the Spirit is to have His fruit produced in our lives. As we are “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) or you could say as we have the word of Christ richly dwelling in us (Colossians 3:16) the Spirit of God produces in our very character His fruit. So if only the Spirit of God can produce His fruit in our lives then obviously as we are filled with the Spirit and are walking by the Spirit we will be praying that He produces His fruit in us. We ought to be praying for the Spirit of God to produce in us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. What exactly would that mean? What exactly is the fruit of the Spirit? What does the fruit of the Spirit mean? Below are definitions of the fruit of the Spirit that are recorded in Galatians 5:16-24. If only the Spirit can produce this fruit in our lives and a necessary way that He does so is through prayer then this list of definitions really is a prayer list that we can pray through regularly knowing that God will work this Christ-like character into our very being.

  • Love: Giving of yourself for the best interests of someone else
  • Joy: Deep-seated satisfaction in God alone
  • Peace: Inner wellbeing or tranquility with God from God and toward others
  •  Patience: Bearing up under persistent sufferings or aggravations without grumbling or retaliation
  • Kindness: Graciousness toward others especially those who are undeserving
  • Goodness: A moral excellence that issues forth in acts of kindness toward others
  • Faithfulness: Loyalty and dependability in responsibilities toward God and others
  • Gentleness: Strength under control which expresses itself in a humble submissive spirit
  • Self-Control: Having self-mastery and self-restraint over one’s desires, appetites, and actions

 Access Applications

Whenever you are granted access to a place or person there are necessary implications or corollary actions that ought to be carried out with that access. The higher the level of access the greater the necessary implications are for you as someone with that access. There is no greater level of access than to be given access into the very presence of God. And yet, that is exactly what we have been given if we are in Christ Jesus. The author of Hebrews puts forth this remarkable access and then lays out the corollary actions or necessary implications for all of us who have this access.
Hebrews 10:19-25 displays the access that all truly born again individuals have into God’s presence along with the actions that ought to flow from that access: Hebrews 10:19-25   Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,  20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,  21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,  22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;  24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,  25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

In other words, since believers have an objective access to God through Jesus which is an access into the very presence of God by means of Christ’s blood; and since we have access to a new and living way inaugurated by Christ at His death; and since we have a represented access through Jesus there are three necessary corollary actions that must be in the lives of God’s people. First, we must draw near to God in worship in a certain way (with a true heart and with a heart of faith which results in full assurance) and the reason we can do this is because of the spiritual cleansing which we have in Christ (22). Second, we must hold fast our confession of hope in worship (23). We are to do so as we persevere in our confession of hope without wavering because God is faithful. Third, we are to stimulate one another in the life of worship. What must we do in relationship to the church since we have access to God through Jesus? We are to stimulate or to motivate, stir up, or elicit one another in the church to carry out acts of love toward others in the church. But how are we to obey this command in relationship to the church? First of all, by not forsaking gathering together as the church but also by encouraging one another in the church until Jesus Christ returns. Have you repented and trusted in Christ alone for salvation? Then you have this access. How are these three corollary actions showing up in your life right now? Do you have access into the very presence of God through Jesus? Then draw near in worship, hold fast your confession of hope in worship and stimulate those in the body of Christ in your local church to love toward others in the church.

 

Prayer Life Killer

Biblically speaking there is something that will kill your prayer life. It will ensure that you are unable to focus, unable to persevere, unable to pray with joy or confidence, and unable to truly delight in the Lord. There is no passage that states that this will kill your prayer life, but there is a passage that says what will enable you to stay alert in your prayer life and by necessary implication its opposite is a prayer life killer. Here is the passage that by necessary implication reveals to us what kills our prayer life: Colossians 4:2  Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.

There you have it. If you do not have an attitude of thanksgiving you will be unable to keep alert in prayer. So by necessary implication what kills our prayer life? If an attitude of thanksgiving keeps us alert in prayer, then a complaining grumbling attitude kills prayer. Do you think the Israelites were flourishing in prayer in the wilderness when they were complaining against Moses their leader and their covenant-keeping Lord who was providing for them (Exodus 16)? In Philippians 2:14-16 Paul is clear about the importance of turning away from a complaining spirit: Do all things without grumbling or disputing;  15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world,  16 holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. Turning away from an attitude of grumbling has everything to do with living a  blameless life before the Lord.

Based on Colossians 4:2 you could say “Do all things without grumbling or disputing so that you will nurture an attitude of thanksgiving in your heart and thereby keep alert in prayer.” Do you want to grow in your prayer life? Then repent of any spirit of grumbling or complaining that you have been nurturing in your heart and rather ask God to produce in you a heart of genuine thanksgiving unto Him. A thankful heart is a prayerful heart.

Serving in Light of Eternity

Is there a present reward for serving the Lord now or are all the rewards for believers in the future?  In Micah 2:7  the LORD asks this question: “Do not My words do good To the one walking uprightly? ” Obviously, the implied answer is yes! Just read the book of Proverbs and notice all the benefits of trusting and obeying God now versus the pains and sorrows of not doing so now. But we also have to come back on the other side and notice that just because we serve the Lord now does not necessarily mean we will have smooth circumstances now. In fact, the reality is that faithful service now results in pain and suffering now. Just ask John the Baptist (see Mark 6), Stephen (see Acts 7), or most notably Jesus Himself (see the ends of every gospel!). So are there present rewards for present obedience? Yes, but along with the sin and suffering intermingled in this present age. In spite of this present reality of a measure of reward from the Lord, the focus in Scripture is the promised future reward for all believers at the culmination of their salvation. Truly we are to live a life of faith even in the area of reward for faithful service. The Christian life is a life of hope and hope which is seen is not hope (Romans 8:24). 
 
This is illustrated in the parable of the guests that Jesus gave as recorded in Luke 14:7-14: And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them,  8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him,  9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place.  10 “But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you.  11 “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  12 And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment.  13 “But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,  14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Jesus is teaching the importance of humility and willingness to selflessly serve others without thought of return. At the end of this parabolic exhortation, he says this: Do this because “you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” In other words, live a life of humility now and live a life of self-less service now waiting for the future day of reward. Live your whole life now not focused on a present reward. 

 
Have you ever stopped to notice the fact that your frustration in relationships may boil down to this area? Maybe you are committed to serving various people in your life, but every once in a while you simply lose it with them. You are frustrated because they simply do not seem to appreciate how you are serving them. Do you see the problem? There is a worship of  present reward and response rather  than a worship of God and conviction that true reward comes from the Lord in eternity. 
 
Are we willing to humbly live a life of service to others now knowing that we are called to this kind of Christ-likeness and that in an amazing display of grace God will reward us for this humble service in eternity? Humble yourself through selfless service now because “you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”  We must stop trying to squeeze out of the present what God has promised only for the future. 

The Gift of Praise

We were made by God and for God. We were made to look away from ourselves in praise and adoration of the one true Triune God. But we were born into this world acting as if we made ourselves and are to live for ourselves. We were born into this world by nature and then by action looking away from God to ourselves in praise and adoration. This sin sick self-focus comes in a variety of forms. Some express this through overt arrogance and others through the subtle arrogance of self-pity, but all of us came into this world self worshipers rather than God worshipers. We all came into this world by nature desiring to give praise to ourselves rather than to God. But when God’s grace arrested us through faith in Jesus Christ we were given a new nature. We were all given a nature that wanted to worship God rather than ourselves and give Him praise rather than praise ourselves.

If you are a child of God this is your testimony. And yet, if you are a child of God you still battle with the remnants of who you once were. You still battle with remaining sin (the flesh). Do you want to praise God more having victory in this battle? Do you want to grow in your God-centeredness rather than in self-centeredness? How could we become individually and as a congregation people who are centered upon our Triune God in praise?

There are various ways to answer that question. We ought to give ourselves to God’s Word more. We ought to repent of our self-centeredness. We ought to pray more. But what ought we to pray for? There are various passages in Scripture that actually explain to us where true praise comes from. Yes we are to praise God, and yes God saved us enabling us to praise Him. But once we are saved where does that praise of God continue to come from?

When Paul describes who true believers are he says this: They are those who “worship in the Spirit of God” (Philippians 3:3). In other words, believers are worshipers. But how can they worship? How can they praise God? It is worship in the Spirit of God. It is worship produced and enabled by the Spirit of God.

When David spoke of giving praise to God among His people for divine deliverance he said this: “From You comes by praise in the great assembly” (Psalm 22:25a). If you asked David why he was praising God in the assembly he could say “because God delivered me”. On the other hand he could say and he also did say “because God gave me the ability to praise Him.”

Speaking in the context of repentance Isaiah says that God creates “the praise of the lips” (Isaiah 57:19). What a wonderful image. Do you desire to praise God genuinely and authentically in secret, with your family, and with the church? Humbly ask God to create praise on your lips. That is one of those prayer requests that you know God will answer yes. Jesus said “Whatever you ask in My name (i.e. that which is in keeping with His name), that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 15:13). Asking the Father for Him to create praise on your lips is certainly in keeping with the mission of Jesus Christ. May we depend upon God to produce in us the praise that we must have before Him and that only He can produce in us.

God’s Mysterious Designs for Grace and Glory

In Psalm 22 David is facing a significant trial. The kind of trial that tempts you to question everything. The kind of trial that invites you to say this right away: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” That is how David felt, but in reality he had not been forsaken. But it was a reality that he just simply couldn’t see what God was doing at that point. Throughout the Psalm David fights to trust in the Lord and he is victorious. But David had a greater son. A far off son that would face the greatest trial. In fact, David’s greater son said the exact same words as David when facing the greatest trial: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (See Matthew 27:46). Only this time it was not just how David’s greater son felt, it was reality. David’s greater son was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). When God the Father turned His back on His Son He was doing for His Son and for all who would trust in Him the greatest good. Through the cross God’s Son Jesus (David’s greater son) would be exalted in His victory through the resurrection. Through the cross all those who trust in Jesus are given His victory over sin and death. But also, when God the Father turned His back on His Son He was doing so for His glory. Whose glory? The glory of the Triune God. What does this tell us about the trials that we face and feel as if God has forsaken us in those trials? Well, are you a child of God? Are you a son or daughter of God through faith in David’s greater son? If so then you can make this application: when I feel as if God has turned his back on me and begin to doubt His goodness I can turn my eyes to the cross where the Father actually did turned His back on the Son for me and by faith believe that He has designs of grace and glory for me too.

Red Cups vs. True Gospel Opposition and Responding Correctly

You have probably heard it by now. The great persecution of American Christianity has started up once again. America is just not like it used to be. So much has changed in one year. Just last year Starbucks had Christmas cups…but now they are just red cups. There you have it. That is the front line of what we here in America are facing in terms of persecution….  Hopefully you have rightly identified that dripping sound in the background as my sarcasm. Apparently there has been some real concern about how our culture is once again warring against Christmas. What is the evidence? Plain red cups are exhibit A of the war front.

Last week we concluded our look at the first organized opposition to the gospel from Acts 4:1-31. We addressed the question of what our first response should be to opposition. We discovered from Acts 4:23-31 that prayer should be our reflex to opposition. But the recent news about red cups and the outrage from some corners of American evangelicalism exposes to us how ignorant we can be about true opposition and what really matters. This kind of “chip on our shoulders” response compared with the prayer of the early church in the face of opposition is the difference between red cups and red wood trees-you can’t get any different. The prayer of the early church acknowledged that opposition as evil. Their prayer acknowledged that those carrying out the opposition were culpable. But in addition, they acknowledged that the opposition was ordained by God to further His purposes. And in the face of that opposition they asked for the boldness to speak God’s Word knowing full well that doing so had caused the opposition to surface. They loved the opposition so much and were so enthralled with the glory of Christ and His mission that they were willing to suffer more so that the opposition might be reached and the glory of Christ might be seen. Their response was not a “chip on their shoulder” response, it was a Christ-like response. Certainly true opposition to the gospel is growing in our culture today. So how do you identify true opposition and the right response to it in our culture? Acts 4 helps us to do so. May we be driven by what God’s Word says about true opposition to the gospel and our right response rather than a shallow American evangelical understanding of opposition and its associated shallow responses. Here are 8 principles from Acts 4 to do so:

  1. The church’s message of salvation through faith in Jesus will be opposed (1-3)
  2. The opposition to salvation through faith in Jesus will not stop Jesus from building His church (4)
  3. The church’s messengers of salvation through faith in Jesus will be interrogated (5-7
  4. The church’s messengers of salvation through faith in Jesus have the Spirit’s empowerment to give witness to those who oppose (8-12)
  5. The church’s messengers of salvation through faith in Jesus will be threatened to be silent (13-18)
  6. The church’s messengers of salvation through faith in Jesus must boldly obey God rather than man (19)
  7. The supernatural results from the power of Jesus confounds those who oppose salvation through faith in Jesus (20-22)
  8. The opposition to the church’s message of salvation through faith in Jesus ought to produce a spirit of prayer which results in further Spirit empowered witness (23-31)

 

Trusting Our All-Knowing Shepherd

There are so many ways that God strengths our faith through reading His Word. One of the ways is to show us how glorious our Savior is so that we might be invigorated to trust Him more and more in every detail of our lives. Mark 14 does this by showing how our Savior who is our Shepherd perfectly knows the future. As we gaze upon His perfect knowledge of the future we are invited to trust Him in every detail in the present. Mark 14:12-16 says this:

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was being sacrificed, His disciples said to Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare for You to eat the Passover?”  13 And He sent two of His disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him;  14 and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is My guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”‘  15 “And he himself will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; prepare for us there.”  16 The disciples went out and came to the city, and found it just as He had told them; and they prepared the Passover.

The disciples had a question: “Where do You want us to go and prepare for You to eat the Passover?” Jesus responded displaying that He knows all about the future. He knew that a man would meet them carrying a pitcher of water. He knew that where that man entered if they said “The Teacher says…” to the owner of the house that he would show them the already furnished and ready room. No matter how you reconstruct this event it inevitably causes you to marvel at the knowledge that Jesus had of the future. We are then told in verse 16 that when the disciples did as Jesus said and they “found it just as He had told them.” That phrase isn’t merely a historical statement about what happened; it is a window into the unchanging character and glory of our Shepherd. We are supposed to read that and say in our souls: “I can trust Jesus in every detail of my life because as I do I will find everything to be just as He has told me in His Word.”

Maybe you have an objection in your heart right now that goes something like this: “Yes, but Jesus told them about something specific in their lives that would happen and then they saw it happen.” That is correct and we are also correct to realize that Jesus doesn’t tell us specifically what is going to happen in our lives tomorrow to the same detail. However, we have bigger and more important statements about our present and our future. We have promises about what Jesus is doing in our lives and what we can expect about our futures. And we are to go throughout our lives as it were walking toward Jerusalem with those promises in our minds with the full confidence that everything Jesus said will happen just as He said.

Setting the Stage for the Divine Drama

On Sunday we carefully considered the exhortation that Peter gives in 2 Peter 1:5 which says: “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and….” If you were not able to be with us it was such a foundational message for the rest of our series through 2 Peter 1:1-11 that I would encourage you to go back and listen to it at this link. The conclusion we came to about how our diligence in pursuing greater Christ-likeness expresses itself has to do with the word “supply” in 2 Peter 1:5-7. Supply is explicitly stated in verse 5, but then assumed the rest of the time whenever a new Christian virtue is mentioned in verses 5-7. We considered the background of the word “supply” (which has to do with a benefactor providing for the training and props for a play that others act out, in other words furnishing the play or setting the stage as it were) and the fact that the virtues listed are fruit that only the Spirit of God can produce in our lives. Both of these considerations led us to this conclusion: Our diligence in pursuing Christ-likeness is a diligence to supply the right context, to furnish, or to “set the stage up” for the divine drama of sanctification. In other words, because Christ is sufficient for our spiritual growth (2 Peter 1:3-4) we must diligently furnish the right context in our lives for the Spirit of God to make us more like Jesus (2 Peter 1:5-7). We cannot make ourselves more like Christ, but we are called to be diligent in the process of being more like Jesus. So what is our part? Carefully examining the influences in our lives, the priorities of our lives,  and the pursuits of our lives all for the purpose of “setting the stage” in our life for the Spirit of God to make us more like Jesus. This involves negatively turning away from certain pursuits, influences, and priorities and positively turning to others. Central of course to “setting the stage” for the Spirit of God to make us more like Jesus is giving ourselves to God’s Word, to prayer, and to worshiping with other believers. So an important question for all of us this week is whether or not we have been diligent to furnish the right context in our lives and in our families for the Spirit of God to make us more like Jesus. How are you doing this week at applying all diligence in supplying the right context in your life for the Spirit of God to change you to be more like Jesus? 

Reconciliation in God’s Plan

We have been getting closer and closer to concluding our study through the book of Genesis. In the last four studies we have been directed by God in His Word to consider the theme of relational reconciliation according to His plan in relationship to His Messiah. As we have done so we have uncovered 8 principles on relational reconciliation. But in order for those principles to have the impact God wants them to have in the life of His people we need to grasp the context that are given within Genesis.

Context for these 8 principles on relational reconciliation: 

  1. Restoration of Blessing: It is important to see these 8 principles within the overall framework of Genesis. You can sum up Genesis like this: In the beginning God created and blessed all things, then cursed creation because of mankind’s rebellion and chose Abraham through whom future restoration of blessing would come. In other words, key to the context of these principles of relational reconciliation is the connection between a future descendant of Abraham through whom God would restore blessing and relational reconciliation; that is, the connection between restoration of blessing and reconciliation.
  2. Preservation of the covenant family and therefore of the future Messiah: Within Genesis 37-50 the main point is not the life of Joseph. The main point is how God would transition His covenant people to Egypt as previously prophesied and how they would be preserved thereby preserving the future promised seed of the woman that would restore blessing. In other words, key to the context of these principles of relational reconciliation is the connection between God’s purposes being worked out in relationship to the Messiah and how that involves relational reconciliation in our lives.
  3. God’s sovereign rule over all: Genesis 37-50 put on display the theme that Joseph famously articulates as recorded in Genesis 50:20 which says As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. When considering these principles of relational reconciliation this overall theme of God’s total sovereignty must be kept in mind.

With that context in mind before the 8 principles are listed we need to ask this question. What is the “rebar supports” undergirding these truths about relationship reconciliation? What two convictions must you have if you are to not only desire reconciliation but actually pursue it with someone else? 

  1. You must have the growing conviction that your life is ultimately about God using you to advance His purposes for Jesus your Messiah. When that is your conviction then some prominent New Testament gospel logic makes complete sense because you realize that your willingness or unwillingness to be reconciled either affirms or contradicts the gospel:

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Titus 3:1-7 Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, 2 to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. 3 For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. 4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

2.  You must be convinced that God sovereignly is working to use you to advance His purposes for Jesus                              in such a way that He rules over sin and suffering around you so that He might exalt Christ in your life.

With that context and those supporting convictions in mind may God enable us to pursue relational reconciliation with these truths from Genesis 42-45 in mind: 

  • Reconciliation according to God’s plan in relationship to the Messiah may come about through difficult circumstances (42:1-5)
  • Reconciliation according to God’s plan in relationship to the Messiah always involves awakened consciences (42:6-28)
  • Reconciliation according to God’s plan in relationship to the Messiah may be delayed by ongoing sin (42:29-38)
  • Reconciliation according to God’s plan in relationship to the Messiah always involves heart transformation (43:1-15)
  • Reconciliation according to God’s plan in relationship to the Messiah always involves undeserved mercy (43:16-34)
  • Reconciliation according to God’s plan in relationship to the Messiah always involves deepening heart transformation (44:1-34)
  • Reconciliation according to God’s plan in relationship to the Messiah is undergirded by a theological conviction of God’s sovereign rule in relationships (45:1-15)
  • Reconciliation according to God’s plan in relationship to the Messiah results in blessings (45:16-28)

Scripture has much to say explicitly and by implication on relational conflict and reconciliation. This is by no means all of it. But if we would grasp these truths then we would be able to say with a sincere heart before the Lord that we have “so far as it depends on” us, been “at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18).