|The Descent of the Holy Ghost|
We have seen how that the Bible states, quite unambiguously, that people who practice certain things (the “works of the flesh”) will not inherit the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17; NKJV), and therefore there can be no room for the works of the flesh. The works of the flesh are the opposite of what God requires of us in the way of Christian character.
The marks of a godly character are described in Galatians 5:22,23 as “the fruit of the Spirit.” They are: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
First and foremost among these is love, for in a sense love encompasses the rest. By Christian love we do not mean simply liking other people. We are sometimes called to demonstrate love toward those whom we distinctly do not like. Or model in this is God’s own love for us: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Here we see that love involves an element of self-sacrifice (“Christ died”), and is directed toward the undeserving (“while we were yet sinners”).
Negatively, love does no harm to others. “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10). Positively, love responds to human need. “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (I John 3:17).
It can be seen, then, how many of the other of “the fruit of the Spirit” follow from this cardinal virtue of love. On the one hand we are required to exercise “self-control,” which means holding in our selfish desires and impulses. It requires “longsuffering,” the willingness to endure the bad conduct of others without becoming angry or taking revenge. It also requires “gentleness” in dealing with others. “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth” (II Tim. 2:24,25).
On the positive side love manifests itself in “kindness” and “goodness.” Greek scholars debate whether there is a real difference between these two terms. Some see “kindness” as a conciliatory attitude toward others, while “goodness” is a readiness to do good. But in either case Paul draws the contrast between this aspect of good and evil this way: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:31,32).
There are several other aspects to the fruit of the Spirit as well. One of these is “joy.” The Christian can rejoice, even in the worst of external circumstances, because he knows God and he knows that everything will eventually turn out for the better. We have a “living hope” and “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled . . . reserved in heaven for you.” “ In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials . . .” And though we today have not seen Christ physically, “yet believing you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (I Pet. 1:3-9).
And then there is “peace.” Peace is that sense of inner calm and wellbeing that comes from knowing that we are secure in God’s love, and that He is actively caring for us. We are invited to bring all of our cares and concerns to the Lord in prayer, “and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6,7).
And then there is “faithfulness,” the essential trait of trustworthiness. It manifests itself in the willingness to honor commitments and fulfill obligations. This was illustrated in Christ’s parable of the talents in Matt. 25:14-30, in which a certain man gave different amounts of money to various ones of his servants. (A “talent” was an ancient unit of measurement which, when applied to precious metals, represented a very large some of money. Our English word “talent” is derived from this parable.) Some of the servants invested their assigned amounts wisely; one did not. To the wise servants the master said, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (vv. 21,23). So too we need to be the kind of people who can shoulder responsibility.
It will be noted that these character traits are inner dispositions of the heart. They should flow from us naturally, and not simply be things we do merely to please others. God is not impressed with hypocrisy.
It will also be noted that these traits are called “the fruit of the Spirit,” i.e., they are the result of the spiritual life produced in the heart of the believer by the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of him. And yet, at the same time, the individual believer has a definite responsibility in all of this. First of all, if indeed he is a genuine believer, he has put his past, sinful life behind him. “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the passions and desires” (Gal. 5:25). But once he has become a Christian he bears the responsibility of following the leading of the Holy Spirit within him. “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (v. 25). “If we live in the Spirit.” Here Paul points to a basic about the Christian – he is spiritual alive (he lives) because of the Holy Spirit living within him. That being the case, “let us also walk in the Spirit.” The word translated “walk” might better be rendered “march in step with.” It is almost as though we are soldiers marching in formation and the Holy Spirit is calling the cadence. This, moreover, is the key to sanctification. Paul began the passage by saying, “Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh” (v. 16). If we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading as He seeks to produce His fruit in us, will not fulfill the desires of our sinful, fallen nature.
This, then, is how we enter the kingdom of God.