Disclaimer: I am not writing this because I fully understand it, but I am compelled by this thought and I hope this essay serves as an invitation to the thinking table.
I like to believe that as we grow in the Christian faith, we are constantly learning. This means we are constantly coming in contact with truth. However, I have found that sometimes, things that struck me as profound still hold that essence even as I learn other new things.
This might be true for just my experience, but it is worthy of mention because it gives us a great rationale to kick-start this thought process. I cannot remember the exact time, but I cannot forget the power behind the truth of the difference between the gifts of the spirit and the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Simply, it goes that gifts of the Holy Spirit outlined in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 are manifestations that are instant and sporadic in nature. Thus, the main difference they have with the fruits of the Holy Spirit outlined in Galatians 5:22-23 is that fruits are products of growth and they are consistent in nature.
This difference might seem simple enough, but it has evolved so much in my mind over the years. One thing that has been a hard pill to swallow is what Jesus said about fruits;
You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore, by their fruits you will know them. Matthew 7:16-20 (NKJV)
I called this a fruit diagnosis.
If you are following this first point, I am sure you can put together that the fruits of the Holy Spirit are in effect of more consequence to the believer because they prove the presence of the Holy Spirit. This applies to many other things in life, and I find that this form of diagnosis is not as novel as I would like to present it.
In hospitals, symptoms are sought out as proof of an ailment or healing, we make sweeping comments about situations and people based on the results they produce and rightfully so. This is because fruits do not exist in a vacuum. If there is smoke, it is proof of fire. If there is a fruit it is proof of work, time, and a seed.
With this in mind, we can move a step further and ask; is there any sense in treating some fruit? By this, I am asking if it makes sense to treat a symptom or put out smoke. The very thought of it seems out of place because we don’t do this for good reason. I believe the reason is that fruit is proof of something else in the background. Thus, if some fruit provides you a diagnosis of an ailment, your response should not be applied to the fruit but to the problem, it is in fact pointing you to.
If you want the smoke to stop, you put out the fire; if you want the symptoms to stop, you treat the sickness. If you want to fix the fruit, you need to go to its source.
I find that in the 21st century Church, we tend to do the exact opposite of this common-sense approach. We see a flaw in our neighbour, but we go ahead to hack at the flaw which is a fruit of something else and we never address the real issues. This has given birth to so many weird laws and doctrines.
These injunctions while made with good intention, are very much harmful in the long run because while they might seem to address the flaw, they lead to long-term hurt, and most importantly, they never solve the problem.
Paul had a little issue with this concept in his day,
Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. Colossians 2:20-23 (NKJV)
I would like to end here but permit me to do a bit of an over-emphasis. Going at people’s actions for the sake of the actions is either going to frustrate the person or imprison the person and it will not deal with the underlying issue. As a church, we need to come to terms with this and humbly undergo a re-orientation.
We must start looking to apply treatment where it matters most – the seed.
I believe that Jesus gave us a great example in doing this. In John 4:4-42 we see the account of the encounter of Jesus and the woman at the well. In their conversation, we learn very quickly that Jesus knew exactly who this woman was. He knew her wrongdoings and told her quite clearly that he did.
The thing that should strike us as odd is that for the rest of their conversation, Jesus never brings it up. In all of his instructions to her, he doesn’t ask her to leave her husband(s). He does something better; he addressed her heart’s questions and typically, transformation followed. It is noteworthy to mention that Jesus never shied away from correction, but it will do you much good to see the kind of instruction he gave. He never corrected actions for the sake of it; he always addressed an underlying mind-set or heart issue.
Thus, his instruction always pointed to solutions that would not only fix the fruit, but will heal the source.
I think we struggle to follow the perfect example of Jesus because seed instructions are not as dramatic or way too dramatic as fruit instructions. Even in a tree, cut off its bad fruit and everybody takes note but give it time and the faulty seed will produce yet another bad fruit. However, if the farmer addresses the root of the issue, it might demand taking down the entire tree or checking the seed before planting.
As a growing Christian, I have troubles with this drama imbalance too. I read the story of the rich young ruler and I can relate with the heaviness of heart in making such a dramatic change.
I also read the story of Naaman and I relate with the scorn that clearly said, “It can’t be that simple”.
I am however convinced that this is too important to give up on. So, I am writing this to other Christians in my century and beyond. We have to learn to leave the fruit and start looking at the seed.
I will end on this note. The further you go into seeking the source of a problem, the more you will find the nature of flesh and it can feel helpless because actions don’t change our nature; Paul told us that much.
However, remember what we said earlier about the fruits of the Holy Spirit? This is where they come in handy. The most important source to fix is the nature from which you are living. There are only two options: the flesh or the Holy Spirit.
If and when you decide to go with the Holy Spirit, you learn very quickly that it is work that is done in you. Your role in all of it is to surrender to the work and believe that it is for your good.
In the end, if you stay in the process long enough, you will notice your fruit changing and you will take no credit for it because the fruit is proof that the Holy Spirit is at work in you.