Summary: The sermon is focusing on the character that as Christians we ought to have. Christian life is about growth in our salvation or in our relationship with God and that comes by character development.

Fruit of the Spirit – Christlikeness – Imitation of Christ

Gal. 5:22; (Gal. 5:16-26)

26th March 2006

Agape Church – CNI Gujarat - INDIA

By Happy Pathik (M. Div, Th. M.)

Introduction

I received e-mail from a friend asking my help for growth in spiritual life. He told me that he is reading the Bible and praying but is not experiencing the fullness in Christian life. So I wrote something about developing the character that exhibits Christlikeness. Thus I would like to speak also today about Christlikeness. The goal of Christian life is “to be like Christ.” Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians says, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” (11:1) Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount says “Be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48). Again in the letter to the Hebrews we are told to follow the example of the leaders of the Bible (Heb. 13:7). There are many other passages in the Bible that suggests that we have to be like Christ.

We are called to be like God. Thus it is important that we exhibit the characters of God in our lives. After our death we are going to be in heaven where God dwells and it is better that we prepare ourselves in our character and in living for that heavenly abode.

Fruit to show Christlikeness:

There are many passages in the Bible where we are told that we should do certain things and should not do certain things. However, we are going to look at the epistle of Paul to the Galatians, chapter five and verses 22-23. These verses discuss about the fruit (character) of the Spirit in the lives of the believers.

The passage talks about the “fruit of the Spirit”, an outcome of a relationship with Christ. Fruit signifies growth in ones life. The fruit can either be good or bad. In the market at times we are not able to identify the quality of fruits or vegetables from its appearance. There are bitter cucumbers others are sweet. From the outside appearance both are looking alike but only when you taste it you realize that there is a difference. So having fruits are not only important but what kind of fruit we have is also important. C. S. Lewis says that if you are not growing like Christ you will grow like a monster. So each and everyone are growing but the question is in which direction. Here we are told to exhibit the character of the Spirit. We will be called by the kind of character we have. “The tree is known by its fruits.” (Matt 12:33). Charles Swindoll says, “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

The Scripture is reminding us that we should grow up in our salvation (1 Pet. 2:1-2). Probably this part is not much considered by most of the Christians. We are just satisfied by reading the Bible, praying and going to church. However, our lives are not transformed in the likeness of Jesus that ought to happen as a result of our relationship with Him on an everyday basis.

Many of us are calling ourselves “Christians” but we have not seen any growth in our Christian life. That shows something is wrong with our understanding about the Christian faith. As we claim to call ourselves follower of Jesus Christ there should be growth in our character. The growth could be slow but it should be there when someone claims to be a follower of Jesus.

Nine Character traits to show Christlikeness: Galatians

In the passage that was read, Paul talks about nine fruit of the Spirit. The first three virtues of the fruit (Love, Joy and Peace) talk about our relationship with God, the second three (Patience, Kindness and Goodness) talk about our relationship with other people and the last three (Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control) talk about our relationship with ourselves.

Relationship with God: Love, Joy and Peace

Love: The first virtue Paul is mentioning is love. This is the first and the most important aspect of character a Christian should have. If we have not experienced the love of God in our lives we cannot exhibit that virtue in our life. Karl Barth, a very famous theologian, has written number of books called “Dogmatic.” When he was asked to summarize them, he said, “Jesus loves me this I know cause the Bible tells me so.” No matter who we are in our education, social status and economic background, the virtue of love should be seen in the believer. But that is not possible if we have not experienced the love of God in our own life first. Can you say personally “God loves me”? Can you say “I have experienced the love of God in my life”? I realize that many times we may not receive the love that we need in our family life but when we have experienced the love of God, we naturally become a loving person.

Joy: The second virtue Paul mentions is joy. There is a children song that goes “Smile, smile, Jesus loves you . . .” The reason to have joy and happiness is recognizing that God loves you. There are some people whose faces are always sad. I remember seeing a movie in Hindi in which someone was asked “Why are you crying?” (Rote kyu ho?). The other person standing next to him replied, “His face is just like that.” (Surat he aisi hai). His face looks as if he is crying. He looks sad and makes the atmosphere sad no matter where he goes. Some people look sad all the time. The virtue the Christians have is joy and even an overflowing joy in their life. Paul writing to the Philippians from prison says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). Paul is using the word “rejoice” 8 times and “joy” 6 times just in his letter to the Philippians. For Christians joy is not based on the circumstances one is in but from the eternal hope in Christ.

Peace: This is the third virtue that we as Christians ought to have. Today we are living in a world where people are crying for “peace.” We see news on TV where people carry banners of peace. However, that is like an illusion eluding us. The Muslim greetings “Assalamu alaikum”(i. e. peace be unto you) is suppose to be a greeting for peace but the existence of Muslim terrorists have taken the peace and replaced it with fear. Jesus told His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27). Here Jesus talks about a different kind of peace from that of the world, an inner peace and joy that comes only with Jesus. I have talked with a number of Hindu converts who say that “after I have received Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I have experienced a kind of peace that I never had before.” This happens because Jesus reconciles you to the Father and you are no longer enemies to the Father and He to you. So that is the experience of peace.

Relationship with others: Longsuffering, Gentleness and Goodness

Long Suffering: Here the next three characters are mainly dealing with your relationship with other people. The character that needs to be developed is long suffering. In Greek it is made of two words “Macro –Thumia.” That is properly translated, long-suffering. It does not talk about how long the suffering is but it could be very long. In Matthew 18:21-22, Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” He did not mean that you must forgive 77 times but that you forgive for an infinite number of times.

Gentleness: Another virtue Paul takes is gentleness. In Greek it is “Chrestotes” which means “Not wanting to hurt someone or give him or her pain.” A gentleman is not the one who wears a suit and tie, and shining shoes with shaved-face looking handsome but a person who is willing to help anyone when they are in trouble. Mother Theresa had many virtues and someone had called her a “gentle woman.” She was just an ordinary person like many of us but her extraordinary character made her great.

Goodness: The third virtue in relationship with other people Paul mentions is goodness. Basically, Paul is saying “Do good and stay away from evil.” When the young rich man came to Jesus calling Him “good teacher”, Jesus questioned him saying, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good?” (Mark 10:18-19). Here Jesus was indirectly claiming to be God and making the rich man realize it. Goodness comes only from God because ultimately God is good and is the only source of all goodness. We are living in a world that is full of evil in which we are told to do good, to do as much good we possibly can, do as long as we are in the world so that the world will see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven. We do not have to compare ourselves with other people saying: “I am better than him/her.”

Relationship to ourselves: Faithfulness, Meekness and Self-control

Faithfulness: The third set of three virtues Paul mentions shows the character of our relation with ourselves. Faithfulness is, basically, to have faith in God, a faith that is strong and unwavering. When Job lost everything and was in great suffering and agony his wife comes with a suggestion that he should “curse God and die.” For which he responded, “You are talking like a foolish woman.” (Job. 2: 9-10). Job’s faith in God was unwavering. Job’s faith in God enabled him to be a trustworthy person, a person on whom one can rely. Today young peoples’ greatest question is “Who can I trust?” “Is there anyone to whom I can trust?” God wants us to be a people on whom anyone can have trust. Let us make a decision to be a person who is faithful and reliable, a person that can be trusted.

Meekness (Humility): The second last character Paul is talking is meekness or humility. Philippians 2 says that Jesus, who is also God, did not hold His deity but He emptied Himself. He ultimately died a terrible and ignominious death on the cross. We are not influential or extraordinary people. We are simple people with average income, abilities and looks but sometimes we are so proud. Have you ever wondered what is there to be proud about? Paul says that there is nothing for us to boast and to be proud about except in the cross of Christ. He says, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14). Pride is on the top of the list of the seven deadly sins. Pride was the sin committed by Satan by trying to lift himself up even higher than God (Isaiah 14). Let us be humble following our Master, Jesus Christ.

Self-Control: This is the last of the virtues Paul talks about. He says that as a Christian we should control our senses. We have five senses and naturally they are going toward what is evil because of the bodily sinful nature. We naturally lean towards the wrong. Paul says, “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” (Gal. 5:17). In India we have this famous statue of the Three Monkeys placed in many schools and colleges. One monkey with hands on its ears, (Hear no evil), the other monkey with hands on its mouth (Speak no evil), and the other monkey with hands on its eyes (See no evil). The Bible exhorts self-control, knowing when to use the senses and when not to use the senses. We are told to “SPEAK the truth in love.” (Eph 3:14). Not to keep silent when we see that something evil exists. The media and the prevalent philosophies also tell us that we can control our senses through meditation and yoga, by keeping oneself empty. The Bible says not to look into one’s life for solution to control the senses but, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” (Heb 12:2).

Conclusion:

In the text, Paul is saying that as Christians we should exhibit the characters of Jesus in us. Let us ask ourselves; “Have I developed my character since I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior?” “Am I growing as a Christian?” We might be reading the Bible, praying and going to church. But have we actually grown as a person in our character? I think that is the question everyone should ask. When we are living in an age and time when there is great deterioration of character the Word of God calls us to challenge the world with our character that comes through our relationship with God because we cannot do anything unless we remain in Him. (John 15:7).

C. S. Lewis says: “If we are not becoming like Christ then we are becoming like a monster (Devil).” Christ has all the fruit of the spirit. “Do I have the character of Christ?” Maybe you can plan to ask your friends, relatives, brothers, sisters, parents, “Please tell me frankly, have I grown in my character since I became a Christian?” I guess we have to introspect and retrospect and make Jesus our model and exhibit His character in us. Paul says, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1-2).

Let us pray . . .