Summary: What is God like? Is your opinion of God based on an aloof, disconnected, or angry vengeful powerful being who is stern and judgmental? What would He be like if you ran into Him on the street? It might surprise you, but God is a lot like Galatians5:23-26.
I had the opportunity to drive in a foreign country recently. At first I tried to use Google Maps directions but ended up hopelessly lost and confused. Finally I discovered that in this particular country you could find your ultimate destination by just getting to the next community. There would always be signs along the road telling you how many kilometers it was to that town. Once you got there then you looked for the signs to the next community along your route and you’d arrive at your destination.
Even as last week we talked about the “Do Not Enter” signs of operating in the old nature in Galatians 5:19-21, this week I want to focus on the friendly, “you are going in the right direction” road signs of verses 22 through 26. Though this isn’t just a new set of rules, but by reflecting on our character we can see if any of these signs are present and know we’re headed in the right direction towards transformation into the character of God.
22 – 23
Last time we looked at the brokenness of our old nature. Paul describes it as the “works” of the flesh. Contrast that with how he begins the description of the new nature. It isn’t the “works” of the Spirit but the “fruit”. In our old nature we can work as hard as we want but can never really change our character. But just having a relationship with God results in “fruit”. The Greek word “karpos” is defined by Vines as “that which is produced by the inherent energy of a living organism.” It especially suggests fruit from trees “as plucked”.
A tree doesn’t need to “work” or go to great effort in order to produce fruit. Supply the right tree with the right environment and it will produce fruit naturally. Changing that environment can encourage or discourage fruit but a fruit tree produces fruit. Metaphorically fruit means “the visible expression of power working inwardly and invisibly.” The Holy Spirit may be invisible in your life, but if He is there, He is the power producing God’s character in your life.
As we look at the list, notice that it is not so much a list of behaviors but a description of attitudes and characteristics that will result in certain actions in a given environment. Paul says “against such things there is no law”. God gave the Law to point out how broken we are. But no one would make a law against these things. Also, God’s Spirit writes the character of God on our hearts, rather than a list of dos and don’ts. Nor is this a list of principals to adopt. This isn’t “God’s 8 Steps to a Better Life”. These are not things you adopt; they are things that happen to your character as you yield to the Spirit working in you.
Love – agape. This is the overriding characteristic of a transforming person. It is no coincidence that John described God as love (1 John 4:16). Jesus said: By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35). Love is not an emotion or the sappy feeling of a Hallmark card. Love is the expression of a character that cares more for the other than for the self—that yearns to see another healed and benefited. It forms the foundation of everything else.
Joy – chara. Not the same as happiness. Defined as “an inner rejoicing that abides despite outer circumstances” (Life Application Commentary-LABC).
Peace – eirene. It is a state, not a relationship or an attitude (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament). It is not being at war. In Romans 5:10 Paul tells us that God reconciled us to Himself “while we were enemies.” But in Romans 5:1 he says “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s the same word used here. The natural reaction by God to our brokenness has subsided through the blood of Christ. We are enemies no more but adopted children (Galatians 4:5). Now that we belong to God nothing has to rattle us. We have an “inner quietness and trust in the sovereignty of God” (LABC).
Patience – makrothumiaI. It is known as “the quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation. (Vine’s). Simply put, it is the ability to put up with irritating people. This is God’s quality toward us who must constantly irritate Him with our weaknesses.
Kindness – chrestotes. This is “ love with shoe-leather”. It is the outworking of love, joy, peace, and patience. It is the act of Jesus going to the cross and it is the act of us reaching out in love to do good for the unlovely.
Goodness – agathosune. It means “uprightness of heart.” Some (including Jerome) suggest that goodness is “serious kindness”. It is doing good for someone even if that means helping them to realize they are walking away from God. Contrast the goodness of Jesus cleansing the Temple in Matthew 21 as opposed to how he dealt with the woman who came to dinner as a repentant sinner in Luke 7. Goodness is exhorting a wayward child to come home!