The Spirit of Choice
“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious…
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” — Galatians 5:19, 22-23
Have you ever wondered why you never seem to have an abundance of the aforementioned “fruits?” Why do we find that these promised blessings are always just out of reach, while we continue to struggle with that ol’ sinful nature, never quite seeming to grasp all of that wonderful fruit?
They are sometimes referred to as the “gifts” of the Spirit, but, while this is somewhat true (as represented in Hebrews 2:4), that’s not the context of what Paul has written in the text we see above. In the current context, Paul is emphasizing the clear differences of how we “chose” to live when we were slaves to sin, in contrast to the choices available to us now with the Spirit of God as our master.
We are promised the “gift of the Holy Spirit” when we are baptized (Acts 2:38, Acts 10:45), and it is therefore the Spirit of God at work within us that now provides us with choices we didn’t have before.
At first glance, this fruit appears to be a list of “benefits” that we receive in response to our faith. And for most of us, we tend to live accordingly, as if these fruits were tangible blessings we could carry around in our pockets and purses, like a rabbit’s foot or four-leaf clover, that provide us some magical yet unsustainable power over our own selfish natures.
But in that capacity, these elements don’t seem to hold much power, and we find ourselves driven to believe the lie that we are not worthy of these fruits; and so we desperately resort to our lone-ranger strategies in hopes of overcoming our deepest struggles. We fail to embrace the truth that the very same power of God that raised Christ from the dead lives within us. As a result, we suppress that power in our every day lives because we don’t see our lives transforming.
But friends, I tell you the truth, the power given to us by the Spirit is the freedom of new choices. Choices we didn’t have before because of our blindness. But now, no longer constrained by sin and guilt, we are no longer forced to choose the lesser of two or more evils. We are no longer burdened with the yoke of our past mistakes and failures, for we have been given the freedom to gain a different perspective.
You see, this spiritual fruit was never intended for you. These elements of love, joy, peace, and the others, are not given to you to offset your brokenness. Because… you’re no longer broken! They aren’t magic pills to swallow designed to change who you are. For Jesus has already done that. Your freedom in Christ has already offset your history and expunged your record, and it cannot be undone. No, the purpose of this spiritual fruit… is to be given away.
As I’m gently yet continually reminded, we all occasionally need a different perspective. The first fruit mentioned in the text above is Love. Now, we often talk about love like it’s an emotion, but the truth is it’s an action, a verb. Even when someone we love (action) hurts us, we can still choose to continue loving them. In many cases, we never stop loving them. We may not like them, but we love them. Like Jesus pointed out, we should love our enemies. But how can we possibly do that if love is an emotion? But because love is a choice of action, we can act in love.
In fact, Love can be more appropriately categorized as a gift. Love has no value to anyone, especially to the one who possesses it, until it is given away. Only when one “chooses” to love does it have any value or power to do great things and transform lives. To say you have love, but never choose to act upon it by giving it to another in a way that is meaningful to them, is meaningless.
The apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 13:1), while talking about the gifts of the Spirit (such as prophecy, teaching, service, healing, etc), reminds us that if we are blessed with such gifts but “have not love, [we are] only a resounding gong or clanging cymbal.” The gift of the Holy Spirit and the fruits that accompany His presence are not meant for the quiet overcoming of our own problems and temptations, but rather for His glory accomplished through our selfless actions toward others.
Joy, the second fruit, is another blessing with no power on its own. But when we “choose” to be joyful, and to give that joy to others through action, they may be given the opportunity to know God through us because they can see Him at work within us.
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 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 14:26-27
Jesus spoke of peace, but we didn’t understand the promise, and find that we cannot achieve it on our own, living lives of stress and worry because we’ve missed the purpose of peace. Peace, as another element of spiritual blessing, is simply another choice. During times of difficulty and strife, we can “choose” to have peace, and more importantly, share that peace with others.
Those who live apart from God are at war with God. And for them, there can be no peace. They cannot choose peace while they are at war. Until they surrender, as we once did (and continue to do), they will remain at war. But as children of God, co-heirs with Christ to the throne of Heaven, we are at peace. But we must still choose to have peace by giving that peace away. For only as we choose peace — instead of worry, stress and anguish — does peace have any power in our lives: through the action of bringing peace to others. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” (Matthew 5:9)
As we see this pattern emerge, we can easily begin to associate these fruits with freedom. You see, when we were slaves to sin, these options were not available to us, were they? We lived in pursuit of happiness, though rarely acquiring it, and even more rarely appreciating it when we did. We did not love ourselves, and so we had no love to give away. We had no joy, and no peace. We could not be thankful or show true kindness, and absolutely had no self-control.
Yes, we managed to find others (or had others thrust into our lives) to whom we wanted to give these things: friends, spouses, lovers, parents, and children. And we tried to give them these things because it seemed natural to do so. Born in the image of God, we constantly sought love, searching for someone to give it to. Sometimes we were successful, and sometimes not. With our own sin ultimately winning the day, and destroying any hope at success in these areas, we always found it challenging to give any of it away because we were so lacking.
With so little to offer, we sought out others who might share theirs with us. These things were just not very plentiful, and so we had to be careful with whom we chose to share them. This led to frequent and common disappointments, since we were dealing with others who were too much like us: empty, hopeless, and at war with God.
But now, in the freedom of Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we have a library of new choices! Instead of sorrow, we can choose joy. Instead of bitterness and resentment, we can choose love. Instead of falling victim to outbursts of anger and poor actions based on a need for immediate gratification, we can choose to be patient and gentle and kind. We can demonstrate self-control and peace.
Because we have always had free will, we have been at war with ourselves and ill equipped to be awesome. We didn’t know these choices were available to us. And when we did discover them they were useless, because we didn’t understand their purpose; we weren’t using them right. When we tried to use them on ourselves as magic potions to make us happy, we were disappointed to say the least.
But now, as we see them clearly for what they are, we can take on each event, experience and challenge with new vigor and excitement, because we now know that this “fruit of the Spirit” is much more powerful than we imagined. For, once again, as we take the focus off ourselves and look at others with the love God has for them, we can see Him at work in ways we are blind to when we’re staring at our own feet under the heavy burden that’s not even ours to carry.
Live your life making choices in the Spirit. You don’t have to be angry or bitter. You don’t have to be unhappy and miserable. You don’t have to find fault with others, with your spouse, or parents, or children. You don’t have to say things that hurt others feelings. Because you have free will, you have the ability to choose what’s better. What’s right, what’s good.
Without free will, we would be without hope, because we would not be in control of how we act and choose the paths we take. And though we are not in control of the things that happen in our lives, we are in control of how we think about those things and how we respond to them.
While our past has a definite impact on our perception of the world and our perspective in the world we live in, we still live with the freedom to choose differently. We can still choose to overcome instead of being overwhelmed. We can choose to live courageously instead of living in fear. We can choose to seek out and encourage the strengths in others instead of working to identify the faults of others so that our weaknesses are diminished.
And so, if we are free to choose, why choose death? Why choose pain and sadness? As disciples of Christ, we claim to be free — yet we live as slaves in all aspects of life.
Who’s in charge around here anyway?