Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Fruit of the Spirit and Crucified Passions

Most Christians are familiar with St Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit (or at least with a few items on the list). Just to refresh your memory, here it is: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). The first thing to notice about this is that these elements are not nine fruits of the Spirit, but rather the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit (in the original Greek it is singular, as well as in any accurate translation). You can’t have a few perfect fruits and simply decline to have a few others. If you are lacking in any, then your spiritual fruit has a rotten spot on it, or is still somewhat sour.

The first three elements of the fruit of the Spirit are probably the ones most people remember. Yes, everyone is all for love, joy, and peace, especially of the superficial variety. Such fruit is rather tasteless, however, even if it isn’t rotten. In modern America’s insipid culture, love, joy, and peace have been too often reduced to common greeting-card sentiments that don’t really require a whole lot from anyone (though if genuine they are quite demanding). What if you were to receive a card that said: “Wishing you a bit of serious self-control during the holidays”? Yet this is just as much a part of the fruit of the Spirit as all the others.

It is clear that St Paul is not concerned with greeting-card wishes or superficial piety. Immediately after he describes the fruit of the Spirit he says: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” I wrote a couple days ago about the meaning of “the flesh.” So those who have crucified the flesh have united themselves to the sufferings of Christ—nailed sin to the Cross—in order to be freed from sin by his grace. This is not merely an option for those who go for that sort of thing. If you belong to Christ, then you must crucify the flesh.

How do you know if you really have crucified the flesh? Obviously you haven’t if you are still engaging in mortally sinful behavior. But most of us are somewhere between mortal sinners and saints, and we would perhaps like to see some sort of evidence that we do in fact belong to Christ. It’s fairly simple: if you are bearing the fruit of the Spirit, you most likely have crucified (or are crucifying) the flesh, for good fruit can only come from a healthy tree.

The fruit of the Spirit is great material for an examination of conscience. How well (how consistently, selflessly, deeply) do you love—God, other people, and (rightly understood) yourself? Do you manifest joy and experience inner peace? How’s your score on patience (probably low for most of us), kindness, etc? Then, if you really want to crucify the flesh, how well do you practice self-control, in thought, desire, speech, and action? The fruit is one because you are one. We can’t allow ourselves to bear good fruit sometimes and rotten fruit at others, for then we must conclude that the tree itself is diseased and may need some radical surgery (hopefully not cutting down altogether!). The various elements are all meant to work and grow together, so we have to pay attention to them all. If you are kind but not patient, your fruit has not matured. St James says that if you break one of the commandments, but not them all, you are still guilty, because it is the same Person who has given each of the commandments, and any individual offense is not excused merely because it’s not a multitude of offenses. The same Person has been offended.

So let’s hope and pray that the new year will find us bearing the fruit of the Spirit and crucifying the flesh. After all, you want to be found to belong to Christ Jesus, don’t you?