Galatians 5.22-23 tells us that “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control.” Of course, every concept in this brief passage has significance (2 Timothy 3.16). But we tend to gloss over the first few words in favor of the “measurable” list of character qualities. Obviously, those traits are important – we’ll spend the next several issues exploring each in turn – but I believe we miss the most important truth if we jump right to the list without giving heed to the initial phrase.
Specifically, we must note that the fruit is of the Spirit. Thus, it comes from God, not our own efforts. In fact, Paul expressly contrasts works “of the flesh” – i.e., those coming from human effort – with those “of the Spirit.” He also points out that only those who “belong to Christ Jesus” (5.24) have access to the Spirit. In other words, we are incapable of maintaining consistent expression of any aspect of the Spirit’s fruit without having the Spirit Himself residing within us, a phenomenon that occurs only when one has embraced Christ as Savior.
This can be a hard pill to swallow because we rather unconsciously cling to a notion that we can pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and work to become “good” people. And we recognize that “good” people exhibit the qualities listed in this passage, so we believe we can find the right formula or “character development” program – or simply muscle through by sheer force of will – to grow these qualities in ourselves and our kids. Sadly, though, that’s not possible. For one thing, our own sinful nature will inevitably bleed through. Secondly, attempting to be “good” on our own is moralistic religion, not saving faith.
Does this mean we shouldn’t define, describe, and encourage our kids in these traits…or that we should excuse hate, impatience, and cruelty? Of course not. Our kids need to understand what these words mean and that the behaviors inherent in the terms are desirable. They need to be complimented when they exhibit a quality and corrected when they choose its opposite.
But as parents, it’s imperative that we remember first things first. Specifically, our goal shouldn’t be producing “good” kids. Rather, we must remember that our kids need Jesus first of all, so they can be washed clean from the inside (Matthew 23.25-28). But having Jesus isn’t automatically inherited from Christian parents; instead, each child must make a conscious, personal choice to accept the salvation Jesus offers.
Of course, we can’t force anyone to take that step; coercion would falsify any supposed profession of faith. We must, instead, introduce Jesus to our kids, purpose not to become an obstacle to their seeking Him, and storm the gates of Heaven to ask that they will choose Him. And when they do, they will cease to be “good” children. Instead, they’ll be God’s children, and then we’ll see the fruit of the Spirit begin to spring forth from them more naturally.
Photo Credit: Christiaan Triebert