CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XCII)

But fruit does more than just grow on a tree, Jesus tells us that their fruit identifies trees. Edible fruit comes from cultured trees, and inedible fruit grows on wild trees.[1] Besides, Jesus also said that the soil in which you plant a tree affects its fruit.[2] And if a tree does not produce any fruit after a certain amount of time, Jesus said, cut it down![3] Jesus identified Himself as the true vine, and His Father is the gardener. Every branch grafted in Him that does not bear the right kind of fruit will be chopped off.[4]

To the Ephesians, Paul called the source of this fruit as a light that produces goodness, right living, and truth. This light, of course, is the Word of God – the Gospel. And then to the Philippians Paul said they must always produce the fruit of salvation, which is a righteous character developed by having Jesus the Anointed in their lives.[5] And Paul told the Colossians that this would help them live in a way that brings glory and honor to the Lord and pleases Him in every way. It will also help in producing every useful kind of fruit as they get to know God better.[6] We notice that in all these instances, the fruit is only available only when planted in God’s Word and the work of the Holy Spirit.

In response to Jesus’s exclamation that we will know them by their fruit, it is very appropriate that we first check ourselves before checking others to see who measures up. Notice, these are not just fruit, but the fruit of the newly-born spirit.  That means these virtues and the Anointed-like characteristics are those that the Holy Spirit brings by transforming our reborn spirit into a willful, obedient servant to Jesus the Anointed our Lord and Master.  And just like fruit in the natural world is meant to provide nurture and healthful benefits to the human flesh, so this fruit should serve to generate nurture and spiritually nourishing benefits to those whom the Christian feeds with words and actions. Not only that, but fruit contains seeds which, when planted, can bring forth more trees to bear fruit. Unfortunately, too many trees are barren of this fruit and, therefore, no new trees are available for planting.

The first thing to observe is Paul’s contrast between “deeds” (“works” KJV)” and “fruit.” I mentioned before that the Greek word used for “deeds” applies to business, employment, and anything with which anyone occupies themselves. It also identifies what one attempts to do, enterprise, undertaking, as well as any product whatever. It includes anything they accomplish by hand, art, industry, or mind, including an act, deed, thing done. The word “fruit” however speaks of something that grows out of a mutual endeavor, along the same lines as a planted seed grows and flourishes in nutrient soil along with rain and sunshine.

Therefore, the fruit that Paul lists do not reflect the results of someone’s independent action. Instead, the offspring or harvest of someone’s cooperation with other forces at work to produce the fruit.  The farmer may plant the seed, but it takes rain, sunshine, and nutrients in the soil to produce a harvest.  Paul argued that deeds of the flesh result from bondage to one’s sinful-self, but that grace and faith operate under the freedom of love flowing through one’s spiritual oneness with the Anointed, which blossoms into beautiful fruit.

The error the Judaizers made was to assume that Christian character is something produced by continual obedience to rules and ceremonies. It seems to be akin to some modern psychological concepts of behavioral modification: an attempt to change the inward man by positive or negative reinforcement to the outer man. The Judaizers tried to accomplish this with religious pressures that guaranteed salvation.  Some of the darkest hours in church history involved attempts to use spiritual cinema to replace the demonstration of the Holy Spirit; when believers try so hard to appear righteous on the outside that they blind onlookers to the lack of real righteousness on the inside. We must all remember that our bodies are a temple, not a theater.

The choice of any word in Scripture proves significant, especially when many other terms are available. There are several reasons why Paul found the word “fruit” to be his choice in describing the yield of the spiritual oneness with the Anointed. After all, Jesus talked about being the True Vine, and we are the fruit-bearing branches. From all that Paul shared with the Galatian believers, we see his concept of the Christian experience as the product of a new and divine life implanted in the believer by the Holy Spirit.  He also ends this section by speaking of the believer’s spiritual life, which, when carried to a logical conclusion, supports the notion that the Holy Spirit’s influence on the reborn spirit of believers will produce a positive and useful benefit.

Furthermore, the word “fruit” indicates a clear distinction between something man can do on his own with something man cannot do alone. No one makes fruit; it is grown; it deals with a person’s deeds and actions, while fruit relates to a person’s quality and character. The activities of the flesh signify an individual’s sinful-self at work. At the same time, the fruit of the spiritual oneness with the Anointed indicates the presence of supernatural power and purpose working inside them. To Paul’s way of thinking, it’s the character and spirit of Jesus the Anointed brought into the believer through the Holy Spirit that allows this fruit to grow. Not only that, the more a believer submits to the guidance and moving of the Anointed’s presence, the more fruit they produce.  But it is not the Holy Spirit that bears the fruit; it is the reborn spirit of the believer. As Paul teaches, just as much as “deeds” speak of hard work, mechanics, toil, and labor, so “fruit” addresses submission, receiving, and yielding. So, to the Galatians, Paul has a deep but brief message: it’s not about what you do, it’s all about what you become.

The picture Paul paints here shows very clearly the difference between those who claim discipleship with the Anointed through what they do for Him and those who identify themselves as disciples based on what the Anointed did for them. Those who point to their infant baptism, christening, catechism, and adherence to church rituals and regulations as proof of their being Christians, expose their faith as being that of bondage to individual efforts that have the blessing of the church.

Christians who accept the work Jesus the Anointed did for them on the cross and what He has done in them by His Spirit reveal their reliance on His redeeming power. It also signals their faith in union with the Anointed, which has God’s blessing. Such unity places them in the enviable position of also becoming the bearers of fruit whose source of spiritual nutrients is from the True Vine, Jesus the Anointed. Consequently, they do not point to this fruit as something they created on their own, but as evidence of something produced through their spiritual union with the Anointed.

Should such believers even care then if they attend church, read the Bible, participate in worship, and become disciples sharing the Gospel of the Anointed as they go on their way?  Yes!  By all means!  But not as efforts they bring to God as sacrifices to prove their right to eternal life. Instead, they do it because they are motivated from within by the Spirit of God whose aim is to glorify God through their lives, character, and ministry. Naturally, such divine motivation must deal with all the frailties, faintness, flaws, and failures of the flesh. That’s the battle Paul addressed, and the one he felt kept the Galatian believers from really feeling free to worship and serve God in spirit and truth.

In my earlier years in ministry, when people found out I was reading ten books simultaneously, besides the Old Testament and New Testament each year, they often asked, “How do you do it?” My response remained the same; it comes from within, not from without. I’m not trying to impress God at all with my efforts, but God inspires me with His wisdom, truth, and light, and no matter how long or how much I study, I can’t get enough. I asked God for this when He called me into the ministry.

The great preacher Chrysostom makes an observation. Paul could have compared the sinful works of the flesh with the good works of the reborn spirit because the immoral actions of the flesh are wild and receive no cultivation, “while good works require not only our diligence but God’s loving-kindness.” [7]  The reason for this is because such fruit is more refined and serves a purpose other than just existing.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) also sheds some light on his understanding of how this spiritual fruit can dominate over the sinful actions of the flesh. He says this is possible when they “reign in the person in whom no sin should prevail.[8] We can liken the immoral actions of the body to weeds and the fruit of our reborn spirit to cultivated flowers. We can see that for the fruit to grow, there needs to be some weed-killer applied, and that number one antibiotic is the indwelling presence of the Anointed. With the Anointed in us, the things that delight God are more desirable than the things that please the body’s passions.

Augustine believes that God’s grace is applied by faith in the Anointed as inner loveliness. It is the pure beauty of holiness to resist anything that might stain our garment washed by the blood of the Lamb. It should delight us more when we live and act according to God’s Word and not allow our sinful tendencies to reign in us so that we obey their desires. Instead, the spirit of righteousness reigning through love brings us greater delight.

Ambrosiaster (circa 350 AD), a contemporary scholar of Augustine’s, offers his interpretation of what Paul is not saying here. Paul did not say that love is an effort of the Spirit but instead one of its fruit. As Paul mentioned before, the spirit’s principles bear fruit, which leads to the inheritance of the kingdom of heaven. Paul calls those devoted to the Anointed as “Christs,” that is to say, anointed ones in the manner of the Anointed. These people crucify the desires of the flesh, that is what the world offers when they condemn the things out of which sins arise.[9]

Ambrosiaster also sees a connection between what Paul teaches here with what we find in John’s teaching, where he said: Do not love this evil world or the things in it. If you like the world, you do not have the Father’s love in you. That’s all there is in the world: wanting to please our sinful tendencies, wanting the immoral things we see, and being too proud of what we already have. But none of these comes from the Father. They come from the prince of this world.[10]

[1] Matthew 12:33

[2] Luke 8:14-15

[3] Ibid. 13:9

[4] John 15:2, 5, 16

[5] Philippians 1:11

[6] Colossians 1:10

[7] Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[8] Augustine of Hippo: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[9] Ambrosiaster: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 30

[10] 1 John 2:15-16

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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