Spiritual Fruits vs. Self-Righteous Fruits

How can I discern the difference between keeping in step with the Spirit’s work in my life and laboring in my own strengths and abilities?

Faced with our own barren tree, we often attempt to achieve in our own strength what is not growing in our hearts. We determine that we will act lovingly to that unlovable person, be kind to that annoying relative, or faithfully serve in that ministry (while grumbling to ourselves about it). We will work harder, be more disciplined, and pick ourselves up by our proverbial bootstraps and get on with it.

 

Picture with me for a moment two trees in the distance. Both are heavy laden with apples. The natural assumption is that you’ve come upon two apple trees.

However, once you arrive at the base of the trees, you notice that they differ in one very important way. On the first tree, apples hang naturally from the stem, just as you’d expect. The second tree causes you to look again in bewilderment.

All of the apples on this tree have been tied onto it.

Painstakingly, someone spent hours attempting to make this tree appear to be an apple tree. Close inspection reveals the reality that the fruit was not born from the inward sap of the tree, but from the outward labors of someone seeking to create an illusion.

We can all spot the futility of such labor in an apple orchard (knowing full well that hanging apples on a tree does not an apple tree make). However, I have a feeling this might be how many of us go about our attempts to bear fruit in our spiritual lives.

Galatians 5:22-23 tells us, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

These graces show forth the beauty of the Spirit’s work in the life of a believer. The sap of the Spirit produces fruit in the life of a Christian. Yet, each of us will find ourselves in situations where we feel unloving, impatient, unkind, or lacking in joy or self-control (all of which may have occurred on this morning’s drive to the office).

Faced with our own barren tree, we often attempt to achieve in our own strength what is not growing in our hearts. We determine that we will act lovingly to that unlovable person, be kind to that annoying relative, or faithfully serve in that ministry (while grumbling to ourselves about it). We will work harder, be more disciplined, and pick ourselves up by our proverbial bootstraps and get on with it.

Now, let me clarify. Hard work, discipline, and diligent labors are good things. Even Paul said, “I worked harder than any of them” (1 Cor 15:10). But then, lest he be misunderstood, he rightly added, “though it is not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” It is the work of God’s grace, through the power of the Spirit, that fuels our obedience.

Thus, the question before us as we ponder spiritual fruit is: How can I discern the difference between keeping in step with the Spirit’s work in my life and laboring in my own strengths and abilities?

Righteousness with Strings Attached

Just like the tied-on fruit tree, when I am working out of my own strength the false fruit comes with strings attached.

Read More