13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:13-25)
What does it mean to be a Christian? I’ve had that on my mind a lot lately. As much as we lament our country falling away from God, it’s still popular for people to say they’re Christians. Movie stars walk around with crosses—sometimes big crosses!—around their necks. Pro athletes have crosses tattooed on their arms. Famous political figures go to church—and make sure the cameras catch them there. The Bible is quoted by everyone on all sides of everything—as long as it proves their point. Society certainly is changing, but it’s still cool to say you’re a Christian.
It’s just not so cool to actually be a Christian. We’ve lost what it means to be a Christian. The Supreme Court recently ruled on a case involving a cross displayed on government property. The court ruled that the cross can stay. Good, right? Except, do your know the reason why? The Supreme Court ruled that the cross no longer carries any religious meaning and is simply a secular symbol like a heart or a rose. That’s why the cross can stay—it doesn’t mean anything. We’ve lost what it means to be a Christian! Lots of people say they’re Christian, but how do you know who’s a Christian and who’s not? Jesus makes it simple: “By their fruits you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). When someone says they’re a Christian, Jesus says, “Look at their fruit!”
This is what the Book of Galatians is about: What’s a real Christian? Some people who claimed to be Christians came to the church in Galatia and said, “To be a real Christian, you have to follow the rules. Be circumcised. Keep the Sabbath. Obey more than everybody else.” You know what people would call them today? Conservatives. What was their fruit? Obedience to the rules! Is that what Christianity’s all about? No! Paul wrote the book of Galatians to contradict them. Christianity isn’t about following rules. It’s about faith in Jesus! “A person is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16). Being a Christian doesn’t mean you follow the rules better than everybody else. In fact, Paul says, “You were called to be free.”
The Christians in Galatia heard that, and what do you think they were tempted to think? If we’re saved by faith in Jesus, not by what we do… If being a Christian is about being free from rules, then what? Party! You know what people would call them today? Liberals. What was their fruit? Often sinful lifestyles. Is that what it means to be a Christian? Free to sin? No! Paul wrote, “Do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh.” You can’t say you’re a Christian and then live against Christ. Remember what Jesus said? Your fruit matters! So what does a Christian life look life? Paul spells it out for us in two lists. We like lists! One is a list of sinful lifestyles—“You’re not a Christian if…” The other is list of the fruits of the Spirit—“This is what a Christian looks like…”
Ready? You are not a Christian if… “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery.” What’s the first sign someone isn’t a Christian? Living in sexual immorality. This is a big deal! The Bible from beginning to end describes God’s plan for sex as one man and one woman in a life-long marriage. Every other use of sex—sex before marriage, pornography, homosexuality, crude jokes—that’s sexual immorality. Paul says, “The acts of the flesh are obvious…” For some reason, sexual sin isn’t so obvious anymore. It’s expected. It’s accepted. We’ve lost what it means to be Christians! But listen: “those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” If you decide to be sexually active outside of marriage, you are not a Christian. You won’t be in heaven. Huh. It’s not so cool to actually be a Christian, is it?
There’s more… “The acts of the flesh are obvious…idolatry and witchcraft.” What’s the first commandment? “You shall have no other gods” (Exodus 20:3). So this shouldn’t surprise us! You are not a Christian if anything in your life is more important than Jesus. When other people look at a Christian’s life, it will be obvious to them that the most important thing is Jesus. Is he? The best test might to be ask our children. If I ask a child—whether age 5 or 50, “What do you think is most important in dad’s life?” What would that child say? They know our idols, right? If something in my heart is more important than Jesus, I will not inherit the kingdom of God.
There’s more—10 more! “The acts of the flesh are obvious… Hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” What’s inside matters. You are not a Christian if your heart is filled with hatred or jealousy. You are not a Christian if selfish ambition drives what you do. You are not a Christian if drunkenness is a regular part of your life. These are strong words! If I say I’m a Christian but live out the desires of my sinful nature, then I’m not a Christian. I will not be in heaven. Your fruit matters!
So what does a Christian life look like? God doesn’t just tell us what not to do. That never works. When you try not to do something, you often do it more! God offers to fill us up with something totally different. What does it mean to be a Christian? “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control.” It’s simple. A Christian is someone whose life is filled with the fruit of the Spirit. What fruit? “Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” When Jesus says, “By their fruit you will recognize them,” that’s the fruit. The fruit of the Spirit!
How do we get that? Well, how does any branch produce fruit? It has to be connected to a vine. Jesus said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit” (John 15:5). Paul says: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Our sinful nature is bad. The only way to get rid of it is to kill it. That’s just what Jesus did! When Jesus died on the cross, it wasn’t just Jesus who died. Your sinful nature died too. The cross means something. It means you’re forgiven. It means you’re saved! Being a Christian isn’t about following or not following the rules. It’s about Jesus and his cross changing us inside and out.
Even the good fruit in our lives isn’t something we manufacture on our own. It’s the fruit of the Spirit. Like love. How do we love? “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Jesus loves you to death. Soak that in! That’s how you can love. Because Jesus loves you! Joy. How can we be joyful? Jesus says, “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). No matter how life is going, your name is written in heaven! That’s where joy comes from. Peace. Jesus said: “In me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart—I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33). Love, joy, peace—from Jesus! See how this works?
Every good fruit comes from God—from the Spirit! Patience. Does God have that? A ton! The Lord “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God has been so patient with us, hasn’t he? Kindness. “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4-5). When you picture Jesus’ face, I hope you picture him smiling. God is full of kindness! Goodness. What prayer do we often say before eating? “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good” (Psalm 106:1). The more you see and know God, the more you will reflect him in your life. We love because he loves us. We are kind because he is kind to us. We are patient, because he is patient with us. You can’t help it! It’s the fruit of the Spirit.
And there’s more! Faithfulness. The book of Psalms says, “Blessed are those whose hope is in the Lord their God…he remains faithful forever” (Psalm 146:3,6). God is faithful. Forever! Gentleness. The King of the universe—Jesus—didn’t come to force his will on us. How did he come? As a gentle baby to win our hearts. Self-control. As the soldiers pounded the nails into his hands on the cross, as the people mocked, what did Jesus say? He didn’t even open his mouth. Self-control for us. To save us. That’s Jesus. All of these things—that’s Jesus! He changes us.
So I think it’s time for us to reclaim what it means to be Christians! What does it mean? To be followers of Jesus filled with the love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that come from the Holy Spirit. Is that needed? I wrote a devotion this past week about showing compassion to immigrants who are suffering. Someone criticized me for being so political. When did showing compassion become political? It’s not! It’s what it means to be a Christian! It’s time for us to reclaim what it means to be Christians! “Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” from Jesus.
Like that Good Samaritan. He was the outsider. He was the one who didn’t follow the right rules—at least according to the Jews. He was the one who didn’t have the right race—at least according to the Jews. But when he saw his enemy beaten up on the side of the road, he didn’t even have to think. Plants don’t think about the fruit they produce. It comes so naturally. When he saw that man beaten on the side of the road, he had compassion on him. He cared for him. Why? God loved him, so he loved his neighbor. Complicated? No! This is what it means to be a Christian! Saved by Jesus. Connected to Jesus. Producing the fruit of the Spirit to God’s glory.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. You know that! It’s not easy being a Christian. Not because of the people out there, but because of my sinful flesh in here. Jesus defeated it, but it still clings to us until we get to heaven. “The sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” To struggle every day with sin is part of the Christian life. Just remember: Your sinful nature doesn’t define you. Your identity is not, “I am a sinner.” You are the forgiven child of God. God the Holy Spirit lives in your heart. He fights for you. He fills your life with his fruit.
Last week, a lady asked me, “How can I forgive?” What a great question! Can you answer her? How can she forgive? Like any good fruit, she can’t produce it on her own. She can’t look in her heart or try harder. What does she need to be able to forgive? Jesus. More Jesus. To hear Jesus say, “Father, forgive them!” To hear that as far as the east is from the west, God removed our sins from us. How can she forgive? She needs more time with Jesus. What does it mean to be a Christian? It’s not to have a cross around your neck. It’s to have Jesus and his cross preached to your heart again and again and again, until your heart is so full it pours over with love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Let’s show the world what it means to be Christians. May others be able to recognize us by the fruit of the Spirit.