How to Recognize the Holy Spirit
NINE TESTS FOR SPIRITUAL FRUIT
2 Parts: Part 2
Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org
Kindness: Do you not only overlook offenses, but also repay them with love?
It is one thing to receive an offense and quietly walk away. It is quite another to receive an offense, refashion it in the factory of your soul, and then send it back as a blessing. The former is patience; the latter is kindness (Romans 2:4–5; Titus 3:4–5; Ephesians 4:32). Spirit-wrought kindness creates parents who discipline their children with a steady, tender voice; sufferers who respond to ignorant, insensitive “comfort” with grace; wives and husbands who repay their spouses’ sharp word with a kiss.
This fruit of the Spirit has not yet matured in us unless we are ready to show kindness, not only to those who will one day thank us for it, but also to “the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35). The kind are able to give a blessing, to receive a curse in return, and then to go on giving blessings (Romans 12:14).
Goodness: Do you dream up opportunities to be helpful?
Outside the moment of offense, those who walk by the Spirit carry with them a general disposition to be useful, generous, and helpful. They do not need to be told to pitch in a hand when the dishes need drying or the trash needs emptying, but get to work readily and with a good will.
Such people, however, do not simply do good when they stumble upon opportunities for doing so; they “resolve for good” (2 Thessalonians 1:11), putting their imagination to work in the service of as-yet-unimagined good deeds as they seek to “discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8–10). They follow the counsel of Charles Spurgeon: “Let us be on the watch for opportunities of usefulness; let us go about the world with our ears and eyes open, ready to avail ourselves of every occasion for doing good; let us not be content till we are useful, but make this the main design and ambition of our lives” (The Soul-Winner, 312).
Faithfulness: Do you do what you say you’ll do, even in the smallest matters?
The faithfulness of God consists, in part, of his always doing what he says he will do: “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). The faithfulness of God’s people consists, likewise, in our making every effort to do what we say we’ll do, even when it hurts.
The Spirit makes us strive to say with Paul, “As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No” (2 Corinthians 1:18). The faithful build such a trustworthy reputation that, when they fail to follow through on their word, others do not say, “Well, you know him,” but are rather surprised. If we say we’ll come to small group, we come. If we commit to cleaning the bathroom, we clean it. If we agree to call someone on Thursday at 4:00, we call on Thursday at 4:00. We labor to be faithful, even if our areas of responsibility right now are only “a little” (Matthew 25:21), knowing that how we handle little responsibilities reveals how we will handle big ones (Luke 16:10; 2 Timothy 2:2).
Gentleness: Do you use your strength to serve the weak?
Gentleness is far from the manicured niceness it is sometimes portrayed to be. “Gentleness in the Bible is emphatically not a lack of strength,” but rather “the godly exercise of power,” David Mathis writes. When Jesus came to save us sinners, he robed himself with gentleness (Matthew 11:29; 2 Corinthians 10:1). When we do our own work of restoring our brothers and sisters from sin, we are to wear the same clothing (Galatians 6:1). Gentleness does not prevent the godly from ever expressing anger, but they are reluctant to do so; they would far rather correct others “with love in a spirit of gentleness” (1 Corinthians 4:21).
No wonder Paul pairs gentleness with humility in Ephesians 4:2. As one Greek lexicon puts it, gentleness requires “not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance.” In the face of personal offense, the proud unleash their anger in order to assert their own significance. The humble are more concerned with the offender’s soul than their own self-importance, and so they channel their strength in the service of gentle restoration.
Self-control: Do you refuse your flesh’s cravings?
Scripture gives us no rosy pictures of self-control. Paul writes, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. . . . I discipline my body and keep it under control” (1 Corinthians 9:25, 27). The Greek word for discipline here means “to give a black eye, strike in the face.” Paul’s use is metaphorical, but the point still holds: self-control hurts. It requires us to say a merciless “No!” to any craving that draws us away from the Spirit and into the flesh (Titus 2:11–12).
The need for self-control applies to every bodily appetite — for sleep, food, and caffeine, for example — but in particular to our sexual appetites (1 Corinthians 7:9). Those governed by the Spirit are learning, truly even if fitfully, to hear God’s promises as louder than lust’s demands, and to refuse to give sexual immorality a seat among the saints (Ephesians 5:3).
Walk by the Spirit
The Spirit of God never indwells someone without also making him a garden of spiritual fruit. If we are abounding in these nine graces, then we are walking by the Spirit; if these virtues are absent, then no spiritual gift can compensate for their lack. How, then, should we respond when we find that the works of the flesh have overrun the garden? Or how can we continue to cultivate the Spirit’s fruit over a lifetime? We can begin by remembering three daily postures, the repetition of which is basic to any Christian pursuit of holiness: repent, request, renew.
Repent. When the works of the flesh have gained control over us, we must go backward in repentance in order to go forward in holiness. Confess your sins honestly and specifically (perhaps using Paul’s list in Galatians 5:19–21), and then trust afresh in “the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Remember again that we are not justified by fruit, but by faith.
Request. Apart from the renewing, fructifying presence of God’s Spirit, we are all a cursed earth (Romans 7:18). If we are going to bear the fruit of holiness, then, we need to ask him “who supplies the Spirit” to do so more and more (Galatians 3:5).
Renew. Finally, we renew our gaze on Jesus Christ, whom the Spirit loves to glorify (John 16:14; Galatians 3:1–2). Here we find our fruitful vine: our Lord of love, our joyful King, our Prince of peace, our patient Master, our kind Friend, our good God, our faithful Savior, our gentle Shepherd, our Brother who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet with perfect self-control. Just as no one can sit beneath a waterfall and stay dry, so no one can gaze on this Jesus and stay fruitless.
Heaven in Our Hearts
Of course, renewing our gaze on Jesus Christ is more than the work of a moment. When Paul said, “I live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20), he was speaking of a lifestyle rather than a fleeting thought or a brief prayer. We must do more than cast an eye in Jesus’s direction; we must commune with him.
We cannot commune with Christ too closely, nor can we exert too much energy in pursuing such communion. If we make nearness to him our aim, we will find ourselves rewarded a hundredfold beyond our efforts. The Puritan Richard Sibbes once preached,
Do we entertain Christ to our loss? Doth he come empty? No; he comes with all grace. His goodness is a communicative, diffusive goodness. He comes to spread his treasures, to enrich the heart with all grace and strength, to bear all afflictions, to encounter all dangers, to bring peace of conscience, and joy in the Holy Ghost. He comes, indeed, to make our hearts, as it were, a heaven. (Works of Richard Sibbes, 2:67)
This is what we find when we walk by the Spirit of Christ: in making our home with him, he makes our hearts a heaven.
Scott Hubbard is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary and an editor for desiringGod.org. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Minneapolis.