Is Jesus in this? Does this come from the Spirit of God or from some other Spirit? The Spirit of God can speak to us through many different channels, both inside and outside of the church. At the same time, other misleading and destructive Spirits can speak to us as well, both inside and outside of the church. This is why the letter of I John tells us that one of our primary tasks is to discern whether or not something is truly from God.
I John 4:1 says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” The need to test whether or not something is from God or is fairly clear, but exactly how do we do that testing? What are the criteria? I John 4:2-3a seems to answer this question in a rather simple kind of way, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” While that seems straightforward, we know from the real world that this doesn’t really give us enough to do thorough testing of any given situation.
This is where we turn to the letter to the Galatians. Here Paul gives us two lists by which to determine whether something is being motivated by the Spirit of God, or whether, in his words, it is being motivated by the Spirit of the Flesh. He uses a rather simple, yet
effective, analogy: people are like plants. If you want to know what kind of tree it is, look at the fruit that it produces. In the same way, if you want to know what kind of Spirit is motivating a person, look at how they are behaving, or look at the fruit that the Spirit is
producing in their lives.
Paul starts by first outlining things that are the fruit produced by the Spirit of the Flesh. Galatians 5:19-21 says, “Now the works of the flesh are obvious:
fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” He is saying that when you see these things show up, you can pretty well know that the Spirit of God is not behind them.
Paul then goes on in verses 22-23 to say, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” In contrast to the Works of the Flesh, here Paul is saying that if you see these things then there is a pretty good chance that the Spirit of God is actually behind it.
When Paul is writing in Galatians he is writing directly to the church and is speaking about discerning how other Christians are treating each other.
And today I would say that the Works of the Flesh and the Fruit of the Spirit are still very strong tests of whether our interactions with fellow Christians are really motivated by the Spirit or not. For example, particularly heavy on my mind are recent church splits and upcoming conflicts that our de-nomination and others have faced or are facing. When I think of the tendency to break fellowship with one another and I read things like “enmities…quarrels, dissensions, factions…” included in the Works of the Flesh, I take pause to question wheth-er or not the Spirit of Jesus is really motivating our actions and our interactions with each other.
While Paul was writing directly about how we treat each other in the church, these two lists also serve as a way to whether anything is really from God or not. They serve as a good test of whether our one-on-one interactions are really motivated by the Spirit of God or by our own selfish desires. At the same time, these two lists also serve as an efffective way to test large scale public interactions like those that we are seeing in our current political process. In fact, I would encourage everyone to hold the Works of the Flesh and the Fruit of the Spirit up against all of the political candidates as a test to see whether the Spirit of God is really at work, or whether they are tapping into a Spirit and an energy that is not from God.
Our work as Christians should be to pursue the Spirit of God in all that we do, whether it is in church, in our daily interactions, in our public life or even our politics. Or as the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 4:8-9, “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, what-ever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”
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Each month for our newsletter Pastor Alan writes a short article on a variety of topics. At times he will also create a video version of the article.