Breaking Loose From Defeat
Second, if we do not become his apprentices in kingdom living, we remain locked in defeat as far as our moral intentions are concerned. This is where most professing Christians find themselves today. People, generally, choose to sin. And they are filled with explanations as to why it is understandable to do so. But, even so, no one chooses to be a sinner. It is amusing that people will admit to lying, for example, but stoutly deny they are liars.
By contrast, apprenticing ourselves to Jesus and his word enables us to understand our lives and see how we can interact with God’s limitless redemptive resources. This in turn frees us from our failed intentions as we learn from him how to do what we know to be right. By abiding in his words, we come to know the truth and the truth does, sure enough, make us free (John 8:36).
The Way to Inward Transformation
Third, only avid discipleship to Christ through the Spirit brings the inward transformation of thought, feeling and character that “cleans the inside of the cup” (Matt. 23:25 NIV) and “makes the tree good” (Matt. 12:33 NIV). As we study with Jesus, we increasingly become on the inside exactly what we are on the outside.
This requires learning from Jesus how to remove the duplicity in a society that feels we must hide what we really think, feel and desire to do. Thus, a part of Jesus’ teaching was to “be on your guard against the yeast [permeating spirit] of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1 NIV).
The Pharisees were, in many respects, the very best people of Jesus’ day, but they mistakenly assumed goodness was located merely in their behavior. Rather, behavior is driven by the hidden dimension of human personality from the depths of the soul and body, and what is present there will escape. Hence, they always failed at some point to do what was right and had to redefine, redescribe or explain it away — or simply hide it.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit does not consist in actions, but in attitudes that make up our “hidden” self. “Love” captures this fruit in one word, but in such a concentrated form that it needs to be spelled out. Thus, “the fruit [singular] of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22 NIV).
Spiritual formation in the Christian tradition is a process of increasingly being possessed and permeated by the fruit of the Spirit as we walk in the easy yoke of discipleship with Jesus as our teacher. From the inward character, the deeds of love then flow naturally and supernaturally. Of course, there will always be room for improvement, so we need not worry that we will become perfect — at least for a few weeks or months.