Friday, November 28, 2008

The Flow of the Spirit is Kindness: What if It's Not my Personality

Top 12 Scripture Texts: Number 11B
Galatians 5:22, 23
Bob Rakestraw

The fruit (flow, outcome, result) of the Holy Spirit in a person is a lot of things: love, joy, peace…and kindness (Galatians 5:22-23). If anyone calls himself or herself a follower of Jesus, we should see these qualities in that person’s life.

In the last posting I wrote about the meaning of kindness throughout the New Testament, and this time I will focus on the power behind kindness. Why are some people kind and others are not? What is it that produces kindness?

Personal Difficulties

I struggle at times to be kind, but I am very grateful for three things: I usually am aware (after a while, at least) that I need to be kind in a given situation; I usually gain some recognition of what kindness calls for in that situation; I can usually stop unkindness at the thought level, before it comes out in words or actions. But, above all, I am grateful for the power of God’s Holy Spirit within me to produce the flow—the fruit—of divine life through me. I also insist that it is God who works in me to generate the three aspects of kindness mentioned above, as well as any kind thoughts, words or actions toward others.

I cannot claim any inherent goodness that somehow produces kindness. I really have a nasty, selfish streak in me that tends to jump on people (in my mind) that I don’t like—sometimes even with those I do like—and I consider myself superior to them. My biggest concern in this blog posting is to show that one’s ability to be kind does not come from a natural disposition or personality, but from the life of the Spirit in those who have been born of the Spirit and are seeking to be conformed to God’s image.

Where to Turn for Help

Over the years of my Christian life I have found that the book of Galatians contains some valuable teachings about the third person of the Trinity—the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is presented as the spiritual power within us who, after giving us a new birth (Gal. 4:6-7; John 3:1-8), produces the good things of God within us and through us (Gal.3:1-14; 5:1-26).

I often quote Galatians 5:22-23 to myself simply as “The fruit of the Spirit is….” But I also need to keep in mind the whole context of Galatians 5, and the whole book of Galatians. I recommend that you read the book, since I am able to give only a few of its thoughts in what follows.

There is something in human nature that resists the free grace of God. The message of God’s great favor to us in Christ, giving us eternal life beginning now, seems to be too easy. We are, instead, drawn to a religion of law. We need to feel that we are not so bad—that we have the goodness in us to keep a set of laws in order to live as decent persons and earn whatever salvation there may be after this life. Religions around the world teach their followers to say endless rounds of prayer beads, practice self-denial in extreme measures, repeat one’s mantra, and practice impossibly high standards of righteousness from within our own selves.

The New Testament, however, taken as a whole, teaches that people in themselves are sinful…and lost. We need to be “born-again” according to Jesus (John 3). We are then dead to the law. Paul said: “I have been put to death with Christ on his cross, so that it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. This life that I live now, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me. I refuse to reject the grace of God. But if a person is put right with God through the Law, it means that Christ died for nothing” (Gal. 2:19-21, Today’s English Version).

The Spirit’s Action First

It is impossible to follow a system of law perfectly. And, while some non-Christians are very kind people, they must continue to try and find resources within themselves to live this way consistently. I am very thankful for the Spirit of Christ within, developing a life of kindness in and through me. Yes, I must respond to the Spirit’s leading in specific situations, but I am aware of God’s prior work in me. Two passages in Galatians 5 show this balance. In verse 16 we read: “What I say is this: let the Spirit direct your lives, and you will not satisfy the desires of the human nature.” Then, according to verses 25-26, “The Spirit has given us life; he must also control our lives. We must not be proud or irritate one another or be jealous of one another” (Today’s English Version). God’s Spirit within us produces the motivation and the strength, and then we are to do—or not do—those things that correspond to kind living.

It is not a matter of one’s personality, but of one’s relationship with a Person. The Spirit changes even the nastiest, crudest and most self-centered people into truly kind men and women, boys and girls. Never excuse your harsh, abrasive manner by saying that it is just your personality, or that your family line are all that way, or that “no one is perfect.” Yes, God’s standards are high, because he is a holy God, but he never asks us to do what he does not give us the power to do (Philippians 4:13).

Next time I intend to be more personal and more specific on how to become kind and how to show kindness.

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