ACST 42: The Producer

20064415326951One of the reasons the third person of the trinity is called the Holy Spirit is that he is the one who works within the lives of true believers to produce Christian character. He challenges their assumptions about what righteousness is. He forces them to come to grips with their need for godliness, and walks them through the slow process that eventually produces that godliness.

Galatian troublers

The apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians because the churches of Galatia had missed this. They had been deceived into believing that they could handle their own sanctification. Paul saw this not as simple stubbornness or self-reliance, but as desertion. He told them that he was “astonished that (they) are so quickly deserting him who called (them) in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.”[1]

The gospel is the good news of what God has done and can do for believers. God the Father loved them while they were yet sinners, and sent his Son to die in their place, giving them the chance to become members of his family. The Holy Spirit regenerates their hearts so that they want to serve God again, and transforms their minds so that they can accomplish what they want to do. He is the Spirit of holiness, the sanctifying Spirit.

The troublers came to the Galatian region teaching that people do not need the grace of God working supernaturally in them to do what God requires – they only need to follow the commands of the law. Paul aggressively attacks that heresy in his letter. He calls it a different gospel, and he places God’s curse upon its proponents.[2] The idea that one can simply make his mind up to be good and follow the ways of God without the prime moving being done by God himself is dangerous. It does not work that way. This is the message Paul gets across in Galatians.

how it works

Sanctification is an act of the Holy Spirit, who takes the believer’s willingness to submit to him and his grace, and turns it into manifestations of God’s character. The metaphor that Paul uses in Galatians to describe this process is that of growing fruit. The metaphor suggests some important facts every Christian should know about sanctification:

  1. Fruit growing is a long process. It takes a long time for a seed to germinate, and for a tree to get to the stage where it actually bears fruit. This is a helpful fact to keep in mind when thinking about sanctification. Believers often get discouraged when they have failed to live up to their own expectations.
  2. There are no real substitutes, but there are plenty of imitations. Nutritionists say that a good portion of our meals should consist of fruits and vegetables. The unfortunate thing is that many of the grocery products available to the average consumer contain very little actual fruit. In fact, the makers of many juice (or juice-like) products actually brag that they contain as much as 10% real fruit! Some products contain absolutely no fruit at all, yet are packaged and presented right alongside the fruit items as healthy alternatives. Also, even if one lucks up and finds a product with real fruit juice, it might have been enriched with extra sugar, making its health benefit questionable. The same phenomenon occurs in the world of sanctification. It is very hard to spot the real believer in societies where it is fashionable to appear religious, regardless of your real motivations. Many professing Christians who attend churches and claim a faith in Christ reflect the same morality (or lack thereof) of their non-Christian neighbors. Many true Christians so neglect this aspect of their Christian lives that although they may be theologically orthodox, their lives fail to match up with their profession. They are true fruit trees which bear little fruit.
  3. Fruit growing is not easy. Even areas where the soil may be conducive to fruit growing are hindered by poor planning, lack of investment capitol, adverse environmental conditions, or pests. Far too many who begin preparations for an orchard tend to get distracted or frustrated, and give up.

The same is even more true in the area of sanctification. The Holy Spirit is available to every believer to do the work in their lives which will produce God’s godliness. But all too often believers are convinced (like the Galatians) that there is a simpler, faster, easier way or that the growing process requires more strength, patience and power than they have. Growth is often hindered because getting from seed to fruit is seen as too hard. There are always some who seem to have accomplished the task, but these are explained away as super-saints who just had the right stuff to begin with.

The gospel of godliness is also a gospel of grace. It shows to the world that every soul that can respond to God’s touch can become a godly soul. It is the Holy Spirit who has the green thumb of sanctification. To suggest that my life is not capable of learning and manifesting godliness is ultimately to criticize him. It is to suggest that there is a work that even he cannot do. One cannot imply such a thing and remain orthodox in one’s theology because it denies the omnipotence of God.

the soil

The believer’s life is the soil in which God’s Holy Spirit plants his revelation of himself. Every social contact, every event one experiences, every decision one makes comprises that soil. Some soils are predispositioned to accept the Holy Spirit, and others are not.

Jesus’ parable of the sower/soils relates to this issue because Jesus was talking about how people respond to the gospel of God’s kingdom in their lives. In his parable, he described some soils as:

1. The Path – beaten down for walking on. Seeds fall but they cannot permeate into the soil. The birds eat them. The result is no crop.[3]

2. Rocky Ground – enough soil for immediate growth, but not enough to protect against the scorching sun. The result is no lasting crop.[4]

3. Thorny Ground – plenty of soil for immediate growth but too many weeds competing for the same nutrients and space. The result is no lasting crop.[5]

4. Good Soil – prepared so that it can take in the seed, enabling the seed to germinate, and protecting it from competition and harm while it grows. The result is a fruitful crop.

Jesus had been talking about a grain crop, and Paul was using a fruit orchard for

his analogy, but they both were essentially describing the same process: the process by which the Holy Spirit works in our lives to produce God’s kingdom of holiness. Jesus’ explanation of his parable of the sower/soils helps us to understand what the chief hindrances are to growth. In other words, he explains what elements of a person’s life make it hard for that person to experience growth toward sanctification.

1. Lack of Understanding. Jesus explained that “when anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.”[6] Human minds create all kinds of barriers that can keep them from grasping the impulse that the Holy Spirit is revealing. Often what God wants to reveal is obstructed by their lack of awareness of its significance.

One of the tasks of evangelists is to learn ways of saying the gospel message so

that their listeners are not immediately closed to hearing it. People who come to Christ often respond to the gospel message after hearing it presented a number of times, in various ways. When the time is right, they hear and understand. The Holy Spirit’s revelation of himself for the purpose of sanctification works the same way. All too often, believers hear of a change that must be made, but just nod their heads and continue as they were. Then, something happens, and they finally understand not only what change must be made, but also why. Until this happens, believers may accept the fact that change is needed, but still fail to commit to that change.

2. Lack of Depth. Jesus explained that some people hear the word and receive it with joy, but fall away at the first sign of tribulation or persecution.[7] Theirs is a fair weather faith. They have understanding enough to know that the gospel is the answer to their problem of estrangement from God. What they lack is the depth and endurance to hang on to that truth when others start betraying and rejecting them for being faithful to that word.

The same kind of thing can happen in the area of personal sanctification as well.

When the Holy Spirit reveals himself to believers, there are always things that the believers must change in order to live up to their newly recognized image of Christ. Their unbelieving friends will not appreciate their new commitments because they are not privy to the revelation.

Even other believers may be offended and seek to hinder them from taking that step. All people resist change, and usually do not appreciate it when our friends change. Cooperating with the Holy Spirit causes interpersonal problems. Some people that the believers thought they could count on to support them in your quest for godliness will desert them.

Growth is change. Spiritual growth puts down roots and enables believers to stay fixed to their faith while all those changes take place. As time progresses, believers become more mature and stable, while still being as faithful and faith-filled as ever. That is depth.

3. Presence of Distractions. If the enemy cannot hinder spiritual growth by keeping believers ignorant or by keeping their faith shallow, he will seek to hinder it by keeping them distracted. Jesus summarized the means of the distraction: the “cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches.”[8] The tempter uses either their anxiety about problems of the present or their lusts for the possessions of the present. Either way, the enemy seeks to get them to forfeit their eternal rewards by making them concentrate on the now.

Although the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives now, his focus is always on

preparing them for a glorified eternity. People come to God just as they are and he accepts them by his mercy. He accepts them just as they are because it is only he who can transform them by his grace. They see their lives as empty fields and wonder how they can ever glorify God with those lives. He sees beyond the empty fields and is already celebrating the abundant harvest. With joy the Holy Spirit superintends the process because he can see beyond the things that distract. They see thorns, he sees thrones.

For believers, to cooperate with the Holy Spirit is to catch a glimpse of what he sees. Believers need to look beyond the thorns – because they will be there until the glorification at Christ’s second coming. They need to see the end product, and realize how significant it is.

Believers are often trapped in a life that is possessed by their problems (the cares of this world) or by their desire for possessions (the deceitfulness of riches). It is very difficult to concentrate on God and his ways when pain and want and worry keep presenting themselves and demanding attention. The lure of things and experiences is so strongly felt that believers sometimes forget about their desire for godliness. It becomes like a distant dream.

Sanctification reverses that disposition. Believers are still affected by their problems, and still want things. But the lust for life eternal has gained prominence. They want so much to be what they will be that they are more and more willing to set aside the passions of the present in order to grasp their future – their destiny.

godliness and the law

The Galatian troublers taught them that sanctification is a matter of conforming to what the law prescribes. That is not how sanctification works. The law reveals what believers should not do. Sanctification is about what they will do. The law is about their potential for failure. The Holy Spirit wants them to see their potential for success. The law is about limits – revealing what happens when those limits are transgressed. The Holy Spirit invites believers to look into a future as limitless as the life he promises. The law is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It is all about prohibition. The Holy spirit offers the tree of life. He is all about abundant and eternal provision.

So the Galatian troublers were barking up the wrong tree. They were presenting a scheme that pretended to offer hope – but offered the same hopelessness that the Jews had experienced before John the Baptist introduced them to their Messiah.

Jesus did not base his offers of life on obedience to the law. He based them on faith in himself and acceptance of the Holy Spirit:

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.[9]

It was not the commandments and traditions of the past that would change the lives of believers. It was the person and work of the Holy Spirit, transforming believers into God’s new sons. In other words, the Holy Spirit works his glorification from the future, backwards into the present. His presence in their lives is a guarantee of what is to come, because he is already there.

The law is holy, and righteous and good, but it is not their eternal destiny. It was their temporary “guardian until Christ came.”[10] Now that Christ’s death has paid the penalty for their sins, and the Holy Spirit has come into their lives for the purpose of their sanctification, going to the law as a means of gaining godliness is futility.

godliness and the Spirit

Godliness can be achieved by all Christians. The fruit of the Spirit can be manifested in their lives. It starts with surrendering to the Holy Spirit. It is his fruit, not theirs. All that they can achieve of themselves is the “works of the flesh.”[11] These are:

works of the flesh 

The Holy Spirit produces fruit in believers by replacing the inclination toward these works of the flesh and substituting himself. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of:

  • love,
  • joy,
  • peace,
  • patience,
  • kindness,
  • goodness,
  • faithfulness,
  • gentleness,
  • self-control[12]

Manifesting the fruit is not where works take over from grace. The fruit of the Spirit is God working by grace to change believers who surrender their own inclinations and passively let the Holy Spirit rule. Just as people cannot be saved apart from what Christ did for them by grace, so people cannot be sanctified without accepting the Holy Spirit’s fruit – given by grace. That fruit in one word is godliness.

The Spirit of Love

Because the Holy Spirit is love, he takes believers’ inclinations toward the sexual sins and replaces them with himself. Believers are free to invest themselves in the lives of others without selfishness or fear of hypocrisy. They can now see others not as competitors, but as people they have the privilege to show love to. That cuts the head off their carnal inclinations toward the social sins. The Holy Spirit within them invests himself in the lives of others. He does not compete with them. He shows believers how to love like that.

The Holy Spirit’s primary love is God himself. He accepts no substitutes, and seeks only the best for the Father, God and the Son, Jesus Christ. For that reason, he loathes the spiritual sins of idolatry and sorcery. he influences believers to reject those sins and to love God wholeheartedly.

The Spirit of Joy

Because the Holy Spirit’s roots go down to the deepest depths, he is not affected by the things that steal joy from people. In Jesus’ parable, the seeds of the word fall on rocky ground and are immediately received with joy. But as soon as tribulation and persecution arises, the joy falls away, and so does the one who felt it. The Holy spirit is rock-solid. His godliness is not affected by the changes that take place in this world. He is above them. He is above temptations. He can help believers overcome them, so that they do not lose their joy.

The Spirit of Peace

Because the Holy Spirit is not affected by the temptations to the social sins, he can help believers overcome their animosity toward others. Because he is the Spirit of holiness, he is the complete picture of health and wholeness described by the Hebrew word for peace: shalom. He invites them to receive of himself in exchange for their brokenness and emptiness. He is peace.

The Spirit of Patience

Being outside of the time sphere that defines them, the Holy Spirit does not experience the impatience they sometimes feel. He can be patient with them because he sees them already as they will be. The fact that they are not yet completely glorified does not bother him in the least. Believers can catch a glimpse of that future as well, and it can change them. All of the works of the flesh are motivated by a lack of awareness of eternity. Once they have a clear view of their destiny, the temptation to make things happen to meet their selfish needs seems ridiculous. Knowing that time is their friend helps them to keep a proper perspective. It produces patience.

The Spirit of Kindness

All of the works of the flesh are selfishly motivated. The sexual sins and the sins of excess seek pleasure for the self. The spiritual sins seek power for the self. The social sins seek self-dominance over all others. The Holy Spirit is master over all things, yet he is so selfless he does not even have a proper name. He expends himself on others so much that he rarely even manifests physically. When he does, it is as a symbol of peace (like a dove) or power (like fire), doing good in the lives of others. He is the Spirit of kindness. To be kind is to be constructively good. It is to invest oneself in the welfare and for the benefit of others. Christians who are filled with the Spirit can be most often seen helping others.

The Spirit of Goodness

The works of the flesh are personal choices that lead to harming others. Their extremes lead to the violence of rape, murder, child sacrifice, and death by drug overdose. The Holy Spirit is about helping others, not harming them. He invests his life in their welfare, and seeks to have a positive influence. He is the Spirit of goodness.

The Spirit of Faithfulness

The works of the flesh turn people away from God. What young Christian has not felt the frustration of sexual urges along with the embarrassment of knowing how ungodly those thoughts are? People who seek to feed those thoughts and impulses through pornography and promiscuity find themselves running away from God as fast as possible. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of faithfulness. He prompts people to be faithful to God and to each other in all areas of their lives. He creates faithful eyes who know where not to look and faithful hands who know what not to touch.

The Spirit of Gentleness

God’s Spirit is capable of the strongest actions, but he is usually found not in the severe storm or earthquake or fire. Instead, he manifests as a gentle whisper. He is the Spirit of gentleness. He does not force his way or will upon others. He is considerate.

The Spirit of Self-Control

Many are afraid of the gifts of the Holy Spirit because they associate those gifts with the loss of self-control. He is not to blame for people losing control of their emotions and doing unexplainable things in his name. True, the Pentecost believers were thought to have gotten themselves drunk because they appeared to have released control of their dignity. But Peter explained that they had surrendered their lives and tongues to God, who was doing a work of grace among them.[13] As the book of Acts continued, it became clear that it was the enemies of the gospel who were losing control and in danger of rioting.[14] Wherever the Holy Spirit went, the Spirit’s holiness went. That turned warriors into people of peace. It turned thieves into hard workers. It turned passionate persecutors into apostles.

The lure of the law

Paul condemned the false gospel being taught by the troublers in Galatia because it sought to replace the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. Legalism would have believers exchange their commitment-love for a cheap substitute – perhaps tithing or a shallow fellowship (just showing up). Love means more than not hating. The law can lure people into an almost-love, which is never enough.

The law can also steal the believer’s joy. If their commitment to God could be expressed by obeying certain external rules, believers would always be comparing themselves. since there would always be someone capable of doing more, the acts of righteousness would only lead to discouragement. Peace would be like sand, sliding through our open hands. Believers would be patient only up to the 490th infraction,[15] then all bets would be off.

The lure of the law would cause believers to judge their own acts of kindness by comparing them with others. Goodness would be demonstrated only when others are watching. Faithfulness would be shown only to those who were deemed worthy of it. Life in the Holy Spirit would be limited to what the current commentaries say it should be. The whole of the Christian life would be a series of carnal substitutes, taking over the lives of people not surrendered to the Holy Spirit.

The backwards infusion

If believers today were capable of looking through a lens that enabled them to see what they would look like in a million years or so, they would see the fruit of the Spirit. It would not look strange to them. They would see themselves acting quite naturally, and everything they thought and did would be holy. Their lives would be the lives of normal children of God. They would not think it strange that they felt no impulse to steal, or murder, or lie. It would not enter their mind to act that way. Those would not be the normal things for them to desire or accomplish. Those actions would not be them.

The Holy Spirit is there in that time, a million or so years from now. He takes that godliness, granted by the grace of God, and brings it back with him to the now. He is infusing believers now with the godliness they will know fully then. As a result, when they love, it is really them loving. The Holy spirit is not forcing them to go against their will. He is merely allowing them to see the potential they will have for eternity to love as he loves.

They manifest all of the fruit of the Spirit because the fruit are attributes of their spirits. They do not always feel those attributes, because they are not yet where they will be when their glorification is complete. They will, however, grow deeper and deeper into the godliness that is their destiny. Jesus has chosen them to go and bear abiding fruit.[16] The Holy Spirit is the producer who brings all of God’s resources to bear in order to make that happen.

[1] Galatians 1:6.

[2] Galatians 1:9.

[3] Matthew 13:4.

[4] Matthew 13:5-6.

[5] Matthew 13:7.

[6] Matthew 13:19.

[7] Matthew 13:21.

[8] Matthew 13:22.

[9] John 7:37-39.

[10] Galatians 3:24.

[11] Galatians 5:19-21.

[12] Galatians 5:22-23.

[13] Acts 2:15-21.

[14] Acts 19:40.

[15] a reference to Jesus’ instructions about forgiving (Matthew 18:22).

[16] John 15:16.

Author: Jefferson Vann

Jefferson Vann is pastor of Piney Grove Advent Christian Church in Delco, North Carolina. You can contact him at -- !

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