return to the main player
Return to the Main Player
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player


Galatians 5:22  (ID: 3178)

If we understand the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 as a list of character traits we must work at developing, we may quickly become discouraged. In this message, Alistair Begg explains that the growth of spiritual fruit within us is evidence of God’s transforming power in a believer’s life, not the result of effort that we expend. As we apply our hearts and minds to the means of grace He has designed, such as Bible study and prayer, we gradually and continually grow in godliness.

Series Containing This Sermon

The Fruit of the Spirit

Galatians 5:22–23 Series ID: 27601

Encore 2018

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 25909

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me to the fifth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Galatians chapter 5, and we’ll read from the sixteenth verse.

Galatians 5:16:

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”


Well, those of you who are routinely a part of things will recognize that in reading from Galatians 5, I have diverted from Ephesians. We came to the end of Ephesians chapter 2 a couple of weeks ago, but I want us for the foreseeable future, these next couple of months, to focus in a different way and to focus on Galatians 5:22—a familiar verse which reads, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Almost inevitably, you find yourself asking the question, “Well, why this, and why now?” So let me tell you: in that concluding study in Ephesians chapter 2, we noted the fact that Paul says that the Church universal (big C) and the local church (if you like, small c) is the place on earth where God lives, so that when people encounter those who are gathered in this way, they have the opportunity to see that this is the dwelling place of God with man—not exclusively so, but certainly so. And we noted in that final study that since this is true—that since God is building a temple that is emblematic of his glory and of his majesty—that what he does within the framework of the church (local church) is work in such a way that the things that are found outside of the church, in terms of cultural elements, will be radically different inside.

So, for example, in our culture this morning, the divisions that are represented in the week that has passed are divisions of race and of class and of status. In the local church, these things are dismantled by God’s grace. Therefore, within the framework of a local congregation, the things that are routinely encountered in our culture are not to be manifested among us. Paul is going to go on, when we come back to Ephesians, and say expressly that he is praying for the congregation at Ephesus, that they may be “rooted and grounded in love,”[1] so that the pervasive impact of the love of God may be almost tangible among them.

Now, given that that is the case—and this is the progression of my thought—I began to wonder whether if it were a crime to be such a congregation; so, if it were a crime to be a congregation where the love of God is so manifest among us that these barriers and boundaries and divisions of culture are eradicated. “If it were a crime,” I found myself saying, “I wonder if there’s enough evidence at Parkside for us to be convicted?” I mean, would they come in, investigate, and say, “Yes, this place is going to have to be punished, because they are dismantling the very structures of culture as we know them.”

Now, that’s fairly easy to do, because it’s in generic, it’s in corporate terms. But of course, congregations are made up of individuals. And so the circle got tighter around me in my thinking, because it’s impossible to ask the question generically without facing it personally, privately. And so, one is confronted by this question: “Am I, in every way, making the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ attractive?”

You remember when Paul writes to Titus, he says, “I want you to teach the congregation there in Crete not to be like the surrounding culture. I want you to teach them how important it is to be good.”[2] And he comes to “good” and “good” and “goodness” and “good” again and again. And he says, “It’s vitally important that this runs through the whole framework—it happens in the family life, it happens in employers and employees, it happens within the structure of the state and politics and so on—in order that in every way we might make the gospel attractive.” Or, as it is paraphrased by Kenneth Taylor in The Living Bible, the question is: “Does my character make people want to believe the gospel?”

Now, that is the question. It’s not the question, “Does my ability to articulate the gospel make people want to believe it?” That’s a fair question. “Does my ability to be an apologist for the gospel and for the truth of the Bible make people want to believe it?” That’s not the question. The question is, “Does my character make the gospel attractive, so as to make people wish that they actually believed it?” Because coming out of a week in which the brokenness of our culture has been seen in so much that is ugly and is disruptive, is hostile and is distasteful, we then come under the jurisdiction of the Bible, and we hear, for example, Peter writing to the scattered believers of his day, in an alien environment, and he says to them, “Now, you’re the folks who are the faith people,” he says. “You are the ones have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And you go out, and you talk with people about the nature of faith in this Jesus.” He says, “Listen to what I want you to do: make sure that you make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, with knowledge, with self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”[3] So his little paragraph actually begins with faith and ends with love.

It’s the recurring emphasis in the Epistles, whether it is John or James or Peter. The same thing is said again and again. He encourages the believers at Colossae “to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing … him” and “bearing fruit in every good work.”[4] So the attractiveness of coming into a beautiful horticultural area, where there is a fragrance in it, there is a beauty in it, there is that which just consumes you in its loveliness—Paul says, in actual fact, that is the purpose of God in relationship to the people of God. Which then, of course, brought me to our verse, which we’re going to use to study over these weeks, Galatians 5:22, providing as it does a picture of practical godliness.

You know, people say, “What does it look like to be holy?” This is what it looks like. “What does it look like to be godly?” This is what it looks like. “What does it look like to be Christlike?” This is what it looks like.

Now, this, of course, is in keeping with the whole of the Bible. In the Old Testament, God describes Israel, his people, as a vine that he has brought out of Egypt and cares for in the wilderness.[5] The psalmist begins, he opens the book of Psalms with the one who “is like a tree planted by [the rivers] of water, that [brings forth] its fruit in its season.”[6] Jesus says to his disciples, “I am the vine, and you are the branches. And if a branch does not bear fruit, it is cut off, and it is thrown away, and it’s burned.”[7] And, quite challengingly, he says to them, “The true disciple of mine will be recognizable by her fruit, by his fruit.”[8] So we won’t be recognizable first of all as a result of the things we say but as a result of the evident fruitfulness in our life. Well, what kind of fruit? Well, we just read of it, didn’t we? Love and joy, peace, patience, kindness, and so on. It’s very challenging, isn’t it?

Now, in light of that, let me just make a number of statements that you can search the Scriptures and ensure that I’m telling you the truth.

Fruit Is a Consequence of New Life

First thing that we need to notice about this fruit is that it is a consequence of our having been brought to faith in Jesus. It is a consequence. All the way through the letter of Galatians, Paul is making sure that the readers understand the wonder of what it means to be in Christ. He is addressing those who are suggesting that the work of Christ needs to be supplemented by the addition of external factors that are expressed classically in circumcision. We needn’t go there now. But Paul has made it clear from the very beginning that this exhortation and this encouragement is in light of the fact that those to whom he writes are, according to 1:4, those who have been delivered: Jesus has given “himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age.” In 4:5, it is those who have been redeemed and have “receive[d] the adoption of sons.”[9] In chapter 5, it is those who have been set free in the Lord Jesus Christ.[10] Previously, 4:8, we were enslaved to these things; we are now no longer enslaved.

It’s very, very important that we get this: that it is a consequence of the wonder of God’s grace to us in Jesus, so that this fruit is fruit. It is not artificial. This is not plastic. This is not a Christmas tree. We understand a Christmas tree, where you attach things, they look attractive for a little while, but they’re not real, there is no life in them, and so they eventually fade away. That is not the picture. No, this is fruit which emerges as a result of life. What life? The life of the Lord Jesus Christ implanted in us by the Holy Spirit. Verse 24 of our chapter: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires,” recognizing all that is involved in being converted. So the fruit is not produced by us; it is produced in us. It is organic; it is not mechanical.

Now, let me just pause and drive this home, because it is very important. It is clearly possible—it is clearly possible—for a person interested in religion or concerned about these things to create something of an outward change in one’s habits without ever having experienced an inward change in one’s heart. All right? An outward change in habit without an inward change in heart. If that is your experience, this whole attempt at Christianity on your part must be frustrating you beyond comprehension, because you’re left now simply endeavoring to attach another ornament to the tree of your life. And it is frustrating because it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because it can’t work. Because the life that produces the fruit is the life of Christ implanted within the believer.

Remember, in Ephesians, he says, “And this was true of you, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and you believed it, and you were sealed in him by the Holy Spirit.”[11] He’s describing what had happened when the lights went on in the hearts and minds in many of these people, and they said, “Oh, I get it now! It’s not about my endeavoring to do this to put myself right with God. It is the wonder of what Christ has done in order to reconcile me to God, and I rest in the provision of this reconciliation.”

Now, the New Testament consistently warns of the danger of deceiving ourselves in this respect and calls for us to examine ourselves, to see if we are in the faith.[12] Now, you say, “Well, I don’t like to do that.” Well, I don’t mind whether you do or you don’t. This is what it says! Two Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves”—he’s writing to the Corinthians—“to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test.”

As Luther puts it, it is faith alone that saves, but the faith that saves is not alone. Or, in more contemporary terms, as I’ve heard Tim Keller say, “We are not saved by fruit but by faith—but not fruitless faith.” “We are not saved by fruit but by faith—but not fruitless faith.” How do you know that the plant is alive? Because of the fruit! Otherwise, it’s an indication of death.

The life that produces fruit is the life of Christ implanted within the believer.

So that’s the first and most important, isn’t it? That this fruit… Because it’s very easy to go to a church where you will get a series on the fruit of the Spirit which essentially goes like this: “Try and be a little more loving. Try and be a little more joyful. Do be a little more patient. You’re such a pain in the neck,” and so on. And it’s just a great chronicle of despair. You go out and you go, “I tried my best, and I can’t do it! I’ve done it fifty times. I did the thing; it doesn’t work.” Well, no, because there’s no life! You see, we can only work out what the Spirit of God works in. And that’s the test: Is there any fruit? Examine yourself and see! Don’t listen to yourself talk. Examine yourself! It’s challenging.

Growth Is Evidence of the Gospel at Work

Secondly, growth in this regard—growth of fruitfulness—is an evidence of the transforming power of the gospel; that the work which God begins in us he brings along the line to completion. Chapter 2 of Galatians: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live … I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and [who] gave himself for me”[13]—so that we recognize that the evidences here are an indication of the fact of God’s goodness to us.

I know very little about plants. I’m in very dangerous territory this morning. But I do know a couple of things. I do know that hyacinth bulbs are planted in the autumn, and they bloom in the spring. I know that because my grandmother used to plant them all the time. She’d place them under a bed in one of the bedrooms. I don’t know why she did that. But it was always very exciting to see my grandmother crawling under the bed like that, and me with her. And we’d placed them there, and I was tempted all the time to go crawl under again to see if anything at all was happening. And most of the time, if one did, there was nothing happening that I could see. It was taking time. And so the work of God within us to produce fruit is as a result of something that has happened instantaneously, whereby he has regenerated us by the power of his Spirit. But the production of that fruit is something that then takes place continuously and takes place often quietly and in an unhurried way and in a process that is often lengthy.

I say that because some of us are aware of the fact that we are not as fruitful as we might be, and we need to look to these things, and then we need at the one hand to be encouraged by the promise that this will be produced and then, perhaps, to be patient with ourselves. There are seasons in our souls. There are periods where it would appear that nothing is happening; it’s wintertime for our souls. The springtime comes, there are shoots, and so it is. But the growth is the evidence of the transforming power of the gospel.

The Fruit of the Spirit Is Singular

The third thing to notice is that this fruit is singular. It’s singular. You’ll notice that if you look at the text: “[For] the fruit of the Spirit is…” not “The fruits of the Spirit are…” It is one fruit. This is in contrast to spiritual gifts. You know, when Paul writes about spiritual gifts, he says gifts are apportioned to the church in all multivarious ways.[14] You remember, he asks, you know, “Do all do this? No. Do all do that? No.” So that God gives gifts to the church in order that together we might become all that he wants for us to be. All the gifts are not shared by all alike. But in relationship to the fruit, no, it’s different. Because these nine graces, if you like, of Christian character together form one indivisible fruit of the Spirit.

And this is important to realize as well. Because some of us are temperamentally able to identify more with certain elements than others. Someone’s just a nice person, just generally kind. If you weren’t a Christian, you’d still be kind. You’ve always been kind of kind. And someone’s gentle. And so you say, “Well, I have the gentle one, but I don’t have the other one. And somebody else can compensate for me there.” No. No. John Stott puts it perfectly when he says the Spirit of God is not in the business of making lopsided Christians.[15] In other words, he does not produce love without patience, nor does he produce joy without goodness. You can mix them up any way you choose. In other words, the work of the Spirit of God in the child of God is to create the full-orbed reality of this Christlikeness that is seen in this way.

“The Fruit of the Spirit Is Love”

Now, at the head of the list—and to this we need to come, ’cause time passes us by—at the head of the list, and understandably so, is love. The fruit of the Spirit is first of all love.

The outpouring of the love of God is the story of the Bible.

Love, if you like, is not so much a trait or a characteristic as it is the inner disposition out of which all these other things flow, so that true love is seen in joyfulness and in patience and in so on. Paul says that the love of God has been poured out by the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian. That’s Romans chapter 5, isn’t it? “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”[16] It’s a wonderful picture, isn’t it? It doesn’t say that it has been injected through a narrow vein. It doesn’t say that it has been eked in. It says that it has been lavished in. It has been poured out upon us. And this is the work of the Spirit of God. As a child in Scotland, we used to sing about the love of God,

God’s love is like the sunshine.
It covers land and sea.
And it fills my heart with gladness
Just to know that God loves me.

And the outpouring of the love of God is the story of the Bible. It is the unique nature of God himself. God is both light and God is love. He is more than that, but he is not less than that. The source is in God. The emphasis that comes from God is in the self-giving of his only Son— the story of amazing good news. And this is lavished upon us.

And the strange and yet wonderful thing about it is this: that when you and I think about love and about loving somebody else, if we are deep-down honest, more often than not, our expressions of love are directly related to the attractiveness or the worthiness of the object of our affection. So, we will express love because we find the person attractive or because we believe they are they are worthy somehow or another. But that is not the love of God. You remember in Deuteronomy 7, where you have that immense thought that “God did not set his love upon you,” says Moses, “because you were greater or bigger or more significant. No! The Lord loved you because he loved you.”[17] Well, what does that mean? Well, it means exactly what it says: that God’s love has no regard to our merits. Has no regard to our merits.

So, again, the things that mark division amongst people in communities are often directly related to status, and to merits, and to education, and to achievements, and to finance, and to background, and to whatever else it is. Well, is there a place where those things are dismantled and neutralized, where the very things that we use as the platform for our own self-aggrandizement or for our horrible divisions with one another is just completely set apart? Yes, the answer is, amongst the people of God! That is what it’s supposed to be. Because the love of God towards us that is lavished upon us is without any merit. And it is that love to us which is then to flow through us. I don’t think we’ve sung this in a hundred years, but—and maybe we haven’t sung it at all—but we used to sing it at Edinburgh, a long time ago:

I love you with the love of the Lord,
[Yes,] I love you with the love of the Lord,
[For] I see in you the glory of my King,
And I love you with the love of the Lord.[18]

There’s great wisdom in that.

Where does this love come from? This is supernatural love. And this love is a love expressed through us that is both Godward and manward. All the way through the Old Testament, God is to be loved with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and we are to love our neighbor as ourself. And that, Jesus says, is the summation of the great commandment. In fact, our love for our fellow man is the validation of our expressed love for God. This is what makes this very hard. I can convince myself that I am very interested in loving everybody while I’m just driving in my car by myself, until I have someone I have to love. Then it gets real hard at that point. I can convince myself that I have a great love for God: “I have sang this song with great, you know, great effervescence. I’ve said…” Yeah, but what about…?

You see, the validation of genuine Christian experience vis-à-vis the love of God is actually seen in everyday working clothes. “For anyone,” says John, “who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has[n’t] seen. And he has given … this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”[19] I mean, there’s no middle ground here, is there?

What Is Love?

So what, then, is this love that is both Godward and manward? Just a couple of things as we move to a close.

The nature of this love is that, first of all, it takes the initiative. It takes the initiative. The love of God is an initiative-taking love. In fact, genuine love always takes the initiative. You and I have been involved in an argument: love is the one that takes the initiative. Whether you were wrong or right or what you were, love should take the initiative. It doesn’t always, but it should.

Secondly, this love cannot ignore the needs of a brother. Cannot ignore the needs of a brother. “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”[20] You see the challenge that comes here? Here you are, and you say that you love God very much, and you’re a very God-loving community, and your church, and you sing these songs, and you’re very concerned, and you do the Bible study, and you’re in the life group, and you know a lot about the Bible and various Christian doctrine and everything else, and the Bible says, “Yeah, and how how’s the love thing going?” How’s the love thing going? Is there a fragrance about our community that would allow somebody to walk in out of the Republican National Convention in a few days and go, “What’s wrong with those people?” Because it would actually be “What’s right with these people?” See? That’s the challenge.

It takes the initiative. It doesn’t ignore the needs of the needy. Thirdly, it forgives, with or without apologies for the wrong done to it. It forgives, with or without apologies for the wrong done to it. This is really saying the same thing from the other side. It’s not uncommon for us to say, “Well, I’m prepared to forgive if… provided that… And she can jolly well come in and apologize to start with! That’ll get it going. And then a few more things, and then…” Okay, so you don’t want to love the person at all. So when I say that, what I’m saying is, I don’t love God enough to love you. I don’t love God enough. Because the love that God has for me is a forgiving love that is not based on any merit in me. He came and sought me out when I wasn’t looking for him. He forgave me all my transgressions. Am I then going to hold some piddling little offense against my brother or my sister? Not if I’ve been overwhelmed by the love of God. You see, the love of God is expressed in forgiveness.

A fourth thing is that this love is not so much a question of our feelings but a matter of our will and of our action. That’s important, isn’t it? It’s not a victim of our emotions; it is a servant of our wills. Otherwise, how do we deal with exhortations to love? People say, “Well, you don’t have to exhort me to love. You don’t have to say, ‘Put on love.’” Pardon? Yes! It’s not a feeling that we feel; it’s a decision that we make, it’s an enabling we enjoy, but it’s an action that we take.

And fifthly, this love is the permanent priority of the Christian life. It’s the permanent priority of the Christian life. You say, “Well, are you going to get through the whole thing without reading our favorite passage on love?” Probably. Did you have this at your wedding? It wasn’t wrong to have it at your wedding; it’s just that it’s got nothing really to do with a wedding. First Corinthians chapter 13. It’s right in the middle of all the divisiveness of the church in Corinth. They’re arguing about what gifts were necessary, and who had them, and how it was going. And Paul says, “Well, let’s just get this thing sorted out right now. You speak with the tongues of men and angels but don’t have love? You might as well be a gong or a clanging cymbal. You have prophetic powers, and you understand the whole Bible, and you’re very knowledgeable; you have faith; you can move mountains, but no love. You’re nothing! You’re a very practical Christian. You give away all that you have. You’re prepared to deliver up your body to be burned, but you don’t have love? Nothing!”[21]

It’s quite staggering, isn’t it? You see, this love—this love—is supernatural. It’s not ours by inheritance or by temperament—you know, “His dad was a really nice guy, and he’s a nice guy too.” That may be true, but that’s not what this is about. This love is not achieved as a result of going to a course, as a result of reading a book on it, of being educated in it. And, as we’ve said, this love is not attached externally. It’s not self-generated. If it were self-generated, then it may be the occasion of pride. But it is the work of God; therefore, we’re utterly dependent.

“Oh,” says somebody, “well then, does that mean that the key to it is that you do nothing?” So, if you want the emblematic reality to be seen in you, just sit quietly and wait for it to happen. No! No! Do you remember Philippians chapter 2, where Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”?[22] That sounds like something you’re supposed to do. “For it is God who [is at work] in you, both to will and to [do of] his good pleasure.”[23]

You see, the exhortations are in light of the infusion which we experience as a result of being in Christ. There’s no doubt that we are imperfect in our fruitfulness. There is no doubt that we are a work in progress. There is no doubt that we will have to wait until the day when all sin is removed and when we are seen in the transcendent splendor of Christ. There’s no doubt about that! But in the meantime, what the Bible is saying is that with the enablement of the Spirit of God, we are to make sure that the graces which are made available to us, the traits of Christian character, are then to be put on the way you put clothes on.

We grow in the Christian life by divine grace. But it is also true that it is our duty to grow in grace.

So, Colossians, after he’s given us the first two chapters of the indicatives of what it means to be in Christ through the gospel, he then says, “[Since] then you have been raised with Christ, seek [these] things [which] are above, where Christ is, seated.”[24] It is because of your identity that you now engage in this activity. What does that involve? Well, it involves taking off your old stuff. “You once were marked by these things”—you have the same thing here in Galatians 5—“by envy, and by spite, and by licentiousness,” and by a dreadful catalog of things. “Nobody who does these things as habitual pattern of behavior will inherit the kingdom of God. But you don’t need to be concerned about that, because you’ve been placed in Christ, provided that now you recognize that you must no longer sow to these things which will appear so attractive to you, even as a Christian. Take them off, and put these on! And when you’ve been putting them on, over all of these put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”[25]

You see, we grow in the Christian life by divine grace. But it is also true that it is our duty to grow in grace. You say, “Well, that doesn’t make sense.” Well, the quality of grace is such that though it is strength from God, still, we must use it. Still, we must use it. The electricity power source comes to my home, but it doesn’t turn the toaster on until I turn the toaster on. It doesn’t turn the lights on until I use the power that is made available to me.

Now, listen as I close this. This, loved ones, is why all the things that pastors routinely talk about, sounding probably to some as if it’s just what pastors need to do to ensure job security… Right? So the pastor says, “Now, it’s very important that that you read your Bible. It’s very important that you pray. It’s very important that you’re in the fellowship of God’s people. It’s very important that you are attending routinely, regularly upon the public worship of God. It is absolutely, vitally important that you do not absent yourself from the celebration of Communion.” Aren’t those the things that the pastor says again and again?

Do you know why? Because the Holy Spirit uses means in producing the fruit in our lives. The neglect of the means impacts our fruitfulness, so that the things that he has given us in order to become the full-orbed, ripened fruit that he attractively creates for us in Jesus is impacted for good or for ill to the extent that we either embrace or stand back from the objective means. And those objective means that I have just outlined to you are then to be matched, if you like, by the subjective means. Because if you think about it, we all know that it is possible to read your Bible (“Rub-a-dub-a-dub-a-dub-dub, finished!”), we all know it is possible to say the Lord’s Prayer, we all know it’s possible to come to church, we all know it’s possible to sing the song, so that the external objective means of grace are not then benefitting us because we are not using, if you like, the subjective means.

Which are what? Well, being prepared to bow underneath the Word when it is proclaimed. Committing ourselves to thinking about what the Bible says. Committing ourselves to listening with all the ears of our hearts. Committing ourselves to questioning ourselves, so that when we read 2 Corinthians 13:5, we’re not saying, “Oh, that’s nothing to do with me! ‘Examine yourself, to see if you’re in the faith.’ I’m in the faith! Look, I just got a new Bible! I’m in the faith. I went twice last week!” No! Committing ourselves to saying, “I need to have a look here at the fruit”—admonishing my own heart, admonishing myself, sharing what’s on my heart with those who know me, and being prepared to weigh their reaction to my sharing.

Because, you see, you can’t see yourself grow. Children don’t see themselves grow. Their grandparents come from out of town and go, “Johnny, you have grown!” And Johnny says, “Have I?” You can measure it, but you don’t feel it. I know you get growing pains, whatever they are. The medics can explain later. I don’t know what that is. But you don’t feel yourself growing. You don’t go to your bed and go, “I think I’m growing right now.” So you don’t know if you’re growing!

See, the real test is not whether I think I’m growing. No, the real test is whether my wife thinks I’m growing, or whether you see I’m growing, or whether I see you’re growing in joy, in peace. I mean, we know how it goes, don’t we? We take 1 Corinthians 13, and you put your name in it. It’s the most devastating experience of a lifetime, isn’t it? “Alistair is patient. Alistair is kind. Alistair keeps no record of wrongs.” It’s like, “Whoa, this is terrible!” These are the means that God uses to prune out the dead stuff and to energize the good stuff.

Let’s pray for the churches in Cleveland to this end. We’ve already taken care of the Cavs. The Indians are on their way. The Browns we’re not even talking about. But we do have the Republican National Convention, which has all the potential for just unbelievable chaos. So let’s pray that if anybody comes into town and comes into gospel communities, that they will encounter something of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Father, help us to this end, we pray. Thank you that this is not an exhortation to pull up our socks and to do our best, but it is a reminder of the wonder of your work in us and through us, so that although we are not all that we might be, by your grace, we’re not what we once were, and that together we may be able to exhort and encourage one another in these matters. Help us to this end, we pray. For Christ’s sake. Amen.

[1] Ephesians 3:17 (ESV).

[2] Titus 3:8–9 (paraphrased).

[3] 2 Peter 1:5–7 (paraphrased).

[4] Colossians 1:10 (ESV).

[5] See Psalm 80:8.

[6] Psalm 1:3 (ESV).

[7] John 15:5–6 (paraphrased).

[8] John 15:8 (paraphrased).

[9] Galatians 4:5 (KJV).

[10] See Galatians 5:1.

[11] Ephesians 1:13 (paraphrased).

[12] See 2 Corinthians 13:5.

[13] Galatians 2:20 (ESV).

[14] See 1 Corinthians 12:28.

[15] John R. W. Stott, “The Holy Spirit and Christian Holiness,” in The Keswick Week: 1965 (London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1965), 144.

[16] Romans 5:5 (ESV).

[17] Deuteronomy 7:7–8 (paraphrased).

[18] Jim Gilbert, “I Love You with the Love of the Lord” (1977).

[19] 1 John 4:20–21 (NIV 1984).

[20] 1 John 3:17 (NIV 1984).

[21] 1 Corinthians 13:1–3 (paraphrased).

[22] Philippians 2:12 (ESV).

[23] Philippians 2:13 (ESV).

[24] Colossians 3:1 (ESV).

[25] Colossian 3:1–14 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.