Robert Griffith | 22 January 2023
Robert Griffith
22 January 2023

 

So much social media interaction is shaped by conversations about what people should or should not do or how people should or should not think. This seems to be even worse within Christian social media. What impact does this have? Do our exhortations change things? We know that we are to reflect Christ, but do things like “seven steps to being more loving” actually make us more loving? And if not, what is the alternative?

“You ought to.” “You need to.” “You’ve got to.” “You’re supposed to.” “You’d better.” Do these sorts of exhortations sound familiar? They should because they reflect the prevalent western Christian belief that a person’s character can be made more Christ-like, more fruitful, simply by trying harder. They reflect the frequently held assumption that any lack of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, any deficiency of love, joy, peace, or patience, is primarily the result of a lack of effort on our part to work at producing the fruit. They reflect the misguided view that the problem in people’s lives is their behaviour.

The ‘try harder’ solution is popular because it’s simple and seems so common-sensical. Just let people know what they’re supposed to do and motivate them to do it. It’s that simple. Not only that, but the ‘try harder’ solution often seems to produce immediate results. If exhorted in the right way, using the right motivation, many people will respond by changing their behaviour, at least in the short term.

In the long term, however, the ‘try harder’ solution never works. While willpower plays a role in overcoming behavioural problems, it cannot itself change fundamental aspects of a person’s character. For example, willpower alone cannot make an unloving person into a loving person or a depressed person into a joyful person.

Another way of saying this is that trying hard to fulfill an ‘ought’ cannot in and of itself produce the fruit of the Spirit. We cannot simply will ourselves to be genuinely loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. We can try to act this way, but we cannot simply will ourselves to be this way.

The fruit of the Spirit is not first and foremost about how we act; it is about how we are. It is not about our behaviour, it is about our heart, our soul, our innermost disposition. As such, the fruit of the Spirit is not something we can or should strive to produce by our own effort. The fruit of the Spirit is not a goal we can and must seek to attain. Indeed, it is called the fruit of the Spirit precisely because it is the fruit of the Spirit and not the product of our own effort.

So, how do we ‘grow’ in the fruit of the Spirit? The answer is that we can’t. Rather, the Spirit grows the fruit in us. Again, it’s the fruit of the Spirit. So how does the Spirit grow Christ’s fruit in us? This happens when we cease our striving, learn how to rest in Christ, and allow the Spirit to transform us by God’s grace. As we rest in the love, joy, peace, and patience of Christ toward us, and as the Holy Spirit makes all of this real to us, we become more Christlike, more loving, joyful, peaceful, and patient. As we behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, we are transformed into this glory (2 Cor. 3:17-4:6).

Let’s get off the ‘do more, try harder treadmill’ once and for all and rest in the presence of Christ as He transforms us from the inside out.