As we enter into this quarter’s lesson, there’s a danger or becoming overly introspective and individualistic, so before we get to looking at ourselves in relation to the fruit of the Spirit, let’s first make sure we understand God’s role. In the Teacher’s Guide for this lesson, the following “key concept for spiritual growth” is presented:

The fruit of the Spirit in a Christian’s life is a result of God’s direct action and the Christian’s surrender to His will.

As always, God works in unity of purpose through His trinitarian being. Within the analogy of the vine, we understand that God the Son is the vine into which we are grafted, through the cultivation of God the Father, as evidenced by the fruit of God the Spirit.

It is into this amazing relationship that we are invited, and through which the Trinitarian relationship gives glory back to God the Father, for Jesus tells us in John 15 that this is His “Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”  But this is only possible, we are told, by abiding in Christ Jesus, so what does it mean to “abide”? The following are the primary dictionary definitions:

  1. to remain; continue; stay.
  2. to have one’s abode; dwell; reside.
  3. to continue in a particular condition, attitude, relationship, etc.; last.

Notice that this is an action word. While we may think of “remaining” or “staying” as passive, the last definition helps us to understand the active nature of “continuing,” particularly when we think that this is in a dynamic relationship with Christ. If I do not continue to grow and be pruned by God, I am liable to fall away, rot, or wither away. Note that live plants continually have new growth — they do not simply remain as they are. To this end, we should also revisit Sunday’s lesson, in which 2 Corinthians 5:17 reminded us that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Too often, we use the excuse that we are born and “shapen in iniquity” (Psalm 51:5), ignoring the fact that if we are born again, we are new creations, and the former sinful nature no longer reigns.

And so we come to the part of a tree being known by its fruit…to the distinction the lesson makes between personal growth and discipleship. Personal growth seems to me the individualistic danger warned of at the outset of this post, whereas discipleship is in relationship to the One the disciple follows. Think about what it means to call oneself a Christian. This is particularly clear in American Sign Language, where the sign is the composite of signs for “Christ” and the “person” ending, literally translated “Christ-person.” Looking at your fruit, do people see a follower of Christ? A “Christ-one”?

Finally, the question remains, “have you received the Holy Spirit?” We tend to shy away from such questions and come up with all sorts of qualifying answers, but you either have or you have not. You are either a fruit-bearing branch to be pruned, or a barren branch to be cut off and consumed in the fire. As in all things, Christ’s example is instructive, in that He received the Holy Spirit at baptism, empowering Him for His public ministry. Did you receive the Spirit at baptism? Does your ministry show it? As the lesson brings out, the outgrowth is natural from the “being good” that is only possible by abiding in Christ, and not to be confused with a works salvation of “doing good.”