Life in the Spirit Isn't Just 'Doing' Differently, But 'Being' Different

by Jared C. Wilson October 22, 2018

It is a typical scene in countless households in our day. After dinner time, the kids have wandered off to their rooms, and Mom is staring down a sink-load of dishes while Dad snuggles into his easy chair, remote control in hand. Mom isn’t just tired of washing the dishes every night. She’s tired of nobody seeming to notice. She’s tired of nobody offering to do it for her. So she decides to broach the subject with her husband.

“Do you think you could wash the dishes this time?” she calls sweetly from the living room door.

Dad tries not to look too inconvenienced by the request. “Um, sure,” he replies. “I’ll do it in the morning before I head out. I just want to relax tonight.”

Mom sighs. “I want to relax tonight too. But I won’t be able to relax until the dishes are done. I don’t like to leave them overnight.”

“I know. I’ll do them. You don’t have to worry about that. I’ll just do them in the morning.”

“I would like you to do them tonight, please.”

They are at an impasse. But it’s not really about the schedule or divvying up of household chores. It’s about honor, really. And appreciation. This man’s wife isn’t really all that concerned that he wash the dishes; she wants him to want to wash the dishes, to be the kind of person who looks after her and knows what would serve her rather than first thinking of himself.

And of course, both husband and wife want the other to think this way. But how do we get there?

You have likely discovered in your own life, whether you’re married or single, whether you have kids or not, that nagging doesn’t really work. The best nagging can accomplish is reluctant behavior modification. But what we really want is not for people to begrudgingly do certain tasks, but be the kind of people who don’t have to be asked, right? If nagging worked, it wouldn’t be called nagging!

Behavior modification versus heart change is exactly the kind of dynamic at play in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, especially when he gets to the bit on the fruit of the Spirit in chapter 5. In this session, we’re going to see his teaching on grace, works, and personal transformation to obedience in the light of the gospel. There’s no nagging in sight!

What does that dish-burdened wife really want to see in her husband? Not dutiful acceptance of burdensome chores. No, what she really wants to see is a man living according to the reality that he is not a single man deciding at any given moment when to act married, but that he is “one flesh” with his wife, that he is united to her in covenant, and that he should therefore act according to that reality. To want to wash the dishes is what would honor and cherish his wife, and therefore to want to wash the dishes is how a husband acts like a husband.

It is a spiritual principle for all of life that doing flows from being.

That is, we always behave according to who or what we think we are at any given moment. You can’t get away from this concept in the pages of Scripture. Biblically speaking, this means that when we are embracing our identity in Christ, the power of Christ enables us to live accordingly. This means that the power of our obedience and the source of our holiness is not our own efforts, but the effort of the Spirit applying to our lives the finished work of Christ. It’s God who works in you to will and to work (Phil. 2:12-13). Your good works were ordained beforehand (Eph. 2:10). The same gospel that empowers our conversion empowers our sanctification (Titus 2:11-12, 1 Cor. 15:1-2, Rom. 8:30). It is Jesus who both authors our faith and perfects it (Heb. 12:2). It is God alone who is faithful both to start the work in us and to complete it (Phil. 1:6).

Of course, it’s not that we don’t expend any energy. It is simply that the energy comes from God’s Spirit (Col. 1:29). Here is how Paul explains the source of righteousness:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit. 26 We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.  (Gal. 5:22-26)

The first thing to notice is how this list of Spiritual fruit differs from the previous list of “works of the flesh” (5:19-21). Notice that the works of the flesh are more generally just that—works. This second list, though, the fruit of the Spirit, largely consists of what we might call qualities or conditions. If we can take anything away from a blunt comparison of the lists, it might be this: the solution to bad things we do isn’t good things to do but good things to be.

Look, I know religious people who don’t have sex, don’t get drunk, don’t see R-rated movies, but who are loveless, joyless, impatient, unkind, and ungentle. So there we have the primary problem with so many approaches to Christian discipleship—they are predicated primarily on doing different rather than becoming different.

But because Paul calls these things to become the “fruit of the Spirit,” he’s showing us that these are things the Spirit produces. We aren’t passive. But we aren’t the prime mover. If we have repented of our sin and placed our faith in Jesus Christ—decisions also empowered by the Holy Spirit—the Holy Spirit is obliged to bear the fruit of these things in our life.

Now we’ve got an entirely new way of looking at the law, at God’s commands and expectations. We are set free from the condemnation of the law to the spirit of the law. The Spirit is determined that we become holy. In this way, “Be holy as I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16) is not just a command, but also a promise. We are gifted the holiness into which we have been called.

This in itself is good news! If you’re a Christian you will obey! The Spirit of God living inside of us ensures it. We will bear good fruit. This doesn’t make us sinless. But it does make us sure of spiritual growth and it does make us more conscious and convicted over our sin.

This gospel-driven way of living means that we ourselves are The Gospel Project! And it means that living lives that demonstrate that God has changed us means constantly acknowledging that this change has not come through our own efforts, but the Spirit of Christ working in us. We don’t get the glory. He does.

In Paul’s short letter to the Galatians, he uses up a lot of ink rebuking the church for giving a platform to the Judaizers who have tried to piggyback legal burdens in on the gospel. In insisting that circumcision, for example, is necessary for salvation, these false teachers have essentially said, “Yes, grace, but . . .” And any time you add a “but” to grace, you disgrace grace (Rom. 11:6). So Paul is heartbroken over the way the Galatians have opened themselves up to a rather insidious form of legalism. This is what it means, in fact, to fall away from grace (Gal. 5:4).

As Paul develops his rebuke, he covers the biblical history of the covenant to show that he’s not making this gospel stuff up. And then he wants to demonstrate that while the gospel is distinct from the law, it is not antithetical to the law. He wants us all to see that God is not unconcerned about our obedience unto holiness. He just wants us to see that behavioral obedience is both worthless and pointless apart from a heart full of grace. Paul is helping us to understand that the kind of living that honors God best is the kind that comes by walking in the Spirit of the gospel.