Galatians 5:16-23

Being Fruitful

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. This week's sermon topic [the Lord] would have me to give you is "Being Fruitful" or "Being Abundant With Fruit." This fruit as recorded in today's passage of scripture is defined as "the fruit which the Spirit yields." This abundance is expressed by nine terms. "Love, joy, peace, tolerance, kindness, good will, sincerity, meekness, and temperance." There are nine, but for some reason or other the word "fruit" is in the singular. Like The [Japanese] New Interconfessional Version [has it, some] think that "love" is spoken of as a representative and that the eight [things] that follow it are probably included in it. Or, [the Bible] may be highlighting that each one of them are not different fruit. Whatever the case, some may say it is one, some may say they are different ones, but the fact of the matter is that it does say that [the Holy Spirit] produces all of them as one fruit [in us]. So, today I would like for us to think together about the work of the Holy Spirit who produces the fruit in us and causes us to live fruitfully, and about walking in obedience to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

The Work Of The Flesh

2. As is evident from first view, "the fruit which the Spirit yields" from verse twenty-two is contrasted over against "the works of the flesh" written just before. Please look beginning with verse nineteen. "The works of the flesh are evident. They are adultery, obscenity, lechery, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, combativeness, jealousy, anger, self-centeredness, strife, dissension, envy, drunkenness, partying, and other forms akin to these," (verses nineteen through twenty-one).

3. When Paul speaks of "the flesh" here, what he means by that is not "the physical body." Paul has no such idea that would vilify the body itself. "Flesh" is defined as that part of humanity sinful from birth, and the works of the flesh display themselves outside of the body, not keeping itself within the heart and mind. The works of the flesh are clear. Paul gives as many as sixteen examples of signs of the works of the flesh here. It looks like he gives the examples just the way he thought of them, and when categorized, they could fall into four groups.

4. The first ones listed are "adultery, obscenity, lechery." These are [about] sexual violations and promiscuity. We forget that sexual relations is an holy gift from God, we get off kilter from God's order and abuse it according to human lusts. Sexual violations mess up human relationships, it sinks life down to chaos, and causes misfortune to us and those around us.

5. So, burdensome as it is, "the flesh," which does all these different works, doesn't die down even after we have believed in Christ. It goes on strong. Therefore, "the works of the flesh" given as examples here do most certainly have something to do [with us] as Christians. But, when a person believes in Christ and the Holy Spirit dwells within him or her, there ought to be another force of the will, another power at work acting and pulling him or her in the opposite direction and [the individual] will resound a big no to what [his or her] "flesh" craves and is so ready to do.

6. Please look at verse seventeen. "For, what the flesh wills goes against the spirit, what the spirit wills goes against the flesh. As the flesh and the spirit go at each other, you cannot do what you may want to do." Since the work of the Holy Spirit is present there as well, a clash occurs within, which is a clash that is totally different from the moral conflict which humans have by fundamental nature. It is a conflict brought on brand new by the Holy Spirit. It's a conflict because one has believed in Christ. Based on this line of reasoning then, we can say that [when] sin becomes a problem in a real sense and dawns upon the awareness is after one has become a Christian. It is after we have become Christians that we will truly shed tears over our sinfulness. We should not be surprised even if conflicts may arise all the time in our hearts and we are continually pained by our sinfulness after we have been baptized. That's the way it is. Because the Holy Spirit has come. Because the flesh and the spirit are in conflict with each another.

7. However, people don't like having this inner conflict within them. So, [we] are ready to back away from the fighting within. Then, we start pushing up the point that "We've been freed from the law. The law is now abolished. All things are permitted to us." In verse thirteen, Paul has written as follows. "My brothers, you are called out to obtain freedom. But serve not by making this freedom an opportunity to let your flesh sin, but serve one another according to love." Where the text says "not by making this freedom an opportunity to let your flesh sin" it means "there" actually "were some people who had been taking [any] opportunity to allow their flesh to sin." In other words, there were people there who were justifying the following of the flesh by turning the freedom that Christ gave them into an excuse [to sin].

8. But what on earth does it mean [when one] keeps following the flesh like that?! Does it [have] trivial [significance]? No, I wouldn't say that at all. It looks like Paul has already addressed the Galatian believers more than once about this, and now he is sending them another warning. "Just like I've said previously, I say ahead of time in this [letter before I see you], anybody who acts like that cannot inherit the kingdom of God," (verse twenty-one). "Anybody who acts like that" doesn't mean "a person who has done it once." It means somebody who keeps on doing it and won't quit. It means to keep following the flesh. [That person] will not have the kingdom of God afterwards.

Walk By Following The Spirit

9. Therefore, we must not walk by following the flesh. The Bible commands us to "Walk by following the leading of the spirit," (verse sixteen). Of course, our flesh is alive and it surely will put a pull on us like always. But, we mustn't just be pulled by it. We mustn't justify ourselves to follow the flesh. We must always seek, not for the flesh, but for the Holy Spirit to control us and our day to day lives. Being controlled completely by God the Holy Spirit -- The Bible uses "being filled with the Holy Spirit" as the expression for this. We are commanded to "Be filled with the spirit (the Holy Spirit)," (Ephesians 5:18).

10. Of course, our being justified by God and accepted by him is not related to our actions, but is because of Christ's redemptive work. Paul himself has said, "Knowing that a person is justified by faith in Jesus Christ alone and not by the practice of the law, we too have believed in Christ Jesus. This is because we have received justification not by practicing the law but by believing in Christ," (Galatians 2:16). But, God's final purpose is not that we be forgiven of sin and justified because of Christ's redemptive sacrifice. Rather, that's [just] the starting point God has given us. After that, a life style begins, a life style of seeking for the leading of the Holy Spirit, of seeking for the control of the Holy Spirit [over us] and of walking in obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit. This indeed is our daily faith life.

11. And in the midst of this life style, we implement what we express in The United Church Of Christ In Japan Faith Confession, "By his grace God has chosen us, by a faith which believes in Christ alone, he has forgiven and justified us." But, it doesn't end there. Next we go on to state, "Amid his unchanging grace, the Holy Spirit cleanses us, causes us to bear the fruit of righteousness, and fulfill God's will."

12. In this manner then, the Holy Spirit causes us to bear fruit. This fruit is the fruit of righteousness, and going by today's biblical message, it is "love, joy, peace, tolerance, kindness, good will, sincerity, meekness, and temperance." Please take careful note in what it says about the spirit, "the fruit which the spirit yields," as compared to what it said about the flesh, "the works of the flesh." Fruit is not something we're supposed to build [on our own], but is something which "yields forth [on its own]." Fruit stems forth out of life. It [pops out from life, and] is a sign of life.

13. We can't become loving persons by following some rules and regulations. No matter how hard we've tried, we can't become persons filled with joy and peace [on our own]. The same thing could be said about tolerance and all the other stuff [Paul mentioned] after it. These are not virtues we're supposed to possess, but grow out as signs of God's life [in us]. It would be foolish to get the fruit, apple, by trying to "make" one using all your might and strength at it. Apples come to fruition on trees. Thus, the main thing is to raise apple trees. On a similar vein, the main thing for us is not to try to produce "love, joy, peace .. " in our lives, but to do the sure thing by steadfastly raising up a faith life in which we walk according to the spirit.

14. Another word about "walking according to the spirit." "Walking according to the spirit" is obviously different from "walking according to subjective judgment." But, actually in the real world, regretfully, what is only a simple subjective judgment call has a risk with it of being claimed as "the leading of the Holy Spirit." In that case, it may be beneficial to keep two things in mind for correct judgments and decisions. First, as we've already seen, is "What the flesh wills goes against the spirit, what the spirit wills goes against the flesh," (verse seventeen). When something is done as "the leading of the Holy Spirit", if it produces "works of the flesh" as seen beginning in verse nineteen as its result, the assertion of being "the leading of the Holy Spirit" is clearly wrong. The other is the description related to fruit, that "The fruit which the Holy Spirit yields forth is love, ..." When something is done as "the leading of the Holy Spirit," if it runs counter to the fruit of the Holy Spirit, then in the final analysis, the assertion of being "the leading of the Holy Spirit" will [have to] be wrong.

15. Thus then, the command to "walk according to the leading of the Holy Spirit" involves this difficulty and risk as outlined above. But, because we know that to be so, we should not just shove this message aside; because this has to do with the essential nature of our faith life. As long as we keep the basis for our judgments and decisions as outlined above, we want to earnestly seek the life style of following the Holy Spirit. [God will] let us see the abundant fruit which his Holy Spirit produces.


16. There is a reference in this sermon to THE CONFESSION OF FAITH OF THE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST IN JAPAN (Nihon Kirisuto Kyodan). For your information, we are posting a full record of its text.

17. We believe and confess that:

The Old and New Testaments, inspired of God, testify to Christ, reveal the truth of the Gospel, and are the sole canon upon which the Church should depend. By the Holy Spirit the Holy Bible is the Word of God which gives us full knowledge of God and salvation, and is the unerring standard of faith and life.

The One God, revealed by the Lord Jesus Christ, and testified to in the Holy Scripture, being Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is the triune God. The Son, who became man, for the salvation of us sinners was crucified and made our redemption by offering Himself to God as the perfect sacrifice for all.

God chooses us by His grace, and by faith in Christ alone He forgives our sins and justifies us. In this unchangeable grace the Holy Spirit accomplishes His work by sanctifying us and causing us to bear fruits of righteousness.

The Church is the Body of Christ the Lord, and is the congregation of those who are called by grace. The church observes public worship, preaches the Gospel aright, administers the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, and being diligent in works of love, waits in hope for the coming again of the Lord.

Thus we believe, and with the saints in all ages we confess the Apostles' Creed:

I believe in God the Father Almighty; Maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the Holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.


Enacted Oct. 28, 1954. Official English Translation approved Oct. 24, 1968 by 15th Kyodan General Assembly. In accordance with the Executive Committee action of Feb. 24, 1969, this English version is primarily for information and not to restrict the original meaning of the Japanese version.


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