6th February 2024
'John Piper offers'
"Walk by the Spirit!"
"God never urges himself to be good, because he is good.
God is light and in him is no darkness at all. So he does not need to be reminded about the duty of his deity.
When a person is good from root to branch, he does not need to be told to be good. His goodness grows like fruit on a tree.
Do right attitudes and actions come out of us as naturally as light and heat come out of the sun? We know they don't. God knows they don't.
And so we must be reminded of what is right - what it is that can keep us from inheriting the kingdom.
We need a list of bad things and a list of good things.
But there is a great danger in giving morally depraved people, a list of right things and wrong things.
The danger is that instead of seeking transformation from God in our hearts, to rid ourselves of our depravity, we may take the list of virtues and find a way to use them to express our depravity.
For example, if our problem is that, at root, we are very proud and self-sufficient people, and a moral authority like Paul tells us that kindness and faithfulness are virtues, we may very well train ourselves to do kind things and to keep our promises so that we can be proud of ourselves and feel morally self-sufficient before God and man.
Then the list of virtues would not have helped us overcome our depravity at all.
Paul is very much aware that his moral teaching, just like Old Testament law, can be abused in this way.
So he takes special steps to help us not misuse his list of vices and virtues. so that new habits are the natural outgrowth of new hearts.
Paul takes steps to protect us from treating his teaching legalistically and coating our pride with a milk chocolate morality.
The only way any act has moral value is if we do it in reliance on the Spirit's power, not ours.
Paul's command is not addressed primarily to an outward act but to an inward attitude: "Let us have no self-conceit."
Paul helps us see that our real problem is not the whitecap of behaviour visible above the water; the real problem is the massive dark iceberg of depravity beneath the surface.
The Bible solves the problem with a supernatural encounter with God, called new birth at its beginning and sanctification afterward.
If we come alive by an act of the Spirit, so now let us go on walking in reliance on the Spirit (5:25).
I want us to think biblically about virtue and not to be conformed to the way this world works at its virtue.
Keep in mind that "flesh" does not mean "body," as though our bodies were the root cause of our sins.
There are some sins listed here that don't come from our bodies (e.g., strife, enmity, jealousy, anger, envy, etc.).
Now why does Paul call the products of our flesh "works" and the products of God's Spirit through us "fruit"?
Until recently I would have said: because works implies effort and fruit implies effortlessness, and God's will is that we experience love, joy, and peace effortlessly.
But then I noticed that many of the "works of the flesh" are just as effortless for a natural person as the fruit of the Spirit is for the spiritual person.
For example, anger requires no effort: cross a natural man and red anger flows as naturally as blood from a wound.
So I doubt that Paul called these vices "works" because they require effort to produce. A bad tree bears bad fruit effortlessly.
The flesh knows nothing of grace.
It doesn't think of its satisfactions as free gifts from a merciful God.
It thinks of them as debts which it deserves to be paid.
This is why all its products should be called "works."
But the mentality behind the fruit of the Spirit is the mentality of faith depending upon grace.
People who bear the fruit of the Spirit know they are worthy only of condemnation.
They know that the only pay they can earn is the wrath of God.
Therefore, they have turned away from self-reliance and look only to mercy in Christ who "loved us and gave himself for us".
They do not expect anyone to be their debtor because of their worth.
Any satisfaction will be a free gift of grace.
They bank on the mercy of God and entrust themselves to his Spirit for help.
And out of that mentality of faith depending on grace grows not "works" but "fruit": love, joy, peace, patience, kindness . . .
This is an edited version.
The full article and Bible references are avaiable on request
(@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary.
For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Foundations for Lifelong Learning.
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