In Galatians 5:19-21 (NIV), we are warned about “acts of the flesh” like sexual immorality, debauchery, idolatry, hatred, jealousy, selfish ambition, envy, drunkenness, etc. In juxtaposition to these acts, verses 22-23 provide the fruit of the spirit: “Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Quite a contrast.
Familiar passages of scripture can go in one ear and out the other — unless we slow down and think about what we’re reading. Acts of the flesh include some bad stuff but also some stuff that we may think is bad but really not all that bad: jealousy, selfish ambition, envy, idolatry. We pick and choose among these acts of the flesh, yet scripture doesn’t draw any distinctions. We might want to reconsider being hard on those who commit sexual immorality and drunkenness, while not being much concerned about our own jealousy and envy.
And we might want to think deeply about the fruit of the spirit. Love is easy to say but when we think about it in terms of its definition in I Corinthians 13, it’s not so easy to live. The same is true of forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Those words fall easily from our mouths, but what do they actually mean? It doesn’t take much effort to condemn the acts of the flesh. It can take a lot of effort and prayer (fueled by God’s grace) to be ruled or encompassed by the fruit of the spirit.
We all want joy and peace, those two parts of the fruit of the spirit that seem so elusive sometimes. Joy and peace can be attained by avoiding the acts of the flesh but not fully attained until the fruit of the spirit (and all that it means) becomes a way of life.