On the road to becoming one of the most celebrated Americans of all time, Benjamin Franklin believed that he was falling short as a human being.
His external scorecard was already impressive as a young man. He was an inventor, writer and publisher before the age of 20. His internal scorecard, however, revealed a person who was disordered, undisciplined, and failing in many ways.
Franklin designed a project he called “moral perfection.” He listed 12 areas of attitude and conduct that needed improvement. Then he decided to read the list each day and focus on a different virtue each week, repeating the process until he had achieved his measure of the virtue.
Before embarking on his quest, Franklin asked a friend to look over his list. Franklin said that his friend, “kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud; that my pride showed itself frequently in conversation.” The friend told Franklin that there was one, essential virtue he lacked
Of course, it’s hard to work on being humble; the very act makes you suspect. Anyone who says “I’m becoming more humble,” well, isn’t becoming more humble.
Franklin’s overall effort paid off, however. He rightly identified his quest for “moral perfection” as a futile effort. Instead, he began to focus more on kindness, forbearance, and a willingness to listen
Later in his life he would write, “Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.
If you were to concoct a similar experiment, what would you want most to change
The Singular “Fruit” of the Spirit
I have loved preaching for several weeks on the fruit of the Spirit. One thing I have learned is that the word “fruit” in Galatians 5 is singular and not plural. It’s the “fruit” of the Spirit and not “fruits” of the Spirit. All of the qualities that come from the Holy Spirit are interrelated and make up the combined “fruit” of God’s presence and power in your life.
This makes sense, right? In order to have patience, you’ll need the God of love and the love of God moving through your life. When you have patience, you’ll also be more kind and self-controlled. Joy comes when you share goodness with others. Faithfulness grows as the peace of God envelops your life.
It’s possible that you and I can pick and choose which fruit of the Spirit we will focus on today or in the coming weeks. It’s good to want to grow in particular ways.
Perhaps, however, the best thing we could do is discover how to experience more of the Holy Spirit. Every believer in Jesus Christ has the Spirit (see Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 1:13-14). Not everyone lives in the fullness of the Spirit, however. This is why Paul writes, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit…” (Ephesians 5:18, NIV).
The Spirit’s work in our lives brings all of the force, power and character of Jesus Christ to live within us and help us grow. You and I really can be changed.
How do we live with more of the Holy Spirit’s power?
Humility is the Starting Point
There’s no true spirituality without humility. Only in humility can you and I approach the King of the Universe and acknowledge our dependence and need.
Without humility, you and I might set out to be changed without the help of God. With humility, you and I are empowered to access God’s strength to overcome obstacles that keep us from changing.
The opposite of humility is pride. We tend to think of prideful people as being boastful, arrogant, or rude. But pride is actually more subtle. A prideful person thinks that life is all about him or her. Pride focuses on self to the exclusion of others. Pride is sneaky. It’s hard to discover.
One way to identify areas of pride is to pay attention to what upsets you easily. In what areas of life are you quickly offended? How do you feel when others get recognition when you think you are more deserving? When you encounter people you can’t control, do you tend to stew or fly off the handle?
Ask God to reveal your hidden pride. Humbly accept your place in God’s universe and learn to live with your mistakes and limitations. You’re not in charge as much as you like to think you are. Submit to the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. Receive God’s grace and unending love!
That’s the kind of love that can bring about a lasting change in you.
You Can Be Changed
Paul said, “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…” (Galatians 5:22, NIV). In God’s eyes, this is what “moral perfection” looks like. It’s imperfect people being filled day by day, in ever-increasing measure, with the Spirit of our perfect God.
You really can be changed into the kind of person who embodies these transformative qualities.
So ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit and that the “fruit” of God’s Spirit would be grown through you to bless the world.
Pastor Brent McDougal