“Be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires…. the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the self with its passions and its desires. If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit. Let’s not become arrogant, make each other angry, or be jealous of each other.” (Common English Bible)
I’m the youngest sibling in my family. So, I know what it feels like to be a third wheel with things. When I was a kid, it always seemed as if everyone thought I was too young to do anything or engage any of the real fun stuff, like watching Mannix, Sanford and Son, or Love American Style past my bedtime like everyone else was doing (I was fascinated with TV as a kid). Now, much older, I have a larger context for understanding all of that stuff. Yet, the fact remains that I really was a third wheel lots of times.
Sometimes I think we treat the Holy Spirit of God somewhat like a third wheel. We pray to Almighty God; we pray in Jesus’ blessed name; and… what of the Holy Spirit? Sometimes, even many times, the Spirit gets the short end of the stick. In fact, I’ve been in some churches where I think their understanding of the Trinity is Father, Son, and Holy Bible; the Spirit is nowhere to be found.
Maybe, because we can never predict what in the world the Spirit is going to do, we send Him off to some metaphorical bedtime so that we watch and do whatever we want. Or, perhaps we really are diligent about the Christian life. We strive, work, and wrestle to live a good life. But, somehow, we fall short and feel like a failure far too often. Why is that?
Could be that we’ve looked at the Holy Spirit as the third wheel. We believe in Him, have faith that He’s there, but don’t have any idea how to relate to Him. God is big and sovereign; Jesus has a real body and blood; and, the Spirit… well, He’s really out there, man – like, He’s too cool for school and would be one of the characters on The Mod Squad, or something. How do you have a relationship with someone (and often we refer to the Spirit as some “thing”), that is, with a person (and the Spirit is fully a person) who is so crazy ethereal and seemingly other than you and me?
The Holy Spirit is the power source of the Christian life. Without him, we can easily degenerate into all kinds of illicit thinking and behavior – including things like “sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that” (verses 19-21).
It is the Spirit who helps us, comforts us, provides strength for us, and enables us to replace old habits with new ones and dead practices with solid “Spirit”ual action. The Christian virtues which flower and produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control occur through a close intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit helps us in our weakness when we pray and act. The Christian enjoys such a close affectionate association with the Holy Spirit that it is as if we are a building, like a temple, and the person of the Spirit has taken up residence within. The person of the Spirit is the person of God the Father’s, and the person of God the Son’s gift to the people of God. By means of the Holy Spirit, God is always with us and continually at-this-moment working within us to make the redemption given in Christ an actual real-live encounter. In other words, the Spirit gives us feet to walk among this world armed with the implements of God’s love.
I’m going to make a simple observation about the Galatians text for today. All of the spiritual virtues expressed are the “fruit” of the Spirit, not “fruits.” The nine ethics are a package deal. When you have the Spirit and spiritual fruit, you possess all nine Christian values. If we look at the list and say something like, “Well, Tim, I’m pretty good at kindness and goodness, but I don’t have much peace or patience.” What that really means is that you are probably doing kindness and goodness from a different place than by means of the Holy Spirit because when the Spirit manifests Himself in us we exhibit the fruit. You can’t separate the nine spiritual virtues any more than you can separate the Trinity. They are all one spiritual fruit cultivated and produced inside you by the agency of God’s Spirit.
Maybe it’s time to back up the truck and take a look at the shadow side of our lives. It could be that we are, for example, far more driven by our anxiety about most things than about genuine altruism and love. The same result might seem to appear through our words and actions, but it will not last if it is generated from a place of worry – and it is not of the Spirit.
So, what do you do about it? You must put to death (mortify) the deeds of the sinful nature. You have been crucified with Christ and you no longer live but Christ lives in you by means of the Spirit He has given to us (Galatians 2:20). If you have C-clamped your heart so tight that the Spirit can’t get in, then it’s high time to loosen the grip and enable God to do His gracious and merciful work within you. It is the only way to go about genuine transformation of life.
Yes, it is scary. Letting go of control is very hard for many people, including me. But the results are worth it. The Spirit knows what He is doing. He might work in wild and crazy ways. He might show up on Saturday Night Live where you least expect him to be. The way we go with God is by going with the Spirit and being led by Him. Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent” (John 6:29). The Spirit always points us to Christ, the one who has delivered us from the realm of sin and brought us forgiveness. This work of Christ sets us up for the work of the Spirit who now makes our deliverance practically and effectively a reality in daily relationships and experiences.
The Holy Spirit is not a third wheel. He’s the real deal. When you open your heart to Him, you expose yourself to the wideness of God’s mercy which results in the wonderful fruit of the Spirit. And when you experience the Spirit working inside of you, it makes the car chase scenes in The Streets of San Francisco look not so dramatic.
May the Spirit of the living God be with you now, and forever. Amen.