Session 8: See how they grow (2)
Growing as a Christian: the fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit
Q) What changes, however small, have you or others noticed in yourself, since you became a Christian?
Don’t be discouraged by how far you still have to go. Be encouraged by how far you have come!
New life, new people
We have established from John 3:5-8 that when we become Christians, we experience a spiritual rebirth. We are given the chance to start afresh, to have a new relationship with God, and to become the kind of person God wants us to be. This is a gradual process and the Holy Spirit gives us a great deal of help along the way.
God wants us to be more like Jesus. So, if Jesus is our role model, how can we get to know him better?
Read Hebrews 10:14.
For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. NIV
Q) What do you think God sees when he looks at us?
Verse 14 describes us as ‘those who are being made holy’. Something is happening in us that helps us to overcome our human failings.
God loves us for the unique individuals that we are, but he also has plans for what we can become as we fulfil our potential!
The Holy Spirit will gradually make us aware of areas of our lives where change is needed.
Q) Skim through Ephesians 4:22–5:4. Pick out some of the standards of behaviour that God expects of us. Are there any that are a challenge to you?
Now look at some of the positive qualities listed in Galatians 5:22-25.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self- control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. NIV
This is a description of the character of Jesus. We won’t suddenly change overnight, nor will God force us to change, he wants us to co-operate with him freely.
Q) Reflect on how you can take responsibility for making some of this ‘fruit’ grow in your life.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you fail. The Christian life is about fresh starts. Every day if necessary! Tell God that you are sorry, ask the Holy Spirit to continue working in your life and keep on going.
New power, new purpose
When the Holy Spirit enters our lives, he not only changes us on the inside (our attitudes and motivation, etc.), he gives us the power to be effective. Jesus started his ministry ‘in the power of the Spirit’ (Luke 4:14). Look at what the first disciples were able to do when the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 1:8).
In what areas would you like to be more effective as a Christian?
The Spirit gives us gifts. These are different from our natural talents. They empower us to work for God in special ways. Consider the following passages:
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, NIV
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Romans 12:6-8, NIV
Q) List some of the gifts that you see there.
Q) How do you think they might operate in your life?
For whose benefit are these gifts given? See 1 Corinthians 12:7 and 14:26. The gifts of the Spirit are ‘the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good’. They are given to us as we put ourselves in situations where we need them to further God’s work; they are not our personal possessions or spiritual status symbols.
The gifts of the Spirit will not be truly effective unless the fruit of the Spirit is also growing in our lives. See what Paul strongly emphasises in 1 Corinthians 13:1-8.
If the fruit is the character of Jesus, then the gifts are his power. To be truly like him, we need both!
The new character that we cultivate has to find its expression in a new lifestyle. Our lifestyle is shaped by the culture in which we live, and by the choices we make.
Q) Think of some specific challenges posed by Paul in Romans 12:2.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. NIV
Or as J B Phillips translates this, ‘Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould’. Being distinctive in the world can be a real challenge.
But we are not expected to know exactly how to live all at once. The Spirit will reveal to us bit by bit the areas that he wants us to work on. We are like vines that need pruning in order to grow stronger and produce a good crop of fruit – see John 15:1-8.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. NIV
Q) In what areas of your life do you feel that some ‘pruning’ is needed?
As Christians, our lives take on a new purpose. We no longer live just for ourselves. But how do we know what is God’s will?
As your relationship with God develops you will get better at recognising his voice, but there are some simple tests you can also apply:
- Is it in line with the Bible?
- The inner voice.
- Wise counsel from other Christians that you trust and who know you well.
- Common sense! An open door can be pointer but should never be taken as a confirmation on its own.
‘For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.’
Ephesians 2:10, ESV. The word translated ‘workmanship’ is the Greek ‘Poema’ - you are God’s creative masterpiece!
This does not necessarily mean that each minute of our existence on earth is mapped out. But it does mean that God can use us – every day, if we let him
When we make important decisions, how can we involve God in them and find out what he wants?
Now read Proverbs 3:5-6 and tease out some more principles about guidance.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. NIV
Encourage yourself by reading Jeremiah 29:11-13. These are special promises from God to you.
“For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”. NIV
You might like to write those verses on a card and keep it in your Bible.