Two Trees of the Spirit
It has been a while since I last posted a sermon. Here’s one to chew on for my one faithful reader (thanks mom).
Text: Galatians 5:16-26
Importance of Trees
Two trees. Just outside those windows stand two tall, strong pine trees. I’m guessing they’ve been there as long as this building has. To us they’re just trees. Perhaps they’re nice to look at and perhaps they’re good for shade, but other than that, those pine trees are simply that: trees.
In Biblical times, trees were more than just trees. Cedar and firs were prized and valuable trees that only grew in Lebanon. Willow trees grew along the Jordan River. Oak trees dotted the hills. Olive trees grew in groves.
Trees were also valued for their shade, making them an attractive place to pitch a tent. In a hot climate where walking was the main way of travel, a nice tree provided needed shade for the trip.
In other cultures, trees were places of worship. Some even represented the gods that were being worshiped at that location.
Trees were especially esteemed for their fruit. The Garden of Eden was stocked with trees for food. The Mount of Olives was useful for the oil extracted from the olives. This oil lit lamps.
And Jesus teaches that the tree is known by its fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. You will know a tree by its fruit.
In Revelation the New Jerusalem is described as having a river of life running through it with the tree of life beside it, bearing fruit for the healing of the nations.
Trees played an important role in culture and thought. It is no wonder then, that we hear Paul speak to us in imagery of trees when he describes how we ought to live as Spirit-led people.
Galatians 5:16-26 speaks about two trees. They are both essential to life as a Christian. Let’s look at Galatians to learn more about these trees.
Galatians 5:16-26: So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
The First Tree: Crucifixion
The first tree is found in verse 24. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” You may or may not see the tree at first. But it’s there. It’s in the word crucified.
Most of us are aware of what crucifixion is. It’s hanging someone on a beam of wood with their arms stretched apart to form a “T.” After a while they get tired of supporting themselves with their arms and legs and they slump. They then either die from asphyxiation or dehydration. Most people take at least 2 days to die if their legs aren’t broken.
Jesus died by crucifixion. He was also beaten and bruised. That’s probably why he died so quickly. 1 Peter 2:24 tells us how most people recognized crucifixion to be death on a tree. It says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”
Paul is saying that just as Jesus died on a tree, just as common criminals were executed by this type of death, so we must kill our sinful nature. If we claim allegiance to Christ, we kill the sinful nature on a tree.
Why? Look at verses 16-21 again. Verse 17 in particular says that the sinful nature and the Spirit butt heads. They’re in conflict with one another. One desires one thing and the other another.
When you and I disagree about something, the natural response is to talk it over. We would discuss why we have our convictions or opinions, and probably eventually agree to disagree. That would be the end of it. We would live together peaceably.
Paul says that is no option when it comes to the sinful nature. The sinful nature is our bent or propensity to sin. We’re just geared to sin against God and others. We’re bent on getting our own way and doing our own thing no matter what God or anyone else says.
And it’s not something we’re supposed to live with. Last week we talked about being made in the image of God. About how we couldn’t be fully restored in our perfect judgment or ruling the earth or interpersonal relationships; but we can be restored in our knowledge of God and our love for Him. Being fully restored means no more bent to sin. It means no more looking God in the face and giving Him the finger.
Paul describes the acts of the sinful nature as being obvious. They are fully evident, in plain view for all to see. And they are acts, something you do. When I hear this, it says these are common actions, actions that anyone can do—even a two-year old. It doesn’t take something special to have hatred or be selfish or get drunk or be sexually immoral. Anyone can do that, as long as they are living and breathing.
And as long as they allow their sinful nature to be living and breathing. The only solution, the only viable option if you want to live by the Spirit, is the first tree. The tree of crucifixion.
The Second Tree: You
Once you’ve done that, you’re on to the second tree. According to Paul the second tree is you. Just as Jesus spoke of a tree and its fruit, so Paul does as well.
By saying we produce fruit, Paul implies a few things:
1. The fruit of the Spirit is the natural byproduct of life in the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, etc. are not another set of laws to follow, nor a list of goals to meet. They flow out of a Spirit-led life. Verse 25 says we should keep in step with the Spirit. The image Paul has is of us walking in the exact footsteps the Holy Spirit has already walked before us. Friday Jamie and I volunteered at West School and took a field trip with the students. We walked to the Al Ringling Theatre to see Aladdin Jr. The kindergarteners had to walk in pairs, one after the other. They couldn’t turn around and go back to the school to go to the bathroom. When the teacher stopped at an intersection, they had to stop. No walking on the grass; stay on the sidewalk. This is what Paul means: keep in line and follow the Holy Spirit.
2. The fruit of the Spirit can only be produced by someone who has the Spirit living inside them. Though anyone can sin, only a Christian can love with agape; have true joy, peace that passes understanding, etc. Yes, non-Christians can display this “fruit” at times, but not without that tug-of-war with their sinful nature.
3. The fruit of the Spirit give us a glimpse of who the Spirit is and what He’s like. The Holy Spirit is perhaps the most misunderstood person of the Trinity. He’s also the person we focus the least on. Yet He’s living in us so we ought to know who He is. The fruit of the Spirit help us know Him.
4. We cannot produce any other kind of fruit. Verse 16 says that we will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. Paul uses a double negative in that verse, which means you will “no never” fulfill what the sinful nature wants you to fulfill. If you have crucified the sinful nature on the first tree, your tree will only produce Spirit-fruit. Some say that sin is a thing; it’s something that can be eradicated or taken out of you like you take a tumor out of a person. But what if sin wasn’t the presence of something bad, but was the absence of something good. What if it were the absence of the fullness of the Holy Spirit? That would mean the presence of the Holy Spirit in His fullness would be “the opposite” of sin. And the spiritual fruit produced as a result would be a mark of that fullness.
5. Producing the fruit of the Spirit is a two-way road. You are both walking with the Spirit and being led by the Spirit. You alone cannot produce spiritual fruit; nor can the Holy Spirit force you to. It’s easy to expect this to be an either/or rather than a both/and relationship. It’s easy for us to think, “I can love. I have peace. I’m self-controlled…when we don’t have the Holy Spirit leading us.” It’s also easy to think, “God will make me act this way. Now that I’ve become a Christian, I’ll leave everything else up to God.” Both are extremes and both are extremely false assumptions. The Spirit-led person must also walk with the Spirit.
6. There is no mention of exceptions. Paul doesn’t say this is only for some people. This is for everyone who claims to be in Christ Jesus, who sent us His Holy Spirit. You can’t say, “Well, I’m just not a kind person. I’m naturally bitter and keep to myself.” Though it takes time to produce fruit, especially in new believers, there are still no exceptions. No excuses.
Got the Trees?
Today I have two trees (they were lilac bushes) with me. The one on your left signifies the first tree: the tree of crucifixion. The one on your right signifies the second tree: the tree of fruit. Some of you need them.
You might say you’re a Christian, but for some reason when you compare your life to the fruit of the Spirit, they don’t match up. You’ve tried to live as best you can. You love God and want to live for Him, but sin still rules. You need to be able to say as Paul did, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
Or you look at the list of acts of the sinful nature and know that you fit one of them. Or maybe there’s a sin you’re ashamed of that’s not on the list. You know it’s wrong but aren’t yet willing to crucify it.
Or maybe this is all new to you. You always thought “I am a sinner and I always will be one.” Christ died to set you free from sin, and He wants to give you the fullness of the Holy Spirit today.
No matter who you are, pray that God’s Spirit would produce His fruit in you.