God used Tim Keller’s bible study on the book of Galatians to change my life by giving me a completely different understanding of Christianity. Before I worked through the study, I thought the gospel, that Christ died for my sin in my place according the Scriptures and rose from the dead on the third day, was for people who did not know God. I thought that once I became a Christian, the gospel ceased to be relevant to my life and what mattered was understanding how I was supposed to behave and then obeying.
Whenever I read Galatians 5:19-24, I was either crushed by my failure to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit or incredibly prideful at what I thought to be successful compliance. In reality, I produced counterfeit fruit, and Keller helped me see that the reason was that I was still living as if I was accepted before God through obedience. He helped me to see that the fruits of the flesh are not so much a list of things not to do (although it is at least that) but rather a pattern of living that indicates we are worshiping idols and attempting to justify ourselves (still living under the law as slaves).
When we trust in Christ because of his work on the cross for us, we are given peace with God and emotional peace and security knowing that nothing can shake that acceptance. We have the righteousness of God through faith. Our slavish obedience to the law out of fear of God’s punishment is over, and true fruit can now be born because we seek to obey God out of gratitude and joy in his ways.
So, how do you identify counterfeit fruit? How can you tell if the ‘good works’ of your life are actually counterfeits that indicate we are still living in the flesh, attempting to feel secure before God through obedience rather than obeying out of joy? Let me summarize some of his helpful insights, but I encourage you to go to the Redeemer Presbyterian Store website to get a copy of the bible study. Keller lists the fruit of the Spirit, the opposite of the fruit, and the counterfeit fruit.
- Joyfully serving another for their good, not to get something in return.
- Opposite: Fear leading to self-protection resulting in the harm of others.
- Counterfeit: Affection shown to others for selfish reasons. Attraction to others for how they make you feel. Helping others to feel good about yourself.
- Delighting in the beauty of God and the salvation he gives us in Christ even in difficult times of loss, disappointment, and pain.
- Opposite: Despair and a lack of or fear of hope.
- Counterfeit: Excitement and happiness that exists only when things are good leading to mood swings. Happiness not in God but in what he brings.
- Confident assurance that God is for us, that he is wise, and that he is in control rather than trust in ourselves.
- Opposite: Worry and anxiety.
- Counterfeit: Apathy that does not grieve over the difficulty.
- Suffering joyfully and not becoming angry at God when his timing doesn’t match our own.
- Opposite: Bitterness and resentment toward God that manifests itself in agitation or outright expressions of anger with others.
- Counterfeit: Self-righteous cynicism that pretends concern is unspiritual.
- Sincere vulnerability that involves empathy, compassion, and help.
- Opposite: The inability to rejoice in the good happening to others.
- Counterfeit: Helping others in an attempt to control other people marked by promotion of self and pride.
- Honesty, openness, and consistency in all contexts of life.
- Opposite: Hypocrisy, phoniness, and insincerity.
- Counterfeit: Being honest in an insensitive way without love. Insincerity that pretends to be sincere.
- Loyalty, reliability, and courage based on convictions and not on practical benefit leading to loving confrontation when it is right.
- Opposite: Opportunistic living that swings from committed to absent.
- Counterfeit: Being ‘loving’ without any concern for truth. Being loyal out of self-righteous pride leading to an unwillingness to address wrongs.
- Not thinking of yourself highly so that you are sensitive to the needs of others.
- Opposite: Thinking you are superior leading to self-absorption and self-promotion that crushes others.
- Counterfeit: Insecurity that is self-absorbed so that words of self-deprecation are said so that others affirm us.
- Staying focused on the important things rather than what is urgent.
- Opposite: Impulsive living in the moment.
- Counterfeit: Using willpower to stay disciplined resulting in pride over your accomplishment.
These are just summaries, and they do not say everything that could be said. But, if you don’t see yourself bearing any counterfeit fruit, then you aren’t seeing very clearly. We all struggle to live by the Spirit instead of the flesh, and we all bear fruit of the flesh and counterfeit fruit. But, by God’s grace and through the Holy Spirit, God is making us more like Christ, constantly uncovering more idols and self-righteousness, and renewing us by bringing us to repentance and faith. Trust in the righteousness of Christ. You are set free from the law! You are a slave of sin no longer!