BY PAUL DUNK
Every Christian face-plants.
It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been saved by grace, we still face-plant. It doesn’t matter if we have a diligent prayer life and are faithful in our scripture meditation, we still face-plant.
Our mind wanders in some illicit direction. We lose our temper in a moment of unjust anger. Our selfishness comes out and hurts those around us that we love. Our heart, which acts more like a stomach, draws us in one direction or another and we find ourselves dumpster diving to feed on something we aren’t proud of in an attempt to fill our craving souls. We still face-plant.
The good news of the gospel is that Christ’s perfect sinless record has been accredited to our account. Jesus never face-planted. He was sinless – which is precisely why grace is something the face-planting Christian can get excited about Sunday in and Sunday out.
When we come to saving faith in Christ, our status is irreversibly righteous despite our struggles with our sinful substance. Hence Paul was very frank about his struggles with his own sin in Romans 7 and spoke very matter-of-factly about the civil war in the soul in Galatians 5.
Our new identity of being righteous in Christ cannot be abstracted from Christ. If upon believing the gospel it were true that Christians were no longer sinners, then (no surprise here) Christians would live sinless lives equivalent to the sinless life Christ lived because “being sinless” happens to be the definition of “righteous”. So alas, as sinners saved by grace – we still face-plant.
THERE’S GOOD NEWS FOR THOSE WHO FACE-PLANT
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, his gospel logic carefully unfolds the relationship between receiving God’s forgiving grace and living in light of it. According to Paul, not only does God’s grace rescue and grip us – it recalibrates and produces something in us.
He insists at the beginning of his letter that salvation is based on Christ’s substitution, without our contribution. He passionately battles against the false teachers and insisted that the cross was a finished work and not a starter kit where salvation was concerned. Then he went on to famously pen the words, “For freedom, He has set us free” at the beginning of chapter 5. This is where the good news unfolds even more for those of us who face-plant.
God the Father purposed to rescue us.
God the Son accomplished our rescue and is now united to us.
God the Spirit is now producing His virtues in us.
These virtues are listed in 5:22: Love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. The scriptures call these virtues the “fruit of the Spirit”. Now, all honest face-planters know that these virtues do not describe our modus operandi 24/7.
While it is true that we will always struggle with our sin, the fruit of the Spirit is growing in us gradually, continually & inevitably – precisely because we are united with Christ.
To borrow from Luther’s 1521 Treatise on Good Works, “one can’t grant the premise of grace and deny the conclusion.” God’s rescuing grace does renovating work.
THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT IS PRODUCED GRADUALLY
When Paul describes the conflict between our sinful nature and our new nature in Christ, he uses the Greek word “epithumia” which is an over-the-top, intense internal drive. These drives aren’t always for bad or immoral things. Often times, we are driven by good things that we’ve turned into ultimate things in the hopes that by having them, we will find a sense of identity and ultimate fulfillment in life.
These epi-desires shine a spotlight on the fact that both our sin nature and the Spirit want the same thing: LORDSHIP. By juxtaposing the desires of the flesh with the desires of the Spirit, Paul is teaching us that a heart regenerated by saving grace actually wants what the Spirit wants.
Yes the struggle is real. Yes we still face-plant – but the truth is, the Spirit is producing something in us that will lead our souls out of their disordered cravings and into gospel freedom – gradually.
Be encouraged. Fruit grows gradually. To borrow from Timothy Keller, the growth of the fruit of the Spirit is "so gradual, it’s initially imperceptible and is only recognized over time."
THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT IS PRODUCED CONTINUALLY
Perhaps you’re reading this and you’re fresh off a face-plant. Maybe your struggle with a particular sin seems like it’s getting worse. Allow me to borrow a page out of the apostle’s textbook and encourage you….
You are united to Christ and that union has implications. He didn’t save you from your sin to leave you in helpless slavery to it. [Breathe, I’m not winding up for a Sola Bootstrapsa sermon, I want you to consider something…]
The fruit being produced in you by the Spirit of God is precisely because of your relationship with God.
If you read Galatians 5, you’ll find that Paul doesn’t tell the Galatians to produce the fruit of the Spirit – he tells them the Spirit will produce the fruit in them. Paul is not writing about the fruit in the imperative form (“produce these virtues in your life”) he’s writing in the indicative form (“the Spirit’s virtues in your life are”).
Our lives will continually produce the fruit of the Spirit of God, because by grace and through faith in Christ, we belong to the Spirit of God.
At this point you are likely thinking, “don’t I have to do anything???” Yes – but it’s not what we think. When Paul does write in the imperative form and give us some instruction, he doesn’t say “create these virtues” he calls us to confess and crucify our vices.
That’s good news for those who face-plant. Attempting to add layers of virtues over top of our vices will fail and demoralize us. Identifying, confessing and dismantling our vices will liberate us.
Confession in the Christian faith isn’t from guilt – it’s from gratitude. The good news for those of us who face-plant is that our sin is always met by God’s grace.
When the scriptures talks about how we are to relate to our sin, it uses incredibly strong language like “crucify your flesh and it’s desires“. This is not an invitation into moralism or penance where we drag our knuckles and see ourselves as worms – it’s the opposite. Confession is an invitation to lift our heads, wipe our tears and remember that we are children of God who, despite our sinful substance enjoy an irreversibly righteous status, by His grace. Identifying sinful vices, confessing them and dismantling them is what a heart liberated by grace wants to do. The same grace that scandalously rescued us is gradually and continually reforming us into who we really are.
THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT IS PRODUCED INEVITABLY
Thomas Chalmers famously wrote about the “expulsive power of a new affection” in his theological treatises of the 1800’s. I John 4:19 tells us that we love God because He first loved us, and that love has vast implications. The virtues of God will be produced in us – inevitably – because we belong to God.
Perhaps you’re thinking that while some of our sins are a thing of the past, we struggle and face-plant over others. We might even struggle with some sin our entire lives – so how can the fruit of the Spirit be inevitable if our struggle with it is so real?
THE STRUGGLE ITSELF TESTIFIES TO THE FRUIT
The struggle itself attests to the fact that the Spirit of God has already begun producing the virtues of God in us. When we were slaves to sin, the most natural thing to do was let our vices rule us. But now, united to Christ, the most natural thing to do is struggle with our sin precisely because our vices don’t rule us.
While it is true that Christ was humanity perfected and we won’t be without sin until the resurrection – we find rest in remembering that His grace is perfect in our weakness and rejoice that by grace our renewal has already begun.
Like a tree whose roots can break through concrete to get to water, the reforming grace of God is gradually and continually breaking through the concrete of sin in our hearts to lead us into increasing freedom and renewal.
The truth is, the things that are not like God are not like us either. We were made by Him and for Him. By grace we are united to Christ, so His Spirit is at work in us – gradually … continually … inevitably.
Paul is a graduate of Knox Theological Seminary and the founding pastor of KW Redeemer in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. He is an MCO race school graduate, but presently his main hobby is drinking espresso because it's cheaper than fixing cars. Paul and Susan live in Waterloo with their three children.