But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness….
Some translations have “faith” and others “faithfulness.” The Greek word pistis doesn’t give us much help, since it is translated in a dozen or more ways. Sometimes “faith” refers to a body of doctrine, sometimes to confidence in Jesus, sometimes to the message of Jesus, and so forth.
In the context of the fruit of the Spirit, I’m going with pistis referring to faithfulness, that is, fidelity and loyalty, the quality of being true and steadfast. Reliable.
The Holy Spirit in trust of your life and mine will consistently and increasingly make us true to the Savior, true to the Word, and true to each other.
A phrase every believer serious about his life in Christ would do well to commit to memory is this: A long obedience in the same direction.
The expression originated (as far as can be known) from Friedrich Nietzsche in his book “Beyond Good and Evil:” “The essential thing in heaven and in earth is…that there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”
That phrase–a long obedience in the same direction–later formed the title of a popular work by Eugene Peterson on Psalms 120-134.
That expression does not sum up what “faithfulness” means to followers of Jesus Christ, but it encompasses three essential parts: 1) obedience, 2) steady, tenured obedience, and 3) in the same direction.
The great Apostle told young Timothy, The things which thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also (II Timothy 2:2).
Faithful men. Disciples of Jesus Christ who live up to the name. Men and women of integrity. True blue, as we say. All the way down, they are the same.
The Holy Spirit takes men and women who have faith, then gradually and increasingly makes us faithful.
1) So, the longer we live and work under the Spirit’s reign, the more we will be true to Jesus Christ.
Someone will ask us to speak at a function where we would normally be honored to be included, but they will ask us to “leave Jesus out of it.” They will not put it that crassly. They will speak in euphemisms: “Make it all inclusive.” “Non-offensive.” “Keep it general.”
What they mean is: “leave Jesus out of it.”
“Sorry,” you reply. “He means more to me than you do.”
2) The longer we live and work under the Spirit’s reign, the more we will be true to the Word of God.
You find yourself in a situation where the Bible is not silent but you would prefer to be. Someone puts you on the spot and asks you to bring a message for the hour. Your quandary is whether to be true to the Word or to give in to your need for approval from that group.
Pistis will determine what you do.
3) The longer we live and work under the Spirit’s reign, the more we will be true to each other.
Being true to you means I love you and do the right thing for you, regardless of what it costs me or how it may offend you.
Today, I had my regular checkup with my E-N-T doctor. Daniel Jacob once put me to sleep and sliced off a sizeable portion of the underside of my tongue. I was sore for days. Then, he ordered–he did not suggest–that I undergo six weeks of radiation for the head and neck area. It was a miserable thing he put me through. Nothing at all was enjoyable about it.
Yet, I treasure this man. He was true to his calling as a physician, true to the God to whom he prays in his church every morning for direction and blessing, and true to me his patient.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend; deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:6).
For the Holy Spirit to produce pistis in my life, I must consistently do my part.
Jesus said, “He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me” (John 14:21). This principle–that obedience is the critical factor in a disciple–is repeated several times in that Upper Room discourse: John 14:23,24; 15:10,14.)
Obedience tells the tale, Paul wrote the Corinthians. For this purpose I wrote to you, that I might know the proof of you, whether you are obedient in all things (II Cor. 2:9).
The Lord said, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17).
2) Continual obedience.
No take-one-little-religious-pill and go on your merry way for disciples of Jesus, thank you. It’s daily, every day, from now on.
In early 2005, when he was preparing me for a lifetime of battling any recurrence of mouth cancer, Dr. Jacob reinforced what the orthodontist had said: I was to do a 50 minute fluoride treatment on my teeth every night for the rest of my life.
The doctor told of one fellow who did the treatment periodically but not regularly and developed such cavities deep under his gums that all his teeth had to be extracted. That did it for me; I’ve not missed a night in over six years now.
3) In the same direction.
A seminary student approached me after a recent class. “I wish I had the grasp of the Word that you do,” he said. I was a little surprised. No one ever says that to me. After all, on a seminary campus one is surrounded by men and women of such talents and skills, such academic accomplishments and knowledge, that what I know of the Word is shallow in comparison.
And, yet, that being the case, I still know what he means. Because I was once where he is.
As a beginning pastor, the Bible seemed like a closed book to me. When I wanted to bring a sermon on a particular theme or subject, my experience in life and Scripture study was so limited that few things came to mind. I was reinventing the wheel, starting from scratch.
I’ve thought about great professors like George Harrison who taught us Hebrew and the Old Testament for two generations here in New Orleans. In his mid-80s now and in poor health over in Spanish Fort, Alabama, he will one day go to Heaven and take that incredible learning with him.
“Too bad he can’t leave it here,” I’ve thought.
And yet, it doesn’t work that way. Each new generation has to enroll in spiritual kindergarten and do the hard work of learning to read the Word, working to understand it, studying to connect its themes and stories, and devoting ourselves to seeing how it applies to our day.
The Holy Spirit does a new thing in each generation.
More, He does a new thing with each person who enrolls in His class in each new generation.
The news is all good, though. The delights of learning to walk in the Word and to grasp the things of God are well worth any amount of study and effort.
Do not drop by the wayside, believer. You will lose everything you have learned if you do.
And what a scary thought that is!