8. THE FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT
After reading all of these conferences, you might be wondering if you have received the Holy Spirit. If so, how could you know, for sure?
There are different levels of response to this, the first being a reassurance that if you have been baptized, you have received the Holy Spirit; if you have received Confirmation, then you have received an additional anointing. Since most Christians have at least been baptized, they can then conclude that the Spirit is already joined to them and that they have been sealed with the Spirit, claimed for Christ, and that the Spirit is ready and waiting to bless them with spiritual gifts. The issue, then, for Christians, is not whether they have been given the Spirit or not, but whether they are open to the Spirit's guidance and action in their lives. It is here that Christian morality and spirituality become most significant for those who do want to live in union with the Spirit.
The presence of spiritual gifts would be a second sign of the presence of the Spirit in your life. We have already discussed the nature of spiritual gifts, so it's a matter now of you discovering what gifts you have been given and how they are manifest in your life. It's important to learn the difference between exercising these gifts and exercising your natural talents; sometimes the two go together, but not always. It might seem a redundancy to say that where the spiritual gifts are manifest, there is the Spirit, but this point is nonetheless an important one. This was what caught the attention of the early Christian leaders, as they observed the gifts of the Spirit among non-Jewish believers who had not yet even been baptized. And so we might examine our own lives more deeply to see where spiritual charisms are already present. They might be showing up in Church-related settings, but maybe not.
I know a woman, for example, who's not especially Christian in her religious faith perspective, but others seemed to be drawn to her for listening and encouragement after she began a regular practice of meditation in her early 40s. She found herself energized by this and that her interactions with them seemed effortless and efficacious unto their growth and healing--this with virtually no training as a therapist. Eventually, she decided to study to be a clinical social worker, and now makes her living counseling with people every day. I don't have any doubt about the Holy Spirit blessing her with charisms and leading her to her new profession, where she can exercise it for the benefit of others more regularly. She is a baptized Christian, but, as noted, has been away from the Church for many years.
A third criterion you can use for recognizing the presence of the Spirit in your life and elsewhere is the manifestation of the fruits of the Spirit. In fact, this is probably the most important means for discerning the Spirit, as charismatic manifestations can sometimes be the result of human and even demonic processes-as in telling the future, for example, or working signs and wonders. Remember that in the Old Testament, Pharaoh had his own miracle workers, who were puzzled by the signs worked by Moses. In the New Testament, there is the story of Simon the magician (Acts 8: 9-25), who practiced magic arts and was held in esteem by the people. When Simon saw the signs worked by Christian leaders through the power of the Spirit, he became puzzled and wanted to do the same. This eventually led to a confrontation with Peter, but Simon seems to have found sufficient humility to avoid total condemnation.
"Beware of false prophets who come to you disguised as sheep but underneath are ravenous wolves," Jesus warns. "You will be able to tell them by their fruits." (Mt. 7: 15).
And what are these fruits?
The Apostle Paul lists them in Gal. 5: 22 as follows: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control." He contrasts these with the fruits of self-indulgence: "fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility, idolatry and sorcery, feuds and wrangling, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels, disagreements, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and similar things." (Gal 5: 19-20).
Wherever we see the fruits of the Spirit, we can be sure that the Holy Spirit has been at work-even if there don't seem to be dramatic manifestations of charismatic gifts. So look to your own life and see what kinds of fruits of the Spirit are manifesting. First, examine your own being, then your relationships, and so forth. Where do you see love, joy, peace . . . ? Know that the Spirit is at work in those areas.
Fruits of the Spirit in the World
The criterion of fruits helps us to recognize the working of the Spirit outside the formal boundaries of the Church and its ministries. We note, for example, the presence of the fruits of the Spirit in other world religions, especially among their saints and mystics. Who can doubt that Mohandas Gandhi was guided by the Spirit? His work for justice was thoroughly grounded in a life of deep meditation and spiritual practice, and it bore the fruits of the Spirit all across the continent of India--indeed, the whole world. Even the British who governed India at the time came to respect him and to recognize in him an extraordinary power and spiritual presence. Other examples could be given from Buddhism, where Tich Nhat Han and the Dalai Lama have sowed seeds of peace and deep spirituality for decades.
Sometimes people with no religious commitment give evidence of spiritual charisms and fruits. The examples here are fewer, as the human Ego can quickly become darkened by the corrupting influences of sin if one has no spiritual practice.
So what does this mean, then, if the Spirit is alive and well outside of Christianity?
Well, first of all, it means that God loves all people and is at work to lead us all to fulfill the destiny we have been created to achieve. That's pretty clear, and is affirmed in scripture and the doctrines of the Church most emphatically.
A second consideration is the dynamic orientation of the Spirit to Christ. I'm not suggesting, here, that all who are moved by the Spirit are really some kind of "anonymous Christian," to use a term coined by the great theologian, Karl Rahner. Rather, what I am saying is that the Spirit's reference to Christ is a way that others are led to Christ, much as the early Gentile converts were allowed to be baptized because they were already showing signs of the Spirit. In other words, it seems that by sharing the Spirit so generously, God is hoping thus to draw them to recognize the Christ in Whom the Spirit was expressed most fully, and through Whom the Spirit is transmitted most perfectly. "You like My Spirit? You want more? Come to Christ and you will be blessed abundantly," seems to be the message, here. The Christian missionaries called this the "proto-evangelium," or first evangelization, as this was the way they understood how certain cultures had been prepared, as it were, for the message of the Gospel.
Almost completely opposite the issue of non-Christians showing signs of the Spirit is the phenomenon of Christians who show very little evidence of the Spirit in their lives. They give lip service to the Spirit in the creeds, but have little understanding of what this means, nor do they seem to experience of the transformative and charismatic gifts. For many of these people--and they may make up the majority of Christians (I don't really know)--their Christianity is mostly a social involvement, not a way of life they take very seriously. They are scarcely different from the secular culture at large in their values and perspectives. Indeed, for many of them, the culture is the measure of what the Church must accommodate itself to, not vice versa. Such people (probably most of us, at some time) grieve the Spirit, Who can only wait patiently for us to come around and claim the heritage of blessing we have been given through Christ.
Let us be fully alive in the Spirit, then, continuing to open ourselves more and more to the gifts the Spirit want to bless us with. Let us also be open to the mystery of our own ongoing transformation, delighting in the new person the Spirit is birthing in Christ. And, finally, let us share the good news of the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the greatest blessing God could ever bestow on us.
Reflection and Discussion
1. Where do you see evidence of the fruits of the Spirit in your own life? What might this be telling you about the Spirit's presence in your life?
2. How do you understand the relationship between Christianity and other world religions? Is this much of an issue for you
re: even demonic processes
Speaking of which ... ...
re: the Holy Spirit, what about the UNHoly spirits?
Some don't believe in the reality of the devil. Others see a demon behind every tree.
What do you think?
What about other spirits?
I used to be afraid of unholy spirits.. too much. But I think God put these fears to rest several years ago when I was doubting whether something was of God or of the "devil", and the scripture came to my mind about asking for the Holy Spirit, that our earthly father would not give his child a stone if we asked for bread, and would not give us a snake if we asked for (what was it now?). But our Heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask for Her.
So I think that if we are sincere and ask for God's Holy Spirit and His gifts, etc. He would not give us unholy spirits.
I know, many people these days don't believe in the "devil", or evil spirits. And like you say, many find them behind every tree. Personally, I try not to think about them too much. What one thinks about one tends to attract. I try to think about and concentrate on God and good things.
It has been a very good Conference, Phil, and I thank you for the time, thought and effort you put into it. Again you have opened a few more avenues of insight for me. You have helped me resolve some lingering doubts or questions that I have had about the ratio that the Holy Spirit plays vis-�-vis personal efforts that I have engaged in bringing about needed transformations in my life. You have helped me confirm that every transformation and concomitant charism is the work of the Holy Spirit and the only part that we can play in the work of the Spirit is prayer, the prayer of surrender and opening our minds and hearts to �seek first the kingdom of heaven� with full confidence that God gives his Spirit to all his children who ask him for it. And then all we need in life is indeed given to us.
I have not contributed much to the conference because as the Conference materials came in and as I read the responses of others I found myself formulating more questions than answers. And being a reformed (and still reforming) perfectionist I take far more time than needed at reflection and noting my reflections to paper. I can be compared to the character that Alan Bates played in the movie Zorba. You may remember when Anthony Quinn was bantering with the worries and concerns that Alan Bates was having about the entrepreneurial project they had engaged, Zorba tells Bates, �You know Boss, you think too much! Clever people and grocers...they weigh everything.� Well, I�m like one of those clever people and grocers, and that�s one probable reason why I�m continually questioning and lack the confidence to exercise and talk about the charisms and gifts of the Spirit that my belief in God and his power and presence tell me I am blessed with, even if I don�t �feel� it. But your ministry is one of the many teachers who are helping me learn to dance a little more like Zorba, just as Alan Bates finally did at the end of the movie when he came to the realization of what Zorba had been trying to teach him all along.
Your Conference on the Holy Spirit has helped me realize that the Holy Spirit is indeed active in my life. Bitterness and resentment and anger that desires vengeance have been transformed into forgiveness toward those who have injured me in one way or another, and The Spirit is now working to transform that forgiveness to love for them, wishing and praying for the same good I pray for myself and my family. It is active in the Wisdom I am acquiring, in the Understanding I am achieving, in the Counsel I am seeking, in the Fortitude I am exercising, in the Piety I practice and in the reverence of my worship practices. It is also active in turning my depression into joy, my anxiety into peace, my anger into kindness and gentleness, my impatience into patience and my choleric temperament into goodness.
I�d like to continue this dance with some of the other questions you posed in the conference materials and with some of the sharings that have been posted, especially johnboy who has been most enlightening and prolific, but in a few minutes I�ll be leaving to spend the Fourth of July holiday with family in the sylvan woodlands and pristine beauty of God�s kingdom in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I hope that the conference material won�t be too cold and render responses moot at a later date.
May the dance of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
John, thanks for the affirmation and feedback. I'm glad you found these conferences and the exchanges helpful. Please do feel free to post follow-up questions to any of the conferences; maybe that's even a kind of dance, or sorts. (Zorba the Greek is one of my favorite movies.)
Johnboy and Katy, I think we do need to take the reality of evil spirit seriously, avoiding some of the extremes Katy mentioned. That's where the fruits of the Spirit can be especially helpful in discerning what kind of spirit we've opened ourselves to. Any follow-up questions or comments about that topic go well with this thread.
As I've mentioned before, this forum will remain open, so continuing discussions and sharing are welcomed.
Concerning the fruit of the Spirit: Many people are naturally gentle, kind, etc. What is the difference? Are their fruits inspired by the Spirit? Do they count? Also many non Christians exhibit the fruit of the Spirit more so than some Christians. Is their fruit from the SAME Holy Spirit?
Phil, Thanks for presenting this series on the Holy Spirit. I did learn some new things that I more or less always wondered about.
There are still some comments and questions I would like to post and hope to do that sometime soon.
Katy, glad you enjoyed the presentations, and let's please do continue the discussions.
Re. fruits of the Spirit; I noted in the conference that we do find evidence of these in non-Christian and even non-religious people. Look over the list in Gal. 5: 22-23 and you'll see that no explicit religious reference is given to these. I presented them mostly in the context of discernment and not as the only indicator of the presence of the Spirit. The transformative and charismatic/ministry gifts need to be considered as well; where these are present, one will see more consistent evidence of the fruits.
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