The Spirit's Fruit: Faithfulness
Any discussion on the fruit of the Spirit as laid out in Galatians 5 must begin with the simple fact that the list gives fruits of the Spirit, not fruits of human effort and achievement. Thus any discussion on faithfulness as a fruit of the Spirit also begins there. Faithfulness in the life of a believer is a product of the work of the Holy Spirit, working in him or her to accomplish all that God desires in our sanctification. That is not to say, however, that we don’t have a responsibility within the sovereign plan of God. As in all things biblical, there is a mysterious and glorious cohesion between the work of our sovereign God and our responsibility to obey and, as Paul says, work out our salvation with fear and trembling. So while we need to of first importance acknowledge that faithfulness within the life of a believer is a work of God, we also must be clear that Scripture gives clear commands and indications of what faithfulness as a fruit of the Spirit must look like. Any faithfulness that is a work of the Spirit must resemble the Scriptural precedent of what faithfulness is and does. To do so, 1 Timothy 1:12-20 is a key passage to examine what faithfulness in the Christian life looks like. It is here that Paul states explicitly that God “judged me faithful, appointing me to His service” (1 Tim. 1:12). How then does Paul explain what that faithfulness looks like? He seems to give four characteristics that describe a faithful Christian life.
Paul opens the pericope with this: “I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful.” The first descriptor of a faithful Christian life is that it is Christ-empowered. Paul acknowledges from the outset that any work done in his ministry, any effort he put in, any souls won for the Gospel are a work of Christ within Him, giving Him the necessary strength to persevere. All service in the Kingdom is done through the work of the King within and through. As Paul says in Galatians 6:14, “Far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ….” The Christian life is lived not under one’s own power, strength, or ability, but in the power, strength, and ability of Christ which eliminates our human boasting. The believer’s union to Christ is a central doctrine to know and understand, not only in our justification, but also in our sanctification. Once we’ve been united to Christ by faith, it is He that works in and through us for His own good pleasure. Failure will be the necessary and only result of a life lived in our own strength.
Paul’s next point comes in verse 15 where he says, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy….” The simple Gospel truth that the grace of God has overflowed to sinners through the incarnation and atonement of Christ was central to Paul’s life and ministry. If his union with Christ was his lifeblood, then the Gospel was Paul’s heartbeat, the very thing that drove him on to further ministry. Paul told the Corinthians, “For I desired to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” The faithful Christian life is one always lived in the shadow of the cross, a life lived with the singular purpose of proclaiming the Gospel of Salvation through Jesus Christ alone.
Paul continues in verse 16 by saying that he received mercy so that “Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever, amen.” In recounting the mercy and grace of God poured out to Him through Christ, Paul cannot help but break out in doxology. To truly understand the grace of God in Christ is to know deeply and savingly that it is God alone Who saves, and it is His enemies (you and me) whom He saves. A knowledge of the Gospel must inevitably lead to worship, and so if the faithful Christian life is marked by the centrality of the Gospel, then the faithful Christian life is one which both actively and passively brings glory to the God of that salvation. It is active because it should be the Christian’s chief desire to glorify God in every thought and action. It is passive because, if the Spirit is truly at work within us, it is inevitably part of His sanctifying work.
Paul ends this section with instructions for Timothy to “wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience.” He then gives two examples, Hymenaeus and Alexander, men who did not wage the good warfare but abandoned their post. The contrast here is key and explicit. Timothy is to fight by holding faith and a good conscience; the other two failed to do so and thus Paul handed them over to Satan. The language there is the same that Paul uses in 1 Cor. 5 in his instructions on church discipline, likely implying that these men lived lives that were biblically inconsistent – they claimed Christ but lived in a way that was opposite of that claim. For Paul, to hold faith and a good conscience was to live and minister with doctrinal purity (1:3-7) and blamelessness before God (Acts 23:1). A faithful Christian life is one that is not only guided by but defined by Scripture and its demands on us and descriptors of us. The primary work of the Spirit in sanctification is conforming us into the image of the Son, the incarnate Word who lived a life in perfect accordance with the inscripturated Word, all to the glory of God the Father.
Keith Kauffman attended University of Maryland (B.S.) and Capital Bible Seminary(M.Div.). Keith currently works at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, working in the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases studying the immune response to Tuberculosis. Keith serves as an elder at Greenbelt Baptist Church.