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Pastor Glenn McDonald: The Spirit Grows our Character

The Great Wall of China is one of the most remarkable feats of human engineering.

Construction began more than 2,300 years ago. The “Great Wall” is actually a patchwork quilt of many different barriers built to protect the heart of Chinese civilization from the encroachment of Mongol hordes from the north.

If all the undulations and peripheral walls are taken into account, the total length exceeds 13,100 miles. That represents the distance from Los Angeles to Boston, back to LA, back to Boston, again to LA, then to Denver for good measure. The walls, now significantly eroded, once traversed beaches, deserts, and exceedingly rugged mountains.

As a building project, the Great Wall was audacious. The barrier soars up to 30 feet high in places, and is at least 20 feet thick.

It’s probably urban legend that peasants who died during construction were buried within the walls. But students of history estimate that at least 400,000 workers lost their lives while at labor over the centuries, a staggering price to pay.

Why were the Chinese willing to make such a sacrifice?

The answer is that emperors yearned for a wall that enemies couldn’t get over, around, or through. So how did a group known as the Manchus successfully breach the wall in 1644 and overthrow the Ming Dynasty – a period of Chinese governance that had lasted almost 300 years?

It was easy. A Ming general by the name of Wu San Gui opened a gate and let them walk right through.

In other words, he sold out. Historians believe he was eager to receive a bribe, not to mention hopeful that the Manchus would end up slaughtering the Ming warriors who had killed his own family.

It doesn’t matter how many walls we build to secure our own lives – whether big bank accounts, public acclaim, or seminary-approved theology. If we abandon our values, our lives will be breached. If we flunk integrity, we will lose everything that distinguishes us from the rest of the world.

That’s why the indwelling Holy Spirit is wholly devoted to growing our character.

The apostle Paul identifies nine fruits of the Spirit – character qualities that emerge steadily over the course of our lives if we choose to follow the Spirit’s promptings. More than anything else, these fruits are a description of what it means to look like and live like Jesus. They are hallmarks of personal integrity.

Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law… Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-25).

Bible students tend to sort the fruits into three triads.

The first three are the Godward Fruits – love, joy, and peace.

Think about it. Almost all of human history is the record of men and women desperately trying to figure out ways to experience love, joy, and peace, and willing to pay any price. But God is able to grow those three most fervently sought qualities on the inside of human hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit – for free.

The next triad presents the Relational Fruits – patience, kindness, and goodness.

There are two Greek words for “patience” in the New Testament. The first is hupomone, which means putting up with exasperating circumstances. That might include a website that keeps rejecting your attempts to pay a bill, a construction zone that makes you late for an appointment, or a highly motivated mosquito inside your tent. The second word is makrothumia (literally, “big suffering”) which means putting up with exasperating people – a timely reminder that Thanksgiving is coming next week.

What word does Paul use for “patience” here in Galatians 5? It’s makrothumia. The Holy Spirit, in other words, is on a divine mission to help you keep your cool and deal with feelings of irritation in the presence of the people who drive you nuts.

The last three are known as the Inward Fruits – faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

These are the qualities that reflect who we really are when nobody is looking. People can carry out amazing acts of service, write big checks to deserving causes, and build a resume that is the envy of everyone at their high school reunion. We can fool a lot of people a lot of the time. We can even fool ourselves.

But we cannot fool the God who knows the heart.

Our most earnest efforts may tempt us to believe that we are constructing, brick by brick, an impenetrable Great Wall of Me. But if our hearts are weighed down by bitterness, insecurity, or rage, that wall will crumble from the inside-out.

In God’s kingdom, character is not negotiable.

Integrity matters.

And here’s the best news:

God’s own Spirit is deployed to help grow within us the fruit of a heart that fully belongs to Him.

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