Why bother to actually follow the Holy Spirit’s lead when it’s way easier to become an expert hypocrite?
So as you know, Christians need to produce fruit, specifically the fruit of the Spirit. And as you may know, if you’ve been around Christians long enough, a whole lot of us claim we’re producing this sort of fruit… yet there’s something just a bit off-putting about the sort of “fruit” we’re cranking out.
The “love”' isn’t all that loving. The “joy” has an awful lot of sadness and resignation mixed in. The “patience” feels like despair. The “kindness” is artificial, and just a bit deceptive. The “peace” seems to have come about only after an awful lot of strife. The “forgiveness” has a bunch of strings attached, and the “grace” is extended only to popular people (“the elect,” as Calvinists call ’em) —not everyone.
So what’s going on? Is it just that Christians are terrible at producing the Spirit’s fruit? Is the problem that we’re attempting to achieve these traits by our own efforts, instead of letting the Spirit grow ’em naturally, so because they’re human they came out wrong?
No and no. The problem is we’re not attemping to develop the Spirit’s fruit. We’re trying to substitute real fruit with quick ’n dirty substitutes. We’re faking it.
Why? ’Cause it’s easier. ’Cause it doesn’t require us change for real. ’Cause it means we look good enough for church, but outside the church building we can be the same
Gotta hide the bad fruit.
- 19 Fleshly works are obvious in anyone who practices the following:
- Promiscuity. Uncleanness. Unethical behavior.
- 20 Idolatry. Addiction. Hatred. Rabble-rousing.
- Too much zeal. Anger. Partisanship. Separatism. Heresy.
- 21 Envy. Intoxication. Constant partying. And other people like these.
- I warn you of them just like I warned you before:
- Those who do such things won’t inherit God’s kingdom.
Galatians 5.19-21 KWL
Paul referred to bad fruit as ta erga tis sarkos/“works of the flesh,” and pointed out to the churches of Galatia how they’re obvious in people who do the things in the list above. Which is precisely why hypocrites know better than to act like that. Not in public, anyway. Not among fellow Christians. They hide that stuff.
Most live dual lives. A hypocrite named George, fr’instance, will create the persona of Church George when he’s round the people who know him to be Christian, and be Actual George the rest of the time. (Sometimes there’s also a Home George and Work George and Visiting the Parents George and Drunk in Vegas George. Once you construct one artificial persona, it’s not all that hard to invent many—and diffuse Actual George among them.) The people who encounter Church George have no idea what he’s like the rest of the time, for they’ll never see him. When they stumble into him in a blind alley, they’ll be quite startled. I supervise my church’s Facebook account, and every once in a while I make the mistake of looking at the News Feed, the accumulated list of things the church’s “friends” have posted recently. Good Lord, what a bunch of heathens we minister to. This, you never see at church, for these people know better than to act this way in the Lord’s house, and hide these personas carefully. Arguably, Facebook George isn’t Actual George either, but he’s much closer to the real guy than Church George.
Actual George may indulge in fleshly works all the time, and just lie about it whenever he becomes Church George. But often, one’s church friends also know us in other parts of our lives, meaning we have to stretch the pious façade a bit further: Gotta be Church George at home too, and maybe even at work, and save Actual George for the annual vacation in Bangkok.
So what happens when we’re caught indulging in fleshly works? Relax; thanks to the work of generations of hypocrites before us, every fleshly work can be explained away in Christianese.
- Promiscuity and unethical sexual behavior are blamed on the spouse who won’t “humbly submit” to such things in their bedroom.
- Idolatry and addiction become “hobbies.”
- Hatred, rabble-rousing, anger, excessive zeal, and partisanship are the result of “concerned groups” who disguise their offense at moral failings or doctrinal impurity as God’s outrage and coming wrath.
- Separatism and heresy are either “concern for doctrinal purity,” or “concern for proper biblical headship.”
- Envy is “the pursuit of God’s promises” which others seem to be getting while you aren’t.
- Hatred and hostility and rage are justified because you hate sin—you’re “hating the sin, loving the sinner,” although 99 percent of your effort is put into the hating.
- Misbehavior of all sorts will often be turned around on the accusers, who are in turn accused of legalism, of unforgiveness, of gracelessness, of lovelessness.
- Minor infractions will be relabeled “freedom in Christ.”
Fake Christians get expert at hiding their fleshly works. And get away with it for a good long time because they only real friends they make at church, are hypocrites just like them: They use the same explanations, let them slide, never take them to task for living a lifestyle that’s the antithesis of the Spirit’s fruit, and permit the fraud to continue.
Gotta pretend to love people.
As I said in the beginning, frauds have got pretty good at faking actual fruit of the Spirit. But no, it’s not a perfect simulation. Because they don’t have the real thing, there are plenty of cracks in the veneer.
Take a Christian who doesn’t have love. Paul (and his cowriter Sosthenes) described love like so.
- 4 Love has patience. Love behaves kindly.
- It’s not emotion out of control. It doesn’t draw attention to how great it is. It doesn’t exaggerate.
- 5 It doesn’t ignore others’ considerations. It doesn’t look out for itself. It doesn’t provoke behavior.
- It doesn’t plot evil. 6 It doesn’t delight in doing wrong: It delights in truth.
- 7 It puts up with everything, puts trust in everything, puts hope in everything,
- survives everything. 8a Love never falls down.
1 Corinthians 13.4-8 KWL
Naturally, fake love—the sort of thing both ancient Corinth and our present-day culture confuses with love—lacks those characteristics. Fake love is impatient, unkind, wild, self-promoting, exaggerated, dismissive of anyone or anything else as lesser, provocative, scheming and conniving, willing and ready to shatter existing relationships and break every law… and over time, it fades away, and doesn’t persevere. Fake love rarely lasts without a strong helping of denial. Or liquor.
Among hypocrites, the absence of actual love produces people who don’t look at our fellow human beings as creatures to love. Just resources to tap. We’ll care about our friends and family, and be very loyal to them (although not always)—but we don’t give a crap about strangers or neighbors. Depending on our politics, either the poor are nothing but a societal burden, or the rich are nothing but societal parasites. Either way, other people are inconvenient—until we need something from them.
Works the same way in relationships. We don’t date or marry people because we wanna self-sacrificially care for them. Oh, we’ll do that to a point. But we have ulterior motives: We like how they make us feel, whether emotionally or physically. We like the comfort and security of knowing they’ll be there for us… even though we won’t guarantee we’ll be there in return. If our lives are a mess, a significant other with a good job can really bail us out. Or if we bail them out, they’ll owe us, and we can extract payment in all sorts of ways. And every time they object, we’ll claim, “But I love you”—and that makes everything all right. Right? Until we fall out of love, or find someone else to tap, and bail on them altogether.
Works the same way with parents or kids. If they do for us, we love ’em. If not—if the “but I’m your kid, and I love you” con doesn’t work anymore—we disown them. Maybe not in words, but we’ll just never be around.
We won’t care to know the other people in our churches. At best it’ll be on a superficial level, and at worst the same parasitic sort of relationship we have with our significant others. Always take, take, take. If someone in the church is too poor, too needy, has too many problems, we’ll unfriend ’em, and use the excuse, “He just can’t get his life together; it’s gotta be because of sin, and I can’t be around that.” That usually works. Successful people must be good Christians, right?—and they’re the only people worth knowing, so we’ll stick to those cliques.
Quite often you’ll see hatred. Hypocrites hate sin—so we claim. So we hate anything which has any whiff of sin to it—and that’s pretty much everything. Everything’s tainted. Anything other people enjoy, anything popular in the secular world? We’ll find something wrong with it. Anything popular in the Christian culture? We’ll find something wrong with that too. There’s nothing good under the sun, nothing. Especially if it outrages us personally. Depending on our politics, we’ll hate liberals and Democrats, or we’ll hate social Darwinists and Republicans. We’ll complain a little too much about homosexuals, or crack gay jokes. We’ll express way too much concern about Muslims and heretics. We’ll absolutely hate the devil. (What, you thought true Christians get to make an exception for the devil? No. Any hate corrodes the hater.)
Redefine every fruit.
If the joyless have any sense of humor, it’s bent; it’s all about mocking and slamming others. Our so-called realism cynically dismisses any of the good in the world, as we only fixate on evil. We’re quick to find problems—in our families, churches, jobs, in the government, in society. We nitpick, not because we care, or are trying to improve things, but because that’s just what we do. We never expect anything, including our own lives, to get any better. Any Christians who do, we mock as naïve or idealistic—or of loving the world too much.
And we make trouble: We like to create drama around us. Hey, life is boring when people aren’t fighting. So we’ll hang around fights, or pick one. We like to debate. We love apologetics and politics. If there’s an issue we can either fight over or forgive, we’ll never, ever pick forgiveness.
…Or perhaps we oughta follow the Spirit.
Where’d I get these descriptions? Simple: My own misbehavior. I used to be an awful hypocrite. Now I’m concentrating on growing fruit. I still have a way to go. As do we all. Once we recognize these failings in ourselves, we can concentrate on letting the Holy Spirit get rid of them.
What I find works best is confession. I admit my past misbehavior—like the things I listed above. I talk about my less-than-noble motives for doing such things. I tell people it was sinful. I condemn it. And I ask ’em to call me on it if I repeat these old habits.
What if they’re practicing these things, ’cause they’re trying to fake the fruit of the Spirit instead of legitimately producing it? Well, some of ’em get convicted, and repent. And some of ’em pretend they would never, and praise me for being so transparent, and strive all the harder to hide the same behaviors in their own lives.
…And if I’m speaking to them one-on-one, they’ll take me aside and warn me, “You really need to be careful who you confess this stuff to. You realize people might use it against you.” I fail to see how; it’s awfully hard to blackmail someone when they’ve confessed the crime to anyone and everyone. But its pure paranoid irrationality exposes it for what it really is: A fruitless Christian who’s afraid their own similar sins might someday be found out. I need to stop it before exposing my flaws exposes them too. Darkness hates light.
If other people are doing the same things, and happen to be personally convicted because of my confession, that’s fine. I don’t try to figure out what sins other people are committing, nor customize my confessions to convict them. I don’t do passive-aggressive manipulation. I just talk about what I was gonna talk about—myself—and call a spade a spade, and admit I was self-centered instead of Jesus-focused. If they repent, great. If not, oh well; it’s between them and the Spirit.
But as for me, I’m gonna grow the Spirit’s fruit. I’m not gonna swap it for vastly inferior knock-offs.