Fruit of the Spirit vs. Fruit of Idolatry: Faithfulness or Performance

I used to have such a wrong idea about the Fruit of the Spirit. I’d read the verses in Galatians like a laundry list of so many things I couldn’t do enough, be enough. I would either flip to another book of the Bible, or vow to work on being more loving, joyful, peaceful, kind, etc. But the next day, I wouldn’t even be able to list all nine.

This post is the seventh in a series on walking with God instead of pursuing idolatry. You’ll find the previous one here.

Fruit of the Spirit, faithfulness, performance, Galatians, talents, Parable, Jesus Well done, good and faithful servant!” As a Christian, these are the words I long to hear at the end of my days.

The master in Jesus’ parable of the talents said those words to the two servants who’d doubled their investments in his service. (By the way, one talent was worth about four months of wages–this was a lot of money invested!)

I’ve put a lot of hours into ministry over the years. Whether at church or volunteering at my kids’ Christian school, I believed it my duty as a Christian. Always with the idea that it was up to me to make sure there was a return on my investment. I didn’t have thousands of dollars to invest, but I did have time and skills to offer.

Often, I looked at my own talents, those I’d deemed meager, and wish for different ones. I wanted to sing better, write more eloquently, speak more articulately.

Sometimes when I’d take on a ministry task, the results didn’t look like anything I expected. Occasionally, my idyllic picture turned into a train wreck. (I’m thinking about a particular Christmas play at the kids’ school.) Or I messed up a detail and disappointed the leader. Or people grumbled.

Whatever the case, I didn’t feel like I deserved “Well done!” at the end of my labors. I certainly didn’t have double return to show for my efforts.

Galatians, Faithfulness, Fruit of the Spirit, performanceOther times, when I had no expectations, God accomplished huge feats with my tiny efforts. Part of this was learning what my spiritual gifts were and where I was best suited to serve.

But the bigger part was my motivation for serving in the first place. I wanted to hear, “Well done!” because in my mind that made me more worthy in God’s eyes. The greater my effort, the more I wanted God to take notice and be pleased with me.

If I could just accomplish great things for the kingdom, I reasoned, then I would be worthy of love.I dreaded a close connection with God because I mistakenly thought He barely tolerated me. Pleasing God might close the gap between what was supposed to be adoration and what I actually felt.

I’m learning as I walk with the Spirit that God wants me to be faithful to Him, not to my idol of being known as “doing great things for the kingdom.” While there’s no doubt that I am called to be a kingdom builder, I realize now that good works are not what make me worthy of His love.

Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians, performance, faithfulnessThe truth I’m learning is this: He loved you and me long before we could even lift our heads or say a word. He could not love us any more or any less than He does right now. That love is not based on what we do for Him.

It’s easy to confuse faithfulness and performance, because they look the same on the outside. Both appear to be good works in the building of God’s kingdom.

Being faithful is more than earning a good return for our investment . It’s being sensitive to the Spirit’s leading about the good things He’s called us to do. A faithful person walks in the Spirit, happily joining along with whatever God is doing. A performance–based faith stresses outcome over relationship.

Jesus’ parable of the talents illustrates God’s desire for us to fill our unique role. Paul’s letter to the Galatians helps us understand how to do it, namely relying on the Holy Spirit’s power to do it instead of our own.

Want to read the rest of the posts in the Fruit of the Spirit series?







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  1. I loved the way you made a distinction between faithfulness and performance! This helps me as I seek to forsake a performance based faith and faithfully follow the Spirit . Wonderful post, Lyneta!

  2. Beautiful job of comparing the fruit of the spirit with idolatry. Living in a performance-based world, it is hard to see success as being faithful and letting God live through us – not us trying to live life on our own.

  3. Performance and faithfulness are not the same thing! Such an important distinction to make. It is too often that I find myself in performance mode…thanks for helping us think through this!

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