Our culture idolizes people based on their fame and fortune, rather than their character or morals. Is it any wonder that there is a crisis of character? In North America, celebrities are usually the ones who influence our youth the most. All you have to do is watch the latest television program, swipe through some social media, or listen to songs that are geared for children and teens. Sadly, children are the ones who are most affected by the world’s impoverished morality. If we are not careful we will let the media shape and mold our children into what the world says they should be like.
This raises the question, “Who and what shapes our children’s character and morals?” Is it the school? Is it television? Is it the government? The answer should be no!
As parents, we are the ones who have been given the divine responsibility to help shape our children’s character. The Bible tells us to “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). The character development of our children is the sacred responsibility of every parent. As we seek to cultivate character in our children, we must turn again and again to the well-worn pages of the Bible. As Christians, our character should be shaped by the Bible, rather than our culture. The Bible is full of principles by which we can live and shape our lives. We have been given a treasure chest of great tools in the Bible to help us train our children in the ways of God.
Learning to Live in the Spirit
Parenting can seem overwhelming at times. However, the good news is that we are not alone in this great task. God partners with us in the character development of children. He gives us His Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit wants to give us the wisdom, guidance, and direction that we need to raise our children in the faith. The Spirit wants to be our guide as we seek to help our children grow.
I would like to share with you one of the most helpful ways that my wife and I have found to help teach our children biblical principles of character. It is the fruits of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:16, 22, 25). The fruits of the Spirit are nine Christ-like qualities that the Holy Spirit imparts to believers as they walk with Him. They are the hallmark of a Spirit-filled life and the direct result of the Spirit’s work in and through us.
According to Paul, the fruits of the Spirit are a natural result of “walk[ing] by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16). As a farmer prepares for a harvest of fruit, the Spirit cultivates the fruits of the Spirit in the life of believers. As we yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit, we are liberated to experience His fullness in our lives and in our homes. The result of the fruits of the Spirit in our lives is Christ-like character. All we have to do is surrender our hearts and our lives to Him daily.
As a family, we found that the work of the Spirit is essential to character development. We memorized the fruits of the Spirit together and seek to use them as a model for character development in our home and in our children’s lives. Once we learned them together, we were able to use them as a model of Christ’s work in us through the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. This has been especially helpful when it comes to discipline in the home. Here is an overview of each of the fruits of the Spirit that Paul mentions.
The first and most important fruit of the Spirit is love. Love is the virtue of brotherly and sacrificial love. It is a love that seeks the good of others. Paul’s order of placement for the word “love” tells us that it is the greatest of the fruits (see 1 Corinthians 13; Ephesians 5:2; Colossians 3:14). Other New Testament writers, such as John and Peter, emphasize love as the great feature of the kingdom of God.
Love is a spiritual anchor of truth in relationship with God and neighbor. This love is a distinctly Christian love, which finds its source from God alone. Because of this kind of love, God sent His only Son to die for us. The Holy Spirit is hard at work to reproduce this kind of love in each one of us. We are to show this kind of selfless love to one another and to the world.
The second fruit of the Spirit is joy. The word joy appears sixty times in the New Testament. Joy corresponds to happiness, but it is independent of outward circumstances and is to be found within every believer’s life. Joy is a deep gladness that comes from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As Christians, everything that we do should be done with joy in our hearts. The Bible tells us that we are to serve the Lord with joy and gladness. God desires for His children to know the joy of the Lord. The Bible says that the joy of the Lord is our strength (see Nehemiah 8:10). Let the Holy Spirit fill you with joy today as you serve Him.
Peace is the third fruit of the Spirit. Peace refers to a tranquility of mind, body, and soul. It is a spiritual well-being that only God can give a person. Nations might be able to produce a world of peace, but God is the only one who can offer total peace. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). God’s peace will never pass away. In fact, Paul calls it the peace that surpasses all understanding (see Philippians 4:7). This doesn’t mean that you will never have another problem, but that God will give you peace in the midst of the storm. Let the peace of God fill your heart and soul through the power of the Spirit.
Long-suffering is the fourth fruit of the Spirit. The Greek word is commonly translated “patience” but the King James Version renders a more accurate translation of the word “long-suffering.” The verb means to place or arrange under for a long time. Christians should be able to hold strong in the midst of trials and difficulty. We need to be steadfast and endure. This means waiting through the difficult times, even when we are severely tried, confused, or weak. It is like being a spiritual rubber band. When we are being stretched we will not break if we have long-suffering. The Holy Spirit will supernaturally give us patience to hold on under difficult situations and circumstances.
The fifth fruit of the Spirit is sympathetic kindness. It is God’s virtuous gift to be able to respond to the special needs of others who are hurting or in need. It is a quality of God’s kindness that is found in the New Testament only in Paul’s correspondence. Those who have experienced the kindness of God’s salvation in Christ are to clothe themselves with the same kindness. In a world full of anger, selfishness, and contention, the Lord wants us to cultivate the fruit of kindness in our lives. Let the Lord use you to show kindness to others.
The sixth fruit of the Spirit is goodness. Goodness is the generosity that overflows from kindness. Although goodness and kindness are similar, goodness is a more active term, which is often directed toward others in a benevolent way. It is the action of helping others in need. We are to take action and become agents of God’s goodness in the world. When we see a need we must meet it. When we see a hurt we must heal it. The virtue of goodness reminds us that we become the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit desires to use us as vehicles through which the goodness of God may flow.
This is one of the most common words in the New Testament. It is used in a variety of ways to mean faith, but considering the ethical context of Galatians, the word is accurately translated “faithfulness.” It refers to being a person that others can rely upon. You cannot have faith in God without being faithful. The two are one in the same. The Spirit of the Lord wants to make us responsible persons in every area of our lives. As you think about the word “faithfulness,” ask yourself the question, “Can God trust me to be faithful?”
The eighth fruit of the Spirit is gentleness. It literally means to be mild or tame. The word is often used to refer to an animal, such as a bridled horse. In the personal sense it refers more to controlled strength than it does weakness. Gentleness isn’t a sign of weakness, instead is it a sign of the Spirit’s strength in us and through us. Gentleness is closely associated to the word humility. Jesus Christ is our great example of gentleness and humility. Being God, He humbled himself to becoming one of us (see Philippians 2). Gentleness is the virtue that is needed when confronted by opposition and persecution. Peter tells us that gentleness is necessary to have a genuine witness (see 1 Peter 3:15–16). Without gentleness we cannot be a true Christian witness to the world.
The final ethical virtue of the Spirit is self-control, or temperance. It is victory over the desires of the flesh. It is the virtue of a person who masters their passions and desires. It is opposite to the desires of the flesh. Self-control is closely associated to purity of mind, heart, and conduct. It is the ability to crucify the flesh and walk in the Spirit. It is relying on the power of the Spirit to overcome the desires of the flesh. We need more self-control in our daily lives.
The fruits of the Spirit are an excellent way for you to teach your children Christ-like character in the home. Each fruit can be used as a devotional thought for the day or week. Take time to study and learn each one of them and to memorize them with your children.
Do you need help with discipling your children? Are you looking for the basics of what it looks like to practice your faith as a Christian family? Find out more with Winfield Bevins’ book Grow at Home: A Beginner’s Guide to Family Discipleship. Written for families of all ages and backgrounds, Grow at Home unpacks these ideas with a practical guide to family discipleship. When we bring the gospel back in the home, it will spread through our neighborhoods and into the communities where we live. Get it from our store here.