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One of my friends, while growing up, was the member of a small Pentecostal church in our town. It had, perhaps 25 members, most of them related, and it struggled to keep its doors open. We rarely attended the church services with her, but we lived all year for the church’s summer Bible camp, where kids from all over Iowa from similar church backgrounds met. It was a week of water skiing, mud volleyball, cute boys—and learning Scripture.

Lots and lots of Scripture.

At our twice-daily chapel gatherings, we learned chapters and chapters and chapters of the Bible. The leaders knew that rote memorization is tough. But they also knew that when you set words to music, even small children can memorize copious amounts of information (think the ABC’s, or the books of the Bible).

For whatever reason, the Scripture-set-to-music that I remember most, is Galatians 5, even if the words from the King James Bible sounded a bit awkward to a 12-year-old in the 1970s who read mostly The Good News Bible.

Stand fast in the liberty/
Wherewith Christ has set us free/
And be ye not entangled/
In the yoke of bondage.

For you have been called unto liberty/
But use not that liberty/
As an occasion of the flesh/
But love one another.

The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy peace/
Longsuffering, gentleness/
Meekness, kindness, goodness, faith/
Against such there is no law.

Stand fast in the liberty/
Wherewith Christ has set us free/
And be ye not entangled/
In the yoke of bondage.

I can still rattle off the fruits of the Spirit, but I can’t help thinking that the last phrase “Against such there is no law…” sounds an awful lot like a diet program.

If you’ve ever been part of a weight loss program that counts points, you know the drill: “Here are all the good things you want to eat and can’t, BUT…carrots! Celery! Broccoli! Cabbage! You can have as many of these as you like! They’re zero points! Against such there is no law!”

Are the fruits of the Spirit the grudging second-place prize? The Rice-a-Roni in a celestial game show?

We act like that sometimes. I act like that. Paul even acknowledges it: “…the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit.” It seems absurd when you say it out loud: I’d rather be pulled back into my old nature than do what’s good for me. The fact is, I crave cheesecake over broccoli.

So what to do?

The key, perhaps, is in verse 18: “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Even when I’m dieting full force and see the good results in front of me — better health, well-fitting clothing, an energizing exercise routine — I still desire the CheezIts. Even when I’m walking in the Spirit—even being led by the Spirit, I still desire having the last word and greed and competition and backbiting. Doesn’t it sound horrible that way? I desire things that lead to an aching spirit, divisions between me and those I love most, soul-shriveling acts of impulse and shame, just as a binge of Oreo Cookies leaves me sickened and ashamed.

Maybe being led by the Spirit doesn’t prevent us from falling off the bandwagon once in a while. Maybe it’s not all or nothing.

I strive to let the Spirit lead me and to cultivate those fruits that are promised, and while I’m in that path, I feel good! I feel healthy and strong! I sense the Spirit’s presence around me! And yet, still those ugly, niggling little remnants of the “old me” show up and sometimes take over.

And just as when you blow a diet and think, “I give up!” and you’re tempted to just eat everything around you, sometimes my backsliding on the Spirit elicits the same response—I give up! I’m not worthy! Then gently the Spirit picks me up, sets me back on the path and says, “Hey, try again. Don’t give up on the fruit.”

Scale photo by i yunmai on Unsplash

Valerie Van Kooten

Valerie Van Kooten is the Administrator of the State Historical Museum of Iowa. She and her husband Kent live in Pella, Iowa.".


  • Lisa Vander Wal says:

    Thanks, Valerie! Well said.

  • Cheri Scherr says:

    I so identify Val. My goal is to be mindful this year. Yesterday I mindfully ate two pieces of fudge. It will come.

  • Daniel Walcott says:

    Loved the article, loved the point of the article. The teacher in me needs to point out fruit is not plural, we don’t pick and choose which fruit, it is not fruits. That is why I cringe when asked to speak on one or more of the fruits as if we can cultivate that opposed to seeking the Holy Spirit who will produce the fruit of the Spirit in us.

  • RZ says:

    Lots to consider here but a few quick reactions:
    1. Humans have 2 primary biological drives that are not “fleshly” or “carnal” but rather essential for survival. Those include a hunger for food and a hunger for sex. “Behold, they are very good.” They are baked into creative design. They are biological and chemical, they are universal, and they are powerful, sometimes overwhelming! They are not inherently sinful.
    Although the will is necessary for mastery, the will is not responsible for the drives themselves. Sexual and food cravings are natural, chemical, and often randomly volatile, not willful. The bondage here in Galatians may well describe what we do to each other in judging each other’s failures in mastery as somehow worse than our own.
    2. Metabolism, availability, circumstances, marital status, hormonal balances, family obligations, and career callings, among other things, make mastery more difficult for some than for others at various stages of life. Not all of us can be elite athletes or super models. Fewer yet could ever manage celibacy. Similarly some individuals are over-sexed or under-sexed in ways that damage themselves or their partners. My point here is that mastery is important and helpful but shame is not. None of us gets a straight A in mastery. Neither though, are we persistently , like Cain, evil in intent.
    3. It sometimes seems to me that 98% of us get 98% of our doctrines from the letters of Paul. What we neglect though, is the wondering and cross-examining Paul is doing as he considers this “new thing” (NT Wright) God is doing in Christ. In this caae, we forget, “the good that I would, I do not.” Who will rescue me? Ah, but It is already done! Grace has superabounded. God is not formulaic and God’s grace is not bound by the action/ reaction of physics or mathematics. Perhaps God counts neither our calories nor our fantasies. “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” ( Or …try yet again, this is not serving you well.)
    Our bondage is often self-imposed or system-imposed. Resigned hopelessness is the ultimate enemy. Thank you for naming it, Valerie

  • Stephanie says:

    Thank you for illustrating our struggles to live consistently by the Spirit, Valerie. Thanks also for concluding with reminders of the life-giving Spirit who never gives up on us! Peace to you.

  • Oh my, does this ever sound familiar! Our neighbors, when I was growing up, likewise were members of a holiness group and they were generous in their acceptance of me. I learned wonderful songs and memorized reams of scripture when I attended weekly Christian Youth Crusader meetings. I give thanks to my parents for their willingness to let me sample many different faith styles without fearing that somehow I might be sullied or influenced away from the CRC. Thank you Valerie, for bringing back some great memories.

  • Jim S says:

    I think the CRC had a version of this as well because I remember singing it in Sunday school in the 70’s – The Fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. For such there is no law – or something to that effect. Must have been an NIV translation of that song LOL.

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