The apostle Paul was known for telling it like it is, whether it be about God’s sovereign choice in Romans 9 or confronting Peter in Galatians 2. In Galatians 5:22-23 Paul strikes us right in our sinful hearts: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
These characteristics must be consistently shown in the people of God. I don’t intend to cover each of these characteristics, but I do want to talk about three of them as it pertains to displaying Christlike character in evangelism: kindness, gentleness, and self-control.
Are you a kind Christian? Followers of Jesus should be the kindest people. I know we know what kindness means, but practically speaking, what does it look like? I am afraid that sometimes we need to refresh our memory. We tend to forget.
True kindness is Spirit-produced; that is, it is supernatural. It is a generous orientation of our hearts toward other people regardless of whether they deserve it. We see this supernatural kindness in God, whose kindness is meant to lead people to repentance (Romans 2:4). Our supreme goal as Christians is to imitate Christ, the “exact imprint of his [God’s] nature” (Hebrews 1:3). Therefore, we should see that Christ was the kindest of all and strive to be like Him. Knowing that God has saved us by His grace in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9), this marvelous salvation should propel us forward to be kind Christians.
Practically, kindness means not reacting to a snide comment, but instead responding with kindness, even if it means the other person “wins” the argument. Remember, we’re not looking to win arguments; we’re looking to win people to Jesus. Oftentimes being kind means swallowing our pride and not succumbing to the temptation of having the last word. It’s important to be reminded that Jesus will have the last word whether you get the last word or not. This fruit of the Spirit is immensely underrated. We need to be kind people. So, examine yourself. Are you kind to others?
Are you a gentle Christian? Next to kindness is gentleness, another underrated fruit of the Spirit. Gentleness is lacking in many Christians today, including myself from time to time. We are all guilty of it.
Being gentle doesn’t mean being cowardly or timid in evangelism. Not in the slightest. It does, however, mean not being a person who reacts explosively to disagreement. To be gentle means displaying grace and mercy to others. Put neg- atively, gentleness means you are not brash or abrasive. This need not be a characteristic of a Christian.
God has called us to be people who overflow with mercy and grace, just as He overflows with mercy and grace for us. Are you a gentle person or do you struggle with showing grace to people? Sometimes being gentle means holding your tongue. Think about it; examine your heart and ask God if you’re gentle.
However, both of these characteristics—kindness and gentleness—won’t be consistent within us if we do not have self-control.
Are you a self-controlled Christian? Being self-controlled is a fruit of the Spirit we talk about a lot but have issues with carrying out practically. It’s tough—no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Just because having self-control is tough doesn’t mean we should neglect to pursue it. It means we should strive all the more to possess it, as it makes us more like Jesus.
Do you have enough self-control to not blurt out the first thing that comes to mind? The majority of the time, the first thing that pops into our heads is likely not helpful, gracious, or loving. When snide remarks are the natural response, we need the Spirit to help us respond in a supernatural way. We desperately need His help, because it’s unfortunately too normal for us to be jerks when we talk with people. Don’t want to be offensive? Have self-control.
There are more than three fruits of the Spirit but these three are enough to make us humble. We have to pull in the reigns of our smugness when talking to people about the gospel because our sin is sneaky. We must work (from Christ’s work) to be Christians who, when pricked, bleed out kindness, gentleness, and self-control.
*This article is adapted from my forthcoming book Gospel Smugness: Displaying Christlike Character in Evangelism.