Galatians 5, the fruit of the Spirit, and the Mormon testimony

by Luke Wayne
6/4/17

For most Mormons, if you ask them why they believe what they believe, they will happily "bear their testimony." This will come down to the idea that they "know" that the Mormon church is the correct church, that Joseph Smith is a prophet, and that the Book of Mormon is true based on an inner experience that they received after praying about the truthfulness of these things. When you press them on how they know that this inner experience was not merely a product of their own emotions or even a deceitful spirit leading them astray, they will typically point to passages in the Book of Mormon. Some will also, however, turn to the Bible. One of the most common Scriptures used is the section in Galatians 5 on the fruit of the Spirit:

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23).

The Mormon will point to this passage and explain that these are the feelings that the Holy Spirit uses to speak to us. When we pray and feel peace, joy, gentleness, and love, we can know that it is the Holy Spirit speaking to us and not a deceitful spirit. But is this really what Paul was saying to the Galatians? Hardly. When we include the immediate context, we read:

"If you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another" (Galatians 5:15-26).

Note, first of all, that this section begins and ends with the issue of sinful pride and competition within the church. "If you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another...Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another." Paul is not talking to unbelievers about how to know that something is true. He is talking to professing believers about how they ought to behave.

Indeed, the whole passage is contrasting two opposing patterns of life: walking in the flesh and walking in the Spirit. The first is defined by "immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these." This is not a list of feelings by which the flesh communicates with us. This is a list of behaviors which epitomize a life in the flesh. These are contrasted with the fruit of the Spirit, which is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control," about which Paul says, ...."against such there is no law." Again, Paul is not talking about a means of communication. This is the pattern of life for those walking in the Spirit. These are the motivations and character traits that the Spirit produces in the believer. It is not a set of feelings we use to identify the Spirit, but rather a set of life-defining qualities produced in us when we already intimately know the Spirit. Paul does not tell the Galatians to pray about new teachings and await a set of inner feelings to reveal to them whether or not such teachings are true. Instead, he warns them:

"But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!" (Galatians 1:8-9).

Paul likewise warns Timothy:

"But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons" (1 Timothy 4:1)

And again:

"Have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness" (1 Timothy 4:7).

Regarding such false teachings, Paul says:

"In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following" (1 Timothy 4:6).

"Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching" (1 Timothy 4:13).

"Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you" (1 Timothy 4:16).

It is not through prayer for new revelation that we combat such errors, but rather through faithfulness to the ancient revelation we already have! We are not to seek out a personal experience, but rather the words of the Holy Spirit in Scripture. Paul similarly tells Timothy elsewhere:

"But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:13-17).

God has given us explicit commands on how we are to recognize and avoid false teaching. To ignore His clear instructions, refuse to study diligently and know what God has already spoken, and instead demand that God give you a personal, individual revelation for questions He has already answered is not only presumptuous, it is disobedient and therefore sinful. We ought not to be surprised, then, if we are easily misled by our own inclinations or by the wiles of the evil one when we behave in this manner. God warned us in advance. We are to judge all things in light of Scripture. May we heed Him and obey, and thus hold fast to what is true rather than being misled by novel fables such as those in the Book of Mormon.

 

Inside the Bible

Jesus says
Matthew 7:15-20, "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits."

The Law says
Deuteronomy 18:20-22, "But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him."

John says
1 John 4:1, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world."

 

Inside CARM

James 1:5 and praying about the Book of Mormon
James 1:5 is improperly used by Mormons to justify praying about the Book of Mormon to see if it is true.  What they do is not biblical.  It is counter to Scriptural truth, and it essentially subjects truth to a feeling.

Moroni 10:4, Alma 32:27-28, and the Mormon testimony
Mormons often offer several passages in the Book of Mormon to reinforce their claim that, if one prays about the Book of Mormon, the Spirit of God will give you a unique revelation (consisting of inner feelings) which will supposedly confirm that the book is true. There are, however, numerous biblical and logical problems with these passages and with the advice that is drawn from them.

What did Jesus mean by "you will know them by their fruit"?
We must be on guard. We must be devoted to the Scriptures, to the gospel, and to the Lord. We must not be deceived by outward appearances of righteousness, not by novel and intriguing new ideas and practices, not even by what appear to be powerful miracles and prophetic insights. We must hold fast to the good news of Jesus Christ and the plain teachings of Scripture.