Being a Particular People

The pandemic wasn’t all bad for all people. More than four million new businesses were started and eighty-three billion dollars in credit card debt was paid off. But for the handful of positives to come out of the strange season that was, the repercussions loomed larger still. Personally, as the long days rolled on, I began noticing a significant deficit in three key areas of my life.

Contentment. Though my schedule became less hectic, I grew increasingly discontent. For a while, most of my days were a depressing mix of lethargy, apathy, and disappointment.

Resilience. Even the smallest of things began to bring me down. I found myself thin-skinned, fragile, and discomposed. I was easily offended, easily angered, and I quit on things easily.

Wisdom. I began making foolish decisions, wasting time, and giving mental energies to things that didn’t matter while forgetting the things that do. I found myself pursuing meaningless leisure at the expense of meaningful work and meaningful rest.

Initially, I thought this was all a result of home confinement and lockdown restrictions. But just as the pandemic didn’t cause—but amplified—the division in our country, so the pandemic didn’t cause—but revealed—the deterioration of contentment, resilience, and wisdom already taking place in me long before Covid-19. Even surrounded by my wife and kids, the people I love most in this world, sheltering in place subtly but steadily shifted my focus inward. Tunnel vision fixed my gaze on self and illuminated the undoing that had long been unfolding within. Again, while digital technologies and my always-online life were not solely to blame, they were not without blame either. Significant blame, in fact.

The apps we use are actually using us. We are not so much the customers as the products. Each search and click provides valuable data to companies constantly searching for ways to effectively commodify our attention and, more slyly, our addiction. The bottom line is to keep us scrolling and swiping at any cost. And one of the most effective ways of lulling us in is to situate us in a never-ending loop of comparison, which eventually breeds contempt, before finally devolving into unprecedented levels of self-centric despair. This often leads to a nagging and incessant impatience, as we desperately seek morsels of satisfaction that always leave us wanting. Fearful of perpetual discontent, we grow increasingly hostile, taking out our fears and frustrations on others. Left unchecked, hostility turns to outrage, and we begin to see and treat people as caricatures and enemies, forgetting that we and they are all collectively made in the image of God. As the vicious cycle continues on and on, we seek relief by recklessly indulging in cheap comforts, always available and accessible at the click of a button.

At this point, you may be wondering if I’m Amish and advocating for the elimination of all digital technologies from our lives. No. I grew up in Silicon Valley. I still live here, raising my family and serving a church community here. Most of my friends work in or have some close connection to the tech industry, and many are creating much good in the world. I’m grateful for many digital tools and recognize their value.

The problem isn’t the technology.

The problem is us.

Digital tools, from email to social media, have become so integral to our everyday lives that we often fail to consider not only what these tools are doing for us but, more importantly, how these tools are forming us.

A life of increasing contentment, resilience, and wisdom is something we’re all after. And in one way or another, most of us know that the digital age has dangerously undone some of the necessary work of such a life. But there is an ancient and timeless remedy for this undoing, a way to come up for analog air above the digital smoke. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). He goes on to describe the result of this walking by the Spirit as the cultivation of what he identifies as the fruit of the Spirit: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (vv. 5:22–23).

These are not a set of disconnected, optional, pick-and-choose attributes at a Christian buffet. This isn’t an invitation to fill your life with a bit of this and that as you go along. These are the definitive characteristics of the singular fruit of the Spirit, the undeniable result of a life inhabited by God, as we patiently and steadily walk the way of Jesus. These are also not simply inner qualities meant to offer us individual comfort. They are, according to theologian John Barclay, “the social characteristics that enhance and maintain a community” and “new patterns of social relationship.” The Spirit bears fruit in us so that he might bring flourishing to the world through us, one relationship and one community at a time.

This passage is near the end of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, and it’s important to remember that one of his foremost concerns throughout the letter is to remind the early Christians in Galatia of their identity, and what specifically does and does not constitute that identity. In other words, the Spirit’s fruit is not about doing particular things in order to be a particular people. Conversely, it’s about being a particular people, which inevitably leads to a particular sort of living and doing in the world. More specifically, it’s about the fact that our identification as the people of God is marked by the living Spirit of God working in and through us, expressed in our relationships with one another.

Fruit is a sign of life. Living trees bear fruit. Dead ones don’t. In the same way, those who are inhabited by the Spirit of the living God will bear fruit. As Christopher Wright puts it, “These are the qualities that God himself will produce in a person’s everyday, ordinary human life because the life of God himself is at work within them.” And, wonderfully and beautifully, the fruit of the Spirit offers us the very specific antidotes we most desperately need for the undoing we’re experiencing in the digital age.

Love, instead of self-centric despair

Joy, instead of comparison

Peace, instead of contempt

Leading to a life of contentment.

Patience, instead of impatience

Kindness and Goodness, instead of hostility

Leading to a life of resilience.

Faithfulness, instead of forgetfulness

Gentleness, instead of outrage

Self-control, instead of reckless indulgence

Leading to a life of wisdom.

Read more from Jay Y. Kim »

Excerpted from Analog Christian by Jay Y. Kim. Copyright (c) 2022 by Jay Y. Kim. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.

Jay Y. Kim
Jay Y. Kim

Jay Y. Kim is teaching pastor at the Saratoga campus of WestGate Church in California, and on the leadership team of The ReGeneration Project. He is the author of Analog Church: Why We Need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age (IVP).