Fruit of the Spirit
We’ve all heard it said that “patience is a virtue” but not many of us have heard that “patience is a fruit of the Spirit”. These are not one and the same. because virtue is not the fruit of the spirit, not that there’s anything wrong with virtue. See, anyone can have virtue or many virtuous qualities. But, virtues are usually self-cultivated, not Spirit cultivated. A “virtuous person” is someone who has disciplined themselves to be patient, brave, or generous. However, “fruit of the Spirit” implies something very different. Most obvious is that it’s the Spirit’s fruit, not ours. No amount of determination or discipline ripens the fruit of the Spirit. Because it’s the Spirit’s fruit, it is a harvest that only those who have the Spirit of God in them can have.
“Fruit of the Spirit” and “Acts of the Flesh”
Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5: 22-23 and when we read about the fruit of the Spirit, we might zoom in tightly to just two verses. While these are great verses, if we focus on them exclusively we can get a distorted picture of their meaning and significance.
You might want to also take a look at the fruit of the Spirit as it is set in contrast to the acts of the flesh, that’s listed right before in Galatians 5:19-21.
“The acts of the flesh are obvious sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drukenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
The lists given in Galatians of attitudes and traits couldn’t be more different. They are almost polar opposites. But putting negatives and positives side by side like this is a common writing technique, one that Paul, the writer of Galatians, uses from time to time. Listing negatives and positives next to each other sharpen their meaning.
Comparing these lists, imagining people characterized by these traits, it becomes really obvious that the second list is the better of the two. Those are the characteristics we want to have. But the contrast between the individual traits is not the most significant difference between these two lists. At the heart of the contrast are the different sources of the characteristics.
The first list is “acts of the flesh.” The list is a set of outcomes of the power of the flesh. The flesh is the driving force and origin of those characteristics. This also means that the acts of the flesh are very easy to recognize as well.
The “fruit of the Spirit” is produced by the Spirit. The fruit grows out of something, a tree or a vine, and the growth of the fruit is entirely powered by its host.
One very important thing to understand about the fruit of the Spirit is that it is the fruit of the Spirit. These famous verses have strong implications for the way we live, but whose fruit is it? They are the Spirit’s. We must understand that these characteristics are produced by the third person of the Trinity. He is the agent, the source, and the power that grows the fruit. And His power is contrasted to that of the flesh; they are two competing sources of our actions and attitudes.
Even though Christians have the Spirit of God living in them, it doesn’t mean that everyone who has the Spirit will always be loving, joyful, patient, and so forth. What this means is that these things are the fruit of the Spirit, they flow from Him, and He produces them. So when they are present in a follower of Christ, it is evidence that the Spirit is in them. The Holy Spirit may choose to grow the fruit of peace in my life, joy, and patience in you, and faithfulness and love in your neighbor. They are His fruits to grow as He sees fit, for the benefit of the believer, the church, and God’s kingdom.
Will All Believers Have All the Fruit in Equal Measure?
It’s pretty common to just assume that the list of the Spirit’s fruit indicates what every Christian is supposed to look like, in equal measure. We might not expect the Spirit-filled believer to be lacking in, say, kindness or self-control. If the same Spirit is in all believers, then surely He will produce the same fruit in each one, right?
Is this assumption correct? In reality, these verses are descriptive. It sketches out some of the fruit the Spirit produces in the lives of believers. But some believers might be more joyful than others; some will be gentler than others; some will have greater self-control than others. Paul explicitly states that different gifts are given to different people. The Spirit distributes His gifts to each one, just as He determines. It is the same Spirit who lives in each believer, and yet not all have the same gifts of the Spirit.
What is the Fruit of the Spirit?
The simplest description of the fruit listed in Galatians 5: 22-23 is that they are characteristics. Notice that they are not abilities, though many of the gifts of the Spirit involve abilities. They are not doing words. They are being words. Someone is gentle, someone is loving; someone is self-controlled. And yet, while this is true, being always leads to doing. This is one way the fruit of the Spirit intersects with how we act.
If a person is gentle, it will be evident by gentle conduct and manner. If someone is loving, it will be expressed in acts of love. If a person is self-controlled, it will be demonstrated in self-control.
It can be quite easy to overlook the fact that most of the fruit mentioned is relational. Love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness are all about relating to other people.
Peace, for instance, is not about being in a peaceful Zen state in which nothing fazes us. The biblical notion of peace, or “shalom”, is a state of good relations between two or more parties.
Goodness, on the other hand, is far less clearly relational, true goodness is demonstrated in relationships.
Faithfulness is always seen as relational. It involves loyalty and commitment to someone. Faithfulness is also always about our relationship with God. If we are faithful to Him, we will follow His commands. But just obeying the rules is not the point, obedience is an expression of faithfulness.
The fruit gentleness is always relational. Our interaction with other people demonstrates our gentleness. If we treat people harshly, our gentleness is not a fruit of the Spirit in that light.
The only two characteristics that are not obviously relational are joy and self-control. These seem to be more inward in the sense that they are not necessarily expressed in relation to other people. We can have joy without anyone else around. We can show self-control in private. But even these characteristics have relational applications. Self-control often involves respecting the dignity of others and not infringing on their wellbeing.
The fruit of the Spirit has significant implications for our relationships with each other. This is a core emphasis of the godly life in Christ Jesus, we all need to get along with each other, showing love, patience, and kindness in all our interactions.
Keeping in Step with the Spirit
Now, let’s take into consideration how the fruit of the Spirit shapes Christian living.
It is definitely a wonderful thing to consider all that God has done for us in Christ and continues to do so through the Holy Spirit. For all He has done, our responsibility is simple. Keep in step with the Spirit and resist the flesh.
As we reflect on Jesus, we have the opportunity to express our dependence on Him for ALL things. Our prayerful dependence on Christ brings Him honor and is the right disposition of our hearts. All such reflection on Christ and the expression of our dependence on Him is produced through the influence of the Spirit.
Even though the Spirit does indeed work powerfully within us, throughout our Christian lives, there is an ongoing tension between living by the Spirit and giving into our own selfish desires.
We need to be on our guard against feelings of hopelessness that discourage us to remain in the fight. We need to also remember that we are no longer under the authority of sin, and the Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing an ourfuture inheritance.
The reality is that we are free. We are no longer slaves and our former master has no authority over us at all. He cannot tell us what to do, and we have no obligation to obey him any longer.
Our struggle with sin is just like this. Sin once ruled over us, and our bodies were conditioned to obey its demands. It’s the way we lived our entire lives until we were set free by Christ.
We must continue to go on choosing the Spirit. We belong to Christ now, and His Spirit is very powerful. Let us keep in step with the spirit, and make sure to deny the illegitimate call of the conquered powers of sin and the flesh.
The Holy Spirit is the proof of our future. As the sign of the “new age”, we know that Spirit-filled people will one day be fully transformed, with new resurrection bodies, and we will be, once and for all, totally free from sin.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, as well as other Christlike characteristics. The Spirit lives in us because new life has come in Christ, and we have been set free from slavery to the flesh, sin, and the law. He is the sign of the “new age” and is the seal of our membership in God’s family.
The fruit of the Spirit is not a to-do list to check off. The Spirit produces the fruit in us. Christianity is not a set of rules, nor is the Bible a manual for good living. Christianity is about a relationship with God the Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Live free through the power of the Holy Spirit!