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).

In the passage above, Paul talked about the fruit of the Spirit. He listed several characteristics that would be included in this category. Those traits are what the fruit of the Spirit looks like.

He described this as fruit for a reason. Fruit is what grows on a tree or plant of some sort. It does not grow independently; instead, it is a natural product of the life of the plant. In the same way, these characteristics do not spring up independently in our lives; they are the natural product of the Spirit’s influence on our lives. This influence will affect our conduct as we “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16) and will impact our decisions as we are “led by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:18).

So how does the Spirit – the Holy Spirit – influence us? The Spirit influences us through the word that He revealed. Jesus told His apostles that the Spirit would “guide [them] into all the truth” (John 16:13). Paul explained this in 1 Corinthians 2:10-16. The Spirit “revealed” the mind of God and those “spiritual thoughts” were combined with “spiritual words” so that, when we read the Scriptures, we can see “the mind of Christ.” So the Scriptures that have been revealed to us by the Spirit provide instructions for our conduct and guidance for our decisions.

Sometimes people suppose that the Spirit is leading them in a certain direction or to make some decision. However, we do not need to seek – or even expect – the Spirit’s influence apart from the word of God that He revealed to us. Why? First, because the word He revealed is complete. It was “once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). The Scriptures are “inspired by God” and make us “adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Second, because the word revealed by the Spirit is unchanging. In Galatians 1:6-9, Paul said we are not to listen to even an apostle or an angel who brings a different message than what the Spirit revealed.

So rather than following where we “think” the Spirit is leading us, we need to go to the word the Spirit revealed and see what He is teaching us there. Therefore, the fruit of the Spirit will be produced as we follow the word revealed by the Spirit.

The various characteristics in this list – love, joy, peace, patience, and so on – are the natural product of our conduct and decisions being shaped by the Spirit-inspired word of God. We will talk about each of these characteristics in more detail as we go through this article.

Love

The Greek word for love used in this passage is different from the words for romantic love or even brotherly love. This word signifies good will or benevolence. It is about putting others ahead of ourselves. It is more than a mere emotion. It necessarily includes actions.

Love will be demonstrated in our conduct in a couple of ways. First, our love for God will be shown through our obedience to His word. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Second, our love for others will be demonstrated in our actions as we do good and not harm to others. Paul wrote, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10). John also wrote, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).

For both of these – love for God and love for others – it is not enough simply to claim that we love. John said, “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18). Love needs to be shown in our actions. If we only talk about love and our conduct does not back that up, then our words are hollow.

Love will also influence our decisions. Again, love seeks the well-being of others ahead of ourselves. So in making any decision, we must consider how others will be affected by it. Paul told the church in Philippi of the love they were to have for one another: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

Joy

This word means what we might expect – gladness or cheerfulness. It is the opposite of sorrow. This is more than just happiness because it enables us to rejoice even in difficult and painful circumstances.

Joy will be seen in our conduct as we rejoice in the Lord in all things. Paul told the brethren in Philippi, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). To rejoice in the Lord means we will praise Him, glorify Him, and worship Him. We can do this as we look for and find the good in the challenges we face. In fact, Paul instructed the Philippians to rejoice even while he was in prison. James said we are to “consider it all joy…when [we] encounter various trials” because this testing produces endurance and endurance leads us to be complete in the Lord (James 1:2-4).

Joy will also influence our decisions since it shapes how we think and the way we look at the circumstances around us – particularly the difficult circumstances that could cause us to become sorrowful or be in despair. The Hebrew writer mentioned the example of Jesus who “endured the cross, despising the shame” because of “the joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2).

We are going to face difficulties in this life. Peter told us to “not be surprised at the fiery ordeal” which will come upon us to test us (1 Peter 4:12). Instead, we are to “keep on rejoicing” as we “share the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 4:13). Paul said he was “overflowing with joy in all our affliction” (2 Corinthians 7:4). This joy is not produced by everything turning out the way we want it to in this life. (That certainly did not happen for Paul or Peter.) Rather, this joy is only possible when we look beyond this life to the hope we have in Christ.

Peace

This word can be used to describe conditions of tranquility, security, and harmony. As it relates to this passage, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon has this definition: “the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort this is.”

This must start with us having peace with God. Paul said that we have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). He went on to explain in that passage that this was possible through the death of Christ on the cross for us. Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8), saved us from the wrath of God (Romans 5:9), and reconciles us to God Romans 5:10). Even though we were separated from God because of our sin (Isaiah 59:2), we can be forgiven through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Paul explained that we have been “brought near by the blood of Christ,” and now have “peace” with Him (Ephesians 2:11-16).

It is important to note that we can have this peace and tranquility despite the trouble we will inevitably face in this life. Jesus told His apostles, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Paul wrote, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). If we will put our trust in God, follow His will, and consistently go to Him in prayer, we can have this peace.

Having peace with the Lord should then lead us to work to make peace with others – at least as much as we can affect this, because sometimes it will not be possible (cf. Romans 12:18). We are to work to be “peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9), and “pursue the things which make for peace” (Romans 14:19). As Paul said, we are to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Diligence implies effort on our part, so we need to be working toward this.

Patience

This means endurance, steadfastness, and perseverance; especially as shown in bearing troubles and ills (Strong’s). It is about persevering through trials and challenges without abandoning our faith; but instead, we continue to look forward to the hope we have in Christ.

Patience begins by first having an unwavering trust in the Lord and in His promises. When Jesus gave the Great Commission, He promised His apostles, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). The Hebrew writer cited God’s promise: “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Peter explained that we have a “living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:3), and this hope will be realized when the Lord returns (1 Peter 1:13).

However, despite this hope, we will face troubles in this life. In speaking of the resurrection, Paul said, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). If we are striving to follow God, we will face persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). Paul and Barnabas worked to prepare those who were converted during their first preaching tour for the difficulties they would face by telling them, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

It is only through “faith and patience [we will] inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12). We must recognize what Paul did about the trials of this life – they are “momentary, light affliction” when we compare them with the “eternal weight of glory” that is in store for us in heaven (2 Corinthians 4:17). Every difficult situation, temptation, and discouragement is only temporary. Even a life filled with hardships and pain is – in the grand scheme of things – short, even if it may be difficult to recognize that as we are going through it. Yet we can “run with endurance” if we “[fix] our eyes on Jesus” and the hope that we have in Him (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Kindness

This word means moral goodness and integrity (Thayer). It is often used in the New Testament to describe the kindness that God shows to us. It is about more than just a favorable attitude toward others, it is about actively doing good to them.

In order to show kindness to others, it helps to be reminded of the kindness that God has shown to us. Peter said that those who have been saved have “tasted the kindness of the Lord” (1 Peter 2:3). Paul explained that God’s kindness “leads [us] to repentance” (Romans 2:4). When Jesus invited people to follow Him, He said, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). The word “easy” is from the same Greek word for kindness. The favor that the Lord shows us is even seen in the instructions and guidance He provides.

We can show kindness to others by providing help to those who need it. In teaching about the necessary connection between faith and works, James said, “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” (James 2:15-16). In the same way, it is useless to think kindly about others if we do not demonstrate kindness when we have an opportunity to show it.

However, sometimes the help that others need is not of a material or financial nature. It could be that someone needs encouragement or emotional support. Paul wrote about how important it is to offer words of support and encouragement: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). Offering words that “give grace” is one way that kindness can be manifested.

Goodness

Goodness means uprightness of heart and life (Thayer). It is related to the previous trait – kindness. If we want to differentiate between the two, we could say that kindness is about how we treat others and goodness is about our personal conduct.

We need to recognize God as the standard of what is good. Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19). Since God is good, we are to model our character after Him. As Jesus said, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). In fact, we can look to Jesus as our perfect example of how to live here on the earth. Peter described the example that Jesus left for us as one who “committed no sin” (1 Peter 2:22). We must be working to overcome sin in our lives.

Another part of demonstrating goodness is by doing good works. However, we need to be careful in defining good works. Jesus explained that some would do what they thought were good works, only to find out that they were actually practicing “lawlessness” (Matthew 7:22-23). Paul told Timothy, “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 3:16-17). Good works are defined by the word of God. Therefore, if we want to do what is right, we have to see what the word of God instructs and authorizes us to do.

However, we also need to make sure that our goodness is not superficial – it must be from the heart. Remember the definition we started with – goodness is uprightness of heart and life. We need to make sure our heart is right before God. The wise man said, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). We need to do what is good for the right reason and with pure motives. If our heart is not right, we need to start by working on that.

Faithfulness

Faith is defined in Scripture as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1) Faithfulness then is living our lives based upon our conviction that God is true, His word is right, and His promises are sure.

Faithfulness starts with faith, and the source of faith is the word of God. Paul wrote, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The Hebrew writer said it is “impossible to please [God]” without faith (Hebrews 11:6). John explained that the gospel was written “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). Faith is essential for salvation.

However, we also need to understand that Biblical faith is an active faith. James explained that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). It is not enough just to call Jesus “Lord” – a title that means He is “supreme in authority” (Strong’s) – we need to follow His word since He has authority over us. Jesus asked the question, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). He expects us to be doing His will. As “Lord,” He has the right to expect this of us.

Faithfulness is about continuing to serve the Lord throughout our lives. One who serves the Lord for a time and then forsakes Him is not acting faithfully. We are to be “faithful until death” (Revelation 2:10). In our daily lives, in every situation we face, year after year, we are to conform our lives to His will. When we are tempted, we must look for and take the way of escape that He promised (1 Corinthians 10:13). When we face hardships, we must persevere (James 1:2-4). In everything we do, we must seek to please the Lord and do His will (Colossians 3:17).

Gentleness

This word means a mildness of disposition. Some translations use the word meekness. Of necessity, this includes an attitude of humility. It is seen in our attitude toward others and toward the word of God.

Our dealings with others must be characterized by gentleness. Paul told Titus to teach the brethren “to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (Titus 3:2). The word that is translated gentleness in the list of the fruit of the Spirit is also used in this verse – not the word gentle; instead, it is the word consideration. Gentleness is about showing consideration for others – just as Jesus showed for us (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:1). This means we need to be aware of others without our minds being consumed by personal concerns. It also means we are to be intentional about doing good for others and acting with their best interest at heart.

When there is the potential for conflict and strife between ourselves and others, we are to exercise gentleness by “showing tolerance” as we strive to “preserve…unity” (Ephesians 4:2-3). When someone questions us about our faith and our reason for hope, we must be “ready to make a defense,” and do so “with gentleness” (1 Peter 3:15). When someone is in sin and needs to be corrected, we need to try to “restore” them “in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1). Even in contentious situations when the gospel is being attacked and our opponents are wrongly condemning us, we are still to be “kind to all…patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition” (2 Timothy 2:24-25).

Of course, in order to do all of this, we need to be faithfully following the Lord. And to do that, we need to have this same attitude of gentleness toward the word of God. James wrote, “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). The word humility in that verse is the same word that was translated gentleness in the passage about the fruit of the Spirit. This is the attitude that leads us to faithfully submit to the will of God no matter what it requires of us or what consequences come from that.

Self-Control

The last characteristic in this list is self-control. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines this word as “the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions.” It is simply about learning to exercise control over ourselves and refrain from doing what we might desire to do and, eventually, reshaping our desires so that they will be more in line with the will of God.

Self-control is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). The cross is a symbol of sacrifice. Jesus gave His life on the cross for us. In following Christ, we are giving our lives to Him. Paul said we are to “present [our] bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service” (Romans 12:2). As living sacrifices, we are to dedicate each day of our lives to Him.

The reason it is so important to learn to master our desires is because our desires – if not trained to conform to the will of the Lord – will lead us to sin. James described this process: “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). As Christians, we are to work to overcome sin. John wrote in his first epistle, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1). This is to be our goal that we strive for each day.

However, as we grow we are to do more than just refrain from sinning. We are to change our thinking so that we no longer desire the things we previously lusted after. To change our thoughts, we need to think on those things that are “true…honorable…right…pure…lovely…of good repute” (Philippians 4:8). We are to “set [our] mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2). As we train our minds to focus on spiritual things, it becomes easier and more natural to exercise self-control over matters that pertain to this life.

Conclusion

Throughout this article, we have been looking at the various characteristics that make up the fruit of the Spirit. As we follow the influence of the Spirit through the word of God that He revealed to us, the natural products of that will be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

So each one of us can ask ourselves the question: Is love being produced in my life? If not, we need to go to the word of God and see what this characteristic is, how it is displayed in our lives, and how it impacts the decisions that we make; then make the necessary changes to start producing this. We can then do this with each of the characteristics in this list.

When Paul finished listing the fruit of the Spirit, he wrote, “Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:23). This came right after he listed the “deeds of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19-21) – “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissections, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” After listing all of these sins, he said, “Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21). These sins will prevent one from the reward of heaven. And this was not an exhaustive list. It also included “things like these.” There are many sinful practices we are to avoid so as to not bring condemnation upon ourselves.

However, living as a Christian is not just about what we are not to do. While we are to keep from those things that are wrong, we are also to be actively growing in those things that are right. This is where the fruit of the Spirit comes in. There is “no law” against such things. We are to be actively adding these characteristics to our lives.

We need to look at the word of God as being more than just a set of rules about what we are to avoid. We are to look to the word of God as being what directs us to do good. The word of God has been revealed by the Spirit. As we read, study, meditate upon, and practice what is written in it, we are allowing the Spirit to guide and direct us. The Spirit cannot and will not direct us apart from or contrary to the word of God.

So as we understand the importance of being led by the Spirit and what that looks like in our lives, let us be committed to the Scriptures that the Spirit has revealed. Each day, let us be working to learn the word of God, remind ourselves of what we have already learned from it, and then put it into practice in everything that we do.


This article is based on a series of videos I recorded and posted on YouTube. You can find the playlist with all of the videos here – The Fruit of the Spirit.


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