The Fruit Of The Spirit: An Introduction

Although we know better, Christians often think that life would be much better if we only had more money. If we had more money, we could have more stuff, and if we had more stuff, we would be more happy. That is our logic. And it sometimes sounds right! If I had more money, I could buy a better car, get better clothes, go on better vacations, and make some improvements to make my house better. Then all would be well!

But when we think about it, we have to admit that money cannot solve all of life’s problems. In fact, sometimes money makes our lives more difficult. But have you ever thought about how good character makes life better? Did you ever stop and think how much better life would be if you were more patient, kind, loving, joyful, and self-controlled? Think about it. If you made five million dollars per year but were impatient, angry, grumpy, impulsive, and hateful, how good would your life actually be? In reality, good character makes life much more pleasant than wealth and possessions.

We will be looking at the fruit of the Spirit in this series of articles. As we do so, keep in mind that these virtues or characteristics benefit you and other people. Exercising the virtues that God calls us to display is a blessing to others. And when we display the fruit of the Spirit, we also please the Lord. Furthermore, keeping in step with the Spirit by exhibiting the fruit makes our days more pleasant and even gives us deeper meaning and purpose in life. In other words, the fruit of the Spirit are Christian virtues that glorify God, bless other people, and benefit us.

The Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians

Before we look at the fruit of the Spirit, it is important to remember other parts of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia. Paul wrote this letter to that church to remind them of the gospel, that a sinful person can be justified by faith alone in Christ alone. No one can be justified by works or obedience to God’s law (Gal 2:16). Righteousness before God does not come by obedience; it comes by faith alone in Christ (Gal 2:21).

Paul also wrote that Christ has set his people free from the curse and demands of the law. For that reason, we are to stand firmly in the freedom Christ has won for us (Gal 5:1–2). We must not submit to man-made religious laws or doctrines. Instead, we should use our freedom to serve each other in love (Gal 5:13). This also means we keep in step with the Spirit by avoiding the works of the flesh like sexual sin, anger, drunkenness, jealousy, and so on (Gal 5:19–21). Freedom in Christ means, with the Spirit’s help, freedom to fight sin and say no to evil.

Another thing freedom in Christ means is freedom to keep in step with the Spirit by displaying his fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22). The term fruit is significant. Even in our conversations today, we use the word fruit positively. In my area of Wisconsin, there are quite a few apple orchards, some of which my family and I like to visit in the fall. The various types of apples always interest me: Pink Lady, Honeycrisp, McIntosh, Granny Smith, and so on. One year the farmer said he had a good crop; the fruit was plentiful. That is a good thing, especially if you like apples.

Similarly, in the Bible, fruit is often used as a positive metaphor. For example, Psalm 1 talks about the blessed man who does not follow wicked people. That man is like a fruit-bearing tree planted by streams of water (Ps 1:3). One aspect of the imagery is that obeying God is the key to fruitful living. Jesus used similar imagery when he said that a good tree bears good fruit (Matt 7:16–20). Christ also said that when the heart is good soil, the seed of the Word grows and produces much fruit (Matt 13:8). In other words, Scripture often uses the imagery of fruit to describe the lives and deeds of people who trust in and obey God. By his grace, his people bear fruit that pleases him and is a blessing to themselves and other people.

That is the background of Paul’s discussion of the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit Paul talks about has to do with Christian character and virtue—specifically spiritual virtues like love, kindness, joy, and patience. It is beautiful fruit. It is pleasant fruit. It is the best fruit in the world. Only an evil monster could look at Paul’s list and say these are not good virtues.

Well-known commentator Matthew Henry (d. 1714) once wrote a book called The Pleasantness of a Religious Life. It is an excellent book, and the title has stuck with me for quite a few years. Indeed, the Christian religion makes life pleasant. Henry is right. If you ask a person who is displaying this fruit in his life, he will tell you from experience that it makes life more pleasant. There is satisfaction in showing kindness to people. There is meaning in being a peacemaker. There is fulfillment in being faithful to other people. There is a sense of well-being in gentleness. It is meaningful when we exercise self-control in life. As the prayer in Psalm 119:35 says, “Make me walk along the path of your commands, for that is where my happiness is found” (NLT).

On the other hand, the works of the flesh are destructive to life (Gal 5:19–21). They are not at all pleasant in any way. No person’s life is improved by jealousy, hatred, and drunkenness. It brings no one fulfillment and well-being to be angry, prideful, argumentative, and impure. I doubt anyone could truthfully say that they find meaning and purpose in fits of anger and division. These works of the flesh pave the way to darkness and death. They are displeasing to God and destructive to people.

So, there is a very clear contrast between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. The works of the flesh are unpleasant and deadly. But the fruit of the Spirit is pleasant and beneficial. To display the Spirit’s fruit in our lives is a good and meaningful way to live.

The Spirit’s Fruit

To be sure, you cannot produce the Spirit’s fruit in your own heart. It is not like you can till the soil of your heart, plant the seed, and then cultivate it to grow into the fruit that Paul lists. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who tills the soil of the heart, plants the seed of the Word, and makes it grow to bear virtuous fruit. Thus, Paul says it is the fruit of the Spirit, which means fruit produced by the Spirit. Earlier in Galatians, Paul said that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, and that we are now led by the Spirit (Gal 4:6, 5:18). When we do bear fruit in our lives, it is because the Spirit is at work growing us in faith and making us more like Christ.

This was prophesied long ago when God said he would give his people a new heart, put his Spirit within them, and cause them to walk in his commands (Ezek 36:26). Christ said as much when he told us that if we abide in him, and he in us, we will bear much fruit (John 15:5). Indeed, apart from him we can do nothing. In other words, when the Lord gives us his Spirit, he joins us to Christ, gives us new life, and continues to work in us so that we bear fruit for his glory. As the Westminster Confession of Faith 16.3 says, “The Christian’s ability to do good works is not of ourselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ.” To be sure, we are not yet glorified, and our sinful flesh is still active in us. We are not yet able to display this fruit perfectly. But because the Spirit is at work in us, we can actually and sincerely display this fruit in our lives.

Conclusion

As we consider the fruit of the Spirit in the next nine articles, it is important to remember the Spirit’s role in our lives. And it is important from the outset to remember what a wonderful thing it is that we can genuinely live fruitful lives for the Lord. As followers of Christ, because he is at work in us by his Spirit, our lives are meaningful, significant, purposeful, and beneficial to other people. You are not worthless. You are not insignificant, and your life is not meaningless. Christ has saved you, renewed you, and given you his Spirit. Even now, his Spirit is at work in you to help you live a fruitful life for God’s glory and your good and to bless other people.

© Shane Lems. All Rights Reserved.

You can find this whole series here.


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    Post authored by:

  • Shane Lems
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    Shane Lems graduated from Westminster Seminary California in 2007. He has been a church planter and pastor in the URCNA. Since 2013 he’s been serving as pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Hammond, WI. He is married and has four children. Shane has written numerous articles for Modern Reformation, New Horizons, and other publications. He is also the author of Doctrines of Grace: Student Edition and manages a book blog, The Reformed Reader.

    More by Shane Lems ›

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