What is the Fruit of the Spirit?

Galatians 5:22-23 says:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Introduction to the Fruit of the Spirit

When you think of the word fruit, you probably think of something like an apple or a banana, right? Well when Paul talks about the “fruit of the Spirit” he is not referring to piece of fruit that you might eat with your lunch. What Paul has in mind here is what comes out of a person who has been filled with the Holy Spirit. The word “fruit” refers to the product or result from something. It is what comes from a tree or plant, like an apple comes from an apple tree. In Paul’s case though it is what comes from a person. So when Paul talks about “the fruit of the Spirit” he is referring to fruit that comes from the Spirit of God.

When we follow Jesus and believe in the power of what He did on the cross for us, God fills us with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God (just like God the Father and Jesus the Son), and He lives inside of us. When the Holy Spirit comes into our lives, we produce the fruit of the Spirit. Before Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit, he talks about the fruit that comes from our sin. Our sin brings things like anger, greed, jealousy, and other not-so-nice things – the worst sorts of fruit! Without the Spirit of God, this is the type of fruit that the sin in our lives produces.

But now when we follow Christ, we are given the Spirit. The fruit that comes from our lives then is much better. Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” This is the best sort of fruit. Note that “fruit” is the word used here, not “fruits.” Each characteristic is given to every Christian; God does not pick and chose which ones we get. It is not as though we may only produce peace and love but not joy and goodness. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control is given to us as a whole package. All of these are the fruit of a life lived for Jesus and guided by the Holy Spirit.

Walking with the Holy Spirit

The fruit of the Spirit is essentially nine visible virtues that Paul lists in Galatians 5 that should be evidenced in a person who is walking with Jesus. When we follow Christ, believing in Him and His saving work on the cross by grace through faith, we are united to Christ and we are given the Holy Spirit. Paul’s rhetoric in Galatians 5 is that those who have been filled with the Holy Spirit and are living their lives now according to Christ, not according to sin, will look significantly different than those who do not. A life filled with the Spirit of God will produce fruit that is sweet and will draw people to God, not fruit that is sour and will turn people away.

In Galatians 5, Paul starts his argument by stating the characteristics that are produced by the sin in our lives. When we live according to sin and according to the flesh characteristics like greed, envy, strife, malice, and anger come out of us. In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul writes:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

He warns them that those who bear this sour and bad fruit will not inherit the kingdom of God. Paul is not saying that if you at one time fall into a fit of anger or envy that you are automatically excluded from the kingdom of God. Rather he is pointing out that if your life is characterized by these things (they are not just occasional occurrences) that this is proof that you are living your life according to the flesh and not according to the Spirit.

In 1 Corinthians 3:3-4, Paul again points out that while there is still jealousy and strife amongst those in the church, they are still living according to the flesh and not according to the Spirit. In Romans 6-8, Paul continuously juxtaposes the idea that we previously lived by the the flesh and according to sin but now we live by the Spirit and according to Christ. The fruit that comes from those who live according to the flesh will look significantly different from that which comes from those who are led by the Spirit and who live according to Christ. In 2 Corinthians 2:14-15, Paul tells the Corinthians that they should be the aroma of Christ to everyone around them; he prays that the fragrance of their knowledge and love of him would spread far and wide.

The Nine Virtues of the Fruit of the Spirit

While we have established that Paul is referring to one fruit and not multiple fruits, it is still important to have a closer look at each characteristic that Paul lists in Galatians 5:22-23[1].

Love
Love is the first characteristic that is listed. It should come as no surprise that Paul lists it first given his emphasize on the primacy of love in his other letters (1 Corinthians 13:13; Ephesians 5:2; Colossians 3:14). As people who have experienced the love of God through the grace of Christ, we too should love others. The sacrificial love of Christ is the type of love we are called to as Christians; love that finds its source in God alone. “Love is a spiritual anchor of truth in relationship with God and neighbor”[2]. As those who have been filled with the Spirit, we are called to show this selfless love to all people.

Joy
The word joy appears 60 times in the New Testament. We often associate joy with happiness, and this is not wrong, but joy is different from happiness because it does not depend upon the conditions of outside circumstances. We are to have joy even in the midst of the most difficult of life circumstances (Philippians 4:4). The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). It was for the joy set before him that Christ endured the cross (Hebrews 12:1-2). “The Bible calls for joy as an abiding possession and a permanent state of mind for the saint” [3]. The joy that allowed Paul to rejoice in the midst of suffering comes from the Lord; it is the joy “of” or “in” the Holy Spirit and it is produced by faith (Romans 15:13).

Peace
The peace of God is something that is often beyond our comprehension (Philippians 4:7). Biblical peace is related to joy in that it does not depend on outside conditions or circumstances. The word “peace” comes from the Hebrew word “shalom.” Shalom refers to much more than just amnesty between people. Cornelius Plantinga writes [4]:

In the Bible, shalom means the universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspire joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in who he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.

We now have peace with God through justification (Romans 5:1), and peace is a state of tranquility that comes from seeking after God. The Lord gives us peace (John 14:27) and the peace he gives to us helps to bring restoration and healing to broken relationships.

Patience (Long-suffering)
The Greek word that is used here is one that is difficult to translate into English and therefore different translations will use “patience” versus “long-suffering.” The Greek word used has two primary definitions.

  1. A state of remaining tranquil while awaiting an outcome, patience, endurance, steadfastness.
  2. A state of being able to bear up under provocation, forbearance, patience towards others. [5]

The definition in view here is likely the second one. Paul is encouraging Christians to hold strong and fast in the midst of trials and tribulations (Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 1:11).

Kindness (Gentleness)
The fruit of kindness is our ability to show empathy for those who are in need or hurting. Kindness is not directly related to niceness, though we often think that the two are synonymous. Being nice means to be agreeable. Being kind refers to acting for the good of another person. Those who are filed with the Holy Spirit and led by him act for the good of other people, regardless of whether they receive adoration or thanks, because they have experienced the kindness of God through Jesus Christ. Kindness is the opposite of selfishness. Selfishness seeks its own power and good, while kindness seeks the good of others even at the expense of our own power. (2 Corinthians 6:6-7).

Goodness
Goodness and kindness are often used hand-in-hand and are very closely related to one another. The virtue of goodness has an active element to it; it is a positive moral quality characterized especially by interest in the welfare of others. The word used, agathosune, is only found in Biblical and ecclesiastical writings and has the connotations of “uprightness of heart and life” [6]. Goodness models Christ’s action of love, humility, and forgiveness and allows us to display integrity, honesty, and compassion towards others.

Faithfulness
Faithfulness is the steadfast holding onto to something or someone. We are called to be faithful to the Word of God and to Christ, holding fast to His promises. It is one of the most prominent words in the NT and is used in a variety of ways throughout. The word pistis is often translated “faith” or “faithfulness” and is usually used in reference to our “faith in Christ” or “the faithfulness of Christ.” Here Paul noting that those who are led by the Spirit will be trustworthy and faithful as Christ was faithful. The Spirit is also our seal of faithfulness; He is our witness to God’s promises.

Gentleness (Meekness)
The virtue of gentleness is best translated as meekness, which means to be mild or tame. People often associate meekness with weakness but this is a misrepresentation. Meekness is not the opposite of courage, but rather it is the ability to control and temper strength. In a world that values toughness and “proving yourself” by brute force, those who have the fruit of the Spirit are to exhibit calmness, tenderness, and humility. We keep our fixed on Jesus, who was the perfect example of humility and meekness (Philippians 2:5-8; Matthew 5:5). We are called to be faithful witnesses for Christ (1 Peter 3:15-16), serve the Lord and patiently bring opponents back to truth (2 Timothy 2:24-26), and restore our brothers to the Lord (Galatians 6:1) all with gentleness.

Self-Control
Self-control is the last part of the fruit of the Spirit. It is the temperance and mastery of our fleshly desires and passions. As stated above, those who lived according to Christ are now led by the Spirit and no longer by their fleshly desires. Self-control allows us to have disciple and restraint and allows us to listen to and act on the will of God rather than our own desires (1 Corinthians 6:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:22).

Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit

It is a promise of the Lord that when we put our faith and trust in His promises and what Christ did on the cross, that He will give us the Holy Spirit. As with sanctification, it is the Holy Spirit working in us that produces these characteristics, but we are not idle benchwarmers in the process. We can help to cultivate these fruits in our lives through prayer, reading God’s Word, fellowship with other Christians, and renewing our minds (Psalm 1; Romans 12:1-2). If you are in Christ, He is faithful to produce fruit in you (John 15:1-6; 1 Thessalonians 5:24).

Be sure to download the What’s in the Bible? Fruit of the Spirit coloring page here!


 
 
 

Footnotes

[1] Peter uses a slightly different (and longer) list of the fruit of the Spirit in 2 Peter 1:5-7 but our focus today is going to be on Paul’s list.
[2] Bevins, Winfield. “What is the Fruit of the Spirit?”
[3] Sanderson, John F. The Fruit of the Spirit.(P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ; 1985), 69.
[4] Plantiga, Cornelius Jr. Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be. (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids; 1995), 10.
[5] Bauer, Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Liturature, ed. Frederick W. Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), makroqumia p. 612.
[6] Strong, James. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. (Hendrickson, Peabody; 2009). “Agathosune” p. 19.

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