Most Christians are familiar with the fruit of the Spirit, and yet I think it’s one we often struggle with. What is it? Where does it come from? What does it mean, exactly? What if we’re really good at one or two aspects, but continue to struggle with the other – is it all or nothing? How should our lives reflect it? Do we have to do something in particular to have it? All questions I have asked myself as I’ve tried to understand it and grow in this area.
A description of the fruit of the Spirit can be found at Galatians 5:22-23 – “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” The fruit of the Spirit appears as a list of characteristics that Paul says a person who has believed on Christ has. Paul presents them as a package, a single fruit. I think of it like an orange – a single fruit with many pieces. When we receive salvation, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit indwelling in our hearts, guiding us to become more like Christ. The changes in us and in our behaviors are the work of the Spirit, and thus referred to as fruit of the Spirit. We should exhibit all of them to some degree, and we should work to improve each of them. I’m comfortable saying that none of us will perfect them here on earth, but all of us should desire to improve every day.
But even non-Christians appear to possess these characteristics, our society refers to them as morals, so why does Paul call them out specifically?
Philippians 2:3-4 says “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interest of the others.” The Bible also teaches that we should do everything to glorify God and that by our actions people will know we are Christians.
I think of myself and my characteristics prior to my salvation through Christ. I was basically a good and moral person, but my motives were selfish. I behaved this way because this is what a person needed to do to be respected and looked upon favorably in society, these were the behaviors associated with good morals. I behaved this way when people could see it, when I could benefit by doing so. Selfish ambition and vain conceit. Today, my motives for how I behave have changed; I no longer hope to gain some benefit in society, but rather to be a benefit to others. I seek God daily and strive to live as He would have me to.
I knew a man who before becoming a Christian possessed none of these moral characteristics. By society’s standards he was a lost cause, a criminal, a throw-away. But when he accepted Christ and believed on Him, the change in him was noticeable to everyone who knew him – his life began to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. And he would tell everyone who asked that God changed him, that the Spirit lived within him even though he didn’t deserve it. His love and joy was written all over his face, and he spent a great deal of time reading his Bible – he just couldn’t get enough of it.
I believe that is what Paul is getting to in his letter to the Galatians. People can’t see our heart, but they understand our motives and can see our actions. Christ changes us, and our lives should show it. My friend’s life changed so drastically, everyone knew something good happened to him. Even though we may have to learn and practice, we should consciously want to emulate Christ and live as the Scripture teaches us. The more we learn the Scripture, the more our lives will produce the fruit of the Spirit.
My prayer for all of us is that we will seek to grow in knowledge and wisdom, and that our lives will be abundant with the fruit of the Spirit.