“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.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
The Greek word translated “fruit” refers to the natural product of a living thing. Paul used “fruit” to help us understand the product of the Holy Spirit, who lives inside every believer. The fruit of the Spirit is produced by the Spirit, not by the Christian. The Greek word is singular, showing that “fruit” is a unified whole, not independent characteristics. As we grow, all the characteristics of Christ will be manifested in our lives.
Yet, like physical fruit needs time to grow, the fruit of the Spirit will not ripen in our lives overnight. Like a successful gardener must battle against weeds to enjoy the sweet fruit they desire, we must constantly work to rid our lives of the “weeds” of our old sin natures that want to choke out the work of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit gives us the power we need to reject those old sinful desires. We can say “no” to sin and accept the “way out” God faithfully provides (1 Corinthians 10:13) by following the Holy Spirit’s leading.
As we give the Spirit more control of our lives, He begins to do in and through us what only He can do - to shape us and grow us to look like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).
Since God’s goal for all His children is for us to be like Jesus (Romans 8:29), the Holy Spirit constantly works to rid our lives of the “acts of the sinful nature” (Gal 5:19) and display His fruit instead. Therefore, the presence of the “fruit of the Spirit” is evidence that our character is becoming more like Christ’s.
Paul uses 9 characteristics to describe the fruit of the Spirit in the book of Galatians.
True, biblical love is a choice, not a feeling. It deliberately expresses itself in loving ways and always seeks the welfare of others. Biblical love is dependent on the giver’s character, not emotion. For instance, a mature believer demonstrating love will not exercise his or her freedom if that action might harm another Christian in some way. Rather than risking the possibility of causing the immature Christian to question and stumble, the mature believer will not exercise his freedom out of love for his brother (Romans 14:1-15). Love chooses to set aside one’s own preferences, desires, and sometimes even needs to put the other person first (Philippians 2:1-3).
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Sometimes we Christians tend to downplay the meaning of joy. But, the Greek word translated as “joy” in Galatians 5 means “gladness and delight” – basically the same thing the world means when it talks about joy. It is a feeling of gladness based on our circumstances. Sadly, the world’s joy cannot last because it is based on fleeting, physical circumstances. But the joy of the Lord is established in our spiritual, eternal circumstances. As we cling tight to Jesus, abiding daily in our saving relationship with Him, we will experience the fullness of joy He promised (John 15:4-11).
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The world doesn’t offer much peace. Just look around. The world cannot give it because the world doesn’t know the One who is peace. But for those who have the Spirit of peace within us, the peace of Christ is possible, no matter our circumstances (John 14:27). We can reject the chaos of the world and embrace God’s peace. The book of Philippians tells us how (Philippians 4:4-9). First, choose to rejoice in God and who He is. Second, bring all your worries, fears, and concerns to God in prayer. Third, fill your mind with God’s truth. And fourth, choose to think about the things of God.
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We don’t see much patience in the world today, not even in the church. Maybe part of the reason is our fast-paced, want-it-now culture. But Christians have everything we need to be patient because we have the Holy Spirit living in us longing to display His character to those around us. Patient people put up with circumstances and other people, even when severely tried. Patient people display endurance, longsuffering, and perseverance. The New Testament also specifically connects patience with sharing the Gospel. God is patient as He waits for the lost to come to Him (2 Peter 3:9) and He calls His people to be patient as we extend the offer of salvation in Christ to others (2 Timothy 4:20).
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Kindness and Goodness
The characteristics of “kindness” and “goodness” are closely related. Together they present the picture of one who not only possesses moral goodness and integrity, but also generously expresses it in the way they act toward others. This “goodness in action” reflects God’s kindness and goodness toward us. God demonstrated His kindness and goodness to us in our salvation (Titus 3:4) and will continue to “show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us” for all eternity (Ephesians 2:7)!
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To be “faithful” is to be reliable or trustworthy. For the Christian, this is faithfulness specifically to the Savior who redeemed us. Christian faithfulness therefore, is continued and consistent submission and obedience to the same Spirit who provides the ability for us to be faithful. This attitude is in direct contrast to our previous “faithfulness” to our own sinful desires and ways. The word also describes someone willing to suffer persecution and even death for Christ’s sake. “Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring." (2 Thessalonians 1:4)
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Closely linked to humility, gentleness is grace of the soul. It is not weakness, but instead it is strength under control. For instance, in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he wrote that the “Lord’s servant” will “correct his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:25). And in Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, he wrote that those who have been caught in sin should be restored in a “spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1). Gentleness, being the opposite of self-assertiveness and self-interest, is also a key ingredient in unity and peace within the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:2).
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The last characteristic in Paul’s description of the fruit of the Spirit points us back to his list of the “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-21. Those of us with the indwelling Holy Spirit has the strength to control our sinful desires, to say “no” to our flesh. Self-control gives us the power to say “yes” to the Spirit and foster a beautiful, bountiful harvest of spiritual fruit!
Kathy Howard helps women live an unshakeable faith for life. The author of 8 books and a former “cultural Christian,” Kathy encourages women to stand firm on our rock-solid God through difficulties or ease by embracing real, authentic faith. Find out more and get free discipleship tools and leader helps at www.kathyhoward.org.
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This article is part of our larger resource library of terms important to the Christian faith. From heaven and hell, to communion and baptism, we want to provide easy to read and understand articles that answer your questions about theological terms and their meaning.
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