I remember first learning about the Fruit of the Spirit in Sunday School. I’m pretty sure “love” was an apple, because being the first quality in the list, it got dibs on the most popular fruit. And for some reason, I am really connecting grapes with “self-control”. I associated the Fruit of the Spirit with peaches and watermelons for years. Because of those Sunday School lessons, I always thought I had a pretty good grasp of the Fruit of the Spirit. They weren’t that complicated to understand. Love people, be nice. What more could there be? I mean, I had the song memorized and everything, including the actions.
During a recent Bible Study with a youth group I volunteer with, we studied the Fruit of the Spirit. Some good Christian basics. However, I was a little surprised at how much I got out of it, too, as I planned and led the lessons. The Fruit of the Spirit really are good Christian basics – it’s a great place to begin understanding what it means to live like a Christian. It’s also a great place to start digging deeper and build a basis for more. Understanding the Fruit and what they can really mean to your life can change your perspective of some of these qualities and even of what it means to be a Christian.
Known For Your Fruit
“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.” – Matthew 12:33 NIV
Okay, let’s get one thing straight, the Fruit of the Spirit is not...fruit. Ever since that Sunday School lesson, I still immediately go to those images of apples and pears, and I think sometimes it makes me take them less seriously, although it can be good for analogies. Understanding exactly what is meant by “Fruit” of the Spirit is very important though...obviously. One of the definitions of fruit (besides...fruit) is “anything produced or accruing; product, result, or effect; return or profit (www.dictionary.com).” Just as fruit (like, fruit fruit) is the result of a seed, good ground and nutrients, and a nurturing hand, whatever we plant and nurture in our life is what will grow. And just as apple and orange trees are known for the apples and oranges they produce, we are known for the fruit we produce in our lives.
All the Fruits
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 NIV
Looking at Galatians 5:22, you’ll notice it says “the FRUIT of the Spirit”, not fruitS. That’s just one fruits, people. I know that even I call each of the qualities “fruits”, as if they are separate entities. But that is not actually the case. All these qualities together are the fruit. Talking about them as separate “fruits”, tempts us into treating them as a check list of qualities to obtain, or even worse, as optional. “I’m working on joy right now. When I get that one down, I’ll move onto faithfulness.” or “Oh, I’m really good at loving, but I’ve just never been good at having self-control!” The Fruit of the Spirit isn’t made up of seasonal fruits, and you can’t pick your favourites. All the qualities should be growing all the time. Maybe that sounds like a lot to work on all at once. Like, what’s wrong with perfecting peace before you start working on goodness? I’ll tell you what’s wrong – your focus is off.
Walk by the Spirit
The characteristics of the Fruit of the Spirit are important to know, but I think it’s what comes before and after these verses that is the heavy hitter of Galatians 5. Knowing this list of characteristics is good, but knowing how to get them is absolutely key.
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. – Galatians 5:16-18 NIV
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. – Galatians 5:24-25 NIV
As we’ve discussed, fruit is the result of something. But fruit cannot be the result of fruit. In the same way, the Fruit of the Spirit cannot be the product of the Fruit of the Spirit. You can’t bear the Fruit by sheer will power. Instead, the Fruit is a result of walking by the Spirit (just some fancy lingo for following God). Spend time with Him, follow His commands, grow in your relationship with Him, and you will naturally see the Fruit as an effect of living in the Spirit. The Fruit of the Spirit is the natural outcome of spending time with Him. In fact, it’s impossible to bear this fruit any other way. Having a focus on love or peace is not a bad thing, but that should not be your main focus. If you’re finding it difficult to be fruitful, maybe you should take your eyes off the fruit and start looking at the plant.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5 NIV
Flesh vs. Spirit
Our focus needs to be Jesus and living according to His Spirit. But what happens when our focus goes elsewhere? Galatians 5 also gives a list of fruit of the flesh, and it is not pretty.
When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT
Looking at this list, there are quite a few bad fruits I can identify in my life. Life is a struggle between the flesh and the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-18), between our desire to live for ourselves and to live for Jesus. Lucky for us, Jesus has set us free from our sinful desires, and we don’t have to walk in our sin anymore. We don’t have to produce that bad fruit, and come to a bad end separated from God. But just because we have that freedom, that doesn’t stop there from being a conflict. We have a choice to make to walk in the Spirit.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh... – Galatians 5:13 NIV
Getting Rid of Bad Fruit
Even if you have made that choice to walk by the Spirit, we are not perfect people (okay, maybe you are, but speaking for myself...). We cannot, in our own strength, bear only good fruit. So what happens when we bear some bad fruit? It’s there hanging off our branches for everyone to see, for the rest of our life, and we’ll be known as a bad tree? Thankfully, no.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” – John 15:1-2 NIV
If our true aim is to follow Jesus and produce good fruit, Jesus will see those bad fruits that have sprouted and prune them away. That way we can be known as a good tree and point people to Jesus.
I’ll be doing a Fruit of the Spirit series, looking more in depth into each of the qualities and sharing with you what I’ve learned.
What preconceptions of the Fruit have you had? Which of the characteristics are you most excited to learn more about?