The Fruit of the Spirit

By David Feddes

Ask a farmer what he does, and he’ll say, “I’m a grain farmer” or “I produce corn and soybeans” or “I raise tomatoes and cucumbers” or “I grow oranges and walnuts.” I’ve met a lot of different farmers, but I never met one who summed up his work by saying, “I plow up dirt,” or “I get rid of weeds,” or “I kill bad bugs,” or “I prune away branches.” Farmers do those things, but their main focus isn’t on what they plow up or get rid of or kill or cut away. Their main focus is on what they produce.

God is a farmer. He wants to produce a good crop in our lives. Some of us may think of God only in terms of what he’s against, but that’s a mistake. Of course God is against many bad things. There are all sorts of sins that he wants to plow up and get rid of. But getting rid of evil isn’t God’s main focus. His main focus is producing good fruit. That should be our focus, too. What’s the use of being against all sorts of things if we’re not for anything? A farmer can plow under every thistle and weed, but he won’t get a harvest unless he plants good seed and makes sure it has enough water and nutrients. In fact, if he plows but then doesn’t plant anything, he’ll soon have more weeds than ever. Weeds always grow fastest where nothing else is growing.

A great way to prevent weeds is to grow something good, and a great way to prevent sin is to grow something good. How does that happen? Through the Holy Spirit of God living in you, planting seeds of God’s goodness and bearing fruit in you.

We need to recognize evil for what it is. In Galatians 5:19-21, the Bible says, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” The Bible pulls no punches when it says what God is against, but God’s Word doesn’t stop there. After listing all those evils and warning of the consequences, Paul goes on to say, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Whatever God is against, this is what he favors. This is the crop that God is in the business of growing. This is what grows and flourishes if God is at work in us.

We’re going to look at each item in this list, but first let me emphasize that the Bible speaks here of the fruit of the Spirit, not the fruits of the Spirit—singular, not plural. These aren’t separate fruits. Together, they are one fruit that has these various qualities. The fruit of the Spirit is ultimately one thing, not many. The fruit of the Spirit is nothing less than the character of Jesus growing and flourishing in the lives of God’s people. Jesus himself makes this clear, saying,

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener… No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing… This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:1-8).

Jesus says this right in the middle of a description of how his Holy Spirit works in his people. God the Gardener takes people and transplants or connects them to Christ, so that the Spirit of Christ flows in them and the character of Jesus lives in them and bears fruit for the sake of God’s glory.

Nine Qualities

Let’s examine the nine qualities of the Spirit’s fruit listed in Galatians 5. The first and greatest is love. Jesus says, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). The Bible says, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16,19). This love isn’t something we produce on our own. It’s the fruit of God’s Spirit within. “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:5). This subjective experience of God’s love through the Spirit is rooted in the objective demonstration of God’s love at the cross of Jesus. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:5,8).

The greatest fact about a Christian is that he or she is loved by God, and the greatest result of that fact is that the Christian becomes a person who loves others with the love of Christ. There is nothing greater in all the world than to love and be loved. Without love, everything else is ugly and empty; with love, everything glows with the touch of God.

And that brings us to the second thing in the fruit of the Spirit: joy. How can I not rejoice when I am caught up in the everlasting love of God? How can I not rejoice when the Holy Spirit unites me with Christ and gives me a glimpse of the marvelous future that awaits me? Jesus didn’t come to make us a bunch of grim, grouchy grumps who scowl and growl our way through life. The apostle Peter speaks of being “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8). This God-given joy can flourish even in times of struggle and pain. In a letter to Christian friends, the apostle Paul wrote, “In spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). God’s people relish living as his children, even when they face problems, and they’re eager for what the future holds in store for them. They’re excited, they’re delighted, and they want to celebrate!

Next on the list is peace. Peace is a sense of calm and security and wellbeing in relation to God and others. When we’re made right with God, through faith, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). That’s our objective status established in Jesus’ death and resurrection: we’re no longer God’s enemies but his friends. The fighting between God and his people is over. The Holy Spirit takes that objective reality and seals it on the hearts of those whom Jesus died to redeem. The Spirit gives us a subjective sense of calm and assurance. We know that our eternal future is secure, and that our day-to-day life is also in God’s hand. Jesus says, “The Holy Spirit … will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you… Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid” (John 14:26-27). Whenever weeds of worry and fear start to grow again, the Spirit works to uproot them so that our peace will grow and flourish.

Once we have God’s peace in our own hearts, we become peacemakers in relation to others. One of the biggest obstacles to getting along with others comes when we’re not at peace within ourselves because we’re at odds with God. But as God’s peace grows in us, we become peacemakers. We’d rather forgive than hold grudges. We’d rather win a person than a fight. We radiate a sense of calm that brings calm to others. We’re not controlled by fear and anger but by the God of peace.

Closely related to peace is another quality of the Spirit’s fruit: patience. Patience is staying power, steadfastness, longsuffering. The Spirit-filled person has the patience to wait for the Lord when prayers don’t get answered right away, the patience to stick with a job that’s not fun and doesn’t get immediate results, and the patience to put up with people who are obnoxious and hard to be around. Jesus has been so patient with us, and by his Spirit, his patience takes root in us, and we become more patient in relation to others.

Another quality of the Spirit’s fruit is kindness. Kindness is being generous to those who need help—generous in our actions and generous in our attitude. Acts of kindness flow from an attitude of kindness. The Spirit produces a warm, friendly, helpful, caring attitude that grows out of the kindness of God our Savior. On our own, we might look at someone else and see a loser, but the Spirit within gives us eyes to see in that person the image of God and to see the human nature, which Christ himself shares. The Spirit helps us to see people as God sees them. God’s kindness to us grows and becomes God’s kindness through us.

The fruit of the Spirit also includes the quality of goodness. When we’re dominated by the sinful nature, we might think that goodness is bothersome and boring. Who wants to be a “goody-goody” or a “do gooder”? But the Spirit produces a whole new view of goodness. Evil loses its excitement and glamour. Goodness becomes an adventure and a thrill. To be good is to be wholesome, hearty, healthy, pure, and fully alive.

Next on the list is faithfulness. When the Spirit’s fruit grows in you, you are loyal, reliable, truthful, and honest. You are faithful. You’d rather break your arm than break your word. You’d rather lose your life than lose your integrity. Faithfulness is stick‑to‑itiveness. You stick to your promises. You stick with your friends. You stick with your spouse. You stick with your God. You’re relationships aren’t disposable; they’re permanent. Your convictions aren’t disposable; they’re solid as a rock. Your promises aren’t disposable; they’re sacred. Faithfulness is the inner power to be the same person even when things around you change. You belong to a faithful God “who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). And God’s Spirit produces some of that same faithfulness in you.

Another quality of the Spirit’s fruit is gentleness. You may think that gentleness is a sign of softness and weakness, but think again. Gentleness depends on strength and skill. Who carries a baby more gently—a strong parent or a two-year-old child who has to struggle and tug just to lift the baby? Who has the gentlest hands when probing an injury: a child who wants to poke around at your “owie” or a doctor with strong, sure fingers? Gentleness isn’t for the weak and clumsy. It takes strength and skill to be gentle and tender and sensitive toward others.

Look at Jesus. The Almighty Son of God had unlimited power and wisdom. But did he use it to bully or intimidate or dominate? No, he touched weary, burdened, fragile people with his tenderness and gave them rest and healing. Jesus wasn’t weak or stupid, but he described himself as “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). When the Spirit produces the character of Jesus in us, he makes us “gentle and humble in heart” as well.

The final quality of the Spirit’s fruit described in Galatians 5 is self-control. It’s only when you are under the control of God’s Spirit that you can control yourself. In the flesh, in the old sinful nature without the Spirit, you’re barely even a person. You’re more like a bundle of urges and reactions. The more you talk about making your own choices and doing your own thing, the less you’re able to control yourself. But when God takes over, you find that you at last can begin to control your urges and appetites and emotions. In the Spirit, you control your appetite for food; your appetite doesn’t control you. In the Spirit, you control your sex drive; your sex drive doesn’t control you. In the Spirit, you control your temper; your temper doesn’t control you.

Again, remember that the various qualities of the Spirit’s fruit go together. Some folks might think love and joy sound good, but faithfulness and self-control sound unpleasant. However, without faithfulness and self-control, love is nothing more than a sentimental feeling, and joy is nothing more than having a good time for a while. Other folks, who are more stern and upright (and uptight), might emphasize patience and self-control but think that kindness and gentleness are soft and sloppy and useless. But without kindness, patience is cold indifference, and without gentleness, self-control can be rigid harshness.

Think of ordinary fruit. Would you say, “I want fruit to be juicy, and I don’t care whether or not it’s firm?” No, fruit that has juiciness without firmness is rotten. Would you say, “I want fruit to be firm, and I don’t care whether or not it’s juicy?” No, fruit that is dry and hard may be firm, but it’s not good to eat if it has no juice. Fruit needs more than one quality in order to be truly good fruit.

So too, the fruit of the Spirit is best when the various qualities are combined in a lovely balance. Love and joy and peace and kindness and gentleness keep the soul fresh instead of dry, shriveled, and hard. Patience, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control keep the soul sound instead of mushy and rotten. The Spirit combines all these things in fruit that is juicy and healthy and firm and wholesome. When the Spirit is at work, and the life of Christ is truly flourishing in a person, all the qualities of good fruit go together. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”—all these qualities combined.

Life, Not Just Law

After describing the Spirit’s fruit, the Bible says, “Against such things there is no law.” Of course not! How could there be a law against such a life? This isn’t just a statement of the obvious, however. It comes as part of the bigger picture in Galatians that contrasts the works of the law with life in the Spirit. The point is that God’s law can’t produce the fruit in our lives that God wants. Only the Spirit of God can do that.

A magazine can give detailed descriptions of fruit and vegetables and grain, but did any farmer ever try to grow a crop by going out to a plowed field and reading articles about crops to the dirt? Can dirt grow corn by being told what corn is like? No, it takes seeds with life in them, not dead letters on a page, to make things grow. It takes planting, not legislation, for soil to produce a crop. In the same way, having God’s law read to you can’t make the dirt of your character grow anything good. You need the life of Christ planted in you, not just the word of the law read to you.

On your own, the only thing you can produce is sin. Think again of a patch of dirt. What does it grow on its own? Weeds! Weeds grow on their own, but good things grow only if they’re planted and cultivated by a farmer or gardener. In the same way, you can grow sin all by yourself, but you can’t grow the Spirit’s fruit unless the Spirit of Christ is at work in you. You can’t overcome your sinful nature by trying a bit harder to keep God’s law. You have to get out from under the law and have God do for you what the law can’t do. This includes at least two things.

First, you need a status with God that depends entirely on what Christ has already done and not how you measure up to God’s law. One thing the law can’t do is set you free from God’s wrath against sin. All the law can do is show sin for what it is and pronounce the penalty of death and hell. As the Bible says earlier in Galatians, “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse” (Galatians 3:10).

But God himself has done what his law can’t do for us. God sent his Son Jesus. Jesus kept the law on our behalf, first by living the perfect life we could never live, and then by paying the penalty of the law by dying the death we could never die as he suffered hell on the cross. Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” God credits the work of Jesus to all those whom God chose for eternal life in Christ and who receive Christ by faith. This is what the Bible means when it speaks of being “justified by faith.” To be justified is to be set right with God through faith in Christ. By faith God justifies you freely and forever. You have a new status with God that nothing can revoke.

That new status is the first thing Christ gives that the law can’t give, and there’s more. When God cancels your guilt once and for all, he launches an ongoing project of growing the character of Christ, the fruit of the Spirit, in your life. Just as you can’t earn forgiveness by keeping God’s law, so you can’t become the person God wants you to be simply by trying harder to keep the law. You need the Spirit of Christ living and bearing fruit inside you.

How does the Spirit do this? By joining you to Jesus and bringing the power of Christ’s death and resurrection to bear on you. In his crucifixion, Jesus dealt a fatal blow to the sinful nature and the wicked urges of all God’s people. As Galatians 5:24 puts it, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” When the old nature is crucified, the sinful heart is plowed up and made ready for the planting of good seed. The Holy Spirit moves you to deep repentance and then implants the life of the risen Jesus inside of you so that you grow to become more like him.

Now, unlike justification, which is once and for all, this growth in holiness and the bearing of fruit (also called sanctification) is an ongoing process. The new life is stronger than the old sinful self, just as a newly planted crop is stronger than weeds that have just been plowed under. But the crop still has a lot of growing to do, and there are still weeds which spring up that need to be dealt with and rooted out. As Galatians 5:17 puts it, “The sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.” Even in those who belong to Christ, the weeds and the good plants are still competing with each other, but the Holy Spirit does a spiritual “weed and feed.” He keeps weeding out what’s bad and feeding what’s good. Thanks to the Spirit, the weeds of sin keep getting attacked, and the fruit of Christ keeps growing until the day when it becomes fully ripe as God’s new creation appears in all its fullness. This is what God is doing in those who belong to him and have his life within them.

Is this happening in you? Here are some questions to ask yourself: do I live by the Spirit? Have I given up on myself and put my faith in Jesus? Or am I still counting on my own efforts to measure up to God’s law? Can I say with the apostle, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20)? And if Christ is living in me, am I starting to produce the crop God wants me to produce? I’m not yet mature or fully ripened, but is the character of Christ growing and developing in me? What sins are still in my life? How is the Lord going to weed them out, and how can I keep in step with what he is doing in me? May the Spirit search your heart with those questions and produce the fruit of the Spirit in you.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.