On February 12, 1728, was Cotton Mather’s sixty-fifth birthday. The Puritan minister would breathe his last the following day. Until the previous year, Matthew had never experienced any serious health challenges. He used all his strength to live in fruitful service to the Lord. His signet ring had a fruit-bearing tree and Psalm 1:3 inscribed on it. On the last day of his life, his son Samuel asked his dying father for a final word of counsel. Mather said one word: “Fruitful.” Fruitfulness was Mather’s consuming passion in life and death. It should be the same for every follower of Christ.
Fruitfulness is an often-used biblical metaphor for spiritual usefulness. Fruit-bearing describes conduct for the good of others and the glory of God. The fruit of the Spirit presented in Galatians 5:22-23 is more about character than conduct.
Paul preached the gospel in Galatia. Sinners repented and trusted Christ for salvation. After Paul’s departure, however, religious zealots arrived preaching “another gospel” of faith plus works. These young Christians were seduced from the simplicity of the gospel. Paul wrote this letter to clarify and simplify the true gospel.
Galatians 5:1 is the Golden Verse of the letter: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Faith in Christ sets us free from bondage to religious rules, rituals, and regulations. But freedom is not free. Galatians 5:13 says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
How do we live in Christian freedom? Galatians 5:16-18 says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
The Christian life is spiritual warfare. The flesh and the Spirit are in constant conflict. We submit to the Spirit’s leadership to overcome the flesh. It is a life of trust and obedience. Galatians 5:22-23 describes the Spirit-led life in practical terms: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.”
How can I cultivate Christlikeness? Galatians 5:22-23 answers: God the Holy Spirit cultivates Christlikeness in those who are rooted in him.
The Stark Contrast
Verse 22 begins with a contrasting conjunction: “But.” The term reveals the tension of the text. There are two ways to live: by what the flesh produces or by what the Spirit produces.
What the Flesh Produces. Verse 19-21 says, “Now the works of the flesh are evidence: 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.”
This list of vices names fifteen sins. The emphasis is on the nature of these sins, not the number.“Now” indicates these sins remain sins. The Lord has not changed his mind about any of these transgressions. Paul calls them “works of the flesh.” Our sinful nature produces sinful conduct. These works of the flesh are “evident.” When a person is living according to the flesh, it will obviously result in these vices. But this list of evils is not exhaustive. It includes “things like these.”
These representative vices warn us against anything that resembles these sinful acts. We need to be constantly warned because those whose lives are characterized by these vices will not inherit the kingdom of God. A person whose life is dominated by the works of the flesh is not saved. Saved people may commit these sins. But those who practice them are on their way to hell, not heaven. Repent of your sin and run to the cross!
What the Spirit Produces.
- Verses 19-21 list the works of the flesh.
- Verses 22-23 list the fruit of the Spirit.
The contrast is between the flesh and the Spirit. Romans 8:9b says, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” When a sinner trusts Christ for salvation, the Holy Spirit takes residence in their hearts immediately, completely, and permanently. The indwelling Spirit desires to fill us to sanctify us. The Holy Spirit makes holy saints.
Ephesians 4:30 says, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” When we sin, it grieves the Spirit. But he will not abandon us. He confronts us to convict to convert us. The Spirit is determined to uproot the works of the flesh and ripen the fruit of the Spirit. How are things between you and Jesus? Your relationship with Christ is not right if you are hateful, miserable, anxious, impatient, unkind, evil, unfaithful, disagreeable, and undisciplined. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
The Spiritual Cluster
What is the fruit of the Spirit?
The Meaning of Spirit-Fruit.
- It is often asked, “What is your spiritual gift?”
- It is not asked enough, “Where is your Spirit-fruit?”
It is a matter of both/and, not either/or. The gifts of the Spirit are about power. The fruit of the Spirit is about character. Character without power is to be useless. Power without character is to be dangerous. We need the gifts and the graces of the Spirit.
Galatians 5:22-23 record the fruit of the Spirit, not the fruits of the Spirit. The works of the flesh are plural. The fruit of the Spirit is singular. The singular indicates the unity of these virtues. This is not the fruit section of a grocery store. You may not choose some and reject others. The presence of love does not excuse the absence of self-control. The presence of joy does not excuse the absence of gentleness. The presence of peace does not excuse the absence of faithfulness. Spirit-fruit is a unified cluster. “Fruit”indicates a spiritually productive life.
- The Spirit gives us gifts to use us.
- The Spirit gives us fruit to make us usable.
Faithful Christians are fruitful Christians. Fruit grows organically. It does not develop independently. The Holy Spirit cultivates his fruit in us. This catalog of virtues is not exhaustive. It is representative of the character of Christ. Our Savior’s life was filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Spirit-fruit is about making us look like Jesus.
Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” In God’s family, the Father makes us like the Son so that the Son may make us like the Father. This process of sanctification happens by incarnation, not imitation. God the Holy Spirit cultivates Christlikeness in those who are rooted in him. It is the will of God to have the Spirit of God use the word of God to make the children of God look like the Son of God.
The Manifestation of Spirit-Fruit. The ninefold fruit of the Spirit is a unified whole. But it can be categorized in three ways.
Godward Dependence. “Love” is the first and foremost fruit. It is not an emotion. Love is what you do. It is rooted in God’s love for us. Love seeks the highest good of the one loved, even if they are not worthy of it. “Joy” is more than happiness. Happiness is based on what happens. Joy is an all-satisfying delight in God, who has saved us through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Joy counts it all joy when it suffers painful trials. “Peace” is more than the absence of conflict. It is the presence of contentment. Peace is spiritual “climate control.” It is a sense of wellbeing and wholeness that rests in God’s goodness, wisdom, and power.
Outward Devotion. “Patience” is about difficult people, not difficult circumstances. It is forgivenessand forbearance that makes us slow to anger when we are severely provoked. It is the grace of a man that could retaliate but does not. “Kindness” is not so much about what you do but how you do it. It is to show sympathy, charity, and generosity toward others. Kindness treats others the way God has treated you. “Goodness” is moral and spiritual excellence. It is a clean conscience, upright motives, and selfless servanthood. Galatians 6:10 says, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
Inward Discipline. “Faithfulness” is the word for “faith.” Here it is the fruit of faith. One who has faith is faithful. She is constant, trustworthy, and dependable. He does his duty until his duty is done.“Gentleness” translates one of the most untranslatable words in the New Testament. It pictures a wild animal that becomes tame, harnessed, and useful. Gentleness is meekness. Meekness is not weakness. It is strength under control. “Self-control” is the opposite of self-indulgence. It typically refers to resisting sexual temptation. But it is more than that. It is victory over fleshly passions, appetites, and desires. It is the power to say yes to God and no to sin.
The Supernatural Cultivation
The fruit of the Spirit is cultivated, not manufactured. It is not “let go and let God.” It happens as you walk in Christian maturity, productivity, and liberty.
Christian Maturity. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control picture a spiritual transformation. It is a change that cannot be counterfeited. Unsaved people may seem to display these virtues more than saved people. But the fruit of the Spirit is more than “civil righteousness.” Any act is either bad-bad, good-bad, or good-good.
- Bad-bad is to do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons.
- Good-bad is to do the right thing for the wrong reasons.
- Good-good is to do the right thing for the right reasons.
Everyone does bad-bad things. Non-Christians may do good-bad things. Only Christians can do good-good things. William Still said, “The growing Christian is someone who has learned to do the natural thing spiritually and the spiritual thing naturally.” Are you maturing in Christlikeness? The mature Christian bears the fruit of the Spirit. Cultivation takes time. It is a labor-intensive process that involves prayer, scripture, fellowship, service, and trouble.
As you trust and obey, the Holy Spirit causes us to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. You are only as mature as your most immature fruit. Galatians 5:24 says, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Do a fruit inspection and trust Christ to clear your past, conquer your problems, and change your personality.
Christian Productivity. Spiritual gifts are tools to work with, not toys to play with. The same is true of Spirit-fruit. It is about Christ and others. John 15:26 says, “He will bear witness about me.” John 16:14 says, “He will glorify me.”The Holy Spirit is the “shy member” of the Trinity. He glorifies Christ in us as we do good. Galatians 5:25-26says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”
How do you taste? That is not determined by introspection. It is reflected in your relationship. The fruit of the Spirit grows in the soil of relationships. A tree does not eat its own fruit. It grows fruit for others. We bear the fruit of the Spirit to edify and enrich others. Spirit-fruit are character traits, not prescribed actions. You know fruit is ripe by squeezing it. To live a fruitful life, choose love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Christian Liberty. I remember when my dad’s church was broken into. I went to the office with him as workers installed bars on the church office doors and windows. My dad began to weep. He explained that his father’s church did not have any locks. People were free to come at any time to meet with God. I believe the indwelling Spirit feels the same way.
Verse 23 ends with a remarkable understatement: “Against such there is no law.” This is a literary device called a litotes. It states a positive truth in negative terms. You are free from the law by the Spirit of Christ. You cannot legislate godliness. The Gospel Transformation Bible notes: “The fruit of the Spirit is not a checklist to work through but a unified blossoming of a heart liberated by the gospel of grace.”
The works of the flesh need laws to prevent us from falling into them. But there is no law against love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The Lord develops the fruit of the Spirit in us by putting us in opposite situations. That’s why the fruit of the Spirit may catch you by surprise! Christ sets us free from to-do list religion. John 8:31-32 says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”