I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to grow something, anything green, but I am not good at it. My dad has a natural ability to grow just about anything. It’s fun for me to watch him take on just about anything and see him nurture and cultivate it to grow.
Farming is one of the toughest jobs in the world. My dad may have a green thumb, but anything that comes in contact with me experiences my black thumb of death. Apparently, the green thumb is not hereditary.
So many factors go into producing a good crop. Everything from too much sun to not enough son, too much water to not enough water, the nutrients in the soil, and so many other factors affect the end product.
For me, there are too many variables. Many of them no one can control but God. A farmer can have an abundant crop one year and scarce the next. Or an abundance of a couple of crops and scarcity in others, and then a completely different result the next year.
As much as the farmer gushes over his crops and lavishes his time, expertise, and energy on them, so the Holy Spirit does for each one of us. The moment we come to Christ, beginning our relationship with him, the Holy Spirit dwells in us.
Ephesians tells us we are sealed with the Holy Spirit at the moment we are saved (Ephesians 1:13-14). The Holy Spirit dwells in us and one of his main goals after Jesus declares us wholly at salvation is to sanctify us, to make us holy and reality as Christ has declared.
In the next few posts, I want to take a deeper look at the Fruit of the Spirit. Looking at what the Spirit does in our character is an incredible study into the nature of holiness. He is taking us on that holy journey to conform us to Christ, to have the same image as Jesus when he is finished.
In Galatians 5:16-26, Paul highlights the contrast between the flesh and the Spirit living in us as believers. He talks about walking by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). We must choose between living by the Spirit or by our flesh, the desires we used to have before we met Christ.
There is no halfway. We must walk by one or the other. Some people teach that the new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) means that we no longer have the flesh, but that’s not what Paul teaches.
There’s a contrast between the flesh and the Spirit. He says they are in conflict with one another, producing different values in us (Galatians 5:17). Then he compares the works (fruit) of the flesh with the character (fruit) of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-23).
The works we do betray the character we have inside. People can’t see your character, but they can see your works. It’s interesting that Paul would speak of the works as fruit of the flesh and of the character of the Fruit of the Spirit.
We’ve talked before about bearing fruit, but just a quick reminder: fruit in the Bible can be both works and character. Fruit expresses the end product, the result, of something. In this case, it is the results of our works or the result of our character.
So the result of following the flesh is the works that displease God and put people in a place where they cannot enter his kingdom (Galatians 5:21). He gives a list of fifteen works of the flesh that do not glorify God (Galatians 5:19-21).
Paul gives many more works of the flesh, and only nine characteristics of the fruit, or resulting work of the Spirit in our character. Paul’s warning cannot be overstated. We must not allow ourselves to entertain the temptations of the flesh now that we know Christ.
One Fruit Nine Characteristics
From time to time throughout my life I have heard countless sermons and Bible studies on the Fruit of the Spirit. But I want to be clear on how to understand the fruit of the Spirit.
In the original language, Paul does not describe nine separate fruits of the Spirit. One of the problems with our English language is that certain words are both plural and singular without changing the spelling. Fruit is one of those words.
But when Paul mentions the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22, he uses the singular word, not the plural. So instead of talking about nine different fruits, he is talking about one fruit with nine characteristics.
Let me see if this will help. If I said to you, “There is this red, round, slimy inside, green stemmed, fruit that can be sliced, diced, stewed, roasted, and even tastes good raw, fruit,” he would know exactly what I’m referring to. It’s a tomato.
But I only described one tomato. I gave you multiple descriptions of that one fruit. In the same way, Paul gives us nine characteristics or descriptions of the one fruit of the Holy Spirit.
We don’t want to think we can have one or two fruits of the Spirit. His goal is not for us to experience only a few of these. His goal is to demonstrate in us the result of our transformed character so that these nine characteristics shine through us on a regular basis.
He wants us to master all nine characteristics of his resulted work in us. As he transforms us little by little, returning over and over to each of these characteristic goals, people should see all of them in us to some degree, getting stronger as we grow in Christ and obey the Holy Spirit as he makes changes to our character.
Fruit before Gifts
In the Pentecostal circles I grew up in and minister in, there are many people who are zealous for the gifts of the Spirit, especially the ones more noticeable, the spiritual gifts. But when I teach about the gifts, I first teach about the Fruit of the Spirit.
Sometimes people ask me why I don’t just get right into the gifts, the good stuff. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul explains that the greatest way to operate in the gifts is not to get more and more of them, but operate in love, the first Fruit of the Spirit.
I think Paul is trying to queue us in on a key principle of ministering before the Lord. We cannot be effective in the gifts of the Spirit if we are not effectively being transformed by the Spirit in our character through the fruit.
As much as I enjoy teaching about the gifts of the Spirit, the foundation for the gifts is the Fruit of the Spirit. We must not forget or minimize the importance of understanding and practicing the fruit of the Spirit.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t operate in the gifts of the Spirit until we have become proficient in the fruit of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit can walk and chew gum at the same time. He is doing all of these things in us all at once.
He is ministering in us through the gifts but he is also cultivating his fruit in our character. The more mature we become in the fruit of the Spirit, the more effective we will be administering the gifts of the Spirit to God’s people.
The Spirit Tills the Soil
Many people ask me as a pastor how they can become more loving, peaceful, peaceable, faithful, and the like. I tell them what I’m about to tell you, that we can’t do a thing to make ourselves more like Jesus.
I know that sounds strange on the face of it, but think about how things work in the spiritual realm. When we came to Christ and became believers in him, our works didn’t save us. Jesus did the work to save us on the cross.
He gave us the Holy Spirit at the very beginning of our walk. The Holy Spirit is a gift, just like grace. Just as we cannot earn our salvation, we cannot earn our sanctification. We can’t make ourselves more holy just like we can’t save ourselves by our own works.
Earlier in Galatians, Paul talks about this very thing (Galatians 3:2-5). He asks if they began with the Spirit, and were now trying to gain the Spirit on their own. So we don’t cultivate the fruit of the Spirit. No, this is solidly the work of the Holy Spirit. Our willpower does nothing long-term.
We must trust that he knows what he’s doing. After all, his name is “Holy” Spirit for a reason. Holiness is his area of expertise. Only he knows what will please God more. Only he knows how to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29).
The Holy Spirit is in the driver’s seat. Our job is to obey him and put into practice his commands. This is how we become more like Christ. It is not our own work, but our obedience guided by the Spirit.
We are off to a good start. In the next several posts, I want to focus on each of the characteristics of the Fruit of the Spirit. As we go through each one, we can get an idea of the Holy Spirit’s aim. The final result he is working in us is glorious.
Leave me a comment and tell me what you have learned about the Fruit of the Spirit in your own studies and from your church. I hope that this quick study on the Fruit of the Spirit is enlightening and helps us to see how the Holy Spirit transforms us.