Last week we were introduced to the idea of being “led by the Spirit” in verse 18.
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
What does it mean to be led by the Spirit?
It means that the Spirit is leading us to change away from the desires of the flesh. The Spirit is changing our desires to save ourselves with a desire to trust more and more in Christ.
A desire to save ourselves, which is what it means to be under the law, is at the heart of all sinful behavior.
But a person who is led by the Spirit will be bearing fruit of this transformation. They will be showing signs that the Spirit is at work within them, changing them to trust Christ more and more.
So you know where we’re going, first, we’re going to look at why Paul uses the term “fruit”. There will be 4 points to that. Secondly, we will look at the 9 aspects of the fruit. And, thirdly, we will look at how the “fruit” grows with in us — two points for that.
1. Why the term “fruit”?
It is a word that is filled with meaning to help us understand how the Spirit works and there are four things to understand about fruit.
First, the word “fruit” implies Christian growth is gradual. With trees and plants you never see the growth happening. You can measure it after a while but you can’t see the growth as it’s occurring.
So it is with the Christian. The Christian doesn’t notice the change as it’s happening. It’s only after we pause and look back that we see the growth.
Maybe you once were a very impatient person and now when difficulties occur they don’t upset you so much. The change was gradual you didn’t see it happening but now you can look back and see the Spirit was at work.
Second, the word “fruit” implies inevitability. The growth of the Spirit’s fruit is inevitable. There will be growth. If you are a Christian you will grow, period.
A seed planted in good soil and given what it needs to grow, will grow. It can’t not grow. The seed can’t prevent it’s own growth or even how it will grow. It’s inevitable. There will be growth.
Eventually, the shoot will burst through the ground because that’s what it was designed to do. So it is with Christians. Christians will grow. They may have apparent setbacks but because the Spirit is in charge the growth will occur.
We should examine ourselves, then. Has there been fruit in our lives? There should be. There must be.
Third, the use of the word “fruit” implies being connected. The fruit of the Spirit is connected. It has roots.
The change occurring in us is deeper than just the external fruit. Just like in a plant before it bursts forth from the ground there is much unseen growth that is occurring. The fruit is a sign that the tree is alive but it doesn’t make the tree live.
A well-known preachers said, “Think about an apple tree. Do the apples on the tree make it alive? No—if you tied apples onto a dead tree’s branches, that wouldn’t make it alive! The apples don’t give life; they are a sign that the tree is alive. But the life produces the fruit; not the other way around.”
As Christians, we are connected. And in order to have the kind of fruit the Bible speaks of we must be connected.
Some people aren’t connected to the tree yet they seem to display the fruits of the Spirit. They may have certain talents and abilities, gifts that God has given but these aren’t the same thing as the fruit of the Spirit.
Think of King Saul and Judas who had been given many gifts. They performed miracles, even prophesied, yet they didn’t have spirit-renewed hearts.
They weren’t connected to the tree. Only a child of God will be growing in the fruit of the Spirit.
This leads to the fourth thing we can learn from the term “fruit.”
Fourth, the word fruit is singular, not plural. Spiritual fruit is made up of various qualities but there is only fruit in a singular sense. All of the qualities make up what it means to have fruit but they all grow up together.
When fruit grows it isn’t just the skin that grows. The fleshy part, along with all the other parts, grow together.
In other words, you don’t just get one part of the fruit and not the rest. It’s all or nothing.
Obviously, when we examine ourselves we will see strengths in some areas and weaknesses in others. But these differences are mainly because of our natural temperaments.
Some people are naturally gentle or joyful. They have been that way since they were born. Some are more diplomatic than others. Others are more bubbly in personality. Some are more extroverted and friendly toward others.
But these strengths are not necessarily because of the Holy Spirit changing us. We would likely have these traits even if we weren’t Christians.
That’s why it’s important to think of the fruit as singular. A Christian who is bearing fruit will be simultaneously growing in all of the areas.
John says in 1 John 4:20 “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.” Notice that he does not say: If a man loves God but doesn’t love his brother, he is unbalanced. No, he says he is a liar.
True love to God is always accompanied by kindness to others. If they are not both there, neither are there at all.
OK, so “fruit” grows gradually, is connected, inevitable, and singular.
2. What are the aspects of the Spirit’s fruit?
Let’s get into the text. There are 9 aspects in verses 22-23 and these definitions are borrowed from Tim Keller.
- Love. This is “agape” love which means to serve a person, including God, for their good and intrinsic value, not for what the person brings you.Its opposite is fear: self-protection and abusing people. Its fake version is selfish affection, where you are attracted to someone and treat them well because of how they make you feel about yourself.
- Joy. This is a delight in God for the sheer beauty and worth of who He is.Its opposite is hopelessness or despair, and its counterfeit is an elation based on experiencing blessings, but not the Blesser.
- Peace. This is a confidence and rest in the wisdom and control of God, rather than in your own.Its opposites are anxiety and worry. The fake version of peace is indifference, apathy, not caring about something. For example, someone might appear to be peaceful but they really just don’t care.
- Patience. This is an ability to face trouble without blowing up or getting angry.Its opposite is resentment toward God and others, and its counterfeits are cynicism or lack of care. A person can appear to be patient when really, like a person who appears to be peaceful, they just don’t care.
- Kindness. This is an ability to serve others practically in a way which makes us vulnerable, which comes from having a deep inner security.Its opposite is envy, which leaves us unable to rejoice in another’s joy. And its fake alternative is manipulative good deeds, doing good for others so I can congratulate myself and feel I am “good enough” for others or for God.
- Goodness. This means integrity; being the same person in every situation.Its opposite is being phony or a hypocrite. Its fake version is being always truthful but not loving; getting things off your chest just to make yourself feel better.
- Faithfulness. This is loyalty, courage, the ability to be utterly reliable and true to your word.Its opposite is to be an opportunist, a friend only in good times. And its counterfeit is to be loving but not truthful, so that you are never willing to confront or challenge anyone.
- Gentleness. This is humility or self-forgetfulness.The opposite is to be superior or self-absorbed. Its fake version is feeling inferior and having low self-esteem.
- Self-control. This is the ability to pursue the important over the urgent.Its opposite is to be impulsive or uncontrolled. Its counterfeit is the ability to display willpower based on pride and the need to feel in control.
Tim Keller says,
When we look closely at the fruit of the Spirit, and see that one aspect of it cannot be seen in isolation from any of the others, we see that we are far more in need of growth in the fruit of the Spirit than we think. When we stop looking at our gifts as a sign that we are Christlike, and stop looking at our natural strengths as a sign we are Christlike, but challenge ourselves to look at the nature, unity and definitions of the Spirit, we have a much deeper sense of how we lack these things.
3. How does the fruit of the Sprit grow?
How can the fruit of the Spirit take root in our hearts and be produced in our lives? Paul gives us the answer in verses 24-25.
First, we need to remember that we “belong to Christ Jesus”.
24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus…have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Remember, our approval and acceptance doesn’t rest on our character but on Jesus’s. As a result, we are free to confess our shortcomings and mistakes. We no longer need to pretend we are something we’re not. We don’t need to settle for the fake versions of the fruit of the Spirit in order to impress people.
Second, because we belong to Christ we crucify the flesh so that the fruit of the Spirit can grow.
24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus…have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
“Crucifying the flesh” is really the identification and dismantling of idols. It is about attacking sin at the motivational level not just the behavioral level. It’s the pulling of the weeds.
We have to ask ourselves not just what we do wrong, but why we do it wrong. As we learned last week, the fundamental reason we disobey God is to get something we feel we must have to justify or worth. We “over-desire” good things that take the place of God.
Our over-desires are fake-saviors because they cause us to forget how much we mean to Christ. We forget that we belong to Him and try to establish our worth on our own. This is the fundamental root of all sin.
But meditating on Christ’s promises and who we are in Him allows the fruit of the Spirit to take root in our hearts.
Now, there are three things “crucifying the flesh” doesn’t mean.
Paul is not saying punish the body. He’s not saying to give up rest, comfort or pleasure. We know this because many of the works of the flesh have nothing to do with the body but with our attitudes. For example: jealousy, selfish ambitions, and envy.
Also, Paul in not simply saying “just say no” to sin. If all we do is stop our behaviors without examining our motives we risk becoming self-righteous which is just another kind of self-salvation. This is what the Galatians were about to do. They were about to say no to a whole bunch of things but that would have left them under the law and alienated from Christ.
Paul is also not talking of a passive process. We can say, as the Bible does, the “we have been crucified with Christ” (2:20) and as a result there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The penalty has been paid. So there is a passive aspect, but the context of verse 24 is talking about an ongoing, active crucifixion of our flesh that we participate in as we put to death our sinful natures.
So, in order for the fruit of the Spirt to grow in us we first need to remember we belong to Jesus. Our worth is in Him. And second, in order for the fruit of the spirit to grow, we need to actively identify the idols of our hearts and crucify them.
Third, we need to “keep in step with the Spirit”.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
Keeping in step with the Spirit is more than just giving up things. The Spirit is a living person, who glories in and magnifies the work of Jesus. Being in step with the Sprit, then, is being close to God, actively walking beside Him.
Being in step with the Spirit is not just an intellectual exercise. We must worship Christ, adoring Him until our hearts find Him more beautiful than the object we felt we had to have.
As we do that, our old sinful nature is put to death making way for the fruit of the Spirit to grow.
So the result of looking at this passage is that we will examine ourselves. Can you see the fruit of the Spirit growing in your life?
Do you have natural characteristics which could be confused with the fruit of the Spirit?
What are the idols which need identifying and dismantling in your life? How can you replace them with Christ?
May God answer these questions for us as we humbly seek Him and trust Him to change us into the likeness of His Son.