Understanding the 9 Fruits of the Spirit
The 9 fruits of the Spirit is a wonderful picture of how Christians ought to live. There are countless children’s Sunday School lessons centered on these virtues and many children’s books as well. The verses in Galatians that introduce this concept are also very popular verses to memorize.
But this concept is not meant to stop with the children’s ministries. This is not ‘simple’ theology that is grasped instantaneously. These are the core attributes that mark the lives of all Christians.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. ~ Galatians 5:22-23
The virtues mentioned above hold an amazing mirror to the Christian life! But before looking at the attributes individually, you must take time to understand the soil by which this fruit grows.
All fruit can only be produced if the plant that it grows from is healthy. The tree must be taken care of. Its roots must be established and strong. Fruit does not instantly appear once a seed is planted and it will not appear if the seed is not tended to.
So what is the soil by which this fruit grows?
Walking By The Spirit
Once the seed of the gospel has taken hold of someone’s life, an incredible transformation occurs. Dry ground is now fertile soil. What once was dead is now alive.
The roots of the truth of the gospel grow deeper. The life you once lived has been done away with and you’ve been made into a new creation. You can see the call for believers earlier in the same chapter:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. ~ Galatians 5:16
Before Paul describes the fruit of walking in the Spirit, he takes a moment to show the life we were brought out of. He gives a thorough list of examples of the deeds of the flesh:
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. ~ Galatians 5:19-21
Before becoming a Christian, everyone is bound to the deeds of the flesh. But when Christ saves you, you become a new creation. The deeds of the flesh are no longer compliant with the Spirit that lives in you! They are put to death and the fruit of the Spirit begins to grow.
Notice that Paul mentions the “deeds” of the flesh and the “fruit” of the Spirit. One is plural and the other is singular. There are many deeds listed. Sin can always take place in many different forms.
But the fruit of the Spirit is singular. The idea behind this is that these virtues are a packaged deal. They are not something a Christian can pick and choose from. You can’t work on love one week and work on self-control the next.
As a Christian each of these nine virtues are ever-present and ever-growing fruit seen in your life. Your life should be marked by the presence of all these virtues.
The Example and The Source
The ultimate example of each of these virtues is God the Father and God the Son. Not only does God exhibit these virtues perfectly, he is each of these virtues. Where you may grow in love and faithfulness, God is love and he is faithfulness.
The source by which this fruit grows is none other than God the Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells the hearts of all Christian. He is the only source by which you can display kindness. It’s by his work alone that you are able to practice self-control.
This source is permanent and powerful. This should bring you great joy! Now, let’s take a look at each these virtues in depth.
9 Fruits of the Spirit
The Greek word for love used here is “agape”. This is not the kind of love that you feel for a friend. Nor is it the kind of love felt towards a spouse. Agape love is defined as “a willful choice to put another’s interests above one’s own; an unselfish, giving (even to the point of sacrifice), and unconditional love.”
This love is perfectly summarized in the famous love chapter of the Bible:
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
This is the love you are called to show all people. This spiritual fruit calls believers to die to themselves and choose another’s interest above their own. Even if that person is rude, mean-spirited, or gossiping about you behind your back.
Where can we find motivation for this love? It is the very same love that God shows to us. Paul says in Romans that ”God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
You were an enemy of God before he saved you. Yet in his love, he laid himself down for you and died so that you may be saved. This is the same love you must show to everyone around you.
Joy is a virtue that often gets confused with happiness. The term ‘happy’ comes from the word ‘happenstance’. So your happiness is completely, totally dependent on your circumstances.
It is a good thing to feel happy! You can feel happy when your sports team wins the championships. You can feel happy when you get a promotion. You can feel happy based on millions of different circumstances.
But the joy that comes from the Spirit is something far greater. Joy remains despite our circumstances and perseveres through our circumstances.
The writer of Hebrews says “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2a). Jesus was facing excruciating pain, humiliation and death for a people who hated him. But he faced it with joy?
Jesus was able to face the cross because his joy was rooted in something that couldn’t be shaken by his circumstances. This is the same joy the Spirit grows in us. It is the joy we are commanded to look to in the midst of trials.
James tells his fellow believers to “consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” (James 1:2). You can look at hardships with joy because no matter what you face in this life, God has saved you! There is no circumstance that can take the joy of your salvation away from you.
In John chapter 14, Jesus gives his disciples an amazing promise:
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. ~ John 14:27
There are many counterfeits of peace in the world. There is peace in a home when no one is arguing. There is peace that comes with job and financial security. Many seek peace in self-care, meditative practices, and alone time.
While that is all fine, none of that peace can last. A global pandemic steals financial security. An insignificant straw can be the last one in someone’s marriage. Alone time is never enough.
So what is different about the peace Jesus is talking about in John 14? This peace is found at the cross. It is complete peace with God. Because you have peace with God, you can have peace in every other area in your life!
Just like joy, this peace is not dependent on our circumstances. Paul says this peace goes beyond all your understanding (Philippians 4:6-7). This peace is displayed in Jesus when he is sleeping in the midst of the storm in Mark. It’s also present in a similar situation when Paul is facing an inevitable shipwreck in Acts 27.
This peace stands firm in the face of trials. It is a peace that helps the believer keep their sights set on the bigger picture. Your peace with God is ultimate in light of momentary trials.
Longsuffering is a virtue often misunderstood. Also translated as patience, the Greek word used here is not referring to patience as a manner of waiting. This is not patience in a situation but, rather, patience with people.
John MacArthur explains it this way:
It’s the word makrothumia. Makro in the Greek means “large,” as opposed to mikro; or even better, “distant,” “far away.” Thumia is related to thumos, which is “anger.” This is a person who pushes his anger far away. That’s the kind of patience we’re talking about, patience with people who would otherwise make you angry.
It is inevitable in life that you will come into contact with someone who makes you angry. It may be a personality difference. It may be someone who is incredibly rude to you. It may be someone who cuts you off on the highway.
But rather than responding to people in these situations with the initial anger that arises in your flesh, the Christian is called to more. Believers are called to exhibit this patience with all people. You are meant to push this anger away and treat people, instead, with some of the other virtues we will look at momentarily.
Think about the patience the Lord has with humanity. Every sin committed against this holy, righteous God demands punishment. This punishment was enacted on Jesus at the cross. Yet humanity still sins against God.
But look what Peter has to say about this:
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. ~ 2 Peter 3:9
God exhibits this kind of patience towards you and all of humanity. In light of humans sinning against him, he responds with patience. Amazing!
Your flesh desires to protect itself at all costs and treat people according to initial emotions you feel. But the fruit of the Spirit is meant to kill the desires of the flesh. The Christian’s life is meant to reflect Christ and not ourselves.
This virtue is a paramount example of how believers ought to act.
The kindness mentioned here, chréstotés, refers to someone seeking always to do good for the sake of others. This is perfectly manifested in Jesus Christ.
He served others constantly. He healed them of their diseases, fed them when they were hungry, and washed their feet. These are tangible expressions of the kindness of his heart. There was nothing people did to deserve this kindness, yet he gave it freely and without hesitation.
There are many ways you can display this virtue. You can show kindness to a friend going through a trial by giving your time and lending your ear. You can bring meals to those who need them. You can be kind towards those who aren’t kind to you.
Have you ever met someone who displays this Spirit-given kindness? It is almost startling. The purpose of displaying this type of kindness is to point people to God.
As with all these attributes, he is kindness. While you can show someone kindness, God himself is kindness. The ultimate display of this kindness is seen at the cross:
But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy. ~ Titus 3:4-5a
Kindness and goodness are often lumped together. But while kindness seeks to do good for the sake of others, goodness simply means moral goodness.
Goodness is different than what some would call self-righteous. Do you know someone who could be described as self-righteous? Their actions may be morally good, but there is a sourness left from the manner they exhibit this morality.
But when someone displays goodness? There is a softness to the good they do. Why are believers called to be morally good? Paul gives us the answer in 2 Thessalonians 1:
To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. ~ 2 Thessalonians 1:10-11
The goodness you have by faith is meant to glorify the name of Jesus! Self-righteousness lifts up the person who is holding to their morality. Goodness and righteousness given by the Holy Spirit lifts up the name of Jesus Christ.
Faithfulness is a virtue that relates to honesty, trustworthiness and truth. Is your life marked by truth? The words you say and the actions you do should be founded on integrity and honesty.
There is much dishonesty and many lies in the world today. The recent invention of the term ‘fake news’ signals the world’s acknowledgement that it’s hard to know who to trust.
But believers are called to be faithful. You are called to live a life that promotes truth and trustworthiness. This virtue increasingly goes against modern culture and thus causes believers to stand out.
The ultimate display of this characteristic is found in Jesus himself. He is called the Faithful and True one in Revelation. He tells his disciples he is the way, the truth and the life. God is faithfulness. He is your example to follow in an increasingly dishonest world.
Gentleness is perhaps the most countercultural of all these virtues. This virtue is best understood as humility. Paul gives a beautiful picture of Jesus’s humility in Philippians chapter 2:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. ~ Philippians 2:5-8
Try to wrap your minds around this for a moment. God humbled himself to be confined to a human body. Not only that, but in his humility he died on the cross for people who mocked him and scorned him. We are called to reflect his gentleness and humility.
The culture of many nations these days is centered on one person: yourself. Magazines, lifestyles, and relationships are all tailored to revolve around you. Pride is acceptable. Many routines that begin with ‘self’ are meant to bolster you up and cater to your needs.
But again, the Christian is called to something greater. Christians are to live a life of humility. In gentleness, you lay down your pride and lay down your life for the sake of the gospel. Christ calls you to pick up your cross in order to follow him (Matthew 16:24-26).
The word gentleness paints a beautiful picture. It doesn’t portray someone begrudgingly humbling themselves. It doesn’t describe someone who chooses to lay themselves down but complains about it the whole time.
As Jesus shows us, gentleness and humility is quiet and worshipful. It’s displayed when believers gently submit themselves to their God and live for a greater purpose than themselves.
Self-control is a life-long, sanctifying process. As mentioned before, believers are called to lay themselves down. Your former self has been crucified and a new creation has been made alive.
Remember the ‘deeds of the flesh’ that Paul mentioned before launching into the fruit of the Spirit? That is the ‘self’ Christians are commanded to control. The virtue of self-control helps the believer mortify the deeds of the flesh.
The Holy Spirit is constantly at work in your heart. By submitting to his leading, the fruit of self-control grows. Each and every day, believers should exercise self-control and put their sin to death.
Of course this isn’t easy. The deeds of the flesh are very tempting to give into. But that former self is no longer what reigns in your heart. You must fight this battle and choose to reflect God instead of gratifying the desires of the flesh.
Praise God that he is perfectly kind, good, merciful, just, and holy always and forever! Take hope in the perfection of God’s self-control. It gives you ample reason to trust him completely.
Appearing as lights
Do you remember the reason for all of this? Honestly, these virtues are not natural and require devoted intention. They go against our pride and our exaltation of self. So what is the point?
The point is to glorify and reflect your Savior.
so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world ~ Philippians 2:15
The fruit of the Spirit displayed in the lives of Christians is striking. The imagery that Paul uses paints a picture of Christians truly being lights in a dark world. How? By displaying the fruit of the Spirit!
Every one of these virtues point to the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Submit to the Spirit, Christian. Display his character and you will appear as lights in a dark world.
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