One factor distinguishing Christians from non-Christians is that believers have the Holy Spirit who works in us to ensure we are transformed into Christ’s image (2 Cor. 3:18). We can bear the fruit of the Spirit in us. The fruit of the Spirit separates Christians from a godless, evil world, reveals a power within them, and helps them become more Christ-like in their daily lives (Galatians 5:16-23). The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The Greek word is singular, showing that “fruit” is a unified whole, not independent characteristics (Galatians 5:22). As we abide in Christ, all his characteristics or his “fruit” will be manifested in our lives (John 15:4-5). The above traits in a believer are the byproduct of Christ’s work in us (John 15:4-5). How does the Bible define the Fruit of the Spirit, and how are they displayed in our Christian walk?
Understanding the Fruit of the Spirit
- Love. The Greek word used is “agape”, which refers to divine love. The traits of this love are highlighted in 1 Cor 13:4-8 where Paul used the same greek word for love. God demonstrated this love to the world by giving His only begotten son to die for the sins of those who believe in him (John 3:16). Jesus willingly demonstrated the same love through his sacrificial death on the cross. Jesus then commanded us to follow him in this sacrificial love by giving up our lives for the church (1 John 3:16). When we come to know Christ and believe in him, we receive God’s love. The love of Christ profoundly impacts our lives to the point that others notice and will testify that we’re disciples of Jesus (John 13:35).
- Joy refers to inner rejoicing that abides despite outer circumstances. God-given joy ensures we keep calm even in the middle of a storm. Christian joy is not dependent on happenings but on trust in the nature of God as Sovereign and in that he controls all seasons (Phil. 4:4). Even in a discouraged state, the joy of the Lord in our lives becomes our strength (Neh. 8:10). It is a deep and nourishing satisfaction that continues even when a life situation seems empty and unsatisfying. The joy believers have is based in God’s steadfast love, which we learn to treasure through scripture (Psalms 136). Deep down, believers know that nothing under heaven or on earth will come between them and God (Romans 8:31-39). More importantly, they know that only in God’s presence is fullness of joy and pleasure forevermore (Psalms 16:11).
- The peace of God, which transcends human understanding (Philippians 4:7), reigns in our lives. The peace of God is an inner quietness and trust in God’s sovereignty and justice, even in the face of adverse circumstances. Is it possible to keep calm in the middle of abuse and mistreatment? While life brings tough times that seek to take away our peace, the Holy Spirit produces peace in our hearts that leaves the world wondering. Our gift of peace is grounded in a changed relationship with God. We were enemies of God (Romans 5:10) but now have been reconciled to him (Romans 5:9). The reconciliation moves us to where we’re now God’s children (Galatians 3:26) and even his friend (John 15:13-15). Finally, we are sure that nothing will harm our relationship with God, not the devil, death or sin (Romans 8:38-39), for God is our refuge, ever-present help in times of need (Psalms 46:1-2). Considering all of this brings you peace.
- Patience is critical in our relationship with others. The idea behind this word is that someone is not too quick to act, punish, or react to the offences and injuries of others. Patience is also a strength because it produces perseverance (Colossians 1:10-11). Patience helps an individual to see things through without giving up or admitting defeat. Due to our selfish nature, we always want people to be patient with us, but we fail in the same area when it is our turn to show others patience. The Holy Spirit produces patience in us to harmoniously coexist with each other and develop perseverance. The Holy Spirit reminds us to be compassionate with others and pray for those who wrong us (Matt 5:44). We can become patient because every affliction is for a little while. Then God will perfect, confirm, and establish us (1 Peter 5:10).
- Kindness. It refers to acting charitably and benevolently towards others, as God did to us. It takes the initiative in responding to other people’s needs. Kindness looks beyond our interests to the interests of others. It often requires going out of our way or setting aside things that may seem important. Kindness also means not being vindictive and returning evil for evil (1 Peter 3:9), but instead, turning the other cheek and returning evil with good (Matthew 5:38-42), whether the recipient deserves it or doesn’t. First, the Holy Spirit reminds and confirms in our hearts that God is a righteous Judge and the avenger of the righteous (Romans 12:19), so we ought not to act unkindly even if someone has done us harm. Secondly, through kindness, we might have entertained angels (Hebrews 13:2). This kindness in difficult circumstances above is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit. Selfishness sadly gets the final word in our lives often, but the Holy Spirit can overwhelm that desire for those who walk in His power.
- Goodness. Goodness is seen in our actions. This word relates to not only being good but also doing good things. Through the Holy Spirit’s work in Christians’ lives, they are upright in their heart and do good things. Jesus says we are to carry His light and let it shine before men, not attempt to hide it and do good deeds to lead people to praise God (Matthew 5:15-16). God’s goodness draws people directly to Him, and the fruit of goodness in our lives draws people to God.
- Faithfulness. Faithfulness is the steadfast holding onto something or someone. We are called to be faithful to God and His Word (2 Chronicles 16:9, Revelation 2:10, Luke 11:28). It is a character trait that combines dependability and trust based on our confidence in God and His eternal faithfulness. If we are faithful in the small things, God will reward us (Luke 16:10). The parable of the talents illustrates to us how God rewards the faithful. “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!'” Matthew 25:21. Those who walk in the Spirit will be faithful to God, God’s Word, in both small and big things.
- Gentleness. The virtue of gentleness is best translated as meekness or humility, which means to be mild or tame. People often associate this trait with weakness, but this is a misrepresentation. Instead, we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who was the perfect example of humility and meekness (Philippians 2:5-8; Matthew 5:5). Christians are called to emulate the example of Christ (Phil. 2:4). Meekness is the ability to control and restrain strength. The use of the Greek word when applied to animals makes this clear, for it means ‘tame’ when applied to wild animals. In other words, such animals have not lost their strength but have learned to control the destructive instincts that prevent them from living in harmony with others. Therefore, Christians are not weak when they show humility; they are in great control.
- Self-control. It refers to temperance and mastery of our fleshly desires and passions. Those who in Christ are now led by the Spirit and no longer by their fleshly desires (Galatians 5:16). Self-control allows us to have discipline and restraint and allows us to listen to and act on the will of God rather than our own desires (1 Corinthians 6:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:22). Instead of listening to your body or evil desire within you, you listen to the Holy Spirit which reminds you of truth and righteousness (Titus 3:5, John 14:16-17).
In conclusion, the nine elements of the fruit of the Spirit are amazing and can flow through us. It is the work of the Holy Spirit as we abide in Christ. One thing we want to clarify, though, is that these nine elements of the fruit of the Spirit are not guaranteed for every Christian. They are available for every Christian, but only those who walk with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, Ephesians 5:18) through obedience to the words of Christ (Colossians 3:16, John 15:4-5). To not walk in the Spirit means you’re grieving the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) and will not have the blessing of his fruit flow through your life. Therefore, we are called to submit to the Holy Spirit by being obedient to all of Christ’s commands which allows him to work in us and manifest his fruit. So be filled with the Spirit today.