You may have spent years trying to work to develop the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things” (CSB).
But the gospel has a better approach to spiritual growth than you trying to become more mature on your own and by your works. Here are three things to remember when you think about this passage.
1. Healthy fruit comes from deep roots.
With a literal plant, you don’t grow fruit by focusing on the fruits. Fruit happens naturally when the roots are deep and healthy. The same is true in our spiritual lives.
Some Christians approach spiritual growth like stapling roses to a dead rosebush. If you drive by and look at that kind of “rosebush” quickly, you might think it’s healthy. But stapling roses on there doesn’t fix the real problem. In the same way, you won’t grow spiritually by trying to add love, joy, peace, and everything else to your life. You can only do it by driving your roots deep into Christ. The more you embrace his love and promise in the gospel, the more spiritual fruits will appear naturally in your life.
As you read through the list of the fruit of the Spirit, you may think, “Yikes! I am so bad. I have no love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, or goodness … and definitely no self-control. Maybe this week I can work on ‘kindness’ and ‘patience.’”
But instead of looking at yourself, you need to look at Jesus and say, “In Christ, I am …
- Chosen before the foundation of the world.
- Predestined to bring forth fruit and give him glory.
- Appointed to be an overcomer.
- So precious that Jesus poured out his blood for me.
- No longer only a servant but also a friend.
- Not a slave, but a son or daughter.
- Blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
- Filled with all the fullness of God.
- Predestined for good works that I should go and walk in them.”
For every one look you take at yourself, bemoaning your fruitlessness (a great start!), take 10 looks at Christ, boasting in his faithfulness. As you drive your roots deeper into those truths, fruit will come as naturally as roses on a living rosebush.
For every one look you take at yourself, bemoaning your fruitlessness, take 10 looks at Christ, boasting in his faithfulness.
2. You are only as mature as your most immature fruit.
When you read Galatians 5, you might wonder about Paul’s grammar in verse 22. Paul says, “Fruit is …” (singular) and then gives a plural list. Shouldn’t he have said, “The fruits of the Spirit are …”?
Paul wasn’t being a sloppy grammarian. He was pointing out that these are not separate virtues you staple onto your life but the collective evidence of Christ in you. If he’s in you, they will all start to appear.
Sometimes we confuse personality traits for spiritual fruits. For example, some Christians are more stoic by nature, so we look at them and say, “Now, that person has patience.” But they are not joyful or kind. Or a Christian who is really gentle and kind to others may never tell people about Jesus. Or maybe someone is bold in telling others about Jesus, but he does it with no kindness. When you find one “virtue” far out of balance from the others, it’s likely you’re looking not at gospel fruit but personality traits.
Where Jesus is, all the fruits grow as one—you are bold and kind, gentle and compassionate, patient and joyful. Therefore, you are only as mature as your most immature fruit. When you observe an area where you are fruitless, this is where you have yet to believe and apply the gospel to your life.
3. Walking in the Spirit is the way to avoid the lusts of the flesh, not vice versa.
Notice the order in Galatians 5:16: “I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh.”
Most people tend to flip that. We think we have to avoid sin in order to be filled with the Spirit. But Paul says walking in the Spirit comes first, because without the Spirit, you’ll never be able to say “no” to the lusts of the flesh.
The Greek word for “desire” in that verse (epithumia) means “inordinate craving,” where you feel like you need something to be alive. This idea goes all the way back to what happened in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve first sinned, they were stripped of the love and acceptance of God, so their souls felt naked, and naked souls look for clothing. This is a picture of how we go about our lives—we feel vulnerable and spiritually naked, and we are looking for something to replace what God used to be to us.
Blaise Pascal famously called it the God-shaped vacuum in our heart. We turn first to the flesh to fill the vacuum—with money, pleasure, fame, and relationships. But the void is too big. The only way to escape these cravings is by being reunited to God and walking in the Spirit. Until we do, our attempts to control the flesh won’t work, because our desires are too strong.
We need a larger dose of the Spirit’s presence in our lives! His power is released in us by daily believing this truth: “It is finished.” The first time we believed “It is finished,” we were released from the penalty of sin. As we continue to believe it, we are released from the power of sin by the Spirit.
The more we soak ourselves in the love of Jesus, the more the fruit of the Spirit will naturally appear.