* This article previously appeared in the Hillsdale Daily News and The Daily Reporter
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This is a list known as “the fruit of the Spirit.” The reference for these is found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians 5:22-23. They are actually set against what he calls the “works of the flesh.” Over the next several weeks, I’d like to spend time unpacking what each of these “Christians attributes” means and how we can see it in our lives. And, more importantly, I’d like to consider why we ought to pray that we would see these fruit in our lives.
I’ll kick off the series with a look at what Paul means when he calls these things the “fruit of the Spirit.” First, notice that Paul is contrasting these things. There is a way that the Christian is called to not live. These “works of the flesh” for Paul are indicative of not trusting in Christ. Now, this doesn’t mean that a Christian is completely free from these other works. In Romans 7, Paul is clear that we continue to do battle with the flesh and there are many times when we will do the things that we know are wrong. The difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is not perfection, but repentance. The Christian is grieved by sin and mourns over their situation, asking the Lord to forgive.
This is a point that needs to be driven home to us because too often I see people walk away from the Lord – and from the church – because they continue to wrestle with sin. God doesn’t promise us sinless perfection until the New Creation (Revelation 21-22). If you measure your faith on the basis of your obedience, you’ll be in a world of trouble.
This applies to trying to measure the “fruit” you see in your life. I am sure you’ve heard Paul’s words used this way by some pastors. They end up turning these fruit into a kind of new Nine Commandments that Christians must do in order to be considered “good.” As you can probably guess, I have a hard time with this understanding. Now, it is true, that these are kinds of things that we see growing in our lives in spite of continued sin. More importantly, these are the things that we ought to be praying for in our lives.
Why should we pray for them? Because they are fruit. Think about growing some kind of fruit…what can you really do to make that happen? I mean, you can plant seeds and you can water them. You can find good soil and you can take care of the plant. However, there really is nothing you can do to make the fruit appear. Likewise, we can do all kinds of things in our Christian walk. We can read the Bible and pray (kind of like watering), spend time with godly people (think about this as soil), and be involved in the church (taking care of the plant). But only God can give the growth. Only God can make these fruit grow in our lives. In other words, these are not commandments we struggle in our own strength to obey. They are fruit, gifts if you will, given by God.
Consider also how these fruit come about: the Spirit. That is a capital ‘S’ there, which means that Paul is speaking of the Holy Spirit. These fruit are supernatural; they are the work of God’s Spirit in the lives of his people. And he is faithful. He will not fail to produce this fruit – in His time – in the lives of those who are His. What we can do is pray for this fruit in our lives. We can ask God to help us love others as he loves us. We can pray that the peace we have with God will be manifest in the peace we have as a church.
The fact that it is called ‘fruit’ reminds us that it takes time, that it comes in seasons and that it is a product in your life, not something you manufacture. But also I want you to note that this is what God, by his Holy Spirit, is, in fact, producing in his people. Though you struggle to be faithful, God is producing the fruit of faithfulness in you. Though you wrestle with self-control, the seed is planted and God is growing in you both the desire and the ability. These are promises as much as they are what we strive for.