When it comes to familiar passages of Scripture, the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5 has to be somewhere near the top of the list. It’s memorizable and preaching, so we tend to focus on it from time to time:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22–23).
Ask the average person on the street what the fruit of the Spirit is all about, and you’re likely to hear something about it being a list of virtues Christians ought to be working to produce in their life.
In actuality, the fruit of the Spirit is the furthest thing from a to-do list for believers. This short guide is designed to correct the record, help you separate truth from fiction when it comes to this important passage in the New Testament, and apply the truth of God’s Word to your life.
Fruit, not fruits
The first thing to know when thinking about the fruit of the Spirit is that there is one fruit, not nine fruits.
You might be saying to yourself, “Nuh-uh, I’ve read it. There are nine: ‘Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,’ and all the rest.” In English, we sometimes talk about fruit generally using the singular form, but the Greek word translated “fruit” in Galatians 5:22 is singular. It’s “a fruit,” not “many fruits.”
The nine items listed are expressions of this fruit in our lives. It’s not a pick-and-choose sort of thing. For example, no one can decide that since kindness comes easily for them, that must be their fruit. The work of the Holy Spirit in our lives will produce all nine elements, not just one or two.
Grace, not works
Somewhere along the way, you’ve probably heard it taught that God expects us to model each expression of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. We need to be more loving, more joyful, more peaceful, kind, etc. But Paul’s point in this passage is actually the opposite.
We can’t produce this fruit in our lives on our own. In our own strength, we are powerless to become more like Jesus, who modeled this fruit perfectly. Instead, just like apples and oranges and pears grow because they are connected to a plant, the fruit of the Spirit grows in our lives because of our connection to the Holy Spirit. He produces these good gifts of God in our lives as we keep in step with Him.
Notice that Paul contrasts the fruit of the Spirit with the “acts of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19). He purposely didn’t describe these virtues as “acts” or “works,” because they’re not.
Three Groups of Three
As all of Paul’s writings are, this list of nine virtues that compose the fruit of the Spirit is carefully constructed. The order is not random or unimportant. Instead, what we actually have in this passage are three groups of three expressions.
- Love, joy, peace: These communicate our heart toward God when we’re walking closely with His Spirit in obedience.
We will discover that we experience more of His love, and in turn are more loving. We will find our response to His work in our lives is joy, regardless of circumstances. And we will live with “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
- Forbearance (or patience), kindness, goodness: These are expressions of our outward treatment of other people. Like our Father in heaven, we’ll want to be a blessing to those He loves.
In our world, patience, kindness, and goodness are rarities. That’s why they come as such a shock when we see them in the wild, but in God’s kingdom, they are the order of the day. They are one way we answer Jesus’ prayer that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
- Faithfulness, gentleness, self-control: This last group of three describes how we will grow to conduct ourselves when no one is looking.
We will become deeply faithful people—the sort that does what we say we will do, no matter what. We’ll become fiercely loyal. We’ll also develop a gentle spirit and self-control, both of which will make us more useful to the kingdom of God.
Over to you
The key to unlocking the fruit of the Spirit in our lives is not to try harder, to double down on our efforts. There’s, of course, nothing wrong with living a disciplined life, but the good news of Galatians 5:22–23 is that we don’t have to do it on our own. God will work through us as we rest in Him and trust the voice of Jesus.