If you have grown up in the pews or been a Christian for a significant amount of time, you have likely heard about the fruit of the Spirit. You have probably heard lessons about the fruit of the Spirit. Often the approach to Galatians 5:22-23 is to talk about each of these characteristics and then tell us that we need to focus on showing more love, kindness, gentleness, self-control, and so forth. But this is a misreading of the text and not Paul’s intent. So we need to back up and consider what the apostle Paul is trying to tell his readers as he talks about what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus.
Fruit Is An Outcome
First, we need to carefully consider the word “fruit.” These characteristics are considered the fruit of the Spirit. Fruit is an outcome. It is important to consider that the apostle Paul does not contrast the works of the flesh with the works of the Spirit. The point of Paul’s teaching is not exchange one groups of works for another group of works. Paul is not telling us to do these works: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Paul does not say do these things. Rather, Paul says that these characteristics are fruit.
We noted in our last lesson that this is not a section of scripture telling us what we should not do and what we should do. We observed that there were a number of obvious sins that were missing from the works of the flesh listing. It is not a comprehensive list but is trying to show us if we are walking by the flesh and gratifying its desires. In the same way, this is not a to do list of what to do. Rather, Paul is trying to get us to think about these characteristics as fruit.
If you wanted to grow mangos in your yard, what would you do? You would focus on have a tree properly planted, watered, and fed so that the fruit of the tree would be mangos. Looking at the tree and wishing for mangos will not accomplish anything. To get the proper fruit, you must focus on the tree or plant. This is what Paul is picturing by describing these characteristics as the fruit of the Spirit. These things are the outcome of a life that is walking by the Spirit. In fact, if a plant or tree is properly planted, watered, and nourished, the plant cannot help but produce fruit. So the first thing I want us to do when we read the fruit of the Spirit is not to think about trying to do these things. Rather, I want you to look at the fruit of the Spirit and see if these characteristics are in you.
Fruit Is Not Plural
Second, there is no “S.” Paul does not say that these are the fruits of the Spirit. Now you might wonder what is the big deal about whether it is the fruit of the Spirit or the fruits of the Spirit. But the difference is important. We sometimes look at these spiritual characteristics as independent of one another. We might think that we have patience but not kindness. We can look at the list and consider that we are doing good with some of the characteristics but not so good with other characteristics. But Paul describes these characteristics as a singular fruit.
Here is the point. The Spirit is not producing one or two of these within us. The work of the Spirit in our lives produces all of these characteristics. These characteristics together are the fruit that is generated in our lives when we are walking by the Spirit. It is not that these characteristics could be seen or might be seen. If we are led by the Spirit, then all of these characteristics will be seen as the outcome of our walk. Something is wrong if all of these traits are not observed in those who say that they follow Jesus. Fruit is not optional.
Fruit Is Critical
Jesus made a number of statements to show the importance of this fruit being observed in his people.
My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be my disciples. (John 15:8 CSB)
Jesus says that producing a lot of fruit is how the Father is glorified and how we prove that we are his disciples. Have we thought about the fruit of the Spirit in this way? These characteristics in Galatians 5:22-23 prove we are disciples. These characteristics prove that we are walking by the Spirit. So what is the other truth from this? Therefore, if we are not producing this fruit, then we are not glorifying God in our lives and we are not showing that we are his disciples. Listen to how Jesus made this point in another way at another time.
You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:16–20 ESV)
What is Jesus’ point? The fruit shows what kind of tree you are. Unhealthy trees do not bear good fruit. Healthy trees do not produce bad fruit. The fruit shows who you are. This is the point that Paul is making. If you do not have the fruit of the Spirit as the outcome of your life, then you are unhealthy spiritually. If you see the works of the flesh in your life, then you are unhealthy spiritually. Nor can we look at the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit, see that we are lacking some, but not all of them, and think that we are spiritually healthy. Paul is trying to show us that something is terribly wrong.
What Not To Do
Our temptation will be to try to focus on the lacking qualities that we see in our lives. But I want to warn us against doing this. The effort is to not try harder in being loving, peaceable, patient, kind, faithful, or gentle. This is the same idea as washing the outside of the cup that Jesus said the Pharisees did (Matthew 23:25). What we end up doing is trying to show these characteristics at certain moments. But it is not really fruit. It is a facade. It is a front that we show around certain people at certain times. This is why we are not really changed. We try to do some of these things for a few weeks but then we give out. An unhealthy tree can try to look like it has good fruit. But it is only a matter of time before it because clear that it does not produce good fruit. Changing your behavior does not fix the problem of being spiritually unhealthy.
What To Do (5:24-26)
First, we need to crucify the passions and desires (5:24). We mentioned this idea last week but it is important to bring up again. We need to pull the weeds that are choking out the plant. You might have a healthy plant but that plant will become unhealthy if the weeds grow up around it and choke it out. You might remember that Jesus told a parable about a sower and soils where this was a problem. The ground received the word but the weeds choke it out. This is what Paul said a few verses earlier. Look at verse 17 where Paul says that the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh. We must identify these weeds (desires of the flesh) and not allow them to continue to grow within us because they are making the plant unhealthy. These weeds are killing our spirituality and destroying our joy.
Second, we need to keep in step with the Spirit (5:25). This sounds kind of funny as in English. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Is this not saying the same thing? “Keep in step” is a good reading of what this Greek word indicates because it carries of the idea of being drawn up in a line and matching the steps of the leader. You may see this idea well in the military where the soldiers all match their steps together to the sound of the cadence. When we are able to visit the tomb of the unknown soldier, we saw the soldiers there do this very thing. Every movement was precise and at the exact moment of when the call was made. The soldiers only acted at the call and they stepped together with those callings. This is what Paul is picturing for us. If we are living by the Spirit, then we need to step when the Spirit shows where, when, and how to step. Disciples do not tell God where we will step, when we will step, or how we will step. We follow the march of the drummer and the drummer is our Lord.
Here is the point: if we are not matching where God says to step, you will not bear fruit, you will not glorify God, you will not be his disciple, and you will be an unhealthy tree stuck performing the works of the flesh.
So we need to take examination this morning. Read over the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit. Note that it is all or none. If these qualities are not seen in us by others, then this is telling us something very important: we are not walking by the Spirit but walking by the flesh. If we walk by the Spirit then these things will be observable fruit in our lives. It cannot be stopped just as a healthy fruit tree will bear fruit.
Now here is the good news: this life transformation will happen if we will pull out the weeds and keep in step with the Spirit. Life transformation is not impossible. Life transformation is not difficult. Life transformation will naturally occur if we pull out the weeds that are choking out the plant and feed the plant by knowing God and following his ways. But let me also give a word of caution. You cannot take a plant in your yard, pull off the weeds, and give it water and think there will be fruit tomorrow. Fruit takes time. Fruit bearing is a patient process. Fruit will come but you must keep at it daily for the fruit to be seen. Keep pulling out the weeds even if you do not see fruit today. Keep walking in step with the Spirit even if you do not see fruit today. Fruit is coming. Too often we can give up because we do not see immediate results. But if you will keep walking by the Spirit, you will not gratify the desires of the flesh (5:16) and you will bear fruit (5:22-23). Let God have his way with you and make you what you ought to be and want to be.