We set this verse to music and teach it to children. We pull it out every time we joke that we need more patience, but have we ever really looked at the Fruit of the Spirit in the context of the entire letter to the Galatians to understand what Paul is really getting at? Honestly, I doubt it. Let’s do that now.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23)
There is a danger in isolating this passage on the “fruit” from the rest of the letter. This passage is still connected with Paul’s argument against legalism (hence his statement “against such things there is no law”) and his introduction of our freedom in Christ in 5:1, 13. Placing our faith in Christ for righteousness results in freeing us from guilt, shame and condemnation. I am freed to pursue a life of serve to others through love (vs 13). And the fruit is a product of our walking in that freedom. The fruit rests on the mercy and grace of God. It draws us into worship whenever we see evidence of the fruit expressed in our lives, knowing that we did not manufacture it from our own goodness. Freedom allows us to focus outwardly towards others instead of fretting whether we have done enough or whether are “motives are pure.” Freedom allows us to “give ourselves a break.” We rest on the faithfulness and grace of God to be confident enough to call Him “Father.” That is all the evidence we need – to know that we are His and He is ours. The fruit of the Spirit is the evidence that we have embraced the freedom that Christ has given us.
We have no part in producing the fruit. The fruit belongs to the Spirit. Another way of saying “fruit of the Spirit” is “the Spirit’s fruit.” It shows possession. Paul did not tell us to produce fruit. Instead he told us to walk by the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit, to use our freedom to love and serve others, to focus on Christ and His work, to abide in Christ. The fruit that the Spirit then produces is evidence of our conformity to those principles. The fruit is evidence that the Spirit is in control. The fruit is not evidence of our effort or holiness or even righteousness, but instead it demonstrates our willingness to give the Spirit reign in our lives.
In his Gospel, the apostle John tells us to abide in Christ, to remain in constant and nurturing closeness to Him. In this way we grow in maturity, hear His voice, obey His voice and receive His life. The fruit is produced as we maintain that relationship with Him. That is the Spirit’s mission in our life: to continue to point us back to that abiding, that relationship. Focusing on having “the fruit” is the wrong goal. The goal is to be more like Jesus.
The fruit of the Spirit is a unit, one whole, not individual entities. The Greek word for fruit is a singular noun. It is like saying that an apple has a skin, core, pits, etc. You cannot describe an apple as just skin. The Spirit works in us to produce all the characteristics of His fruit, a fruit that can be described as having the characteristic of love, joy…etc. We cannot say that the Spirit is producing patience in me but not gentleness. I don’t think it is correct to say that I have 5x more peace than goodness. The Spirit is working to produce all aspects of this fruit at the same time. Perhaps some are more evident, perhaps some are hidden until called upon by certain circumstances in our lives, but by seeing the fruit as a whole we can take courage that the Spirit has not overlooked something as He works His fruit in our lives. He did not forget to put “faithfulness” in the grocery cart of our life as He ambles through the produce section. He is working to ensure that we bear much fruit, fruit that has a striking resemblance to Jesus.