The fruit of the Spirit seem to be a recurring theme in my life lately.
You know the list, right? “The fruit of the Spirit is joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Those.
Here’s what I mean by these being a recurring theme: a few months ago, at work, our senior leaders felt it would be wise to walk the staff through these in a chapel series. During that season, I led one of our prayer chapels, and encouraged praying through this passage in the context of our work life (and let me tell you, doing that does a number on your attitude at work). A few weeks ago, we had a guest speaker join us at our church. His message? Yep, the fruit of the Spirit—specifically, joy. And then there’s this extended season my family is going through right now, which has seen us waiting on something that has revealed how much (or rather how little) patience we all really have…
So yeah. The fruit:
Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Whenever I think about them, whenever I read them in the Scriptures, I struggle. I’m tempted to see them as a list of character flaws, or areas for improvement. I need to be more joyful. I need to develop patience. I need to be gooder (or something).
But then I remember those last words from Paul at the end of the list: “Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:23). And these seven words have been a great source of encouragement for me as I struggle with my tendency to treat the fruit as a list of areas in which I need to improve. To succumb to the damaging lie of what Don Whitney has referred to as “Sola Bootstrappa”—trying to pull myself up by my bootstraps, beat myself up when I fail, and wonder why it’s not “working.”
Those seven words from Paul remind me that this is totally the wrong way to look at the fruit of the Spirit. After all, fruit is fruit. And this fruit is—if it’s not blasphemous to put it this way—the byproduct of his presence. Their presence in our lives requires his presence in our lives. Or to put it another way, if we have the Spirit, we will inevitably bear this fruit as we live by the Spirit.
As Basil of Caesarea said,
Just as when a sunbeam falls on bright and transparent bodies, they themselves become brilliant too, and shed forth a fresh brightness from themselves, so souls wherein the Spirit dwells, illuminated by the Spirit, themselves become spiritual, and send forth their grace to others.1
Should we be concerned if we don’t see this fruit in our lives? Yeah, probably. After all, if I say I know Christ, but am a total dillhole, I should be worried (see 1 Corinthians 13). But if we are people who have the Spirit—if we have truly been born again—we will indeed see this fruit in our lives, even if it is only in the smallest degrees at first. So celebrate what you see. Pray for its increase. But don’t try to turn this fruit into a new law. The Spirit will have none of it.