One of the greatest Reformation-era rediscoveries is the astounding truth that sinful men and women can be justified—made right with God—on the basis of faith alone. No merit of our own makes us acceptable to God. It is ever and only faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that restores the broken relationship we have with our Creator.
No merit of our own makes us acceptable to God. It is ever and only faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that restores the broken relationship we have with our Creator.
However, as the great Reformer Martin Luther was wont to point out, the faith that saves is never alone. In other words, genuine saving faith in Jesus Christ bears fruit for Jesus Christ. This is not merely a theological truism, of course, but is in keeping with the teaching of the whole of the Bible. For example:
- The Psalter opens by telling us that the blessed person “is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season” (1:3).
- Jesus says to His disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit” (John 15:5). A few verses later, He even adds that His people “bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (v. 8).
- Paul tells us in his epistle to the Colossians that we are to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10).
So, practically speaking, what does it look like for us to be holy as God is holy? (See Lev. 11:44; 1 Peter 1:16.) What does it look like to “be conformed to the image of” Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29) and to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance”? (Matt. 3:8). The apostle Paul tells us precisely the fruit God expects of His people in Galatians 5:22–24:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
In future articles, we will examine each of these in more depth. But first, let’s think together about the nature of this fruit. What does it mean to bear the fruit of the Spirit?
Vine and Branches
The first and most fundamental point is that bearing fruit in the Spirit is a natural consequence of our faith in Jesus Christ. All the way through his letter to the Galatians, Paul is making sure his readers understand the wonder of what it means to be in Christ. He addresses people who suggest that the work of Christ must be supplemented with external factors, such as the rite of circumcision. Paul clarifies that we, however, “know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (2:16). Faith is the fountain from which all good works spring, the root from which all fruit sprouts and grows.
The image of a vine and branches, described so vividly in John 15:1–11, helps us understand how this is possible. Our bearing the marks of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in the eyes of those around us results from a vital connection to the vine, Jesus Christ; like branches from a vine, all our sustenance comes from Him. It is certainly possible for a person interested in religion or concerned about morality to construct an outward change in habits without ever having experienced an inward change in heart. But this kind of change always ends in frustration, because only when we are rooted in Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit can we sustain the fruit God so desires.
Nine Facets, One Fruit
The second aspect of the fruit of the Spirit for us to consider is that “fruit” here is singular: it is one attribute that is evident among all who walk by the Spirit. This contrasts with spiritual gifts, which Paul tells us God apportions to members of Christ’s body in various ways. No one person possesses every spiritual gift. (See 1 Cor. 12:28–31.) But the (singular) fruit of the Spirit is different. These nine graces of Christian character, from love to self-control, together form one indivisible fruit of the Spirit.
The significance of the fruit’s unity becomes more apparent when we recall that some of us are, whether by temperament or disposition, able to identify more with certain facets of the fruit than others. Someone might genuinely be a nice person, and they’d exhibit a measure of kindness even if they were not a Christian. Another person might be more prone to demonstrate self-control. Thus we could be tempted to think that, as with spiritual gifts, someone else in the body of Christ can make up for whatever we lack, whatever deficit we might have. I’ll work on joy, we might say to ourselves, and let someone else tackle faithfulness.
But the fact of the matter is that the Holy Spirit does not produce genuine love without patience, nor does He produce authentic joy without goodness, and so on. You can mix them up any way you choose, but every facet of the fruit of the Spirit ought to increase in tandem. The work of the Spirit of God in the child of God is to create the full-orbed reality of Christlikeness.
Every facet of the fruit of the Spirit ought to increase in tandem. The work of the Spirit of God in the child of God is to create the full-orbed reality of Christlikeness.
Growth in the Gospel
Third and finally, we should keep in mind that any growth in fruitfulness is evidence of the transforming power of the Gospel. Paul says it this way in Galatians 2:20:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Each of us will face moments of conviction when we sense that we are not as fruitful as we ought to be. These are the times when it is most vital to remember the Gospel soil out of which the fruit of the Spirit grows. On the one hand, we ought to examine and test ourselves to identify areas of weakness and concern (2 Cor. 13:5). On the other, we need also to recognize that in the same way God’s grace makes a way for our justification, so grace paves the path for our sanctification.
Again, it is the very life of Christ in us that produces the fruit of His Spirit. Yes, we act and live and do, but it is all by faith, and it is all in Christ, who indwells us by His Spirit.
Truth be told, the fruit of the Spirit presents to us a rather intimidating list. Who among us can measure up? The answer, of course, is a resounding no one—no one, that is, except our Lord Jesus Christ, who was and is perfectly loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. He is the one on whom we rely in order to bear His fruit. And He is the one who will be ever pleased to sanctify us when we come to Him in faith.