Better understanding the “Fruit of the Spirit” and how it works in Christians
By Pastor Ruttan
What if there were nine virtues that all Christians inevitably show in their lives?
I think there is. Let me explain.
In the New Testament, the Greek word karpos comes up several times. Sometimes it is translated as “crop,” and others, as “fruit.”
Here are some examples:
In the well-known Parable of the Sower in Mark 4:1-20, Jesus talks about people producing a “crop” (karpos) with their lives: “Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop (karpos), some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times” (Mark 4:8). The “seed” is God’s word or message, and the “good soil” is us… hopefully!
In Matthew 3:8 the enigmatic and locust-eating John the Baptist is teaching and baptizing in the Jordan River. When a group of religious leaders come to him, he declares that they should “Produce fruit (karpos) in keeping with repentance.” In other words, if they truly want to repent from their sin and wrong-doing and turn to God, then their lives should give evidence of that life change.
Before his crucifixion, Jesus says this to his disciples in John 15:5 and 16: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit (karpos); apart from me you can do nothing…. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit (karpos)—fruit (karpos) that will last.”
But perhaps the most famous usage of karpos comes in Galatians 5 where Paul discusses the “fruit (karpos) of the Spirit.”
When someone becomes a Christian, they are given the gift of God himself—in the person of the Holy Spirit—living and working within and through them. In John 14:17 Jesus tells his followers that the Holy Spirit “lives with you and will be in you.” In 1 Corinthians 6:19, Paul tells his Christian readers that their “bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you…” And in Acts 2:38, the apostle Peter gives a powerful sermon about the crucified and risen Jesus as Lord and Messiah. In response, people ask what they should do. He replies, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
With that in mind, we come across Galatians 5:22-23. In it, Paul describes the “fruit (karpos) of the Spirit”—nine character traits, or virtues, that show the Holy Spirit is working in and through you as a disciple of Jesus. We are to be Spirit-filled and Spirit-fuelled.
Here’s the list: The “fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
But what do they mean?
Here are some definitions by New York Pastor and best-selling author, Tim Keller from his book Galatians For You:
LOVE. It’s significant that love leads the list. Often in virtue lists, the first one listed can be considered the governing or over-arching virtue. We better understand the others as they relate to this first one.
Here’s how Keller defines biblical love (agape): To serve a person for their good and intrinsic value, not for what the person brings you.
JOY (chara) = A delight in God for the sheer beauty and worth of who he is. This is focusing on the Bless-er, and not just the bless-ings.
PEACE (eirene) = A confidence and rest in the wisdom and control of God, rather than your own.
PATIENCE (makrothumia) = An ability to face trouble without blowing up or hitting out.
KINDNESS (chrestotes) = An ability to serve others practically in a way which makes me vulnerable, which comes from having a deep inner security.
GOODNESS / Integrity (agathosune) = Being the same person in every situation, rather than a phony or hypocrite.
FAITHFULNESS / Loyalty, Courage (pistis) = To be utterly reliable and true to your word. It’s opposite is to be an opportunist, a friend only in good times.
GENTLENESS (prautes) = We can think of this as humility or self-forgetfulness. The opposite is to be superior or self-absorbed.
SELF-CONTROL (egkrateia) = The ability to pursue the important over the urgent, rather than to be always impulsive or uncontrolled.
Having offered some definitions, Keller offers these four thoughts about Paul’s use of the word “fruit” (karpos) as we try to understand what it means that the Holy Spirit is working and through us in these nine ways:
1. The growth of fruit is gradual
Fruit doesn’t grow overnight. Sometimes it takes time.
2. The growth of fruit is inevitable
Fruit does indeed grow. If you are a disciple of Jesus, these fruit will grow in and through you—even when you’re not so sure!
3. The growth of fruit is internal
The fruit come from the Holy Spirit who is in you. You can’t tie an apple to a tree and call it an apple tree; something is within a tree which makes it grow apples. This is the Holy Spirit legitimately at work in and through you.
4. The growth of fruit is symmetrical
Although some traits may be naturally stronger in you than others, they will all grow together. For example, maybe you’re naturally predisposed to patience but not to gentleness, so it’s easier to see one and not the other. But Paul says “fruit” (singular) not “fruits” (plural). All will grow as we “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).
Like an acorn that fell and rolled under a marble slab, but which slowly grew in strength and eventually burst through the slab, the Holy Spirit works through Christians in these nine, powerful ways.
To be honest, it can all seem a bit overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. God is the one doing the work! With faith in Christ, God works through very normal people like you and me as his hands and feet in a troubled world.
In a sermon on November 3, 2019, I discussed the passage in greater detail, and also shared three thoughts about how to “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5: 25) and produce a legacy of love with your life—a genuine “crop” for God, spiritual “fruit.” It’s a legacy that can outlive your time here on earth. It’s called “Your Legacy” and can be accessed by clicking here.
The ever-inspiring Max Lucado once said that God doesn’t just want to “get you into heaven, but heaven into you.”* The fruit of the Spirit is one of the ways he does so.
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- *Max Lucado, Wild Grace (Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 2012), 120.
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