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  • Writer's pictureRobert Hasler

On The Fruit of the Spirit

Evidence of The Holy Spirit's work for us and in us

For as long as I can remember, my wife’s family has always had some kind of citrus tree growing in the backyard of their Arizona home. For a while they had an orange tree that would supply freshly squeezed orange juice in the mornings. Over the years they have added a lemon and a lime tree.

To an outsider like myself, they all look the same. I have learned some things over the years, like orange trees are usually bigger than lemon trees and lime trees are the smallest of the three. But most of the time, I can’t tell you which is which until I see the fruit. 

The fruit tells me what kind of tree I’m looking at. The same is true about people. In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul says that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” If someone professes to be a Christian, born of the Spirit (John 3:6), and living according to faith then these attributes are the fruit which we can expect to see in their lives. 

However, we need to be careful because there is a tendency to get faith and fruit backwards. As the pastor and author Jonathan Landry Cruse has written, “The fruit of the Spirit is not a to-do list” (The Character of Christ, 1). The fruit of the Spirit is not a list of things we must do in order to be saved, but rather the evidence of a salvation we have already claimed by faith alone. 

This is the essence of the good news of the Gospel. Earlier in Galatians 5:16-21, Paul reminds us of the “works of the flesh” which are “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, and orgies” (vv. 19-20). Under the righteous law of God, we stand condemned since the desires of our flesh are in direct opposition to the holy ways of God (v. 17). As tempting as it is to think that the solution for doing bad things is to start doing good things, we need to understand how bad our situation really is. 

Elsewhere, Paul explains that the problem isn’t just that we sin; it is that we can’t stop sinning. On our own, we are slaves to sin earning the wages of death for our impudence. But in Christ, we are set free from sin, says Paul (Romans 6:22). We serve a new master--the holy and living God who has given us the free gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23)

The wages of sin versus the free gift of God. Works of the flesh versus the fruit of the Spirit. What does placing the one against the other teach us? 

Firstly, Paul is saying that righteousness does not originate from within us but comes from the outside. It is an “alien righteousness” as Martin Luther so famously quipped. Once we embrace that reality, we will properly understand that the fruit of the Spirit is not a how-to list but “a list of things that are done for us and in us by the Spirit” (Cruse, 2). 

It is also a reminder that the kingdom of God is not something we earn; it is something we inherit as the adopted sons and daughters of the king (Galatians 5:21; Romans 8:14-17). As your older brother, Jesus already fulfilled the requirements of the law and suffered on the cross to pay the penalty for your sins. When you are joined to him by faith, you lay claim to the benefits of his righteousness. Just like a beneficiary of a will, you don’t have to do anything to receive the gift. It is already yours by virtue of your family name. 

Secondly, Paul is telling us what members of God’s family look like. In medieval England, knights rode with a coat of arms to tell others which noble family they belonged to. The fruit of the Spirit is like our coat of arms. It is how we identify ourselves as the people of God. 

But practically, the fruit of the Spirit offers an amazing assurance. You can lay hold of that assurance by reflecting on how the Lord is already at work on your heart. No, we won’t be perfectly loving or patient or self-controlled all the time. The war against the flesh wages on (Romans 7:14-25). But when you do find yourself loving another, especially someone who is particularly unlovely, be comforted in knowing that your love is not a false flag but a genuine testimony to the Holy Spirit’s work in you. 

Robert Hasler is Project Leader of Ministry to State's Public Theology Project and cohost of The Statement.


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