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A Bountiful Harvest: Rethinking the Fruits of the Spirit

The fruits of the Spirit. Cue memories of vacation bible school songs and crafted bracelets made in Sunday school.

Paul’s identification of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:16-24 may conjure up memories of childhood lessons and adulthood catchphrases become trite. It is a poster passage for both Christian and secular settings alike.

Though widely quoted, it is a misunderstood and misused passage.

At times, the fruits of the Spirit become old hat and we gloss over them, assuming we already understand them and have fully digested their intention. That is a danger, no doubt. But more than that, we so often come to this passage and view these fruits much like we do spiritual gifts – specific to the individual.

I love well but struggle with patience.

Faithfulness comes naturally but joy is not my strong suit.

I admire her kindness but my personality is different.

We pick and choose, admiring these fruits as if they are more indicative of our personalities than of a supernatural work within us. We overemphasize one or the other, forgetting that they are a part of a greater whole. We claim their product in certain scenarios and overlook them entirely in others.

When we isolate these fruits individually, we shift our focus from the Source to the good work itself.

Paul fiercely attacks this mentality throughout Galatians, the very book in which the fruits of the Spirit are identified. In coming to the book of Galatians, we find Paul combating false teachers within the church. These teachers seek to add circumcision as a requirement for salvation. In other words, they believe circumcision not only to be a good practice but a necessary prerequisite for receiving God’s redemption. Paul pummels this idea, stating that God’s work on the cross plus anything is missing the cross entirely (Gal. 5:2). The cross requires we recognize that the whole of our salvation is dependent upon Christ and Christ alone. All that we do after the point of salvation is built upon this foundation.

If this is Paul’s intent as he writes to the church of Galatia, we must understand the fruits of the Spirit through this lens. Paul cannot be saying that we are to produce these works in and of ourselves, nor is he asking us to isolate a specific fruit and muscle our way through in manufacturing that fruit.

“But 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.” –Galatians 5:22-24

Paul’s very identification of these fruits states that they are products of the Spirit. They are not dependent upon behaviors you and I are predisposed to exhibit. They do not occur when we focus on our own efforts.

The fruits of the Spirit are products of abiding in the Spirit.

But Paul still has more to say. Immediately following the fruits, Paul says that those who belong to Christ Jesus (those who have the Spirit) have crucified the flesh (Gal. 5:24). In order to appreciate what he is saying here, let’s hop back a few chapters.

“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.” – Galatians 2:20

It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

Paul later identifies the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Jesus dwelling within the life of the believer (Gal. 4:6). So then, our lives have been crucified with Christ and the resurrected Christ is living His life out through us. His Spirit dwells within us and when we walk in His Spirit, He brings forth fruit.

Any fruit that is exhibited in our lives is a direct product of our crucified selves remaining in the grave and Christ’s life flourishing within us.

This means that the fruits of the Spirit are reflective of Jesus living out His life in ours. Together, they make up the character of Christ. Every fruit is manifested in the life of the believer when that believer is yielding his or her life to Christ. This occurs because the fullness of Christ is being exhibited through the believer.

It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

If our purpose is to let Christ live His life in us, then our focus must cease to be about our own behavior, our own fruit. We must stop viewing the fruits of the Spirit as a checklist or as a personality test in which one or two are more pronounced than the others. We cannot use our own metrics in evaluating our performance and use our success rate to justify ourselves before the Lord.

Instead, we see Paul shifting our attention from our behavior to our Savior. Our Savior granted us eternity spent with Him, yes, but He also granted to us abundant life while on earth. We have abundant life because it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives within us. When we walk in the Spirit, all fruits are a natural by-product because Christ is living His life in us.

While the fruits of the Spirit may be a good sound bite in shallow conversation, they require a deeper level of understanding if the harvest is to be bountiful. The truth is, living out the fruits of the Spirit mean dying to self – so much so that we are no longer concentrated on the fruit of what we can produce. Instead, we stay focused on Christ and we walk in His Spirit. As we walk, we see Christ made manifest in us.

Once upon a time we asked ourselves, “Am I better at certain good behaviors than others? Am I doing enough to be good before the Lord?” No longer. May our challenge instead be this: “Am I so focused on Christ that His life is evident in mine?”

It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

-Madison Hetzer

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