Posted in discernment, encouragement, ephesians, galatians, holy spirit, jesus

What is the fruit of the Spirit and how does it grow?

EPrata photo

We Christians know that a false teacher is identified by his fruits. It states in Matthew 7:16,

You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?

We know that a Christian will be identified by his fruit, too.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

No Christian is ever a fruit-free zone. As John MacArthur said of the Matthew verse,

Now, listen to me, people: all Christians bear fruit. Did you get that? There’s no such thing as a no-fruit Christian. There’s a lot of little fruits, got nothing but a few shriveled raisins hanging on, but there’s no such thing as a no-fruit Christian. If there’s life, there will be product. (source)

So what IS this fruit that is supposed to be visible in us? And notice that in the Galatians verse the word fruit is singular. It’s fruit of the Spirit, not fruits of the Spirit. The difference between the fruits that false teachers or false professors produce and the fruit that the Christian produces is that the former is produced from the flesh and the latter is produced by the Spirit through the Christian. Here’s more, from Matthew Henry:

And here we may observe that as sin is called the work of the flesh, because the flesh, or corrupt nature, is the principle that moves and excites men to it, so grace is said to be the fruit of the Spirit, because it wholly proceeds from the Spirit, as the fruit does from the root: 

and whereas before the apostle had chiefly specified those works of the flesh which were not only hurtful to men themselves but tended to make them so to one another, so here he chiefly takes notice of those fruits of the Spirit which had a tendency to make Christians agreeable one to another, as well as easy to themselves; and this was very suitable to the caution or exhortation he had before given (v. 13), that they should not use their liberty as an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. 

He particularly recommends to us, 

—love, to God especially, and to one another for his sake,
—joy, by which may be understood cheerfulness in conversation with our friends, or rather a constant delight in God,
—peace, with God and conscience, or a peaceableness of temper and behaviour towards others,
—long-suffering, patience to defer anger, and a contentedness to bear injuries,
—gentleness, such a sweetness of temper, and especially towards our inferiors, as disposes us to be affable and courteous, and easy to be entreated when any have wronged us,
—goodness (kindness, beneficence), which shows itself in a readiness to do good to all as we have opportunity,
—faith, fidelity, justice, and honesty, in what we profess and promise to others,
—meekness, wherewith to govern our passions and resentments, so as not to be easily provoked, and, when we are so, to be soon pacified,—and temperance, in meat and drink, and other enjoyments of life, so as not to be excessive and immoderate in the use of them.

EPrata photo. Figs in Georgia

Source Matthew Henry, (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (pp. 2303–2304). Peabody: Hendrickson.


Here is another great commenter on the Christian’s fruit of the Spirit.

There is a pointed contrast here. As verse 16 indicated, there is no need for a believer to display the works of the flesh. Rather, by the Spirit’s power he can manifest the nine graces that are now listed. It is important to observe that the fruit here described is not produced by a believer, but by the Holy Spirit working through a Christian who is in vital union with Christ (cf. John 15:1–8). The word “fruit” is singular, indicating that these qualities constitute a unity, all of which should be found in a believer who lives under the control of the Spirit. In an ultimate sense this “fruit” is simply the life of Christ lived out in a Christian. It also points to the method whereby Christ is formed in a believer (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 1:21). 

The first three virtues are habits of mind which find their source in God. Love (agapē) is listed first because it is the foundation of the other graces. God is love and loves the world (cf. 1 John 4:8; John 3:16). Such self-sacrificing love that sent Christ to die for sinners is the kind of love that believers who are Spirit-controlled manifest. Joy (chara) is a deep and abiding inner rejoicing which was promised to those who abide in Christ (cf. John 15:11). It does not depend on circumstances because it rests in God’s sovereign control of all things (cf. Rom. 8:28). Peace (eirēnē) is again a gift of Christ (cf. John 14:27). It is an inner repose and quietness, even in the face of adverse circumstances; it defies human understanding (cf. Phil. 4:7). 

The second triad reaches out to others, fortified by love, joy, and peace. Patience (makrothymia) is the quality of forbearance under provocation (cf. 2 Cor. 6:6; Col. 1:11; 3:12). It entertains no thoughts of retaliation even when wrongfully treated. Kindness (chrēstotēs) is benevolence in action such as God demonstrated toward men. Since God is kind toward sinners (cf. Rom. 2:4; Eph. 2:7) a Christian should display the same virtue (cf. 2 Cor. 6:6; Col. 3:12). Goodness (agathōsynē) may be thought of both as an uprightness of soul and as an action reaching out to others to do good even when it is not deserved. 

The final three graces guide the general conduct of a believer who is led by the Spirit. Faithfulness (pistis) is the quality which renders a person trustworthy or reliable, like the faithful servant in Luke 16:10–12. Gentleness (prautēs) marks a person who is submissive to God’s Word (cf. James 1:21) and who is considerate of others when discipline is needed (cf. “gently” in Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:25; “gentle” in 1 Cor. 4:21; Eph. 4:2; “gentleness” in Col. 3:12; 1 Peter 3:16). Self-control (enkrateia; this noun is used in the NT only here and in Acts 24:25; 2 Peter 1:6) denotes self-mastery and no doubt primarily relates to curbing the fleshly impulses just described. Such a quality is impossible to attain apart from the power of God’s Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:16). As a final summary statement Paul affirmed that there are no prohibitions (lit., there is not a law) against such virtues. In a litotes (understatement) he asserted that obviously no one would make laws against people who practice such things.

Source: Campbell, D. K. (1985). Galatians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, pp. 608–609). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

EPrata photo. Grapes in Tuscany

A false teacher or false Christian will not consistently be growing in those nine graces. Though a Christian can seem to stall out for a while in his or her growth, the trajectory will always be upward. He will always be increasing. This is because of the gracious ministry of the Holy Spirit, who always points to Christ and is always conforming us in His likeness.

An even more important question than what is the fruit of the Spirit, is how can we work in the Spirit to have Him develop fruit in us? For that, we go back and look at verse 16 in Galatians 5. That verse tells us.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16).

S. Lewis Johnson preached the following on how to walk in the Spirit.

You know, when the Lord Jesus says, “You are fishers of men,” fishermen understand a great deal about witnessing because they know fishing. Fishing enables you to understand a great deal about how to witness. Well if you want to know how to walk by the Spirit, study walking. Have you ever noticed how babies learn to walk? They don’t theorize, they don’t sit in their high chair and look and see father and analyze what he’s doing. You won’t find any child who said, “Walking is rather easy, I’ve analyzed it philosophically. What you do is you put one foot out, transfer your weight to that foot, then move the next foot out, transfer your weight to that foot. Keeping them apart so that you have good balance.” And then the child to take the highchair and put it over its head, slide out and walk. You don’t do that. You don’t find that. You’ll never find it.

Reason I know that is that my children didn’t do it that way. Nor do my grandchildren do it that way. How do babies learn to walk? Well in the first place they roll over on the bed. You remember when they rolled over the first time, “Look, Johnny has rolled over on the bed.” Of course he rolled off and hit his head, but nevertheless he rolled. He’s rolling. And then he’s sitting up. And then he’s crawling. And then he’s on his feet, hanging on to pieces of furniture. And he’s now able to make his way from one piece of furniture to another piece. He collapses against the side of it, but nevertheless he can make it. And finally he takes one step and then collapses. Either sits down from fear or topples over from excess of courage. And soon he’s walking. Very unsteadily. This happens over a period of time. Finally he can walk, but of course he never reaches the place where he cannot fall. And as he gets older and older and reaches his maturity, walks well. (source)

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Most of the Christian life sounds simple to do. But anyone who ever battled the flesh knows that it is not simple. Not at all. It is a daily battle to walk in the Spirit and not stumble. It is a daily battle to pick up one’s cross and follow Jesus. But the Lord is so gracious, He sent the Spirit to dwell IN US (something that amazes me every day). The Spirit’s kindness in molding us like Christ and nudging, prompting, convicting, occasionally chastising us- He is our constant Friend. What a worthy goal- be more like Christ today than tomorrow! What a worthy Helper, aiding us in this walk. His work with His forgiven sinners is so simple but so complex, so magnificent, so eternally glorifying to Jesus, it is astonishing especially given how depraved we really are.

Praise the Spirit today in growing His fruit in you. And pray to request more of the same tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that…

that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, (Ephesians 3:16)


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.