Photo by Brooke Lark
The Christian life is one of ever-increasing holiness and righteousness. As a Christian matures, God sanctifies them so they become holier and less sinful. The fruit of the Spirit consists of God’s communicable attributes he grows in us as we walk with him. The great confidence Christians have is that we don’t need to strive to create the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
We will take a look at each of the nine attributes Paul lists in Galatians:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
The Love of God is not the romantic, soppy love we are saturated with through movies, books, and TV shows. The reality of God’s love is expressed simply and powerfully in John’s Gospel:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Out of his love, God gave Jesus Christ to make a way to salvation for mankind. Paul explains this great truth in Romans:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
We don’t deserve salvation and can never merit it in our own strength. And yet, God graciously gave his Son to die in our place while we were still sinners. God didn’t wait until we were doing pretty good to send Jesus. He gave his Son while we were floundering in the cesspool of sin.
The love of God is a selfless, sacrificing love. It’s a love that gives of himself and all his blessings to those that do not and cannot ever deserve salvation. If we are to emulate and express God’s love in our lives, then we need to live selflessly, giving of ourselves to help others. This may involve giving our time, energy, money, and anything else we can use to spread the gospel and take care of those less fortunate than ourselves.
Paul preaching in Athens (Raphael, 1515)
Another important aspect of God’s love is discipline. There is a great discussion of God’s discipline in Hebrews:
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
God disciplines his children because he loves us. True love is God seeing sin in our lives and not letting it slide. We are forgiven of our sin and are perfectly righteous before God, but this positional reality needs to become a practical reality. God disciplines out of love to see us grow in holiness and righteousness. Just as a father disciplines his son to teach him and not to harm him, God does for us.
Christians have a responsibility to confront each other about sin (Matt. 18:15 - 20; 1 Cor. 5). Sometimes it can take another Christian to point out a sin of which we were blissfully unaware. If we want to truly love our brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to confront each other about our sin. Staying silent and tolerating sin (as the world would want) is not loving because it shows a lack of care for a person’s sanctification. Discipline is not pleasant in the moment, but in time, it produces righteousness.
Joy is not a superficial happy feeling we get when everything is going well. True joy is a deep contentment and rejoicing in every circumstance. The Apostle Paul exhorted the Philippians to ‘rejoice in the Lord always’ (Phil. 4:4). This is a wonderful exhortation to live the Christian life rejoicing in the Lord in every circumstance. But how could Paul tell the Philippians to rejoice always? He could do this because he learned to be content in everything:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Paul learned the key to living content and being joyful in every situation: Jesus Christ. True joy comes from the Lord and from living submitted to him and his will. If we are living for Jesus, then when hard times come, we can continue in joy and contentment. The changing circumstances around us should not change our joy. What happens to us in this life is only temporary, but Jesus is forever.
As we go through life, we will face hard times that are difficult to bear. But if we go through them in Jesus Christ, knowing that we ‘can do all things through him who strengthens’ us, our joy will remain. Happiness is a fleeting emotion that will never sustain us. But if we find joy in the Lord, we will be content in every situation.
Joy may express itself in emotion from time to time, and that is great! But we must remember joy is deeper than emotion and our reaction to changing circumstances. Joy comes from the Lord, and enables us to stand against negativity, depression, grumbling, complaining, despair, and hopelessness that can come when we face hard times.
Peace comes in both an objective and subjective form. Objective peace is the peace all Christians have with God as we have been reconciled with him. Paul says that believers ‘have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom. 5:1). He goes on in subsequent verses to flesh this point out:
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
We have peace with God because of Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus took upon himself the wrath of God for us. We can be reconciled with God because of what Jesus has done. Before we were saved, we were enemies of God, living in sin as God-haters and God-rejecters.
But now we have peace with God through and because of Jesus Christ. There is a great joy to be found in this peace as we rejoice in God through Jesus, who has reconciled us with the Father. This objective peace is true of all Christians and is something we should not forget. Knowing that we are now at peace with God brings great joy and assurance to our hearts. God is not going to condemn us for our sin, but welcome us into the great blessings he bestows upon his children through Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:1; Eph. 1:3).
Subjective peace is the deep peaceful feeling Christians should have in every situation. Paul encourages the Philippians with this truth:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
As we pray and submit ourselves to the will of God, we will experience great peace. This peace will help us endure suffering and give us assurance that God is with us. Though we know that God will never leave us because he dwells within us, we can still experience doubt, especially when things get hard. The peace of God, which we have in Christ Jesus, will protect our minds and hearts from anxiety and doubt.
Photo by Sunyu
God is sovereign over all, providing for and protecting us. We don’t need to worry about losing our salvation because we have peace with God through Jesus’ atoning death. And we don’t need to worry in the hard times because God is with us and will bring us through. Peace is a wonderful blessing we have from God, and as we grow in the Lord, our lives will be marked by true peace.
We live in a world of instant gratification. You can get anything you want whenever you want it. Restraint and patience have been all but eliminated from our consumer culture. To be patient is to go against our sinful nature and everything the world is telling us. But patience is a crucial attribute we need in our lives. If we cannot be patient, then we will find it extremely difficult to endure hardship in our lives.
Patience is crucial to living the Christian life. All those who wish to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12). If we can’t be patient, how are we to endure persecution and hardship?
Christians can endure because we look to the great hope we have in Jesus:
And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
The Christian hope is not in this life, but in the life to come. We have the promise of receiving a resurrected body (1 Cor. 15:35 - 58). How can we hold to this promise through suffering without patience? Patience enables us to endure the hard times of this life as we look to the hope we have in Jesus.
We shouldn’t find waiting frustrating, but joyful. Things we have been praying for may take time to be answered. Just because we want it now doesn’t mean God is going to give it to us now, or at all. As we pray and present our requests to God, we need to patiently wait for God’s response. A patient person trusts in and is reliant on God.
If we can wait in contentment for God then we honour him and show our submission to his will and timing. We don’t know everything, and even if we think we need something, God knows what is best. But the great hope we have for our lives is this:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Everything in this life, good or bad, God will work together for the good of his children. This doesn’t mean it will all work out in this life because the hope of the resurrection of our bodies is the final fulfilment of this promise. However, God is faithful and will not abandon us. Let’s be patient as we navigate this difficult life and honour God in our waiting.
God has been incredibly kind to us. Giving his Son to die in our place is an act of unimaginable kindness and mercy. The kindness of God is shown in his patience with us and giving us what we don’t deserve. God’s kindness isn’t meant to make our lives comfortable, but to lead us to repentance:
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
The hypocritical moralists who think themselves good when they compare their lives to pagans (see Romans 1:18 - 32 for the sin of pagans) are warned to not test God’s kindness. As we see in this passage, the kindness and the patience of God are closely related. God forbears with sinners and does not immediately destroy us as we deserve. He is patient and shows us kindness by giving us time to repent of our sin. Jesus remarked that God ‘makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust’ (Matt. 5:45).
Even wicked sinners prosper in this world, and that is only by the kindness of God. We see so many rich, famous, and powerful people who are corrupt to the core. The only reason they could reach their level of success is by the patience and kindness of God.
This is not meant to make their lives comfortable, but to lead them to repentance. The more a person tests God by refusing to repent, the more wrath they store up for themselves on the day of wrath, when God will judge sinners righteously. For unbelievers, God’s kindness is a witness to his existence and the need for them to repent.
And for Christians, we should live in gratitude to God for the kindness he has shown us. God has given his Son to die in our place, blessed us immensely in this life, and has promised us a glorious future in eternity. How great are the blessings and promises of God! We as sinful, broken human beings do not deserve any of what God has given us. His kindness should lead a Christian to praise and thanksgiving for all God has done.
Photo by Edwin Andrade
As God has been so kind to us, let’s be kind to others. We have been saved by the grace of God from eternal wrath, so we should exercise grace to those in our lives. The next time you have an opportunity to punish or rebuke someone for something they did wrong, think whether you could show grace instead. Sometimes, showing grace and kindness to a person instead of punishing them teaches them more. It is an incredible experience when a child expects discipline for something they did wrong, and their parent shows them grace instead. This is a beautiful reflection of God’s grace and kindness to us.
God is the ultimate standard of good. Jesus made this abundantly clear to the rich young ruler:
And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.
Jesus was pointing out that all but God are sinners. Only God can do what is truly good in and of himself. As he is holy and perfect, so we are to be holy and perfect (Matt. 5:48; 1 Pet 1:14 - 16). But we must remember it is not us who produces this goodness.
We have Christ’s righteousness imputed to us when we believe (2 Cor. 5:21). This righteousness is not something we create or earn but is given freely by God’s grace. If we want to be good and do good, we need to realise it is the Holy Spirit who does it in and through us. Our confidence is that we have God himself dwelling within us and he will sanctify us to do good. We have been ‘created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand’ (Eph. 2:10).
God has planned salvation from before the beginning of time. And he has prepared any good works we do before we were even saved. We need to take the focus off ourselves and put it on God, realising that only in him can we do good. Knowing our inability to do and be good on our own strips us of our pride. When this happens, the Holy Spirit will work more powerfully through us, enabling us to do more good. We should do good to those around us and not seek after evil desires. But we must keep in mind it is God who produces goodness in us.
There is no one more faithful than our God. When we look at the spiritual adultery of Israel and how they constantly turned away from God, we see God’s faithfulness displayed. No matter how much he punished Israel for their sin, God always showed them grace and mercy when they repented and turned back to him. The Israelites grieved God immensely, but he was always faithful to his promises to Israel.
God is also faithful to us. He does not pack up and leave when things get tough, he remains with us through it all. Even if we lack material things, we never lack spiritual things. God always provides us with the strength and endurance to walk through trials. We should never rely on the things of this world because only God will remain forever faithful:
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
Money cannot save us and this world cannot sustain us. Only God is faithful until the end. If we love money and this world more than God, then we will rely on what is material rather than on God. But we have the great promise that he will never leave us nor forsake us! We don’t need to worry about the material things of this life because God will always take care of us. God is our faithful helper and no one can do anything to take us away from his love (Rom. 8:31 - 39).
We will never be as faithful as God is to us. But we should still express faithfulness in our lives. This means not abandoning people when times are difficult. And more so, this means not abandoning God. The Israelites turned from God to idols and committed spiritual adultery. Let’s not do the same, but remain faithful to the one who has been so incredibly faithful to us.
Gentleness does not mean weakness! True gentleness is knowing how to restrain and control your power. Jesus is God in human flesh, and he had the power to destroy his enemies who persecuted him. He could have wiped out the Pharisees and crushed the Romans (Matt. 26:52 - 54). But what would that have accomplished?
Jesus did strongly criticise the Pharisees for their wicked ways, but he never killed or destroyed them. He restrained his power to show compassion to them. Jesus showed them the kingdom of God had come, and that he was the promised Messiah. He was giving them time to realise this and repent of their sin.
God has the right and the power to wipe out all of humanity in an instant. We are all sinners who deserve the wages of our sin: death (Rom. 6:23). But God has been gentle in his grace. He has given people time to repent of their sin before it’s too late. This ultimate act of gentleness is an encouragement to us. We can see that being a gentle person is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of great strength.
Restraining the power you have takes control and patience. Only a strong person could do this. Being a kind and gentle person shows a great strength that only those who are saved could possess. This is because of the Holy Spirit, who enables us to be gentle. In all our conduct, thoughts, and words, we should be gentle, not using our power to harm others, but to build them up.
The final attribute that is part of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. When we consider self-control, we should start by asking ourselves, is it more important to honour God or to satisfy our sinful flesh? Trying to will sin away is a futile task because we cannot overcome sin in our own strength. Paul paints the picture of our spiritual condition beautifully in Ephesians:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
The truth that we used to be dead in our sin is crucial to understanding self-control. We weren’t just a bit sick. Our sin is not a virus that can be cured with some good works. We were completely spiritually dead. This means we could never do anything to earn or merit our salvation. A dead person cannot do anything, while a sick person still can.
Photo by Natalya Letunova
We look at our Christian life from the perspective of a formerly dead person now made alive in Jesus Christ! Our salvation is by grace through faith, and not a result of our works. The only reason we can withstand temptation now is because of Jesus! When we exercise self-control, we don’t do so from ourselves, but from the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. The Spirit of God gives us the power to resist sin and live righteously. We need to stop striving to control ourselves and realise all that we need to control ourselves is within us in Christ.
What a great confidence we have to face each day! No matter what sin comes against us, we are not alone. Christians do still sin, but now we can choose not to sin. And this choice is only possible because of Jesus Christ.
We are so abundantly blessed as Christians to have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us (1 Cor. 6:19 - 20). The fruit of the Spirit is an outward manifestation of this inward reality. These nine attributes we have discussed are not the fruit of man, but the fruit of the Spirit. God graciously produces these attributes in our lives through his Spirit. The fruit comes from him and is only manifested in our lives because of him.
We need to stop striving to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. It is impossible for us to produce these attributes by ourselves. We rely solely on God to work these qualities in our lives. As we ‘live by the Spirit’ and ‘keep in step with the Spirit’, God will produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (Gal. 5:25). This is a daily walk with God as we grow in righteousness and holiness.
Growing in the fruit of the Spirit is a process and not a one-time event. Sometimes we may be expressing these attributes in incredible ways, and at other times we may find ourselves lacking in them. Regardless, the general trend of the Christian life is an ever-upward growth in the fruit of the Spirit. It is a natural growth that comes from being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This is not an option for Christians, it is a reality.
And none of these nine attributes are optional either. Paul says that the fruit of the Spirit is these attributes. The emphasis on the singular shows that all these attributes come packaged as one. The fruit of the Spirit is a multi-faceted blessing that manifests itself in various qualities. We don’t get to pick and choose what attributes we have in our lives, we get them all! This is another great example of how God has blessed his children. So let’s grow in the fruit of the Spirit, by the power of the Holy Spirit, so we can glorify God even more.