Why Study the Fruit of the Spirit?

Last fall I preached through Paul’s letter to the Galatians where we heard these well-known verses:

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

Paul presents this fruit of the Spirit here in contrast with the works of the flesh. The works of the flesh are what come “naturally” to us – things like sexual immorality, idolatry, jealousy, fits of anger. But the fruit of the Spirit comes to us in a “supernatural” way through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This fruit of the Spirit is a vivid description of what Paul means when I tells the Galatians (4:19) that he is in the “anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” This is what it looks like when we surrender to the Spirit and are shaped into the image of Christ.

This summer we will be examining this fruit of the Spirit a bit more closely. So let me share with you 5 reasons we should study the fruit of Spirit.


#1 To get a better glimpse of the character of Jesus.

When we read this description of the fruit of the Spirit, we should recognize immediately that this is a portrait of Jesus. He is the one who perfectly embodies each of these qualities. More than any Christian who has ever lived or ever will live, the fruit of the Spirit is a picture of Jesus. Now, there is no surprise here since Jesus is God in the flesh. What does God in the flesh look like? It looks like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. So we study the fruit of the Spirit that we might better adore and worship our Savior.


#2 To recognize what mature godliness looks like.

If the fruit of the Spirit is a portrait of the image of Christ, then the logical conclusion is that it is also a description of what it means for Christians to bear that image. This is what true holiness looks like. This how we know that we are “keeping in step with the Spirit.” This is God’s will for our lives. This is the “new self” that Paul instructs us to put on (Ephesians 4:23-24). This is the “new creation” into which we are being made (2 Corinthians 5:17).


#3 To keep us from falling into the trap of legalism.

Someone with a bent towards legalism can distort the fruit of the Spirit into a list of what must be done to earn favor with God. If this is what godliness looks like, they will tackle it like a moral self-improvement project. They say to themselves – Today I will focus on being more patient and tomorrow I will tackle kindness and maybe next week I will get around to self-control. But remember it is called the fruit of the Spirit. Fruit is singular not plural. All of these qualities together form the fruit of the Spirit.   Love must exist with patience. Gentleness with self-control. Furthermore, this fruit comes from the Holy Spirit. He bears this fruit in us as we surrender our lives to Jesus. The gospel and not legalism has the power to transform our lives as John Bunyan reminds us: “Run, John, run, the law commands, but gives us neither feet nor hands. Far better news the gospel brings: It bids us fly and gives us wings.”


#4 To keep us from falling into the trap of license.

This vivid description of the fruit of the Spirit keeps us from misunderstanding the Christian freedom Paul so passionately holds out for us in Galatians. Yes, we have been set free in Christ, but we do not use our freedom to indulge the flesh (Galatians 5:13). It matters to God how we live our lives. License, or what theologians sometimes call antinomianism, rejects the entirety of God’s law. Now of course no one will be declared righteous in God’s eyes through obedience to the law but that does not mean the law has no purpose in the life of a Christian. The law, and in particular the moral law, shows us how to live a life that is in step with what pleases God. This is what the fruit of the Spirit is about. Like the law, the fruit of the Spirit is a portrait of what God desires to produce in us.


#5 To know what to pray for ourselves and others.

Finally, the fruit of the Spirit provides us with a clear idea of how we can be praying for ourselves and for others. If this is what Christlikeness is about, then this should shape our prayers. We should gain a better understanding of this fruit and then ask God to form these things in us.


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