The Fruit of the Holy Spirit”
by Bob Burridge ©2023
The Christian life has its challenges. We’re not yet totally free from sin, and the same’s true of the world we live in. There are things we need to focus on and pray about all the time to know how to face our daily challenges.
Paul begins this section of Galatians
with an imperative, a command.
Galatians 5:16, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
It’s what we’re told to be doing: walking by the Spirit. Paul was aware of God’s promise in Ezekiel 36:27, “… I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. ” There God promises to put his Spirit into us as his redeemed children. It’s the work of God that enables us to walk according to the principles he taught us.
Obedience isn’t how we get God to put his Spirit in us.
When it comes to “obedience”, God’s the cause. Real obedience is only produced in us when his Spirit’s there.
To become a child of God we humbly admit our sins and unworthiness, and we put our trust in the work of Jesus Christ who died in our place satisfying the debt we owe for our sins. That isn’t because of our own efforts. It’s a work of God’s grace as he enlivens us and moves us to faith. Jesus clothes the sincerely repentant believer with his own perfect righteousness. Ephesians 2:8-9, “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.” God’s grace is the cause that moves us. Faith is the means grace uses in us as we come trusting the gospel.
As believers, we don’t suddenly become perfectly righteous in our thoughts, words, and actions. God’s promise is that he puts the Holy Spirit in us. He makes our hearts trust his promises, and he makes us able to do what truly honors and glorifies our Savior. The moral imperfection attached to all we do, is covered over by the righteousness of our Savior.
We’re then told to “not gratify the desires of the flesh”. The Spirit creates a desire in us to make us want to obey and honor God. It’s not a one-time thing. The verb here is in a present tense form, so it means this should be an ongoing practice. We are told to be “walking in the Holy Spirit.”
The “flesh” Paul’s talking about here is the way of our human nature. It’s not the Dualism of the ancient philosophers that blames the physical body for everything. God made the material world to declare his glory, and to be enjoyed in a right and holy way. However, if our physical pleasures and comfort are more important to us than the Spirit’s leading, we’ll make excuses for sin, and miss out on that close fellowship with God.
When we’re guided and enabled by him we’ll be able to avoid being taken in by the lusts of our yet imperfect human nature. This is the command here in Galatians 5:16: We should be walking in the Holy Spirit, not seeking after fleshly things.
There’s a battle going on even in the redeemed soul.
5:17, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
God’s word tells us how we should live as his children, but it’s the Holy Spirit who helps us understand his word, gives us a desire to obey it, and makes us able to do things truly centered on showing God’s wonder and power at work in us. But since we’re not yet perfected in our obedience in this life, we often give in to our old ways and habits when we know better and want better.
There’s a way to turn that battle around.
The Holy Spirit is there to guide and enable us.
5:18, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
He guides us by applying God’s promises, not by making threats or impossible demands. That’s the contrast here: If we’re being led by the Spirit, then we’re not trying to merit God’s help by ourselves. We’re set free from that frustrating struggle to overcome by our own efforts. We can admit our weaknesses and failures without excuses. We come to know that God’s moral law can’t be kept by our efforts. The law shows us what’s true and right to do, and shows us that we can’t measure up. So the law points us to what our Savior came to accomplish on the cross. It makes us appreciate how he took our place and paid our eternal debt. It enables us to understand what God calls us to be and to do.
When we put our trust in the Living Savior, the Holy Spirit becomes our guide. Romans 8:14 says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” In Philippians 2:13 the Bible says, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” By grace we’re given the desire to obey. Our obedience is an evidence of true redemption, not its cause.
In our fallen condition, our lost soul
has destructive attitudes.
Galatians 5:19-21, “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
These things come from the corrupt heart. If they’re present, there’s a lack of evidence of the Spirit’s presence. These things should make us concerned to know for sure that we’re truly children of God’s Kingdom. Believers in Christ have no business behaving this way.
The Holy Spirit produces attitudes that bring glory to God and health to our souls.
Paul lists 9 things which are what the
Spirit is there to produce in our lives.
Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
1. Love is the first thing in this list of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus was asked what was the foremost of all the commandments. His answer is in Matthew 22:37-40, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 Paul lists 16 qualities of what God means by love, “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. …”
So this love isn’t just an inner good feeling about someone. It’s concern for what’s truly good and helpful for someone. Its focus is on what pleases God and what truly helps someone, even when it’s difficult for us.
2. Joy is the next thing listed here as a fruit of the Spirit at work in us.
God created us humans to be capable of experiencing what we call joy. Life should be an enjoyable experience that glorifies the Creator.
For those redeemed in Christ, that joy will be realized fully in eternal glory after our life here is over. But, by covenant, God promised that we can taste that joy now.
Jesus made it very clear that this is part of the blessings of belonging to him. In John 15:11 he said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Then in John 16:24 he said, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” And in John 17:13 Jesus said, “But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”
Several times the Apostle John wrote that one of the main goals of his letters was that the joy of his readers might be made full in Christ (1 John 1:4, 2 John 12). But just as you can’t get fruit from a dead plant, there’s no real joy without the Holy Spirit. It’s is part of God’s covenant promise to those made alive in Christ.
Real joy can’t be realized unless it’s first implanted in you by the Holy Spirit. The world can only simulate real joy. It becomes just a quest for it’s emotional effects. But the joy God promises to his children is the inward condition that produces those feelings. In Romans 14:17 Paul said, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
3. This leads into the next evidence of the Spirit at work in us: Peace.
This isn’t just freedom from uncomfortable things, threats, or tragedies. It’s the confidence that we’re held up through disruptive things by God’s loving comfort and care.
Isaiah 9:6 said that Jesus would be “the Prince of Peace”. Isaiah 53:5 explains how he would secure that peace for us. It says, “upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace”. That is, he endured our agony to secure peace for his people.
Colossians 1:20 says that Jesus came, “making peace by the blood of his cross.” It was there that Jesus paid for the sin that separated his people from God. When talking about the reconciling work of the blood of Christ, Ephesians 2:14 says, “… He himself is our peace…”
It’s that inner comfort, confidence, and tranquility that the Holy Spirit can produce in our hearts.
4. The Holy Spirit also helps us to have patience.
Some translations say longsuffering. But that’s a very close synonym. Patience is when we endure the passing of time while we’re waiting for something. This is part of what’s been called “Practical Calvinism”. It’s when we rest in God’s wise providence, and wait confidently trusting in his good timing.
God isn’t only Lord in matters of eternity and salvation. He’s also sovereign in daily situations such as: traffic jams, long check-out lines, delayed appointments, delays in seeing justice carried out, anticipated surgeries, school exams, personal confrontations, business deals, and so on.
In Romans 12:12 when Paul commands patience during times of tribulation, he immediately adds that we should be “constant in prayer”. We need God to work patience in us and to make us longsuffering. It’s not something we can do on our own. It’s that faith, that confident trust in God, that enables us to be patient when it’s needed.
Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”
5. The Spirit also makes us kind.
The Greek word here is “chraestotaes”(χρηστότης). Lexicons offer a list of English synonyms: “mildness, respectability, kindness, friendliness, goodness, honesty, hospitality, benevolence”. (They all reflect the original meaning of this word.)
Ephesians 2:7 tells us that it was God’s kindness that’s at the root of his grace toward us in Christ. “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
We, as those representing God to the world, need to be kind too. A child once prayed, “Dear God, make all the bad people good, and make all the good people nice.” It’s sad to admit, but often true, that good people may mistake winning arguments for winning hearts.
One of Peter Marshall’s famous prayers was, “O God, when I am wrong, make me easy to change, and when I am right, make me easy to live with!”
6. The Spirit produces goodness in us.
The word used here in the original Greek text literally means “something to be desired.” Even those who totally reject God’s word say they want what’s good.
An article in Liberty Magazine, October 1931, was written by a well known figure in American History. He attacked the dangers of communism, subversion, and graft in government. He said, “Virtue, honor, truth and the law have vanished from our life, we are smart-alecky. We like to be able to get away with things. And if we can’t make a living at some honest profession, we are going to make one any way.” Who was that well known American? — Al Capone!
His problem wasn’t that he hated good. His problem was that to him, “good” was whatever served his own interests. As long as everyone let him do what he desired and wanted to do, he was a strong supporter of “goodness”.
Al’s problem, like many today, is that he had no absolute standard for deciding what makes something good. When a moral principle got in his way, he would say that particular moral principle was no longer good. Isaiah 5:20 warns, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil”
God’s word tells us what’s good, what should be desired. That’s what the Holy Spirit can produce in us.
7. The Holy Spirit produces faithfulness in us.
The Greek word used here can be translated as, “faith, faithfulness, or loyalty”. It’s that quality of unyielding dedication to, and confidence in, the promises of God.
In October, 1864 the Civil War was going through a bloody and costly stage. Union General Sherman marched through the South. There was a small Union fort In the mountains of Georgia north of Atlanta, at Allatoona. General Corse was sent to defend it with Union troops to reinforce the garrison up to 1,944 men.
Confederate General French surrounded the fort with a far superior army. When access to the fort was closed off, General French asked the Union garrison to surrender. He said his offer would “avoid needless effusion of blood.” Union General Corse replied saying he was prepared for “the needless effusion of blood when ever it would be agreeable to General French.”
The huge southern force attacked with fury, but were amazed at the strong resistance. The courageous and committed northern troops inflicted serious injury on the much larger and better equipped enemy. But Union General Corse had seen something on a distant hill that the confederates hadn’t seen. Signal flags appeared many miles away. It said, “Hold the fort. I am coming.” Signed by Union General Sherman.
Corse’s confidence in his cause and commitment to his duty was strengthened by the assurance of relief troops on the way. Confident of victory, he stood faithfully in the face of the enemy.
When Philip P. Bliss heard the account of General Corse he wrote a hymn that “Hold the Fort”
Ho, my comrades, see the signal Waving in the sky!
Re-enforcements now appearing, Victory is nigh.
“Hold the fort, for I am coming” Jesus signals still,
Wave the answer back to heaven, “By thy grace we will.”
See the mighty host advancing, Satan leading on;
Mighty men around us falling, courage almost gone!
See the glorious banner waving! Hear the trumpet blow!
In our Leader’s name we triumph over ev’ry foe.
Fierce and long the battle rages, But our help is near;
Onward comes our great Commander – cheer, my comrads, cheer!
“Hold the fort, for I am coming” Jesus signals still,
Wave the answer back to heaven, “By thy grace we will.”
Where does our confident trust, our faithfulness to God and to others, come from? It’s produced in the believer’s heart as a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
8. God’s children should also have gentleness.
Some translations say “meek” or “meekness”. The word used here means to be in subjection to something or to someone greater.
Gentleness to others comes from understanding that we’re here to honor and live for God, not for our selves, not for our own glory and gain.
Our attitude as believers should reflect that understanding of our place in God’s world. Rather than being argumentative, arrogant, and self-defensive, we need the Holy Spirit to make us learn to be gentle. Proverbs 15:1 gives this simple advice, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
9. The last element of this Spirit-produced fruit is self-control.
When God’s glory is first in our lives, and we confidently and patiently trust in him, we learn to have better control over our thoughts, words, attitudes, and actions. 2 Peter 1:4-6 tells us to become, “partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,”
These attributes aren’t contrary to God’s law. They’re what the law prescribes but can’t accomplish without the Holy Spirit’s enablement.
This doesn’t mean we can’t
realize these things in our lives.
Galatians 5:24-26, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”
If the source of ability in our lives is the Holy Spirit, then the Spirit ought to be leading us daily. This is God’s command to his children. We’re not living this way if we’re conceited, provoke others, or envy others.
So how do we win the battle?
The first step toward producing these fruits is to be restored to fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. Without that redemption that comes by faith in his sacrifice for our sins, we won’t be able to genuinely produce this fruit in our lives.
Rather than trying to accomplish these things on our own, we need to use the tools God gives us: God’s word defines what’s good and right to guide our thoughts and all we do. God calls us to pray that we would walk in the paths of righteousness for the sake of his name. God gave us the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper by which he reminds us that we can grow in Christ-likeness. And he gives us a Christian family in the church to encourage and sometimes admonish us.
By these means, based on what Jesus did to save us, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can see our lives, more and more, begin to yield this important crop of godly fruit.
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.