16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
When Martin Luther King Jr. said he looked forward to the day when all Americans would be judged solely “by the content of their character” and not the color of their skin, he was talking about a person’s essential qualities. Character is the mental and moral qualities of a person, but just because you are a character doesn’t mean you have character. It is here in Galatians 5 As we begin this series on character we will be looking at God’s call to every Christian to display not just good character but God’s character, the character of Christ. It is here in Galatians 5 that we discover the fruit of the Spirit and the importance of cultivating Christ like character starting with love. Before we begin our lesson on learning to love I want to start with a few observations concerning the fruit of the Spirit. First:
- We cannot create fruit on our own.
Verse 17 reminds us that the sinful nature and the Spirit desire not just different things but contrary things. The Fruit of the Spirit can only come from the Spirit of God. Where those things that naturally flow out of us, the flesh are found in verses 19-21: “…sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy…” The mistake many of us make when it comes to the fruit of the Spirit is to think that this is something we generate by working harder, but you can’t just decide to be more loving or more joyful or more peaceful and suddenly you are. Fruit is not something we do, it’s what we display. There’s a difference between works and fruit. Fruit must grow out of the life of the Spirit where works is what we do. Where vices come from our sinful nature, virtues come from the Spirit’s work. Our flesh produces rotten works but the Spirit produces living fruit. So, if we can’t work to produce it how does this fruit grown and ripen in our lives? According to Galatians 5:25 our responsibility is clear: “Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow or keep in step with the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” This is a military term meaning that I must march in a straight line, taking my orders only from Him. As we yield to the Spirit His fruit will ripen in our lives.
- The Fruit of the Spirit is a package deal.
I want you to notice that verse 22 uses the singular “fruit” and not “fruits”? Now this is not a grammatical error, the Greek very clearly reveals that it’s in the singular. There are some commentators who believe that this is because the Fruit of the Spirit is love and that the other eight items are simply ways in which love should be manifested. They get this from Galatians 5:14 where it says, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” But while I agree that love is the most important I believe that the singular is used for another reason. The character qualities are like a cluster of grapes. The grapes are fruit, not fruits. Similarly, the fruit of the Spirit is like this bunch with nine different grapes. One grape may taste sweet, another may have a brighter color, another may be smaller. But they’re all grapes. The problem with viewing them as nine different fruits is that we tend to start picking and choose, as if we are browsed through a buffet table. God’s plan is not for us to say, “I’ll take a little love, a heaping helping of joy, a big portion of peace, a small spoonful of self-control, but I’ll pass on the patience.” It’s a full-meal deal, one fruit with nine different qualities.
- The focus is on Christian character.
It’s important to distinguish between the gift of the Spirit, salvation which happens at the moment of conversion; the gifts of the Spirit, which have to do with service; and the graces of the Spirit, which relate to Christian character. Unfortunately, many churches have elevated the gifts of the Spirit over the graces of the Spirit. But building Christlike character must take precedence over displaying special abilities.
- The fruit must be displayed both individually and collectively.
We’re not given the Fruit of the Spirit just so some individuals can be more kind or more faithful. If the church is to live out the kind of community God called us to be, then these nine virtues should show up in our lives corporately. The church should be characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In the context of Galatians 5, “fruit” is in juxtaposition to those things that lead to strife between believers – hatred, discord, jealousy, dissension, factions, and envy. When we submit and keep in step with the Spirit, His fruit will begin to ripen in our lives, and the community of Christ-followers will begin to reflect Christ’s character. We should avoid thinking of these virtues as our own personal possessions. As believers, we are called to embody the kind of reconciled and transformed life that God desires for everyone. When we submit to the Spirit it doesn’t just change our character it reveals Christ a watching world.
- Not all fruit ripens at the same time.
If a cluster contains nine individual grapes, they may differ in size, shape, and taste. One may be fully ripened, pleasing to the eye and filled with sweet tasting juice. While in the same cluster there may also be several grapes that are somewhat less ripe, rather green, still sour or perhaps even shrunken and shriveled. As you look at my life you may see that the individual grape of joy is fully sweetened but at the same time that of patience may be small, sour and shrunken. As we surrender and keep in step with the Spirit, He will bring to maturity to all nine virtues. So how are you doing at submitting to the Spirit? Are you following His leading and letting Him cultivate your character or are you letting the world and your wants mold your mental and moral qualities?