This is the first of two posts that explore the growth of fruit in the life of a believer. Part 1 presents the biblical subject of fruit and highlights the fruit of the Spirit. Next month, in Part 2, the post will present three necessary components for bearing the fruit of the Spirit. It will also touch on fruit and disciple making, and fruit and cross-cultural considerations.
I love candy. As a child, when gifted with a few coins, I would head off to “The Little Store” and purchase something sweet. Favorites included strawberry licorice, orange slices, and grape popsicles.1Those who know me best will be wondering why chocolate isn’t on this list. Yes, I ate a fair share of chocolate in my youth, and still do (perhaps more than a fair share). However, the cacao bean is a vegetable, and we’re talking about fruit here—and the items listed above are still some of my favorites! We didn’t have much fresh fruit in our home when I was young, and it wasn’t until adulthood that I learned to appreciate the superior taste found in the real thing. Now, when I bite into a fresh, sweet strawberry, I wonder why I so often settle for the fake goodness of candy.
There are other forms of fake fruit, like the realistic looking pieces available for use in advertising, restaurant displays, or decorating one’s home (I have some in a bowl on a table in my living room).2Just for fun, here is a link to an online store that sells fake fruit for display purposes. It’s amazing how realistic some of it looks: Display Fake Foods And here is an article on the history of a museum in Turin, Italy that highlights fake fruit: Fake Fruit History However, though it may be beautiful, and though there are good uses for it, no one wants to eat fake fruit. Not only does it taste terrible, but it has no nutritional value.
Another form of fake fruit occurs when we try to do God’s work in our own strength. The result is an imitation. It may look good, but it lacks the true goodness and power of the real thing. Examples in Scripture include the people who pray in public to be seen by others; the teaching of false prophets; and Saul, who, motivated by fear, usurped Samuel’s role and disobediently made offerings to God in his place.3See: 1 Samuel 13:1-15; Matthew 6:5, 7:15-20; 2 Peter 2:17; June 1:12.
Perhaps the only thing worse than fake fruit is bad fruit. I once grabbed a beautiful, red apple from a bowl anticipating its singular delight. But when I bit into it, instead of encountering the taste of sweet juice and a crisp, firm texture, my teeth sank into a brown mush. Quickly pulling the apple away from my face, I stared at it in disbelief. How could it be so beautiful on the outside and so rotten on the inside? Its inner character was nothing like its outer appearance.
Examples of bad fruit in Scripture include the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, who are like that rotten apple. They give the appearance of good, but inside are “full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”4See: Matthew 23:25-28. They don’t provide fruit that nourishes others. Instead, Jesus says everything they do is to acquire honor and blessing for themselves.5See: Matthew 23:5-7.
The Bible has a lot to say about fruit. Both testaments depict fruit as a product and/or as an outgrowth of a person’s character. In the Old Testament, a variety of Hebrew words are translated into the English word “fruit.” The general categories of meaning include: fruit of the soil, fruit of the womb, fruit of one’s deeds, and the fruit of one’s words.6For example, see Genesis 4:3; Deuteronomy 7:13; Psalm 104:13, Proverbs 1:29-31, 12:14, 13:2, 18:21; Isaiah 3:10-11, Jeremiah 6:19.
In the New Testament, we learn it’s possible to bear good fruit, bad fruit, fruit “in keeping with repentance,” fruit that lasts, fruit for God, fruit for death, fruit of the light, fruit from darkness, fruit of righteousness, fruit from the gospel, fruit from good works, fruit from sin, and fruit of the Spirit.7See: Matthew 3:8, 10, 7:16-20, 12:33; John 15:16; Romans 1:13, 7:4-5; Galatians 5:16-26; Ephesians 5:8-11; Philippians 1:11; Colossians 1:6, 10.
Scripture is clear that believers are supposed to bear fruit. In fact, bearing fruit glorifies the Father and identifies those who are disciples of Jesus.8See: John 15:8. While scholars debate the nature of the fruit referred to in John 15,9Boice says the fruit is: the fruit of the Spirit, “listed in Galatians 5:22-23” see Boice, James Montgomery, The Gospel of John, Volume 4 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 1172, 1185. Barclay implies the fruit consists of deeds done in obedience, see Barclay, William, The Gospel of John, in The Daily Bible Study Series, Volume 2, Revised Edition (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), 174. Swindoll says the fruit is: answered prayer, the glory of God, love, and joy, see Swindoll, Charles, Insights on John, Series: Swindoll’s New Testament Insights (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 260-261. Carson says the fruit is: obedience, joy, peace, love, and “witness to the world,” and “new converts,” see Carson, D. A., The Gospel According to John, in The Pillar New Testament Commentary Series (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 517, 523. Murray implies the fruit is disciples, and that we bear fruit “for the salvation of men,” see Murray, Andrew, The True Vine in The Moody Classics series, General Editor, Rosalie De Rosset (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007), 36-37. all of the items that appear on the various lists fall into the category of “likeness to Jesus.”10Bruce, F. F., The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 308-310. Bruce focuses on “likeness to Jesus” in terms of character–holding that Jesus is the vine, the disciples are the branches, and the fruit is the fruit of the Spirit. And while being like Jesus involves more than displaying the fruit of the Spirit, all other aspects can be considered an outgrowth of this basic fruit (including disciple-making which is rightly an outgrowth of one’s love for Jesus and others.) And while likeness to Jesus includes the element of disciple-making, which bears the fruit of disciples,11See: John 15:16. See, Carson, D. A., The Gospel According to John, in The Pillar New Testament Commentary Series (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 517, 523. this post focuses on likeness to Jesus as demonstrated by the fruit of the Spirit. In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul names the fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience (long-suffering), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness (meekness), and self-control.
Fruit of the Spirit
The fruit of the Spirit is presented in stark contrast to the “acts of the sinful nature” found in Galatians 5:19-21. According to Paul, the acts are: “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”12See: Galatians 5:19-21. Paul goes on to say, “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”13See: Galatians 5:21.
The idea here is not that believers who act like this will lose their salvation. Instead, people who live like this demonstrate by their actions that they are not believers. The actions of Christians flow out of their Christlike character. Believers do not consistently engage in the acts listed in Galatians 5:19-21 because the Spirit of God lives within them and transforms, motivates, and empowers them to resist sin and live godly lives.14Fung, Ronald Y. K., The Epistle to the Galatians, in The New International Commentary on the New Testament series, Editor: Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), 262. See also: Boice, James Montgomery, “Galatians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 10, General Editor: Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 497. Thus, the fruit of the Spirit is simply “the life of Christ lived out in a Christian.”15Walvoord, John F. and Roy B. Zuck, Editors, “Galatians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Vol 2 (Colorado Springs: Cook Communications Ministries, 2000), 608.
Scholars debate the reason Scripture refers to the list of nine items as “fruit” rather than “fruits” of the Spirit. However, there is consensus that all of the “fruit” should be considered together, and all “should be found in a believer.”16Walvoord, John F. and Roy B. Zuck, Editors, “Galatians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Vol 2 (Colorado Springs: Cook Communications Ministries, 2000), 608. See also: Boice, James Montgomery, “Galatians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 10, General Editor: Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 498. The nine items can be combined into three categories: inner character traits, outer character traits, and general character traits.17Walvoord, John F. and Roy B. Zuck, Editors, “Galatians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Vol 2 (Colorado Springs: Cook Communications Ministries, 2000), 608. See also: Koessler, John, True Discipleship (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2003), 128-134. See also: Boice, James Montgomery, “Galatians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 10, General Editor: Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 498. Here are some brief descriptions of each part of the fruit:
Inner Character Traits
Love (agape)—serving a person “for their good and intrinsic value, not for what the person brings you.”18Keller, Timothy, Galatians for You (nc: The Good Book Company, 2013), 153. Of this word Barclay says, “it means that no matter what a man may do to us by way of insult or injury or humiliation we will never seek anything else but his highest good.” Barclay, William, “Galatians” in The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, in The Daily Bible Study Series, Revised Edition (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), 50. The best example of this is Jesus, who died in our place to reconcile us to God.19See: Romans 5:6-8.
Joy (chara)—delighting in God “for the sheer beauty and worth of who He is.”20Keller, Timothy, Galatians for You (nc: The Good Book Company, 2013), 154. This is the foundation of the idea that believers can rejoice in the midst of terrible circumstances. Regardless of what has befallen us, we can always delight in God. Walvoord, John F. and Roy B. Zuck, Editors, “Galatians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Vol 2 (Colorado Springs: Cook Communications Ministries, 2000), 608. A good example of delighting in God in the midst of trying circumstance is Paul and Silas singing hymns while in prison.21See: Acts 16:16-25.
Peace (eirene)—finding “a confidence and rest in the wisdom and control of God, rather than in your own.”22Keller, Timothy, Galatians for You (nc: The Good Book Company, 2013), 154. David and the other Psalmists, who penned the Psalms of Lament, clearly articulate their confidence in, and dependence on, God. They also exemplify the truth of Philippians 4:6-7, which tells us to present our requests to God when we are anxious. In return, God will supply “the peace of God.”23See: Philippians 4:6-7; Individual Lament Psalms: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 13, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 35, 39, 42, 43, 51, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 69, 70, 71, 76, 77, 86, 88, 102, 109, 120, 130, 140, 141, 142, 143; National Lament Psalms: 44, 74, 79, 80, 83, 90. The Psalms of Lament rise above the level of mere complaint, as each one contains a statement of trust in God and/or a statement of assurance that God will help. Faith in God is an essential component to peace.
Outer Character Traits
Patience (makrothumia)—facing trouble “without blowing up or hitting out.”24Keller, Timothy, Galatians for You (nc: The Good Book Company, 2013), 154. The obvious example for this aspect of fruit is Job, who, in the face of multiple personal disasters, not only did not blow up or impugn God, but fell on his face and worshipped him.25See: Job 1:1-2:10.
Kindness (chrestotes)—serving others “practically in a way which makes me vulnerable, which comes from having a deep inner security.”26Keller, Timothy, Galatians for You (nc: The Good Book Company, 2013), 154. Shortly after her husband had insulted David—despite the possible danger to her own well-being—Abigail extended kindness toward David by supplying provisions for his men. In so doing, Abigail displayed her confidence in God.27See: 1 Samuel 25:1-35.
Goodness (agathosume)—being “the same person in every situation, rather than a phony or a hypocrite.”28Keller, Timothy, Galatians for You (nc: The Good Book Company, 2013), 154. Paul provides an example of this type of behavior. After meeting Jesus on the Damascus road, his life changed and he became focused on sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. Unlike Peter, whom Paul upbraids and accuses of hypocrisy for his shifting behavior (refusing to eat with Gentiles when Jews were present), Paul’s behavior is consistent—despite the opposition and/or opinions of others.29See: Acts 7:54-8:1, 9:1-19, 22:3-5, 19-20, 26:9-23; 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10; Galatians 1:11-2:14.
General Character Traits
Faithfulness (pistis)—being “utterly reliable and true to your word.”30Keller, Timothy, Galatians for You (nc: The Good Book Company, 2013), 154. The only being of whom this can be said without any room for error is God himself. Having said that, Moses is a good example of one whose faithfulness to God is to be commended. God himself says of Moses, “he is faithful in all my house.”31See: Numbers 12:5-7; Hebrews 3:2, 5.
Gentleness (prautes)—being meek, humble, and self-forgetful rather than being “superior or self-absorbed.”32Keller, Timothy, Galatians for You (nc: The Good Book Company, 2013), 154. Jesus displays gentleness in many ways, especially in his interactions with women and children. He neither rejects them, nor lords it over them, but instead treats them with respect and gentle care.33See: Mark 5:25-34, 10:13-16; Luke 10:38-42; John 8:1-11, 11:17-44, 12:1-8.
Self-control (egkrateia)—being able to “pursue the important over the urgent, rather than to be always impulsive or uncontrolled.”34Keller, Timothy, Galatians for You (nc: The Good Book Company, 2013), 155. When faced with rejection, betrayal, insults, threats, flogging, and crucifixion, Jesus stayed the course and did not retaliate.35See: Matthew 26:47-56; 27:12-14; 1 Peter 2:23.
Comparing the list of the acts of the sinful nature to the list of the fruit of the Spirit, I find the list of fruit much more appealing. I want to be a bearer of such lovely things. Not fake fruit—self-manufactured out of human strength. Not rotten fruit—appealing to the eyes, but stemming from a core of selfishness. I desire the real thing. Honest goodness, born of the Spirit. The kind of fruit that brings refreshing nourishment to others.
Timothy Keller says, “The only test that the Spirit has really indwelled you as a child of God is the growth in the fruit of the Spirit.”36Keller, 152. He suggests we stop focusing attention on our spiritual gifts as a measure of our growth and that we not mistake our natural strengths as fruit.37Keller notes that some people, by virtue of their “natural temperament…brain chemistry and/or early training,” have personal characteristics that are very fruit-like. However, when we operate out of our own strength, we are not operating in the power of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables us to do those things we are not naturally able to do. Keller, 153. Instead, he recommends we examine the “nature, unity, and definitions” of the fruit of the Spirit in order to gauge our need for spiritual growth.38Keller, 155.
We can take this advice to heart and examine our lives on a regular basis, looking for evidence of the fruit. Better yet, we can ask those with whom we live and work to give an honest evaluation of the evidence of fruit in our lives.
How is this wonderful fruit produced in the life of a believer? The fruit of the Spirit doesn’t grow by accident. It is a work of God’s Spirit combined with “the cooperation of the will of the individual.”39Gerig, Wesley L., “Fruit of the Spirit,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Editor: Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 276. God’s Word tells us that the production of good fruit is dependent on three components: abiding in Jesus, acting in concert with the Holy Spirit, and pruning. This is what we will explore next month in Part 2 of “Exploring Spiritual Formation: Fruit.”
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