But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace . . .
Christian liberty, the theme with which Paul is dealing in Galatians 5, is a wonderful thing, yet too often it is misunderstood. Paul declares that God has delivered us from the law as a means of salvation by freeing us from our fleshly lusts through his indwelling Holy Spirit. In all of this, Christ has delivered us to live a life of loving and serving others, and it is through these acts of love and service that we display true Christian liberty.
But, truthfully, we battle against our flesh in this. The flesh is constantly pulling on us to consider ourselves first. That’s why Christian liberty can be lived out only by walking in the Spirit. Walking in the Spirit is the only way to live the Christian life, and nothing else works! It is only when we are walking in the Spirit that we will not fulfill the lusts of our flesh. Clearly, the works of the flesh contrasted with the works of the Spirit reveal that this is a black-and-white issue. There is no gray area between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. They are on opposing sides.
The Flesh vs. the Spirit
By way of review, notice the essence of the works of the flesh. In essence, the main work of the flesh is self-centeredness. It’s all about living for one’s self.
Second, notice that the expressions of the works of the flesh are limitless. Just consider the sin of David with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11.
With the flesh, so many things can begin spinning out of control, as if there is just a bottomless pit of sin. The expressions of the works of the flesh seem to be unending.
Before we begin to consider the fruit of the Spirit, we need to consider some foundational truths about it.
First, this fruit is truly a character sketch of Christ. If you were to read through the Gospels and take notice of the life of Jesus, you would consistently see this fruit in His life. This is what Christlikeness looks like.
But closely connected with this first truth is the second one. Namely, these qualities in the life of the believer are all based on a relationship with Christ. Truly one of the key doctrines of the Bible is the union of a believer with Christ.
Note how the following verses each describe different aspects of the believer’s union with Jesus.
- Romans 6:6; Galatians 2:20
- Ephesians 2:1, 5
- Ephesians 2:6
- 1 Corinthians 12:13
- Philippians 3:20–21; 1 John 3:2
This union, in one sense, is a legal union. At one time, we were “in Adam.” His sin and rebellion are our sin and rebellion. (See Rom. 5:17–19.) But at salvation we are placed “into Christ” by the work of the Holy Spirit as He baptizes us into the body of Christ. Legally, we are removed from Adam and placed into Christ. Our guilt from Adam is absolved by being in Christ.
Not only is this a legal union; it is also a living union. The Bible gives a few illustrations of how this union is alive.
- Ephesians 4:15; Colossians 1:18
- John 15:4–5
- Ephesians 5:30–32
This is the very life of Christ in us. So when Paul says that we are crucified with Christ, this is really the key to spiritual living. You as a believer are connected with Jesus. Everything He is, you are. Now that’s not easily or quickly comprehended. But these characteristics are Christ’s characteristics, and, as a believer joined to Christ, these characteristics are yours as well. His gentleness and goodness seen in the Gospels are qualities that can be developed in your life because Christ is in you and you are in Christ. Although they are not fully displayed and comprehended, they are in fact a part of you. Sanctification is the process of submitting to the Holy Spirit as He works to produce this fruit in your life, so that your daily life matches up with who you really are now in Christ.
Third, notice this fruit is singular. It is “fruit,” not “fruits.” So we cannot consider this as nine different diamonds on a bracelet. Rather, it is like one diamond with nine different facets or dimensions—with parts, but also the whole.
Those whom we view as truly spiritual people are not those who have a life of love but no joy, or are gentle but have no self-control. Instead, we view truly spiritual people in light of the whole. The reality is that we are all being grown in these different facets, and some to a greater degree than others. But this outgrowth is God’s working in our life, and He is working on all of the various dimensions of this beautiful fruit in us.
Fourth, this fruit is not developed by strenuous observance of a strict legal code. You just cannot put laws on people in order to produce this stuff. Just as it would be ludicrous to demand that an apple tree produce lemons, so it is absurd to believe that this “fruit” will come about by placing laws on yourself or demanding others to have joy or meekness. The fruit of the Spirit comes from a reality of life that is alive within you (i.e., your union with Christ). And as you submit to the Spirit, He produces this fruit in you.
Finally, producing this fruit takes time. Only weeds pop up overnight, but beautiful fruit is grown over time. This fruit is the outgrowth of a life that is learning daily dependence on the Lord.
The Fruit of the Spirit and My Relationship with God
When we are walking in the Spirit, the fruit that comes out will be evidenced in our relationship to God, others and ourselves. The first three—love, joy and peace—describe our relationship with God.
Love is in many ways the sum and the source of all the rest, like the spring that creates the river. It is the basis and flow of all that comes out of our lives. However, this is not a love that we can create within ourselves.
God is the initiator of love. (See 1 John 4:8.) At conversion, God birthed in your soul a love for Him. He gave it to you. No man by human nature would ever love God. Ephesians 2 tells us that by nature we are at odds with God. No man naturally loves the person of God or the law of God. No man desires to live for God. No man seeks God; in reality, we run from Him instead of to Him. (See Rom. 3:11.) but when God works in your heart, you begin to love things you never loved before.
When you allow the Spirit of God to dominate and direct your life (walking in the Spirit), a genuine love for God will be evident.
In this aspect, we can see that true Christian liberty can only come by walking in the Spirit. God has liberated us from loving ourselves for the purpose of selflessly and sacrificially loving and serving others. This love for God and for others now becomes the dominant, controlling force in the life of a Christian.
A common mistake is to think of joy and happiness in the same category. Happiness is emotion tied to things that are happening. In other words, it is based on circumstances. Joy, on the other hand, has nothing to do with what is happening.
Circumstances will not affect true Spirit-filled joy, simply because joy is founded in the hope we have in God Himself. The word hope in the New Testament always conveys the idea of confidence. It is a joyful expectation resting in the promises of God—not wishful thinking. As followers of Christ, we have a sure, stable foundation for our hope.
Knowing and believing the truth about God is where joy is founded. That is why believers can have joy even in the middle of the most adverse circumstances. Walking in the Spirit involves a submission to and delight in the unchanging truth of God. And that’s just where this joy comes from!
Sadly, many believers live with fearful, negative and foreboding attitudes about life, consistently evidencing a total lack of joy. These attitudes reveal a lack of depth in understanding the Gospel. Think about what the Bible says in reference to God’s saving work: He called you from eternity. When God saved you, it wasn’t that you found Him, but that He found you. Your name was written in His book from all eternity. Now, can we fully comprehend all of that? No. But is it true? Yes. Therefore, we must believe it. It is these gospel truths that bring confidence into our lives.
Take some time to read Romans 8:28–39 and allow your heart to be stirred by these eternal truths. These are the roots and nature of the Gospel. So when we begin to apply this to all of our circumstances, we won’t be seeking to find joy in everything working out; rather we will find joy in what God has already done and is doing according to His eternal purposes.
This goes back to the aspect of love. Love for God is the source of this joy. In our love for God, we seek to spend time in His presence.
Ultimately joy finds its delight in the Lord and in His presence. It’s a wonderful thing to start your day in the presence of the Lord. Is that a routine part of your life? If not, begin by just sitting down, praying and reading your Bible. Simply spend time listening to God as He speaks and respond to Him in prayer. Even in that, you will find great joy and delight.
The Westminster Confession of Faith (the Shorter Catechism) puts it this way: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Take some time to evaluate yourself by asking the following questions: Do I enjoy God? Do I enjoy the themes and truths about God? Do I eagerly anticipate personal time with God on a daily basis? Can I honestly say that the things I enjoy the most include studying, reading, communicating and fellowshipping around the things of God?
The word peace comes from a Greek verb that conveys a sense of wholeness or health. When things are out of place in the human body, there is a lack of health; but when everything comes together as it should be, the body is at peace or rest.
Obviously, an unbeliever’s standing before God is out of place. No one can know peace unless his standing before God is made right. The eternal peace a believer experiences comes from knowing his place is secure before God.
The wonderful thing is that even when the storms of life are raging, we can still have peace. That’s why peace is a fruit of the Spirit. It isn’t something we can manufacture within ourselves. Like joy, this peace comes as we submit to the truth of God’s Word that He is in control. The issue is a matter of keeping our minds on the Lord, who is our peace.
When we are distracted and weighed down with problems and cares in our life, our focus will be out of place. It is at these times that walking in the Spirit is simply a matter of having our focus in the right place—resting in God’s control and wisdom. The reality is that our Father knows best. When we trust that, believe that, and submit to that, the fruit will be peace.
Listen to Dr. Pettit’s chapel message on The Fruit of the Spirit, Part 1:
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