What is the fruit of the Spirit?

fruit of the spirit holy spirit

One of the blessings we receive through coming to know Jesus is the blessing of a new life.  In Him, we are made a new creation.  We’re given a new nature.  We’re even promised that a day will come when we’ll receive a brand-new body.  I’m grateful for all of these realities, even those that I accept by faith while waiting for their ultimate fulfillment.

As someone who has been blessed with a new life and a new nature, I make it my goal to demonstrate that new nature when I’m interacting with others.  I want it to be obvious that Christ is living within me even before I have the opportunity to speak about His impact on my life directly.

I’m grateful for every opportunity the Lord gives me to demonstrate this perspective in my interactions with others.  Just the other day, someone I’m friends with thanked me for conveying the heart of the Christian faith to others without coming across as harsh and condemning.  I took her words to heart, and I was grateful to hear that was her perspective of the nature of my faith.

But there is something that I need to remain highly aware of, even as I attempt to demonstrate the heart of Christ to others.  I need to understand that even though I have been blessed with a new nature through Jesus, my old sinful nature still exists.  It would be very easy for me to slide right back into its preferences and demonstrate the fruit of unrighteousness instead of the fruit of the Spirit.

This is what the apostle Paul was cautioning us about in Galatians 5:16-26.  Without mincing words, he explained the difference between the fruit of the Spirit and the desires of the flesh.  Take a look with me at what he attempted to make clear in this passage.


We’re called to Walk by the Spirit

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  (Galatians 5:16)

One of my favorite outdoor activities that I love to engage in once the weather cooperates is walking.  I particularly enjoy walking with my wife.  It’s healthy, it's enjoyable, and it's a relationship builder.  There are lots of nice places in our community where paths have been carved and trails have been marked off for walkers to use.

 Galatians 5:16 uses the word "walk" in its encouragement not to indulge the temptations of the flesh.  What does it mean by walking?  It means more than the physical act of following a wooded trail.  The Bible uses the term "walk" in multiple instances as a synonym for the word "live".  In this context, we're being told to live by the Spirit and as a result, we will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  We will not give in to destructive temptations.

 We're given this encouragement for a reason.  Even though you may profess faith in Christ, and even though when you trusted in Jesus you were given a brand new sinless nature, you still have the old nature that you were born with.  You and I were born with a human nature that loves to sin.  Our old nature loves to rebel against God and indulge in all manner of unhealthy beliefs and activities.  You won't have that old nature forever, but during the brief decades we have on this earth, it is a present reality.

 Our old nature is a daily source of temptation.  Temptation comes from three different places; the world, the devil and our old fallen nature.  Most often we blame the devil for our temptations.  Sometimes we blame the world.  Less often do we place the blame on our old nature, but all three are sources of temptation in our lives.  So what are we to do about this?  What counsel does God's Word provide?

 Verse 16 tells us to, "walk by the Spirit."  As we already stated this means to live by the Spirit of God.  But to clarify that even more, let me say it like this:  To walk by the Spirit means to make a habit of living in response to the Holy Spirit while being controlled and guided by Him. 

 At present, we may be losing the battle with our temptations because in most contexts, we're making a habit of being controlled and guided by our old nature, the priorities of this fallen world, or the influence of the devil.  We may be convinced that Jesus isn't sufficient in some areas of life, and we're looking for something else to help us that we believe might be more substantial.

 This plays itself out in relationships when we idolize our relationships with other people and minimize our relationship with Christ.  This also plays itself out in our self-image or feelings of worth when we try to carve out an identity based on what we have or what we do.  But God’s word challenges us to walk by the Spirit so we won't gratify the desires of the old nature.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.”  (1 John 2:15-17, NLT)


There is a contrast between fleshly desires and the fruit of the Spirit

“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.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  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 5:17-23)

 A while back, I was speaking with a friend who is a police officer and he was telling me the difference between working patrol during the day and over night.  He said that most of the major crimes he has to deal with occur under the cover of darkness.  This makes sense to me because sin likes to do the most damage when it can operate in secret.  Over time, I have come to realize that one of the most effective ways for sin to consume our lives is for it to operate in covert or hidden ways, behind the scenes.  When sin gets called out and identified for what it is, it seems to lose some of its power and allure.

 As the Apostle Paul was trying to encourage the Galatians to differentiate between the sinful desires of the flesh and the fruitful work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers, he chose to call out or expose the desires of the flesh.  These are the things we do that we often don't want to do, but we end up doing anyway.  He lists them in Galatians 5:19-21 then explains that such things, as well as those who display their lack of faith in Jesus by engaging in such things, will not inherit the kingdom of God.

 Paul uses the word "evident" when referring to our common areas of temptation or the desires of the flesh.  He tells us that they make themselves obvious, even though there are some in this world who might try to deny how obvious they are.  Some of what he speaks of would fall into the behavioral/externally observable category (sexual immorality, sorcery, drunkenness, etc.).  Other items on his list might be less observable because they tend to operate on an internal or motivational level (impurity, jealousy, anger, etc.).  But even the less observable motives eventually become apparent in visible and relational ways.

 Then Paul contrasts these "evident" desires of the flesh with the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is presently at work within everyone who believes in Jesus.  He is transforming our minds and producing holiness in our lives.  He's causing us to gradually resemble Jesus more and more in our attitudes and actions.  The fruit of His divine work within us stands out in stark contrast with the desires of our old nature.  He produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

 How does this information aid us in our efforts to resist temptation?  By God's grace, this knowledge helps us to start identifying what's really going on.  Knowing this helps us to ask good questions like:  “What actions and attitudes from our old nature are we still comfortable with?  What are we used to living with that tries to impede our walk with Christ?”


Don’t feed or nurture sin in your life

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 keep in step with the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.  (Galatians 5:24-26)

 God's word is very practical.  At times, we might prefer to think of it as merely conceptual or theoretical, but when you look at its content closely, it demonstrates a plan of action for the growing believer in Christ.  As an outpouring of our faith in Jesus, we're being told to follow that up with specific action in these closing verses.

 At one point in our lives, all of us were slaves to sin.  Giving in to temptation was a natural outpouring of that reality.  Sin had power over us.  Our old nature operated as our god.  But now, we're not longer slaves to sin.  We have been set free in Christ.  We are now servants of God which means we possess the power of Jesus and can utilize His strength in the areas of life where we feel tempted and weak.

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 6:20-23)

 Oddly enough, there are still some areas of temptation that we might be treating as friends instead of foes.  We might be caring for our areas of temptation and nurturing them just in case we need them.  Have you asked Jesus to free you from your porn addiction, but you're still holding onto the links in case you have a tough day?  Have you asked Jesus to break your alcohol addiction, but there's still an emergency bottle in the back of your kitchen cupboard?  Have you asked Jesus to free you of your food addiction, but there's still a pack of Oreos in your desk?  We will always struggle with slavery to the sins that we're still secretly nurturing.

 Nurturing sin doesn't produce a life of freedom.  Nurturing temptation only strengthens it.  We aren't called to nurture our temptations.  We're called to crucify the passions and desires of our old nature.  That's a term that's intended by God to startle us.  The Lord inspired Paul to use that term to give us a mental image that includes:

  • Realizing that we no longer need to be slaves to our sin.  
  • We have the power of God within us to allow us to inflict crucifixion on what is trying to destroy us.
  • Crucifixion wasn't an instant form of death, but a slow, torturous, painful process.
  • We need to keep that in mind and acknowledge that just as it took time for our areas of temptation to develop their foothold in our lives, it may also take time for us to overcome our areas of weakness

 Behind my home there are a row of arborvitaes.  I like how they look.  I like that they're tall and produce a reasonable amount of privacy.  But ever since I bought our house, I have been fighting vines that have been growing around them.  If I let the vines go, they would eventually kill those trees.  I tried a few things to get rid of them, but the only thing that truly worked was completely cutting them out.  I have done it, and I’ve hired others to do it as well.

Sin and temptation creep like vines and try to choke the life out of us.  But if Christ is your Lord, His power is yours to utilize.  Don't water the vines.  Don't nurture their growth.  Cut them out of your life.  Sever them at their source.  Rob them of their power and walk in step with the Spirit of God. 

©  John Stange, 2023


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