"Fruit of the Spirit" Not "Fruits."

There is a very common misunderstanding of Galatians 5:22-23 in the evangelical church today.  That is so many of us tend to understand the list of characteristics in Galatians 5:22-23 as different "fruits" that the Holy Spirit will grow within the hearts and lives of believers. When we do that, we are then interpreting the noun "fruit" in the phrase, "the fruit of the Spirit" as a plural but it isn't. The Greek word, karpos, is in the singular. Meaning, fruit, one fruit, not many fruits, or different kinds of fruit. So this means that when we begin to read what the fruit of the Spirit is, Paul is not naming different kinds of fruit that the Spirit gives, instead he is describing the different characteristics of the grace that the Spirit is working in you.

Maybe you have participated in a Bible study on the "Fruit of the Spirit."  One of the application questions may have been, "Which fruit do you seeing growing in your life?  Which fruit do you need some growth in?  What are some things you can do this week to help you grow in love, or in joy, or in peace, etc."

The problem with this is that Paul is pointing to gracious dispositions that will be found in the heart and life of someone who has the Holy Spirit. If we just treat them as all different "fruits" that a believer could have then anyone can find one or two of these dispositions that they may display in their lives.  I know many unbelievers who are gentle, or who really do good things, or who may have a more patient disposition than many Christians I know. If I were to share the "Fruits" of the Spirit with him or her, as evidence of the Holy Spirit's presence in their lives, they may find a false confirmation that they really do have the Spirit when in fact they don't.  We all have different personalities and some personalities are more disposed to being patient or gentle, or even peaceful.  But those dispositions are not coming from the Spirit's presence in us, they are simply just coming out of our own way of life. What Paul is doing is showing us that if the Spirit is truly in us, then we should see the evidence through the "Fruit" of the Spirit, which is described by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Not one or two characteristics, but all of them.

Yet he is talking about a fruit, and fruit doesn't appear all at once.  Fruit must grow.  Fruit must mature.  Sometimes the growing season for the fruit is rather long. But the thing about fruit is, if it is growing, you see it, you know its there.  We have an apple tree in our yard. This is the first time I've ever had an apple tree.  I remember quite early in the spring, the apples first appeared on the branches of the tree.  Little tiny green apples. Throughout the growing season those apples just got bigger and bigger and their color changed from green to red. It didn't matter at what time during the season I observed the tree, I never had a doubt as to what kind of a tree it was, for I saw the fruit. That is what it is like for all those who have the Holy Spirit in them. We are in the midst of our growing season. None of us perfectly display the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control but if the Spirit is really in us, then they are seen at some level.  We are recognizable. As Tim Keller wrote, "The real fruit of the Spirit always grow up together. They are one.  Jonathan Edwards put it like this, 'There is a concatenation of the graces of Christianity.' That is, you do not get one part of the fruit of the Spirit growing without all the parts growing."

So consider your life. Read Galatians 5:16-26.  Which does your life more reflect? The "works of the flesh" of verses 19-21 or the "fruit of the Spirit" of verses 22-23?  Seek the Lord in confession for how you have been living according to the flesh, and ask for the Lord to give you His Spirit to be transformed and renewed.  Then listen to the Spirit as He speaks in His Word, and submit your will to what He says, praying for the transforming grace that you will need as you go.  The fruit will grow.


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