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The Fruit of the Spirit: Frequently Asked Questions

How are spiritual fruit different from natural human traits given at birth or from learned character traits?

Jesus said, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6). He also said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man [person] remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Fruit bearing takes time and only comes as we stay in vital relationship with Jesus and cooperate with the Holy Spirit. There is no other way to get spiritual fruit. Natural or learned traits fall short of what the Spirit can do. Natural love is limited. Natural joy is temporary. Natural peace may be lazy or insensitive. Natural kindness too often is used to manipulate others. Natural goodness is too often a front and is hypocritical. We need something more, something that is imparted by the divine chemistry of the Holy Spirit.

Can Christians possess all nine characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit? Is it idealistic to think Christians can have more than a few?

The term “fruit” as it appears in the earliest Bible manuscripts written in Greek, is a singular noun. This is different from the plural term used in describing ‘gifts.’ This important distinction shows us that the Holy Spirit dispenses multiple gifts but only one fruit.

While a Spirit-filled Christian will seldom have all the gifts of the Spirit, all Spirit-filled Christians should have the single fruit of the Spirit out of which flows love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

While all characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit may not be evident in the highest degree, and though individuals will seem to manifest some of these characteristics more than others, the clear intent of God’s Word is that all nine attributes will be maturing as the Spirit works in a believer’s life. The fact is, as Christians we need the fruit with all nine character elements. Lack of any one of them hinders the growth of the rest. For example: there is no place for excusing one’s lack of patience or self-control by saying the Spirit hasn’t given me that fruit.

The most important and obvious feature of authentic fruit is that it is bound together with love.

Can we as Christians control or acquire any of the spiritual fruit listed in Galatians 5:22–23, or is each bestowed sovereignly by God as He chooses?

The gifts are sovereignly given. The fruit develops and grows. Second Peter tells us we have a part. Through God’s “great and precious promises” we “may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” For this very reason you should “make every effort to add (to exercise in a rich and abundant way) to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love” (2 Peter 1:4–7).

If we as Christians do not display spiritual fruit inwardly or outwardly does that indicate anything?

Peter says, “For if you possess these qualities [that is, these fruit] in increasing measure [with the fruit growing], they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins” (2 Peter 1:8–9). The Bible does speak of carnal Christians, but it also shows that you cannot remain carnal, lacking the fruit of the Spirit, and remain Christian. This is implied by 2 Peter 1:11–12. John the Baptist gave the severe warning that “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10). Jesus expressed this same caution (John 15:5–6).

The importance of the fruit is shown by the fact that several lists are recorded in the Bible. See Romans 5:3–5; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 3:10; and 2 Peter 1:5–7 for comparison with the negative terminology used in 1 Corinthians 13:4–8.

The Bible often speaks of other fruit as a witness and by-product of our Christian testimony. Is that different from spiritual fruit?

An example is Colossians 1:6 which speaks of the gospel “bearing fruit and growing.” Colossians 1:10 speaks of a life worthy of the Lord that pleases Him in every way “bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” Hebrews 13:15 tells us that through Jesus we are to “continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name.” We can be sure the work of the Spirit is involved in all of this, because all good fruit is in some way . . . the fruit of the Spirit.