The Fruit of the Spirit

By James L. Morrisson


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"Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." (Ephesians 4:24)



When we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we begin a life-long process of transformation and maturation. To use Jesus' image, we have entered the narrow gate; now we travel along the narrow road (Matthew 7:13-14). We seek to be "transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2). We seek to "become mature" and to "grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ" (Ephesians 4:13, 15).We seek to be "Transformed into [God's] likeness with ever-increasing glory" (2 Corinthians 3:18). One indication of whether this is happening is whether we show the "fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:23). (Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the New International Version and any emphasis is mine.)

I have discussed this process of transformation in my paper, "Be Transformed by the Renewing of Your Mind". I there point out that the primary purpose of this transformation is that we become like God in character. In this paper I want to take a more detailed look at one very important aspect of this transformation, which Scripture calls the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We hear much talk about the gifts of the Spirit, and moving in the power of the Spirit, and they are important. But if we do not also have the fruit of the Holy Spirit, anything we do in our life as Christians will not have the success it could, and it may cause harm.

I believe the key to producing the fruit of the Spirit is found in Galatians 5:16, "live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature." We cannot hope to be transformed into God's likeness by our own efforts. Jesus said, "apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). This miraculous transformation can occur only by the power of God, in the form of His Holy Spirit dwelling in us. We are "strong in the Lord and in his mighty power" (Ephesians 6:10), and it is only in his power that we can succeed. We can, as I shall show later, consciously seek to cultivate each aspect of the fruit in our lives. But our primary emphasis, our primary focus, should be on living by the Spirit, on giving the Holy Spirit the primary position in our lives, on being guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit in all that we do. If our focus is on the Holy Spirit, the fruit will come.



"By their fruit you will recognize them." (Matthew 7:20)


Karpos, Strong's #2590, means fruit, literally or figuratively. Vine defines it, in the figurative sense, as "the visible expression of power working inwardly and invisibly, the character of the 'fruit' being evidence of the character of the power producing it." (W.E.Vine, Merrill F. Unger and William White, Jr. "An Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words", Thomas Nelson, 1984, p. 463). As Paul points out in Romans 7:4-6, when we were "controlled by the sinful nature" we "bore fruit for death"; when we "serve in the new way of the Spirit" we "bear fruit to God". Different heart conditions lead to different kinds of fruit. God's desire is that we bear "the fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22), the "fruit of righteousness" (Philippians 1:11), a "harvest of righteousness and peace" (Hebrews 12:11), the "fruit of the light" (Ephesians 5:9; see also Romans 6:21-22, speaking of the "benefits" we "reap".)

Fruit can be shown by a person's actions, or character attributes, or both. It is shown by such things as the way we conduct ourselves, whether we have a godly influence on others, and whether we properly represent God to others. The New testament uses "fruit" in two main senses: (a) the harvest of souls that we bring to the Lord, and (b) the evidence of a godly character. In this paper I shall focus on the second sense.

Since fruit is the "visible expression of power working inwardly and invisibly", our emphasis should be on allowing the power of the Holy Spirit to work within us. If we do that, the fruit of the Spirit will appear. If we "live by the Spirit" (Galatians 5:60) we will show the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit can be counterfeited; the condition of our heart cannot. There are those who may seem to display many of the characteristics listed in Galatians 5:22-23, but if they are not living by the Holy Spirit they do not have the fruit of the Spirit.

I experienced this in my family. We had a strong "family code" which included peace, patience, self-control and some other aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. It was in many ways a good code of behavior. It was not based on the Holy Spirit, and neither I nor my other family members had the Holy Spirit living in us. It was not the fruit of the Spirit.


Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35). (Love is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit). A major problem in the body of Christ today is that outsiders do not see the fruit. They look at professing Christians and say, "I can't see that they are acting any differently from the rest of us. If their faith doesn't produce a change in the way they live, what good is it? " Someone has asked, "If you were accused of being a Christian, what evidence could be presented to show that the accusation is true?"
In 2 Corinthians chapter 3, beginning with verse 7, Paul is writing about the time when Moses came down from Mount Sinai and "the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory." In verse 18 he compares that with what should be happening with us, "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with everincreasing glory." Isn't this saying that Spirit-led Christians should look different? That there should be something about them that sets them apart from non-Christians? Indeed, Paul emphasized that the present glory is greater than that in Moses' time. Hence the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit should be striking and obvious.

One of the meanings of "glory" is appearance, reputation, the recognition belonging to a person. (See Spiros Zhodiates (ed), "Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible", King James Version, A.M.G Publishers, Chattanooga, TN, 1991, p. 1708, #1391.) We are supposed to show who God is by what we are. We lost this ability with the Fall of man (Romans 3:23), but now because of the Cross it has been restored to those who believe in Jesus Christ. Thus it is that we can "be" witnesses (Acts 1:8), we can be living epistles (2 Corinthians 3:3). When we fail to do this we misrepresent God, and cause his name to be blasphemed among non-believers (see Romans 2:24).

Fruit is also important as the means by which we tell the true from the false. Jesus said, "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them" (Matthew 7:15-20). The fruit is how we tell true prophets from false prophets. The same principle applies to every kind of ministry.

In Matthew 24:4, speaking of the end times, Jesus began by saying, "Watch out that no one deceives you." In verse 24 he warned us that in the end times "false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect - if that were possible." As we approach the end times we need to be especially alert to deception. The spiritual gifts can be counterfeited. There are psychics and New Agers today who receive words of knowledge, prophesy, heal, do miracles, and the like, but if they do not receive their gifts from the Holy Spirit, do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ and do not show the fruit of the Spirit they are "workers of iniquity" (Matthew 7:23 KJV; compare Deuteronomy 13:1-5).


          1. Spiritual gifts. In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 Paul says that those who speak in tongues, have the gift of prophecy, have knowledge, and have great faith (all gifts of the Spirit) but do not have love (one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit) are nothing and accomplish nothing. If we do not have the fruit of the Spirit our gifts may turn out to be nothing, and we may be false prophets or ministers.

          2. Faith. "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead" (James 2:14).

Paul would not disagree. "And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work" (Colossians 1:10; see also Ephesians 2:10; Ephesians 4:11-12; 2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 1:5).

          3. Love. John wrote, "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth" (1 John 3:18). And again, "This is love, that we walk in obedience to his commands" (2 John 6; see also John 14:23; 1 John 5:2-3).

          4. Acceptance of Jesus. Jesus said, "Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). Jesus never accepted mere lip service. He said, quoting Isaiah 29:13, "This people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" (Matthew 15:8; see also Matthew 23:25-28). It is the fruit that shows where the heart is.



"Live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature." (Galatians 5:16)


In Galatians Paul contrasts three very different ways of living. Two are led by the flesh and result in death. The third is led by the Holy Spirit and results in life.

          1. The Way of Legalism. Much of Galatians 1-4 deals with this way of life. In it everything is done by rule. It is a life based on human effort. "After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" (Galatians 3:3). It seeks to obtain justification by our own efforts in observing the law, rather than by faith in the saving power of Jesus Christ. "If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing" (Galatians 2:21). It is a reliance on the letter of the law, which kills, rather than the Spirit, which gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6). Paul calls it a life "burdened... by a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1), and says that those who advocate it are "turning to a different gospel - which is really no gospel at all" (Galatians 1:6).

In Romans Paul points out that the law was unable to save men from sin. He says, "For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering" (Romans 8:3). Those who seek to be changed into the image of God cannot succeed if they rely on their own efforts and strength.

          2. The Way of License. In Galatians 5:1 Paul says, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free, Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Then in verse 13 he issues a warning, "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature." He expresses a similar thought in Romans 6:1, "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?"

The way of license leads to "acts of the sinful nature", such as those listed in Galatians 5:19-21. It leads to "deeds of darkness" (Ephesians 5:11). It leads to "death" (Romans 6:16, 21), while the Spirit-led life leads to "eternal life" (Romans 6:22).

          3. The Spirit-led Life. Having described two false ways of life, Paul then presents the true way. "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature" (Galatians 5:16).

The Spirit-led life is a life of co-laboring with God, of being "God's fellow workers" (1 Corinthians 3:9). It does not rely on human effort but on the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit living within us (2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2). We must do our part; we must choose, "make every effort" (2 Peter 1:5; Hebrews 12:14), and "pursue" (1 Timothy 6:11 2 Timothy 2:22). But without the Spirit's power and influence we cannot hope to achieve it. It is a disciplined life. God's discipline "produces a harvest of righteousness and peace" (Hebrews 12:7-12). It is a life of obedience, but the obedience arises out of and is the result of our love for God (John 14:23; 1 John 5:2). The Spirit-led life is the result of our allowing the Holy Spirit to rule our spirit, soul and body. Its goal is to become like God in character.


Paul tells us that there is a war going on inside us. The Spirit and the fleshly nature are in conflict. "For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want" (Galatians 5:17). In Romans he puts the same thought even more strongly, "For in my inner being I delight in God's law, but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members" (Romans 7:22-23; see also Romans 8:7). Peter also uses martial language, "Abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul" (1 Peter 2:11).

Paul describes this conflict primarily in terms of the second and third ways of life, the way of license vs. the Spirit-filled way. But since the way of legalism also depends on the flesh rather that the power of the Holy Spirit, the conflict he describes applies to that way of life also.

We are talking about spiritual warfare that goes on inside us. It is with this internal warfare that 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 primarily deals. Paul says that "the weapons we fight with" "have divine power" to "demolish strongholds", to demolish "every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God", and to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." Each of us has internal strongholds - habits, addictions, push-button reactions, patterns of behavior and thought - that are rooted in the desires of the flesh. Each of us has mindsets - ingrained ways of thinking - that set themselves up against the knowledge of God. Each of us needs to take our thoughts captive to obey Jesus Christ. The battle is within us.

When we are saved, the Holy Spirit comes to live in our spirit. But our soul and our flesh need to be brought under the Holy Spirit's control. The primary battleground is the soul - the mind, will and emotions - what Scripture sometimes calls the heart, as in Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (KJV says "trust").

When the soul has been brought under the control of the Holy Spirit the process continues to bring the flesh into complete subjection. "May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it" (I Thessalonians 5:23).

This process of gradually bringing the soul and body under the control of the Spirit is the process of sanctification, of becoming holy, because the Spirit is holy. It is achieved through "the sanctifying work of the Spirit" (2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2). It is the process of being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). It is the process of putting off the old self and putting on the new self (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10). It is the process by which we "are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory" (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Another way of looking at this is to say that there are two spirits warring against each other. The flesh is governed by "the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient" (Ephesians 2:2). The spirit is governed by the Holy Spirit of God. There is war between them until we yield all of ourselves to the Holy Spirit.


          1. The Fruit of the Flesh. In Galatians 5:19 Paul begins to contrast in detail the results of living by the flesh and living by the Spirit. The list of acts of the flesh is obviously not complete. Mark 7:20-23 gives a somewhat different list of things that come out from inside a man and make him unclean. There are other listings in other Scriptures (see Ephesians 4:25-31, 5:3-7; Colossians 3:5-11). But it is clear what kind of things Paul is talking about. It is this kind of thing, Paul says, that bears "fruit for death" (Romans 7:5).

Notice how relevant this list, written almost 2,000 years ago, is to conditions in today's society. "Sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery" are rampant, not only in the media but in real life. "Idolatry and witchcraft"are also rampant today. An idol is anything we put ahead of God; many today have things they put ahead of God, such as physical comfort, power, influence, popular opinion, etc., and many have turned away from the one true God to worship secular humanism, New Age pantheism or other false gods. Outright witchcraft and satanism are on the rise, but note also that the Greek word for witchcraft, pharmakeia, is closely related to drugs. "Hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy" are just as common today as they were in Paul's day. The same can be said of "drunkenness, orgies and the like."

          2. The Fruit of the Spirit. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5:22). These are all aspects of one fruit, they are interrelated. We shall discuss each of these aspects in detail in a later part of this paper. Again, there are other formulations of them, sometimes less complete and sometimes somewhat different. (See Ephesians 4:32-5:2; Colossians 3:12-17; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22; 2 Peter 1:5-7.) In a sense, much of Scripture, including most of the Sermon on the Mount, deals with the fruit of the Spirit. I shall focus, in this paper, on the formulation in Galatians 5:22-23.


We can choose which fruit we will produce. The consequences of our choice are extremely serious.

In Galatians 5:21, after listing the acts of the sinful nature, Paul says, "I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." Ephesians 5:5-6 says the same, and adds a further warning: "No immoral, impure or greedy person - such a man is an idolater - has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient." Colossians 3:5-6 warns, "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these the wrath of God is coming."

Later in Galatians Paul uses even stronger language. "Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life" (Galatians 6:7-8).

In Romans Paul again paints the contrast as one between life and death. "Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God" (Romans 8:5-8). "Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation - but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Romans 8:13-14).

In Ephesians Paul uses the imagery of darkness and light. "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness... Be very careful, then, how you live" (Ephesians 5:8-11,15).

In Romans chapter 6 he uses yet another image. "Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments [literally weapons] of wickedness, but rather, offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness" (Romans 6:13).

Paul tells us to crucify the sinful nature with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:24), to "put to death... whatever belongs to your earthly nature" (Colossians 3:5).

In these letters, all written to believers, Paul puts the choice very starkly. If we live according to the sinful nature, according to the desires of the flesh, we will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, we will incur the wrath of God, we will receive destruction and death, we will not be the sons of God, we will live in darkness, and we will be instruments for satan. If we allow the Spirit of God to control our flesh, we will have eternal life, we will be children of God, we will live in the light, we will be instruments of God, and we will become like God in character.


While we must choose which way of life we want to live, it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit within us that we can overcome our fleshly desires. In Romans Paul speaks of the war within his self that prevents him from doing what he wants, and cries out "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 7:24-25; see also 8:3).

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Copyrightę 2001 by James L. Morrisson