The Fruit of the Spirit

By James L. Morrisson


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1. Fruit must be cultivated

In the natural, we cannot produce fruit. We cannot cause an oak tree to bear apples. We cannot cause an apple tree to bear apples until it has reached the state of maturity at which it is ready to bear. But we must cultivate the fruit. Trees and vines left to themselves will bear poorly, if at all. Orchardists and vineyardists have to work hard in order to get a good crop.

A similar process is true in the spiritual. In this, as in so much of our Christian life, we are "God's fellow-workers" (1 Corinthians 3:9). Jesus gave the image that we and he are like two oxen yoked together (Matthew 11:29). Paul, in a somewhat different context, expressed the principle that applies here as well: "Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purposes" (Philippians 2:12). We work, and God works in us.

Scripture illustrates this aspect of laboring to produce fruit. In Isaiah's parable of the vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7), God "dug it up and cleared it of stones", he planted it with the choicest vines, he built a watchtower, and then he looked for it to bear good fruit. See also Jesus' parable of the tenants (Matthew 21:33). In John 15:2 Jesus spoke of God pruning the fruitful branches so that they would bear more fruit. In Luke 8:15 Jesus said that it is "by persevering" that we produce a good crop. In 2 Peter 1:5 we are told to "make every effort" to add certain qualities to our faith so that we will not be unfruitful. Paul told Timothy to "pursue" righteousness, faith, love and peace (2 Timothy 2:22). All of these are applications of the principle of 1 Timothy 4:7 (KJV) that we "exercise" ourselves unto godliness.

The natural process of cultivation may include these steps, each of which has, I think, a parallel in the spiritual realm:

Soil Preparation - clearing, digging, tilling, cultivation, adding humus and other material to improve texture so that the soil will absorb and hold moisture and the roots can grow freely.

Nourishment - fertilizing, watering

Pruning - cutting away unnecessary wood to encourage more fruit

Protection - spraying to protect from disease and insects. Physical protection from birds, or from frost.

Let us look at each of these in spiritual terms:

          a. Soil Preparation. Jesus gave a parable of a sower who sowed seed on four different kinds of soil. Only one kind yielded a rich crop. The parable relates primarily to salvation, but it is applicable to much else in our spiritual life. We need to be good soil, ready to receive and hold on to all that God gives us. This includes being teachable, being open to receive admonitions and criticism (not taking offense), freeing ourselves of mindsets and preconceptions that keep us from hearing, etc. It includes being ready to receive trials and hardships in a Scriptural way.

          b. Nourishment. If we are to bear fruit, we need to be nourished by our relationship with God. If we are to become like God in character, we need to feed ourselves daily on God's word. "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). We need to spend time in praise and prayer. We need to think about the things that build us up in Christ (Philippians 4:8-9). We need to set our hearts and minds "on things above, not on earthly things" (Colossians 3:1-3). These are all ways in which we can become "transformed by the renewing of your minds" (Romans 12:2). What we allow into our minds is very important. What are we feeding on? Things which build us up in Christ? Or things which conform us to this world?

          c. Pruning. Jesus wrote, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful" (John 15:2). Sometimes this pruning can be quite drastic. Jesus said that if your hand or foot cause you to sin you should cut it off, and if your eye causes you to sin you should pluck it out (Mark 9:42-48).

In the spiritual sense pruning serves two functions: (1) to get rid of unnecessary baggage, things which, although not harmful in themselves, distract and take energy away from the primary task, and (2) to get rid of things which are harmful and can cause damage. Both functions are expressed in Hebrews 12:1: "Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles". If we are to "run with perseverance the race marked out for us" we don't want to be carrying any unnecessary weight or anything that will create resistance, nor do we want to carry anything that could trip us up.

The process of being transformed involves getting rid of the old. Romans 12:2 says, "do not be conformed to this world". The world's ways and Christ's ways are often very different. The world says, "If someone injures me I need to get back at him." Christ says, "Let me take care of the vengeance; you need to forgive and get on with your life." The world says, "I'll get rich by holding on to what I have" Christ says, "Give and it shall be given to you." Etc. We need to get rid of the world's ways in order to be able to take on Christ's ways.

Paul tells us to "Put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires,... and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:22-24). In order to put on the new self we have to put off the old self. In order for the new creation to come, the old has to go (2 Corinthians 5:17). This can be a difficult and painful process. Paul says, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). He says the our "old self was crucified with him" (Romans 6:6); "we were buried with him through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life" (Romans 6: 4). "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature" (Colossians 3:5), "put to death the misdeeds of the body" (Romans 8:13). We need to "demolish strongholds" and "every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God" and "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

More can be said about this pruning process, but I think this is enough to show how necessary it is and how drastic it can be.

          d. Protection. I have pointed out that living by the spirit involves spiritual warfare. Hence developing the fruit of the spirit may involve protection from assaults of the enemy. This can include the following:

Pulling down strongholds of various kinds that the enemy uses for shelter and to block progress

Taking thoughts captive to obey Jesus Christ

Praying for protection, by yourself and by others

Taking a stand against the enemy

Making sure not to give the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:27).

2. God's process of cultivation

God uses a process for developing those qualities he desires in us. In order that we may learn love, he may bring into our lives people who are hard to love. In order to develop faith, he may place us in situations which in the natural seem hopeless, so that we have to depend on God. In order to develop patience he may put us in situations which test our patience. In order to develop self-control in us, he may allow us to be tempted.

This process is illustrated by Hebrews 12:7-12, "Endure hardship as a discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons... God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees."

This process can be seen as part of the way in which we "run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (Hebrews 12:1) and "make every effort... to be holy" (Hebrews 12:14). There is a co-laboring. God disciplines us, but we must persevere, make every effort and strengthen ourselves.

3. We must choose to show good fruit

In Galatians 5 Paul contrasts the fruit of the Spirit and the fruit of the flesh and commands us to "live by the Spirit" (v. 16). It is clear that this is a choice, like the choice he gives us in Romans 6:13 whether we shall offer the parts of our body as weapons of wickedness or of righteousness. It is basically the same choice as that of Deuteronomy 30:19, "I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses, Now choose life".

Paul told Timothy, "Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace" (2 Timothy 2:22). We decide where to run, what to flee, and what to pursue.

Many of the aspects of the fruit of the Spirit are commands. Love, joy, self-control, faith and patience are examples. We are also specifically commanded to refrain from the acts of the flesh, which are the opposite of the fruit of the Spirit. Bringing forth the fruit of the Spirit is not an option, but a command.

This means that we cannot just sit back and wait for the fruit of the Spirit to develop. God develops the fruit but we must also do our part. We must pray for good fruit. In obedience to God's commands, we need to make specific decisions that we will love, will have joy, will have peace, etc., and then do everything we can to carry out those decisions. We must repent when we find ourselves falling short in any of these areas. We must take our thoughts captive to obey Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). We must hide the word of God in our hearts so that we will not disobey him (see Psalm 119:11).

4. The fruit is evidence of the Lordship of the Holy Spirit

The fruit of the Spirit is the outward evidence of the power of the Spirit working within us. Just as our deeds are the evidence of our faith (James 2:17), so the fruit of the Spirit is the evidence of a Spirit-led life. To attempt to produce the fruit of the Spirit without allowing the Holy Spirit to control our lives would be like tying artificial apples onto a tree. Our emphasis should be to "live by the Spirit" (Galatians 5:16).


          1. Decide. Galatians 5:16 calls on us to make a decision to live by the Spirit. We must decide to love, to be joyful, to be at peace, to have faith, to be patient, to have self-control, etc. We make these decisions daily, minute-by-minute. Whatever may come up, we must decide at the moment whether to respond to it after the flesh or in a godly manner.

Winston Churchill has said, "Character is the habit of making right decisions." If we would have godly character, we must cultivate the habit of making right decisions.

          2. Pray. James 1:5-8 says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously without finding fault, and it will be given him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." The same principle applies to each of the aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. If we lack love, pray that God will give us love. Do the same with joy, peace, and all the other aspects. Pray without doubting. Pray expectantly. Pray persistently; "always pray and not give up" (Luke 18:1).

James 5:16 KJV says, "The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." We must want to be Spirit-led; we must want to show the fruit of the Spirit. Jeremiah 29:13 says. "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with your whole heart". We must seek the fruit of the Spirit fervently, with our whole heart.

          3. Keep short accounts with God and others. God wants us to keep short accounts with him. When we find ourselves reacting to something in a fleshly way rather than a Spirit-led way (as we all do from time to time), let us go to God right away. Confess, repent, and ask for His strength to enable us to handle such situations better next time.

We also need to keep short accounts with other people. Jesus has told us, if "your brother has something against you... go and be reconciled to your brother" (Matthew 5:23-24). Go quickly; put this even ahead of worshiping. And, "if your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you" (Matthew 18:15). Whoever you think is at fault, act quickly to resolve the difference, if you can. Don't let anger and resentment build up. Don't take offence. Don't let any root of bitterness arise by which many are defiled (Hebrews 12:15). Keep short accounts.

          4. Make the most of every opportunity. Ephesians 5:15 says, "Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." It is good to make the most of every opportunity to show love, kindness, gentleness, patience, etc., to others, and to build others up. This is one of the ways in which we can train ourselves to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7).

          5. Become mature. In the natural, fruit does not come until the tree, vine or other plant has reached a certain level of maturity. So in the spiritual, our fruit should increase as we become mature, as we "in all things grow up into him who is the head" (Ephesians 4:15). All the training and experience that we have received in growing into Christian maturity will help us to produce the fruit of the Spirit.

          6. Do battle with the enemy. God wants us to live by the Spirit and show the fruit of the Spirit. The enemy wants to keep us under the control of the flesh. He wants to rob us of our love, our joy, our peace, our patience, our kindness, our goodness, our faithfulness, our gentleness and our self-control. There is a war going on inside us between the Holy Spirit and the flesh; the enemy wants the flesh to win. God has given us weapons that have divine power to tear down the enemy's strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4-5), but we must use them, just as an orchardist must use the sprays that protect his trees from insects and disease. If we see the issue as one of spiritual warfare, we can determine to give the enemy no ground, and to yield nothing to him. We will also see that the stakes are very high; the issue is nothing less than who will effectively control our soul: the Holy Spirit, satan, or our fleshly desires. When seen in those terms, no decision, no conflict, is a minor one. The Holy Spirit wants to have complete control and we need to surrender ourselves to him completely.

          7. Sow into the Spirit. Galatians 6:7-8 gives an important key, which underlies many of the above suggestions. "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."

How do we sow to please the Spirit? Many of the foregoing suggestions offer ways of doing so. But beyond that we need to spend time with the Lord. Because of what Jesus has done for us we can "come boldly unto the throne of grace" (Hebrews 4:16 KJV). We need to pray, praise, worship, read Scripture, meditate on Scripture, do whatever else brings us into the presence of God. In his presence we find fullness of joy. It is by being in his presence that we can be changed into his likeness from glory to glory. When we are in his presence, something of him rubs off on us; the more time we spend in his presence the more of his nature will rub off on us.

The goal of the Spirit-led life is to become like God in character. In order to do that we need to spend time in God's presence so that we can come to know what God is like. Unless we do that, none of our other efforts at developing the fruit of the Spirit will have much success.

          8. Have a right relationship with God. "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).The fruit of the Spirit is the result of, and the evidence of, a right relationship with God. To go back to our physical analogy, the soil, the water, the nutrients that produce good fruit are all found in our relationship with God. The most essential element in cultivating the fruit of the Spirit is to establish, maintain and develop our relationship with the God in whom "we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).



God "works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will" (Ephesians 1:11). God's purpose for us is that we shall become like him in character. His purpose is that we shall live by the Spirit and shall evidence the fruit of the Spirit.

God has given us the means to carry out that purpose. He has assured us that it can be carried out. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 says, "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." Jude 24 tells us that God "is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his presence without fault and with great joy." God is able.

God works out everything in accordance with his purpose. He has given us freedom of choice, and we can, if we choose, defeat his purpose for us by refusing to cooperate. But if our desire is truly to carry out his purpose for us, and to live by the Spirit, he will enable us to do it.

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Copyrightę 2001 by James L. Morrisson