“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23
I’ve always thought of the Fruit of the Spirit as a list of characteristics we should try to add to our lives, as though we should just work harder to be more loving, joyful, etc., because that’s what God wants. But the more I study the Spirit (particularly in Romans 8 and Galatians 5-6), the more it seems like that’s the wrong interpretation.
What I realized is that the concept of fruit is a metaphor used to refer to results, so it’s notable that they’re not called the fruit of our efforts or the fruit of our obedience. Instead, the list is called the Fruit of the Spirit, meaning those things listed are the results of having the Holy Spirit in our lives.  When you think of a tree bearing fruit, it’s not about externally stapling apples or peaches to the branches. It’s about what grows from within.
The problem with all of that, of course, is that all of the those good qualities can’t come from within us. Read what Galatians 5:16-21 has to say about the hopelessness of the flesh. Read of Paul’s struggles between the desires of his flesh and the Spirit within in Romans 7, followed by his reiteration of just how hopeless the flesh is at producing good deeds in Romans 8:6-8. So, our duty is not to try to add external qualities to the dead flesh. It is impossible for us to be like Christ when we are so clearly incapable of that kind of righteousness on our own, as the flesh is capable of nothing but death (Galatians 5:19-21). If that were possible, then any non-Christian could merely get the list and work to add those qualities… which would greatly cheapen the “Fruit of the Spirit” designation, wouldn’t it?
Instead, it is His gift of the Spirit that gives us life to walk by the Spirit (Romans 8:11). Galatians 5:24 points out the critical importance of crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires, but Romans 8:13 helps us see that it is only by the Spirit that we are able to do so. As C.S. Lewis put it, “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”
Our duty, then, is to “sow to the Spirit” (6:7-8) through study, prayer, and fellowship, reminding ourselves of the promises God has made to us, and encouraging each other with those truths the Spirit has given us in the Word. Our response to Him is to attempt to build a relationship rather than just trying to “obey enough to get into heaven.” Once we do that, suddenly those challenging characteristics like patience, gentleness, self control, and the rest of the list become so much more natural. We get the Spirit into our lives and He transforms us from within as He gradually takes over and our sinful desires gradually fade away. It’s then that we can “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16, 25) and be led by the Spirit as God’s children (Romans 8:14).
It’s such a comforting thought to know that, despite all of my failings and shortcomings, and because of my inability to make myself good and righteous enough through my own efforts, God is building me up from within. The Gospel is not that Jesus forgives us and, if we try hard, we get into heaven. The Gospel is that Jesus cleanses us, and we are given the opportunity to be more perfectly conformed to the image of God every day by His work within us, if we sow to the Spirit. Once we do that, we’ll get to taste the incomparable fruits of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. 
By Jack Wilkie
Jack Wilkie is the author of “Failure: What Christian Parents Need to Know About American Education” and is the speaker for Focus Press’s “The Lost Generation” seminar. To schedule a seminar at your church, contact jack@focuspress.org.

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