As with many things in the Bible, what at first appears very complicated is actually quite simple. Remember when Jesus said that whoever is not for him is against him (Matt 12:30, Luke 11:23)? This is true about everything in life. No matter how complicated things appear on the outside, at the core, everything is either with God or against God.
There are presently two forces or kingdoms operating on earth. The kingdom of God that was ushered in by Jesus (Hebrews 2) and the kingdom of Satan ushered in by Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). We make decisions about which kingdom we want to be in every second of every day. When we are responding to situations in accordance with the kingdom of Satan, we are said to be “walking in the flesh.” When we are thinking, believing and acting in line with God, we are “walking in the Spirit.” As we learn to live our lives more in line with God rather than Satan, we are learning to abide and remain in Christ.
How can you tell which one you are functioning in?
It is hard and simple at the same time, but Paul gives us lots of examples to help us figure it out. When we are living by the flesh, we see outbursts of anger, selfishness, dissensions, lies, drug and alcohol addictions, murders and similar behaviors. When we are living in the Spirit, we see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This is the fruit, or the evidence, that we are living by the Spirit.
If we look at the order of the fruit of the spirit, love is the first fruit listed. Love is the cornerstone of the fruit. 1 Corinthians 13, is often times the first scripture we think of when we contemplate the biblical meaning of love. This poetic scripture is often read at weddings because of its deliverance on agape love. This kind of love, gives priority to the well being of others above our own wants, comforts and desires. It is not an emotion, it is what Jesus did for us when he suffered and died on the cross so that we could be restored. Interestingly, Paul writes about spiritual gifts just before his entry on love in 1 Corinthians 12, meaning spiritual gifts and working as one body is centered around our ability to love. All of the other manifestations of the fruit listed are facets of love, ways in which love expresses itself.
* (Ellwell, W.A., & Beitzel, B. F. (1988). Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (818-819). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House.)
The fruit is not many different things, it is one thing.
Go back to your early English lessons about singular and plural verbs of being. Galatians 5:22 says, “The fruit of the spirit IS…” but we often misread that the Bible says, “The fruit of the spirit ARE.” There are not nine different fruits that we gain when we are living in line with God’s will. You can’t love and have joy, but not be patient and kind. You do not grow in gentleness without growing in kindness. They are not separable. In fact, every description of the fruit of the spirit listed in the Bible is an expression of agape love. Read 1 Corinthians 13 and note how similar the descriptions of true love are between the two passages.
Growing in the fruit of the Spirit.
We do not grow in the fruit of the Spirit by trying to obey the law. We can’t follow a list of rules and regulations to grow in the fruit of the Spirit. That does not work. The history in the Bible provides example after example of individuals and groups of people who tried, with their own effort, to become closer to God. Instead, we show the evidence of our new life in God as our minds are renewed (Romans 12:2), as we learn to see and understand the world and what is happening in it the way God sees it. So relax, don’t try to “act loving” or “act peaceful” or “practice patience” and think that is fruit. Again, remember your “be verbs,” living in God’s kingdom will help you ‘be’ loving, ‘be’ peaceful, ‘be’ patient. You ‘are’ the fruit of God’s Kingdom.
When you decide to pursue God rather than the ways of the world, you receive the Holy Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing your inheritance (eternal life). This is the beginning of fruit. As you learn to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit will work in you to mold your character. The Spirit of God will trim away the evil and wicked traits that you inherited and learned in this world and replace them with godly traits. This is not an instantaneous event; it is a process that takes a lifetime.
Are you growing in agape love, caring more about what is helpful for another person then your own reputation?
Are you filled with increasing levels of joy as you turn over your cares and concerns and the illusion of control over to Jesus?
Are you at peace with God, and no longer fighting or angry with Him?
Are you finding that things don’t generally bother you as much as they used to, so you are able to remain calm (at least outwardly) in situations that would have had you ranting just a year ago?
Are you finding yourself doing random acts of kindness, reaching out to strangers and the like?
Are you finding yourself more concerned about whether a given decision or choice is good, or godly and not what you want or desire?
Are you becoming more faithful in your relationships?
Are you seeing the buds of gentleness surface, especially when you are dealing with somebody who is hurting?
And finally, are you beginning to gain mastery over your emotions and desires? Are you able to see choices and their consequences to you and others clearly, so that you can choose to act in wisdom rather than how you feel in the moment?
Learn to work with the Holy Spirit.
Stop fighting the Holy Spirit. Focus on God. Study what God tells you about who you are and how much He loves you. Spend time alone with God. The more you allow or receive God’s truth to penetrate you, the more it will change your heart. As your heart (your essence, not your emotions) becomes clean and pure, your characteristics and traits will reflect your renewed heart through the decisions you make, the way you treat yourself and others and the way you respond, in love, to the love that God is lavishing on you!