Rev. Smit is pastor of Immanuel Protestant Reformed Church in Lacombe, Alberta, Canada.
The apostle Paul warns us in the book of Galatians to avoid two extremes: on the one hand, the error of believing and living as though justification is by faith and also by and because of our obedience to the law; and, on the other hand, the error of believing and living as though our liberty in Christ is an opportunity to serve the lusts of the flesh. Instead of walking in either of those two evils of legalism or of anti-nomianism, we are called by the Lord to walk in the life to which He saves us.
What constitutes that new life in Jesus Christ and how that new life comes to visible expression in and through us is described, in one of many ways in Scripture, by Galatians 5:22-23. There the apostle teaches that our liberty and life in Jesus Christ become visibly manifest in “the fruit of the Spirit.” That fruit of the Spirit, which He sovereignly works in the regenerated, believing, justified, and sanctified children of God, is “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.”
It is our plan to treat the fruit of the Spirit in a series of articles, considering in general the truth of the fruit of the Spirit in this article, and then examining more closely each individual part in future articles, the Lord willing.
The spiritual fruit evident in the child of God is the fruitof the Spirit. He is the Spirit of Christ. He, in His sovereign power, unites us to Christ in the living bond of faith. He took hold of us, who were dead branches in the dead tree of mankind, and has ingrafted us into the living tree, Jesus Christ. Through that divinely established and maintained bond of faith, we receive the new life of Christ. Christ’s purpose in joining us to Himself by His Spirit is that we might bring forth fruit abundantly unto the glory of God.
Galatians 5:22-23 emphasizes the Spirit as the agent and worker of that fruit of the new life of Christ. He is sent into us by the Father and the Word to bring to reality the covenant bond between Christ and us. He is the One who sovereignly preserves and nurtures the bond by His almighty and irresistible grace. The Spirit brings us into that new life of the liberty of our Lord Jesus Christ. He raises us out of death into life. He calls us out of our darkness into His marvelous light. He joins us to Christ in the bond of faith and works that faith unto believing and a faithful confession of the faith. He applies to us the blessings of justification and, as a result, purifies us in the life of holiness and godliness. He preserves us daily until the day when we shall be like Christ in body and soul.
Unto that goal, the Spirit then works in us His fruit. Heworks in and through us the production of His fruit. This work of the Spirit of Christ is not a cooperative effort between us and Him. Rather, just as a grafted branch in an apple tree receives its life, nutrients, and support from the tree into which it has been grafted, so also our life, nutrients, and support come from the Spirit of Christ. We are His living and lively branches to bring forth much fruit.
The Spirit is pleased to work His fruit within and through us by dwelling in us. The Spirit comes irresistibly and breaks down the wall of enmity and pride of our dead hearts. He never waits for us to make the first move. He comes irresistibly into our hearts and, once there, He remains in the new life of our regenerated hearts to work in us all things according to God’s good pleasure. It is God’s good pleasure that He cause us to produce spiritual, visible, holy fruit.
What is this good fruit, generally speaking? This good fruit can be described as the good works “which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). These are the works that we perform out of the true faith of that living union to Christ, according to God’s commandments and ordinances, and unto the glory of His name alone. This fruit becomes evident in our confession and walk of life. This fruit is spiritually sweet and delightful, not only to our Father in heaven, but also to our fellow saints. As a result of its spiritual pleasantness, our earnest desire is that Christ will work in us mightily by His Spirit this delightful fruit of His Spirit.
What does this fruit really look like in this life?
Galatians 5:22 teaches us that this fruit is one fruit, with nine different aspects. We do not read of “fruits,” but offruit (singular). The fruit of the Spirit can be compared perhaps to an orange. The orange is one fruit in our hand, but once we peel it open, we see that it has many distinct sections to it. Even though it has many sections to it, it remains one fruit joined together by its sweetness and goodness, which fill each individual wedge.
Similarly, the Spirit produces in His living branches this delightful, covenant fruit. A heavenly and spiritual sweetness and goodness characterize and permeate the whole fruit. Yet, the Spirit shows us in Galatians 5:22-23that this one fruit has many distinct sections, which in their own unique way are filled with the spiritually delicious sweetness and goodness of the Spirit.
What is that delicious sweetness and goodness that permeates the whole of the fruit?
It is the love of the Spirit, which is mentioned first in the list of Galatians 5:22. The love of the Spirit of Christ is that bond of perfection, the bond in which we are knit to Christ by His Spirit, and the bond in which He seeks us and takes us into the love-life of covenant fellowship. That love of Christ is the unifying substance and sweetness that permeate the entire fruit of the Spirit. In this love, we love God, and we love the neighbor, which is in principle our whole life and duty in this new life and liberty of Jesus Christ. This love of the Spirit of Christ is fundamental to the joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and temperance that the Spirit sovereignly works in and through us by His grace. That is the fruit that is delightfully tasty unto our Father in heaven and also to our fellow saints upon earth who see and taste this fruit and are consequently delighted by it.
The Spirit is pleased to work this fruit in us through the way of leading us to crucify “the flesh with the affections and lusts thereof” (Gal. 5:24b). What those works and affections of the flesh are is listed in Galatians 5:19-21: “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.” These works of the flesh work death and misery. Those who walk and continue therein shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:21). In that way, one brings forth that which is repulsive, rotten, bitter, and dead. While the fruit of the Spirit is unified and harmoniously full of goodness and sweetness, the works (notice the plural) of the flesh are divided, miserable, and bitingly bitter.
In light of that, we must regard our sinful natures as repulsive and evil. We must not view our lusts as something with which to play. We must not attempt to get as close as possible to the fulfillment of those lusts without actually falling into sin completely and getting caught in that sin. Rather, we must flee those works of the flesh like fleeing a plague of death. We must treat these works of the flesh as rotten fruit to be cast away.
That is the life of putting to death the works of the flesh and the sinful nature. It is a life of warfare against the lusts of the flesh. It is a life of daily seeking refuge at the cross of Calvary for the perfect obedience of Christ and for His strength to fight faithfully against our sin. It is a life of submitting to the Word of God and willingly submitting to the knife of God’s Word to do its surgery on us: the slaying of our sins and wickedness, and the building up of the faith and goodness of Christ within us.
We learn by the work of the Spirit in us that fruit-bearing does involve the painful process of being pruned from the works of the flesh unto the production of the fruit of the Spirit. Although the process is spiritually painful and grievous, yet the blessed goal is that we might grow in the blessed life of producing the good fruit of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.
Therefore, by the gracious wonder of the Spirit and grace of God, we are created in Christ Jesus to be bearers of the good fruit of the Spirit according to the measure that God has determined for the glory of His name.
To excite in us an earnest desire to see that the Spirit continue His work in us, we read in Galatians 5:23, concerning producing the fruit of the Spirit: “against such there is no law.” It is not a crime to produce this fruit of the Spirit. The world may legislate against it. The world may persecute you for it. However, as far as the supreme court of God’s tribunal is concerned, there is no ordinance in His law that states that we may not produce this fruit or that our production is limited strictly to a very meager quota. There are no human regulations, bylaws, or marketing boards that restrict or stifle fruit production. Never should there be a fear of over production.
Our production of the fruit of the Spirit falls within the realm of true Christian liberty. Just as it is the freedom of a rainbow trout to swim and to live within the God-ordained boundaries of its providentially appointed lake, so also it is our God-ordained and God-given life and freedom to produce the fruit of the Spirit according to His good pleasure and to the quantity that He has determined. It is our liberty to enjoy and bring forth this fruit of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and temperance. Therefore, you will find no divine law prohibiting you from pursuing that life of bringing forth the fruit whose sweetness and goodness is delightful to the Father and to your fellow saints. Rather, the Lord works in us and encourages in us by His Word and Spirit the pursuit of daily fruit-bearing.
It is important that we seek in daily prayer that God by His Spirit may work in us the fruit of the Spirit. This is important because fruit-bearing is vital to the communion of the saints. By fruit-bearing, God is glorified among His saints. In our life of fruit-bearing, we are thereby assured of our eternal salvation. In this life of bearing forth the fruit of the Spirit, we are equipped to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2) and to enjoy the liberty and peace of Christ with our fellow saints in the body of Christ.
As the Spirit works the beginning of that fruit-bearing within us in this life, we have blessed hope. It is true that our best works are polluted with sin. There appear on the fruit many spots of sin, and there hide in our best works worms of wickedness. But thereby the Spirit makes us long for the day when we shall be planted as living trees by the streams of living water that flow forth from the throne of God. There we shall bring forth abundantly, continuously, and sinlessly the heavenly, wholesome, pleasant, sweet fruit of the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ for the honor and glory of our heavenly Father.