The New Testament teaches that when a person believes in Jesus Christ and meets the conditions of salvation, the Holy Spirit then comes into that person’s life to live there. Our purpose in this lesson is to note what happens to a person when the Holy Spirit lives within the heart of a regenerated individual.
In Galatians 5:22-23 the fruit produced by the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life is set forth in contrast to the works of the fleshly nature. A work is something which man produces by using his own energies; a fruit is something which is produced by a power which he does not possess. Man cannot make a fruit. It is refreshing just to read this list of virtues as they stand in contrast to the vices of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). Christians are then commanded to live and to walk in the Spirit. We must feed and nurture and encourage the new nature by reading the Word of God, by engaging in meaningful prayer, and by fellowship with other believers.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. Against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
The nine-fold fruit springs from the new nature. It is the Spirit Who produces the character traits described in Galatians 5:22-23. The traits (which comprise the fruit of the Spirit) cannot be obtained by trying to get them without the Lord’s help (John 15:4-5). Only those who are born of the Spirit and are yielded to His control can possess the beautiful graces described here.
Attaining these graces also requires human resolve, for it is the individual who delights in the law of God and walks in His way, that is like a tree planted by streams of water, yielding its fruit in season (Psalm 1:3). The cluster of nine Christian graces that are named in verses 22-23 portray the Christian’s attitude toward God, toward other people, and toward himself.
1. Virtues in relation to God
The fruit of the Spirit includes three graces that describe the Christian experience in relation to God: love, joy, and peace, or gladness, delight, and calmness.
Love (Greek, agape) is first of all a supreme devotion to God. Love is a God-given passion to honor the Creator, and to seek the highest welfare for every human being. Love is not simply a warm feeling; it is instead an attitude which reveals itself in action. Real love means “to seek the best for another person, regardless of how the other person treats us.”
We can demonstrate agape love by helping others even when it’s not convenient; by giving when it hurts; by devoting energy to the welfare of others rather than to our own welfare. We can demonstrate love by absorbing hurts from others without complaining. True Christian love will never seek anything but the highest and the best good for the object of that love. When Aristotle wrote of love, he said that only those who are deserving of love can be loved, but agape love is much more far-reaching than merely showing respect to those who deserve it.
Joy (Greek, chara) is a deep inner radiance of the soul, resulting from the knowledge that God works things out for our good. It is a condition of inner satisfaction, an untouchable joy that comes from knowing Christ and walking with Him. Joy is not a pleasure due to favorable circumstances, nor is it a happiness that comes from having lots of earthly things. Joy is a delightful result that comes from knowing that God is too good to be unkind, and that He is too wise to make mistakes.
When Philip the evangelist preached the Word in the city of Samaria, we are told that “there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:8). When the Philippian jailer was saved and baptized, his family “rejoiced” greatly (Acts 16:34). Christians know that even in their greatest sufferings and their darkest sorrows, God has promised that all will eventually work together for good; and so they rejoice (James 1:2-4).
Peace (Greek, eirene) is the rest and calmness that result from a harmonized relationship between the soul and God. It is the peace of God which is illustrated by the fact that God never becomes alarmed. He does not become restless and frightened. The “peace” which is a fruit of the Spirit is the inner serenity that comes from God, based on the assurance that we have peace with God through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross just outside the walls of Jerusalem.
There was a sister in London, who, during World War II (when the city was being bombed every night), seemed to be calm and altogether undisturbed. Someone asked her one day how she remained so calm and how she could sleep at night, knowing it was almost certain the city would be bombed sometime during the night. She said, “My heavenly Father never sleeps; He always watches over His children—and so I kneel down beside my bed before I retire for the night, and commend my life to God in prayer. I know He is always watching, and so I lie down and go to sleep. After all, there is no use the two of us stay awake.” It is that kind of confidence in our heavenly Father’s care that demonstrates the peace of God.
It is not always an easy matter to live peaceably with others, especially with obnoxious people—but as far as it lies with us, we are to live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18).
Those who, by faith, appropriate the peace with God which Jesus has provided, can experience the same peace that God has. God is not a frail Being who is easily alarmed, and who fears the present and dreads the future.
2. Virtues in relation to others
The second category in the “fruit of the Spirit” listing includes longsuffering, gentleness, and goodness—virtues that describe Christian experience in relation to others.
Longsuffering is the quality of self-restraint which does not quickly retaliate even in the midst of provocation. Longsuffering is the same as our English word patience. It is a quality that most of us wish we had more of—the ability to absorb irritating things (like slowpoke drivers on the highway, and neighbors who let their dogs bark all night)—without becoming paralyzed. A longsuffering person does not have a quick temper, or as we say sometimes, a short fuse. Jesus left us an example. We read that when He was reviled, He reviled not again.
Gentleness is the translation of a word that speaks of thoughtful consideration—which leads to courteous and kindly action. It is the act of being friendly, sympathetic, and polite. It is the opposite of being rude and thoughtless. “Kindness” is the golden rule of treating others as we expect them to treat us. An unknown writer once said, “I expect to pass through life but once; if therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now—for I shall not pass this way again.” That statement is worth remembering.
The Apostle Paul says (in 1 Thessalonians 2:7) that he was “gentle among [them], even as a nurse cherisheth her [own] children.” There might be a difference in the way a nurse would treat the children of someone else, and in the way she would treat her own children. Paul was gentle toward the brethren—just like a mother-nurse would be to her own children, because she gave birth to them.
Goodness is the generosity and benevolence which causes one to do helpful things for others. It includes helping with the chores when an accident occurs and taking a meal when someone is sick. We are to follow the example of the Lord Jesus who continually “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). Paul prayed that God’s people would be “fruitful in every good work” (Colossians 1:10).
The qualities of longsuffering, kindness, and goodness are traits that make a person attractive to others. We cannot do much about the body we were born with. We can trim it and paint it, but it still looks pretty much like the original. However, we can be as attractive as we want to be inwardly. We can exude kindness and goodness in any amount we choose. We may not be able to control our outward looks, but we can control the attractiveness of our character.
3. Virtues in relation to oneself
Most of us know that we should be more organized and controlled and restrained. The lack of life-discipline is one of the “weights” (Hebrews 12:1) which we sometimes allow to beset us.
Faith [faithfulness] is the quality of reliability and trustworthiness which makes one’s word become his bond. God never fails to keep His word. Jeremiah says, “Great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:23). God’s faithfulness should be deeply reflected in the lives of His disciples, so that they can be known as the “faithful” ones (Psalm 31:23). Faithfulness speaks of loyalty, dependability, and stability.
The word “faithfulness” implies that faith is more than a momentary assent to the truth of God. It is commitment to that truth, and it manifests itself in continued obedience. “Faithful” persons are conscientious about performing the duties that are assigned to them; they stand by the commitments they make.
It is not unusual for someone to promise to do an important task for us, but then never follow through with it. Those who are born of God will take seriously what they tell others they will do for them (for example, a promise to pray for them), and then will be careful to follow through with the promise.
Meekness speaks of a submissive and teachable spirit. The meek person is one who is ready to listen and to learn. It is a tenderness of spirit that enables us to discipline others properly, to endure persecution graciously, and to witness to others with sensitivity. The apostle James says that we are to “receive with meekness the engrafted [implanted] word” (James 1:21). Meekness is the quality that makes one submissive rather than arrogant and haughty and rebellious. The meek person has such an humble view of his own capabilities that he is ready to listen to others. Above all, he is sensitive to the leading and the teaching of the Holy Spirit.
Temperance (self-control) is that quality which leads to mastery over evil inclinations. Self-control (temperance) is moderation in using the good things and abstaining from the evil. The self-controlled person says “no” to anything that would dim his vision of Jesus, or take away his desire to study the Word of God. “Self-control” signifies moderation and self-restraint.
“Self-control” is never easy because personal discipline runs contrary to human nature—but discipline can be more and more achieved as we choose to be led by the Spirit (5:18). We must seek to live day by day under His control, and the best way to do that is to become more and more familiar with the message of the Bible—because the Holy Spirit is the author of the Word.
When the nine words that comprise the fruit of the Spirit are fully defined, we have a well-rounded picture of the meaning of the word “Christlikeness.” These qualities are worked in us and through us by the Holy Spirit, but only in proportion to the degree that we are willing to surrender our lives to Him.
The concluding words in verse 23, “Against such there is no law,” indicate that where such works exist, the law is irrelevant. Nothing in the Mosaic Law (or in any law) opposes these virtues, nor does any law conflict with such behavior.
4. The way of Christian victory (5:24-26)
“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:24-26).
Those who believe in Jesus Christ for salvation will day after day choose to be led by the Holy Spirit. The words, “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh” (verse 24), do not mean that the tendencies of the old man (the Adamic nature) are destroyed. It means that we no longer find satisfaction and fulfillment in living contrary to the will of God. “Crucifixion” [death] means separation, not extinction—and so sin still exists in us. When physical death occurs, we do not become extinct. And just so, sin does not become extinct in our lives—but through the Cross, we are freed from the power of the flesh.
The word translated “if” (verse 25) can easily be translated “since.” Since we live in the Spirit, and since we have eternal life because of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Titus 3:5), we are to live the new life by the power provided by the same Holy Spirit. The word “walk” means “to advance by steps.” It implies progress; it means going from where we are, to where we ought to go. To “walk in the Spirit” is a reference to progressive sanctification—maturing and growing day-by-day in the Christian faith.
The warfare between the flesh and the Spirit in the life of the Christian is intense and incessant, but those who “walk in the Spirit” will genuinely seek to keep in step with where He leads. When one is born of the Spirit, and is yielded to the Spirit’s leading, the individual will more and more become victorious over the pull of the flesh nature. A holy life is never achieved by our own efforts and through our own strength. The upright life is produced by yielding to the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
To be “led” of the Spirit (5:18) is in many ways the same as walking in the Spirit (5:16), and living in the Spirit (5:25).
The admonition to not desire vain glory (verse 26) is likely a return to the thought of verse 15, where believers are told not to “bite and devour one another.” It seems obvious that some in the Galatian churches were preoccupied with getting the acclaim of others, and pushing themselves forward. There are three attitudes to avoid.
a) The term vain glory (verse 26a) speaks of persons who hold high opinions of themselves. We are not to be braggarts who boastfully blow our own horns.
b) One of the definitions of provoke (verse 26b) is “to irritate,” or “to act in ways that cause resentment in others.”
c) Those who envy others (verse 26c) have a feeling of pain at the success of others. Envy is a discontented longing for the gifts, the intelligence, and the wit of someone else. It often displays itself in obvious ill feelings. The point in verse 26 is that our conduct toward others is usually determined largely by the attitudes we hold toward ourselves!
We learn then, in the latter part of Galatians 5, that the Spirit-led life is a life of ongoing conflict because it is in constant combat with the old ways of the flesh that continue to tempt us. The flesh continues to set its desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.
We learned also that the flesh and the Spirit have different appetites. If one does not feed the flesh, the power of it begins to diminish. The three terms — “led of the Spirit” in (5:18), “walk in the Spirit” (5:16), and “live in the Spirit” (5:25)—mean that we are not only to be guided by the Spirit, but we are also to be controlled by the Spirit.
All Christians need a power outside themselves in order to live by God’s standards. That power becomes actively available as we determine to be led by the Holy Spirit, Who lives within the believer’s body (1 Corinthians 6:19).
The faithful Christian life is a life lived under the direction and the power of the Spirit. But while it is the Spirit who is the source of holy living, it is the individual Christian who is commanded to walk. The Christian is not to sit on the sidelines and simply watch the Holy Spirit carry out the battle for him! We are to consider (reckon) ourselves dead indeed to sin; we are to refuse to let sin reign in our mortal bodies; we are to resist the devil so that he will flee from us; we are to persevere, and not to lose heart and give up.
The Holy Spirit sanctifies and produces holiness from within, but activity and commitment and cooperation are required on our part.
Sometimes those who have been professing believers for years—perhaps five, ten, or even twenty years—are still as mean-spirited, and hot-tempered, and selfish, and unkind, and impure, and worldly as always! There’s no evidence of becoming more like the Lord Jesus. Do you know why? They are feeding at the wrong place. Life will be much more in tune with God if professing Christians will try memorizing the first Psalm instead of watching the latest television show; or feeding on the Word of God instead of spending lots of time reading the newspaper; or speaking to a neighbor about his eternal soul instead of discussing the latest political developments or shopping at the mall.
Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord,
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
A. B. Simpson summarized the Fruit of the Spirit by saying that:
Love is the summation of the other eight virtues:
Joy is love exulting;
Peace is love reposing;
Longsuffering is love enduring;
Gentleness is love refined;
Goodness is love in action;
Faithfulness is love confiding;
Meekness is love with bowed head;
Temperance is true self-love.