"Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit." (Matthew 12:33)
Christ said we are known by our fruit, so what are the good fruits we should aspire to? The Apostle Paul mentions the "fruits of the Spirit" that Christians should work to cultivate in their heart and mind.
In the book of Galatians, Paul lists nine specific behaviors – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – that result from the work of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life.
The Fruits of the Spirit in the Bible
The phrase “fruit of the spirit” comes from Galatians 5:22-23:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is
- and self-control.
Against such things there is no law.”
Those in Christ are differentiated from disbelievers in that they have been endowed with the Holy Spirit, allowing them to bear these spiritual fruits.
The Greek word καρπός that we translate as “fruit” usually means fruit in the sense of edible fruits and vegetables, but it can also be translated as offspring, deed, action, result, or profit. In an agrarian society, fruit is a good thing that results from hard work and careful tending. Today we might use the word “fruit” in a phrase such as the “fruit of our labor” to communicate the results of our effort. Even if we don’t harvest strawberries or apples, we can have “fruit,” something to show for our work, in a paycheck, a finished project, or even a baby.
Understanding that “fruit” in this verse can mean “deed, action, or result” helps make this verse more personal. The result of the work of the Spirit in a believer’s life is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.
In the three verses prior, Galatians 5:19-21, Paul contrasted the acts of the flesh: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and more against the good fruit of the Spirit.
Fruits of the Spirit Meaning
The Apostle Paul states the following nine gifts or "Fruits of the Spirit" that result from true repentance, turning away from our sinful ways towards love for God and neighbor:
In Galatians 5:22-23, love is translated from the Greek word ἀγάπη, (agape). Greek has multiple words for love, including eros, sexual love, and Philos, brotherly love. Agape’ is perfect love that only God can give.
“In respect of agapao as used of God, it expresses the deep and constant ‘love’ and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects, producing and fostering a reverential ‘love’ in them towards the Giver, and a practical 'love’ towards those who are partakers of the same, and a desire to help others to seek the Giver,” according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary.
Love for God and others results from receiving God’s perfect agape love. Jesus encouraged his followers:
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:9-11).
Joy in this passage is χαρά. Chara is often translated as joy or delight. It often is seen in the Bible with gladness. It is the realization of God’s favor and grace in one’s life. Biblical joy is happiness that is not dependent on our circumstances. We are encouraged to:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:1-2).
The Biblical concept of peace, εἰρήνη (eirene) in Greek, is inclusive of life without conflict, as well as wholeness and harmony with God and others. A life of peace is safe and secure both physically and mentally.
“The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:6)
Peace results from allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts and minds. When we have peace, we are from fear and worry about finances, our safety, our salvation, and our eternal life. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is seen in the peace that comes even when our circumstances are far from tranquil. Jesus encouraged his followers in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Forbearance μακροθυμία (makrothumia) is not a word that most of us commonly use. The Greek word in Galatians 5:22-23 is often translated using other words such as patience, endurance, constancy, steadfastness, perseverance, longsuffering, and slowness in avenging wrongs. The Holy Spirit empowers believers to withstand challenging situations with perseverance and endurance.
The Greek root of this word relates to two words that mean long and passion. Through the Holy Spirit, we are able to wait longer before indulging our passions- we become “long-tempered” rather than “short-tempered.” Paul used this word when he was describing Jesus’ patience (μακροθυμία) with him.
“But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16)
Like Paul, we have all benefited from Christ’s immense patience with us. The evidence of the Holy Spirit in our life is also seen in our ability to persevere, be patience, steadfast and long-tempered. Ephesians 4:1-2 encourages us to “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
Kindness χρηστότης (chréstotés) conveys the meaning of moral goodness, integrity, usefulness, and benignity. In the King James Version, this word is translated as “gentleness,” which links it to the meaning of a gentleman or a gentlewoman who behaved properly, with moral integrity and kindness.
Romans 2:4 reminds us that God’s mercy and grace should lead us to repentance, not judgment. The Holy Spirit enables us to have moral integrity with kindness and not get trapped in self-righteous judgment.
Goodness ἀγαθωσύνη (agathosune) means uprightness of heart and life, goodness, and kindness. Goodness is seen in our actions. This word relates to not only being good but also doing good things.
The Contemporary English Version of 2 Thessalonians 1:11 highlights this meaning, “We pray for God's power to help you do all the good things you hope to do and your faith makes you want to do.” Through the Holy Spirit's work in Christians' lives, they are upright in the heart and do good things.
Faithfulness πίστις (pistis) is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. Faithfulness is a character trait that combines dependability and trust based on our confidence in God and His eternal faithfulness.
In the New Testament, faith is the belief in God and the conviction that Jesus is the Messiah through whom we obtain eternal salvation.
“With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.” (2 Thessalonians 1:11)
Gentleness πρᾳΰτης (prautes) was translated as “meekness” in the King James Version, but because being meek seemed weak, modern translations of the Bible use gentleness to mean mildness of disposition.
Baker’s Evangelical Bible Dictionary explains, “Meekness does not identify the weak but more precisely the strong who have been placed in a position of weakness where they persevere without giving up. The use of the Greek word when applied to animals makes this clear, for it means ‘tame’ when applied to wild animals. In other words, such animals have not lost their strength but have learned to control the destructive instincts that prevent them from living in harmony with others.”
Jesus describes himself as gentle in Matthew 11:29 “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Self-control ἐγκράτεια (egkrateia) is the ability to control one’s body and its sensual appetites and desires – physically and mentally – through the power of the Holy Spirit. Self-control relates to both chastity and sobriety, particularly moderation in eating and drinking. Self-control is the opposite of the works of the flesh that indulge sensual desires.
As Galatians 5:16 says, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”
How does the Holy Spirit Relate To These Fruits?
The Spirit is the holy presence of God. The Greek word πνεῦμα (pneuma) has multiple meanings, including breath, spirit, or wind. It is most commonly used to describe the holy presence of God on earth, but New Testament writers also used this word to describe the wind, other spirits, including angels and demons, and even the human soul or disposition.
In Galatians 5:22, the phrase “fruit of the Spirit” is specifically referring to the Holy Spirit.
As believers in Jesus, Christians are given the Holy Spirit to lead them and empower them. In Acts 2:8, Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Fruits of the Spirit indicate a relationship with Christ. Ephesians 1:13-14 explains that the Holy Spirit is an inheritance given to believers in Christ that guarantees their relationship with Christ. "In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory."
In Galatians 5, Paul wants to make sure that people know how to spot the evidence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The result of the Holy Spirit in their lives will be good things like love, joy, kindness, and self-control.
He also wants to make sure that Christians know that evil actions like sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies are not the work of the Holy Spirit. The fruits of the Spirit are evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians.
Download our free PDF for Living By the Holy Spirit Power - A Prayer and Scripture Guide
Did Jesus Talk about the Fruits of the Spirit?
Jesus didn’t use the phrase “fruit of the Spirit,” but he often mentioned fruit in his teaching. In John 15:5, Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Fruit is evidence of being connected to Christ, just as branches of a tree or a grapevine have to be connected to the trunk to bear grapes or apples.
In Matthew 7:16-20, Jesus warned his followers to be wary of false teachers, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
Prayer for Guidance from the Holy Spirit
- BibleHub.com, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance: karpos: fruit, makrothumia, pneuma
- BibleStudyTools.com, John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible, Galatians 5:23
- BibleStudyTools.com, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; Holy Spirit, 1; Temperance
- BibleStudyTools.com, New Testament Greek Lexicon: Agathosune, Egkrateia, Eirene, Makrothumia, Makrothumos, Pistis, Prautes
- BlueLetterBible.org, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Love.
Penny Noyes, M.Ed., is the author of Embracing Change - Learning to Trust God from the Women of the Bible and two books about Hezekiah. You can follow Penny on her blog and on Instagram @pennynoyes.
Photo Credit: Unsplash