You may have heard about the fruit of the Spirit and wondered what it is and how it relates to being a Christian.
In Galatians 5, Paul lists nine specific behaviors – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – that are the result of the work of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life.
Where Is the Phrase 'Fruit 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 love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
The Greek word καρπός that we translate “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; it is the result of 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 or 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 the like to the good fruit of the Spirit.
What Are the Nine Fruits of the Spirit? Defined and Explained
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, which is sexual love and philos, which is 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 is the result of 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 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 is a result of 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 “gentleness,” which links it to the meaning of a gentleman or a gentlewoman, someone who behaved properly, with moral integrity and kindness.
Romans 2:4 reminds us that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance not judgement. The Holy Spirit enables us to have moral integrity with kindness and not get trapped in self-righteousness judgement.
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 heart, and they 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 “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 describe 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 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, and 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.”
What Is the Meaning of the Spirit and the Purpose of Fruit?
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 a deposit given to believers in Christ that guarantees their relationship with Christ. 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.
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Did Jesus Talk about the Fruit 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 in order 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.”
- 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.
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