Summary: The fruit of the Spirit is not an optional extra for believers but must be evident in all
The Fruit of the Holy Spirit
I don’t know if you are any good at telling the differences between plants. I am not sure if you are any good at telling one tree from another. But it is made a lot easier when we can see the fruit hanging on the tree. Fruit marks a tree out as being of a distinct family. It also tells us something of the purpose of that tree – to bear fruit. Sometimes I have had people say to me ‘don’t judge other people’ as if they were being more faithful to Scripture by not judging – one of the most misinterpreted verses in all of the NT is Matthew 7 v 1 – do not judge, lest ye be judged. Misinterpreted because Christ passes judgment on lots of occasions in Scripture. My usual answer to that statement is ‘I am not judging, I am only inspecting the fruit of someone’s life.’ You see just as fruit can tell me what family a tree belongs to, so the fruit of someone’s life reveals to whom they belong spiritually. Let me explain – turn with me to Galatians 5. This letter to the Galatians was written by the apostle Paul around AD 50-70. The letter was written primarily to combat the Judaizers who had infiltrated the church at Galatia and were trying to bring a number of OT ceremonial practices, especially circumcision, into the NT church. They also argued that Paul was not a genuine apostle and sought to undermine his authority. Paul refuted this by establishing his apostolic authority and substantiating the gospel he preached.
Before we look at the fruit of the Spirit let me state at the beginning that Paul deliberately says ‘fruit’ singular. We have no liberty to pick and choose these qualities - they must be all evident in the life of a believer. If one is missing then we can assume we are either not a Christian or we are quenching the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In nature bearing fruit is not an optional extra, it is the major purpose of the tree’s life cycle. The fruit is the fundamental proof of inner life of the tree. If we are unsure as to a tree’s identity all will be revealed when it produces fruit. We decorate a Christmas tree but we know the decorations are not actually the fruit of a tree - no one would buy apples from the greengrocer and go and tie them on a tree in the garden because it bears its own fruit.
The passage can be summarised as ‘The fact of Christian Conflict’ and ‘The way of Christian Victory.’
The fact of Christian Conflict
Verses 16-17 read. Note there is a conflict going on within each and every Christian – a conflict between ‘the Spirit’ and ‘the flesh.’ Paul says that if we walk by the Spirit we will not gratify (not fulfil) the desires of the flesh. But what is ‘the flesh?’ ‘The flesh’ is what we are by nature and inheritance. It is our fallen condition/nature. Then in verses 19-21 Paul lists (but not an exhaustive list) the works of the flesh. They fall into four broad areas:
Sexual, social, religious and alcohol.
Realm of sexuality (19)– immorality, impurity and debauchery.
Immorality – refers to sexual intercourse between unmarried people and unlawful (according to the Word of God) sexual behaviour.
Impurity – refers to unnatural sexual relations – again according to the Word of God in both the OT and NT.
Debauchery – refers to open contempt for propriety in relationships between people. This includes inappropriate comments, unwanted gestures and inappropriate and unwanted physical touches.
Paul is saying that all sexual offences, whether in private or public, natural or unnatural, inside or outside of marriage must conform to the Word of God and where it does not – it is to be considered a ‘work of the flesh.’ Let us not be hypocritical here. Let us not bury our heads in the sand – this is a real battle ground for all and we ignore it at our eternal peril.
Religion (20)– Paul speaks of idolatry (brazen idol worship and witchcraft (secretly tampering/playing with the powers of evil).
Social (20-21) – Paul gives 8 examples of the causes of breakdown of personal relationships.
Alcohol (21) – drunkenness and wild partying. Paul speaks of the danger of drunkenness – because the reality is that under the influence of alcohol the list of ‘vices of the flesh’ are all too easily entertained and indulged.
Paul then adds a very solemn warning. In his warning he is not speaking of the isolated lapse but of the habitual practice of these ‘works of the flesh.’ Such habitual practice gives evidence that the person concerned is not of Christ but of the ‘flesh’ and therefore is excluded from the kingdom of God. It is a stark warning and one we would do well to heed today.