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What does the Bible say about the fruit of the Spirit?

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Chris Elkins: Hello, my name is Chris Elkins, and I’m with the Denison Forum, and Jim Denison is joining us today. Jim, we recently discussed in a video the power of the Holy Spirit. But let’s talk about a related subject to that today.

What does the Bible say about the fruit of the Spirit? What is this fruit?

Dr. Jim Denison: That’s a great question because it’s such an urgent subject, as we’ll talk about for just a bit today as well. So you get to Galatians chapter 5, and the Bible says the fruit of the Spirit is—and then you get nine different characteristics: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Well, inside that text are three things to note immediately.

First of all, fruit is singular.

It doesn’t say the “fruits” of the Spirit. It says the “fruit” of the Spirit. And from that we need to understand these are not nine different fruits. These are nine different manifestations of the Holy Spirit. They’re nine different characteristics, nine different aspects, nine different adjectives describing the work, the product, the result of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life.

That leads to the second point to make: it is the fruit “of” the Spirit.

If you look it up in the Greek, you see that that’s in the genitive, and what that means is, it’s the fruit that belongs to the Spirit. It’s the fruit possessed by the Spirit. Fruit means the produce, or the crop, or the result, the production of. So what we’re being told here is that when the Spirit is operative in a person’s life, this is one of the things that happens. It’s one of the ways the Spirit works. One of the products of the Spirit is a life that can be characterized as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These are all aspects or attributes produced by the Holy Spirit.

That leads to a third fact: this is the work of the Spirit, not our work.

One of the ways people misunderstand this text and this topic, I think, is by trying harder to do better—To say, “Okay, this is something God wants me to go be more loving about. I’m supposed to be trying to seek to be more joyful or to manifest more self-control. Well, you really can’t do that in this context. These aren’t things you can do. These are the products that result, the work of the Holy Spirit himself. It’s not the product of human self-effort.

How do we experience this fruit every day?

In our own lives? That gets to the practical question, doesn’t it? There are really two steps here. The first is to make certain that Jesus is personally your Savior and Lord, that you’ve asked him to forgive your sin and be the Lord of your life. And then on a second level, you ask the Holy Spirit every single day to fill you, to empower you, to take control of your life.

Ephesians 5:18 says to be filled with the Spirit. It’s a command, present tense imperative. It’s the idea of every single day getting alone with God and asking the Holy Spirit to take control of your life—your mind your thoughts, your attitude, your words, and your actions. It’s surrendering to his power, to his influence, to his leadership in your life, and staying submitted all through the day. When you have a problem, you ask the Spirit to give you power and strength. When you’re making a decision, you ask the Spirit to lead you. If you’re being tempted, you ask the Spirit to give you strength and courage and power to resist. If you follow the temptation, you ask the Lord to forgive you and the Spirit to take control of your life. Again, it’s staying submitted to the Spirit.

Now, once you’ve done that, you can come along and on a third level, pray for the Holy Spirit to manifest his fruit more powerfully in your life.

You can pray that the Holy Spirit will today make you a person described by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. You can examine your life in the light of those characteristics, and where you don’t feel that there is the joy of the Lord, you can ask the Lord to manifest that joy in your life. Where you don’t feel yourself to be at peace, you can pray for the Holy Spirit to manifest his peace in your life. Where you’re not a person of self-control, where you’re not a person of patience, you can measure yourself against these various aspects of the Spirit at work in your life.

And ask the Holy Spirit to do that, to empower you to manifest that fruit, or that dimension of himself, in and through your life. And when you do that, know that he wants to do that. If you’re not experiencing right now the love of the Holy Spirit, or the joy or the peace of the Holy Spirit, it’s not his fault. It’s our fault. It’s not because he’s not willing to do that. It’s because we’re not submitted enough. We’re not surrendered or plugged in enough to the work of the Holy Spirit in your life.

So make sure Jesus is your Lord. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you every single day. And then on that basis, pray for him to manifest his fruit in your life and know that he wants to answer that prayer every day.

Why is experiencing the fruit of the Spirit so important to our lives and witness?

I think that’s really a great third question, Chris. It goes first to our witness, I think. Imagine the difference in our culture if every believer you knew were characterized every single day—powerfully, persuasively—by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Imagine the difference that would make in our churches. Imagine the difference in our families or in our work environments or in our school environments. Just imagine, in a culture that is so uncivil, in a culture where cancel culture is so much a thing and where there’s so much vitriol and anger and animosity in the culture. It just seems like it’s the air we breathe and the water we drink. Imagine the difference, if believers chose to be submitted to the Spirit and prayed for the fruit of the Spirit to be manifested in our lives.

Then the other thing that comes to mind for me is, as I said, these are great ways to measure where we are in our own spiritual lives. It’s a great way of holding ourselves accountable to what God wants for us because this is God’s intended best for us. The fruit of the Spirit is not some A-plus level of extracurricular activity. It’s not something only reserved for the Billy Grahams of the world. This is how God intends every single person to live.

You could really say it’s a description of the life of Jesus, couldn’t you? As you look at Jesus’ life described in the Gospels, certainly, he’s described by these fruit. Well the Lord, in Romans 8:29,  wants to make us like Jesus. The job of the Holy Spirit, you could say, is to conform us to the image of Christ, to make us little Christs or Christians, to manifest him through us.

And so if we will pray for it, hold ourselves accountable to the fruit of the Spirit, we’re joining him at work. We’re joining the Holy Spirit in bringing the abundant life to bear in our lives and fulfilling his purpose for our lives to make us more like Jesus.

So I close where I mentioned before, if this isn’t your experience, if you wouldn’t look yourself in the mirror and say that these fruit of the Spirit really do describe your life and your activities, and the people that know you wouldn’t necessarily say that they see these fruit in your life, then today’s a great day to do something about that: to get alone with the Lord, to ask the Spirit to show you anything keeping him from manifesting his fruit in your life, and confessing whatever comes to your thoughts.

It’s a great day to to repent of self-sufficiency, of self-adequacy, and asking the Holy Spirit every day to fill and control and empower you. It’s a great day to decide that you want to be a person who can be described by the fruit of the Spirit.

So I close with this. When I was in college, I was a youth minister at a church in Houston, Texas. It was my first job working on a church staff. Well, because I became the youth minister—I didn’t know when I took the job—I also wound up with a whole host of other jobs that I wasn’t aware of were in my job description. I became the bus driver for Vacation Bible School. I became in some ways the custodian of the church.

Well, the church had this sign out in front of the property with these letters that had to be changed in order to put small, short sayings up on this sign, the church sign out on the road in front of the church campus. And it became my job to put those signs up, to change the sign. The pastor always decided what went up there, whether it was a short saying or it was some verse from the Scriptures or whatever. And it was my job to get this long pole with a suction cup on the end and reach up and get the old ladders and get them on the ground and lay out the new letters and then put them up on this sign as they were supposed to be arranged.

Well, I did that all the months, years that I had that job. But I do remember like it was yesterday, one saying that the pastor wanted me to put up on that sign. Of all the things I did across all those times, all the posted sayings on that sign, this is the one that stands out for me. It was the question, “If you don’t feel close to God, guess who moved?”

If you’re not manifesting the fruit of the Spirit, why not?

That’s the question and the invitation of God.