What should the Christian life look like? Today, Barry Cooper identifies nine qualities that the Spirit of God grows and cultivates in every true believer.
Full disclosure: I am clueless when it comes to gardening. It’s safe to say that I do not have green fingers. In fact, given the incompetence with which I wield garden shears, it’s remarkable that I have any fingers.
We have two trees in our backyard. I’ve taken to calling one of them the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, because it’s rather mysterious, I’m not sure what it is, and I don’t want my daughter eating any of the fruit.
The other tree even I can identify, because it produces these gorgeous little green limes. And that’s the thing about fruit. If you can identify the fruit, then you’ve identified the tree.
I think that’s one of the reasons why the Apostle Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit. He could have talked about “the characteristics of the Spirit” or the “evidences of the Spirit,” but instead it’s the fruit of the Spirit. In other words, it’s what you would expect to see growing in a genuine Christian believer.
If somebody says the tree in my backyard is an apple tree but all I ever see on it are limes, then we can assume that it is indeed a lime tree and not in fact an apple tree. In the same way, if someone claims to be a Christian, but we don’t see the fruit of the Spirit, then it’s quite possible that what we’re looking at is not in fact a Christian after all.
Paul describes what the fruit of the Spirit looks like in Galatians chapter 5:
The fruit of the Spirit [says Paul] is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
So, what should the Christian life look like?
Well, there are two ways we might fall off this particular horse, two opposite but equally mistaken views of what the Christian life should look like.
One is the legalistic life. That was the temptation the Galatians were facing. It seems that they’d been told that faith in Christ was not enough in itself. Unless you keep obeying the law in every single respect, then you cannot be a Christian. That’s legalism.
The other equally damaging view of what it means to be a Christian is the licentious life. We’re called by Christ to freedom, they say, and they use that statement as a passport for going wherever their desires happen to lead them.
To both of these ways of thinking about the Christian life, Paul says, no. There’s another way. The way of the genuine Christian. He calls it “walking by the Spirit” or “keeping in step with the Spirit.” A person who walks by the Spirit will begin to show the fruit of the Spirit.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Paul mentions love first in the list, and that’s no accident. The church father Jerome once wrote, “Without love other virtues are not reckoned to be virtues. From love is born all that is good.”
Unlike the gifts of the Spirit, which are different in every believer, the fruit of the Spirit—all the qualities in the list—should be evident in all believers. That’s why it’s “fruit,” singular, and not “fruits.” This isn’t like a pick and mix or some kind of fruit-based buffet. We don’t get to say, “Well, I’m completely unloving, but on the plus side, I am very joyful.” No, these qualities come as a job lot. A package deal.
Now, to be clear: that doesn’t mean we’ll have all these qualities perfectly and fully throughout every moment of our Christian lives. Very often, just like fruit on a tree, you can barely see them at first. They may never win any awards at the county fair.
But it does mean that these “fruit of the Spirit” are as inevitable in a true Christian believer as limes are on a lime tree.