We may have heard the phrase “the fruit of the spirit” in church before, but never truly understood the meaning of the verses found in Galatians 5:22-23.

In these, Paul lists nine attributes of the Holy Spirit, which appear in Christians when they are indwelt by him. In other words, when God indwells us, and we spend more time with him, we begin to emanate his attributes. This is just like when we spend more time with a person, we begin to look and sound like them. 

But why are these singular? In other words, why isn’t it the “fruits” of the Spirit? Why these nine, and why does this bear an importance on the church today?

First Off, What Are the Nine Fruit of the Spirit?

The nine hallmarks of the spirit working in a Christian’s life are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Love heads the list. Because God is love (1 John 4:7-21). Love is the most important out of these nine. Without it, our good works have no use on earth (1 Corinthians 13:1). 

But what about the others? Why did Paul choose these in the list and not other admirable attributes?

Let’s break each of them down. 

Joy, first of all, goes deeper than a mere happiness, says Ellicott’s Commentary. As it further explains, joy comes from the radiance, the brightness of God himself. In such a presence of brightness, we can experience comfort during difficult trials (Psalm 94:19). Peace goes hand in hand with this attribute. As mentioned in the Candle of Advent article found on Christianity.com, peace extends to others and our inner selves. With it, we have comfort in knowing God heal this broken world.

Love, joy, and peace appear to go together. It shows our relationship with God. When we spend time with God, we are full of love, full of heavenly joy, and full of peace. 

The next three, according to MacLaren Expositions, get lumped into a triad: patience, kindness, and goodness. These especially manifest themselves in our relationships with others (opposed to the first three showing up more in our relationship with God). Instead of choosing to be revoked or choosing to retaliate, we endure sufferings and choose to love others. We refuse to add to the fire of antagonism. 

Our final triad: gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, refers to how we handle opposition. 

When we face temptation or people who attempt to sway us from righteous living or from Christ himself, we lean on these three virtues. 

So why “fruit of the spirit” instead of “fruits”? 

As Christians, we may get tempted to focus on one fruit at a time. “Today I’ll work on patience. Tomorrow, self-control.” But the Holy Spirit doesn’t work like that. When we submit to God fully and allow him to transform us, all of this fruit should appear in our lives. We are more patient with our dealings with others, joy fills us more, we exercise more self-control, etc. 

Why Do Christians Need Fruit?

A particularly jarring passage happens in Matthew 21:18-22.

When Jesus finds a fig tree with no fruit, he curses the tree. Later that day, the tree withers and dies. It may seem like an extreme reaction from Jesus, especially since figs weren’t exactly in season during the time of the encounter with the tree (Mark 11:12-25).

But here Jesus illustrates the importance of fruit in the life of a believer. We all know the cliché: you can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk? Jesus calls us to do more than proclaim ourselves to be Christians.

Many Christians will stop after they say a sinner’s prayer. They often forget that committing your life to Christ requires a full-life commitment. When we accept Jesus as your Savior, we have to allow him to change areas of our lives that don’t reflect his plan for us and for our world. He will purge selfishness, impatience, unkindness, etc. 

A lack of fruit in a Christian’s life shows a waning (or even lack) of a relationship with the Holy Spirit.

When we lack fruit, we:

  • Become susceptible to the devil’s lies and schemes. After all, if we don’t spend time with God, we’ll forget what he’s like, or why we should care about his plan for us.
  • Don’t display Christ correctly to the world. Many times, non-Christians will avoid asking questions about the Christian faith because they’ve encountered believers who lack fruit. Believers who are rude, mean, selfish, or lacking in any of the fruit of the spirit can deter people who may have otherwise investigated Christianity more.
  • Fall into sin and temptation more. There are fruit of the flesh (sin) as well as fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-21). We need to avoid the former at all costs. 

How Do We Acquire Fruit of the Spirit?

Christians can often have the misconception that they have to earn the fruit of the Spirit. Maybe if they gave more at church or spent more time doing community service, then they will learn patience, or gentleness, or goodness.

This is simply not the case.

We must first go to God and spend more time with him. We must analyze Scripture and learn all we can about our Creator. We’ll see his love, joy, peace, etc. and how he has blessed us. When we do so, we cannot help but love others. We cannot help but exercise faithfulness. Because we see a good God, and we allow that good God to change us from the inside out.

Inside out. Not the other way around. 

We must second surrender ourselves to him. Even if we have made a lifelong commitment to him before now, we need to surrender ourselves to his will daily. This means allowing him to transform us, even when it hurts.

Christians must stop trying to “polish up” their lives before submitting to the Spirit, writes Vern Nicolette for Active Christianity

Trying to grow fruit without the Holy Spirit is like trying to grow fruit on an uprooted tree. We need the Holy Spirit to water us and sustain us before we can start producing fruit. 

Ultimately, Why Does This Matter?

Christians don’t always succeed at growing fruit. We can stumble into sin and lose sight of the character of Christ in our actions.

However, we should be seeing a steady growth. When looking back on our formative Christian years, we should see how we’ve grown to be more patient, kind, joyful, loving, etc. 

If we see a lack of growth over a long period of time, it may be time to spend more time with God and seek him earnestly. 

One song always stood out to me at church: “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.” 

Many people don’t know Christians by their love. As pointed out in the Case for Faith by Lee Strobel, the Christians of the early church managed to convert so many to the faith because of their kindness. They loved the unloved, cared for the marginalized, and emulated Jesus. 

Others saw Jesus in them and wanted to have the same hope, the same joy, and the same peace they experience. As believers, we want nonbelievers to see the same in us. We do so by spending more time with God. 

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/IngridHS

headshot of author Hope BolingerHope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, literary agent at C.Y.L.E., and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,000 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy released its first two installments with IlluminateYA, and the final one, Vision, releases in August of 2021. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in October of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.