Spiritual fruit

After he identified the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), Paul went on to say that all Christians are personally responsible for the outcome of their spiritual lives (Galatians 6:4-5). Paul stated, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Paul intended that the principle of sowing and reaping would link spiritual activity with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When he said, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance,” Paul meant that these characteristics would be produced by the Holy Spirit and become more and more visible over time in a Christian’s behavior if he or she remained in fellowship with God.

An important aspect of the principle of sowing and reaping was the idea that a particular type of seed produced a specific kind of fruit (e.g. you can’t grow an apple tree from an orange seed). Whatever kind of seed you started with was the only thing you were able to produce. Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-8) indicated that the seed that needed to be sown in order to reap the fruit of the Spirit was the word of God. In his explanation of this parable, Jesus said:

“When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:19-23, ESV)

The Greek word translated understands in Matthew 13:23, suniemi (soon-ee’-ay-mee) is derived from the word sun (soon) which denotes union; “with or together, i.e. by association, companionship, process, resemblance, possession, instrumentality, addition, etc.” (G4862). Another way of describing the Greek word sun would be assimilation, the process of taking in and fully understanding information or ideas. Assimilation also refers to the absorption and digestion of food or nutrients by the body or any biological system (Oxford Dictionary).

The process of assimilating the word of God can take years, sometimes decades, or even an entire lifetime. What is important to note is that it is an intentional process, one that does not happen automatically. Otherwise, there would be no such thing as a carnal Christian, a person that is saved, but does not produce any spiritual fruit (1 Corinthians 3:3). Paul encouraged believers to stick with the process of spiritual growth, even if it seemed like nothing was happening. He said, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9). In other words, your appointed time to be blessed by God may come when you least expect it, when you are past the point of giving up.

Walking in the Spirit

Paul’s explanation of Christian living focused on the freedom believers obtained by becoming children of God. He said, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1). The Greek word translated liberty, eleutheria (el-yoo-ther-ee’-ah) is derived from the word eleutheros (el-yoo’-ther-os) which means “unrestrained (to go at pleasure) that is (as a citizen) not a slave” (G1658). Slavery was common in the Roman Empire and it is likely that many of the people that Paul preached the gospel to were not Roman citizens. Paul may have used the term eleutheros to describe the effect of salvation as a way of illustrating the complete transformation that occurred when someone was born again.

Paul defined liberty as a choice to love others instead of oneself. He stated, “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty, only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Galatians 5:13-14). The connection Paul made between love and liberty may have come from the personal revelation he received from the Lord, Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12). Paul wanted us to understand that the result of receiving salvation by grace was that the Christian’s heart was no longer to be focused on harming others. Instead, love was to be demonstrated to everyone in need.

Paul identified the essential key to successful Christian living in Galatians 5:16 where he stated, “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” The phrase “walk in the Spirit” implies spiritual activity. What Paul may have been thinking of was the daily decision-making that controls our behavior. In connection with the freedom he referred to in Galatians 5:1, Paul seemed to be saying that walking in the Spirit was a continual choice to do what God’s word tells us to. Jesus illustrated this principle in his parable of the good Samaritan who chose to stop and help a wounded man in the road rather than pass him by like the priest and Levite had (Luke 10:25-37).

Paul indicated the result of walking in the Spirit was the development of spiritual fruit. After listing the works of the flesh, Paul said, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). Even though these characteristics might seem like natural human tendencies, Paul made it clear that they were only possible as a result of the Holy Spirit’s influence on the believer’s heart. Paul’s statement, “against such there is no law” meant that keeping the law would not produce these divine behaviors. It was only by identification with Jesus Christ that a believer could be expected to act like a child of God.