“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us walk in the Spirit.”
Galatians 5:22-25

I realized recently that I have always approached this passage backwards. When studying the fruit of the Spirit, I looked at it as a checklist of attitudes and characteristics that I needed to hone in myself. Can you see where my error was? I was looking at these “fruits” as items that I needed to hone in myself, but that is not what this passage is saying at all. It’s important to pay attention to the metaphor here: this is the fruit of the Spirit, not the ornaments of the Spirit. The difference is significant, as a fruit is a natural by-product of a healthy and mature fruit tree rooted in good soil, and an ornament is something that a person places on a dead tree. If we are spiritually mature and healthy and rooted in the Holy Spirit, we should be bearing this fruit. It isn’t something that we put on ourselves with our own goodness – it is a natural consequence of living in surrender to the Holy Spirit in our lives. When I look at my life and see myself lacking these fruits, that doesn’t mean I need to just try harder to have a good attitude or find more creative approaches to develop these attributes. It means I am not dwelling as fully in the Spirit as I should be. Just like fruit doesn’t grow on trees that don’t have a good root or that have been damaged by drought or disease, our lives cannot bear fruit if we are stagnant spiritually or if we are in a “drought” in which we have quenched the Spirit. That really adds a lot of urgency to the instruction of Paul, “Do not quench the Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

{Quench – to extinguish, quench A. of fire or things on fire B. metaph. to quench, to suppress, stifle}

So how do we walk in the Spirit? 

The verses leading up to the famous “fruit of the Spirit” passage in Galatians 5:22 also reference walking in the Spirit: 16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told [you] in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

These last few verses serve as a contrast to the original text, showing what it looks like when we DON’T walk in the Spirit. Then Paul continues in verses 22-25 with a description of what our lives look like when we DO walk in the Spirit. It really seems like the answer to walking in the Spirit is found through the whole letter of Galatians. Earlier in chapter 5, we find that love fulfills the law (vs. 13-15). Then right after the fruit of the Spirit is explained, Paul goes on in chapter 6 to give more examples of what the life of a Christian should look like: bear each other’s burdens (1-5), don’t grow weary in doing good, but take every opportunity to do good to others (6-10), and don’t boast in any thing other than Jesus (11-15). We have a really good picture of what walking in the Spirit looks like.

It seems like semantics to argue that I am not the one adding the fruit when I’m walking in the Spirit, because it is obvious that there are actions that need to be done in order to “walk in the Spirit,” but it’s an important distinction. While there are certainly actions required of us, we know that simply acting out good works without actually dwelling in the Spirit is no good to anyone (1 Corinthians 13). We need to remember the theme running through the book of Galatians is that we are not saved by the law but by the grace of Christ. We shouldn’t be looking for a checklist of actions to show that we are saved, we should be focused on Jesus and growing in our faithfulness to Him. When we submit to God, He fills us with His Spirit, and when we are in communion with and submission to that Spirit, it will show in everything we do; our love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control will be evident to all and will bring glory to the name of the God we serve.

 “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you [are] the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5