Question: Who produces the fruit of the Spirit in a Christian—us or the Spirit? Does every Christian have every fruit of the Spirit? What about where “fruit” is singular versus plural?
Let’s start with the last question first. Jesus tells us we know false prophets by their “fruits” (Matt. 7:20). The plural “fruits” seems to point to different kinds of behavior.
However, the NT never speaks of the fruit of the Spirit in the plural. Paul uses the word “fruit” as a collective singular—a word that may refer to one item or multiple items. The word “deer” works like this. We say there is one deer out front and two deer in the back. The “fruit” of the Spirit can refer to one or all of the items listed in Galatians 5:22-23.
In Galatians 5, Paul contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. The flesh does not produce the “works of the flesh” by itself. The flesh has desires (Gal. 5:17), but those desires must be enacted by a person who chooses to fulfill them.
The same is true for the fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, etc. are actions and attitudes which have their source in the Holy Spirit’s desires (Gal. 5:17). God by the Spirit works in us both to desire and to do His will (Phil. 4:13), but He does not enact His desires apart from our choices.
We, in the language of Galatians 5, must walk “in the Spirit” to avoid fulfilling the desires of the flesh (vs.16). We must be “led by the Spirit” (vs.18) and “keep in step with the Spirit” (v.25) to enact the fruit that He desires to produce in us (vs.22-23).
The Spirit pours out the love of God in our hearts (Rom. 5:8), but we must choose to enact that love through obedience to God (John 14:15). The Spirit creates a desire for joy in us, but we must choose to focus our minds on God and rejoice in Him (Phil. 4:4).
So, based on the context of Galatians 5 alone, the fruit of the Spirit is something we cooperate with the Spirit in producing. This conclusion is confirmed by other NT passages where believers are commanded to be joyful (Phil. 4:4), to be patient (1 Thess. 5:14), or to put on kindness and gentleness (Col. 3:12).
Since commands address our will, they teach us that we must choose to cooperate with the Spirit in bearing His fruit. Not only do we anticipate in producing these fruit, but all these fruits are capable of growing. The nature of the fruit metaphor itself suggests this. Fruit does not appear full-grown on plants. It moves through a process of maturation.
In addition to the testimony of nature, the NT contains prayers for believers to increase in love (1 Thess. 3:12; Phil. 1:9). Paul speaks of believers’ faith growing greatly (2 Thess. 1:3).
Peter challenges us to be diligent to increase in faith, virtue, self-control, etc. (2 Pet. 1:6-10). Both nature and Scripture teach us to expect the fruit of the Spirit to begin in immature form and grow increasingly mature.
Further, all fruit are not always visible. Jesus wept for Lazarus; He didn’t leap for joy (John 11:35). The same Spirit who empowers patience led Jesus to rebuke unbelief sharply (Matt. 23). Jesus was not joyless or impatient. He was led by the Spirit to grieve in one case and give love’s rebuke in another (cf. Lev. 19:17).
Since the Spirit is present in every Christian (Rom. 8:9), all believers will both want to and be able to produce this fruit. The degree to which the fruit grows is a function of our cooperation with the Spirit. Personal experience teaches us that character transformation normally progresses in sequence.
Parents work on helping their children develop discipline, respect, and concern for others. However, it is unreasonable to expect children to mature in every area at the same time equally. Likewise, we should expect to see the fruit of the Spirit growing in us at different rates and times as God makes us more like Jesus (2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Pet. 1:6-8).
Originally published in the God’s Bible School & College Ministry Library.