I wish to write a series of discussions on the fruits of the Spirit. Before elaborating on each of these, however, it is important to clarify what it is we speak of. We know what the fruit of the Spirit are, but how do they grow? I will endeavour to discuss this here, to show the nature of how we become like Christ when we abide with the Holy Spirit, and to describe the Spirit’s role in producing the fruit. I hope to go through each of the fruit of the Spirit in detail in later posts.
The fruits of the Spirit (the Holy Spirit), and fruits of evil desires (the ‘flesh’) that contrast to these, are the products of the character of our hearts. The ‘flesh’ are those parts of our character that are evil and in direct opposition to the characteristics of the righteous person (Gal ); it refers to the desires and inclinations we have which are contrary to what is Godly and right.
Now I should mention here that not all actions fall into either fruits of the Spirit or fruits of unrighteousness, for some actions do not stem from our character, but rather from merely our humanity. For instance, eating is neither of the Spirit nor of the flesh, but rather necessary for living. Like most ‘neutral’ actions, it can be tainted with righteous or unrighteous flavours because our character – also called our ‘spirit’ - always affects how we behave. This ‘spirit’ is different to the spiritual part of our being, just as the body is different to the mind. All our thoughts and actions flow from the seat of our thoughts and indeed our very being – the heart. It is in the heart that character is found. It is in the heart where our spirit lies.
The Holy Spirit is a person, and though He is a part of the Trinity of the Godhead, the fullness of God Himself is found in Him. He ‘lives in the heart’ of those who are His, and it is like we are no longer alone, but always in the company of the Creator. How we are changed because of this is no mystery, for we naturally adopt the character of those we spend much time with. The Spirit does not forge our character as a blacksmith beats and tempers a sword, but rather the Holy character of the Spirit permeates into our own character as the smell of fresh flowers eventually fills the room and the noses of those present. You cannot point a finger at the fragrance travelling and say, “look, there it goes”, for it is unseen and often very subtle, but it is no mystery.
So, it is by spending time with the Spirit of God that our spirit becomes like His, just as a husband and wife gradually become more similar in character as they abide together. The fruits of the Spirit are the result of the character of God becoming our own. The Spirit Himself does not ‘do’ the things that are referred to as fruits of the Spirit. Christ is the trunk, we are but small branches, and the Spirit is sap that flows in us – giving us food to grow. The fruit are what we produce as a result of abiding with God and having His character in us, in the form of the Holy Spirit.
Do not think that merely by being a Christian the fruits of the Spirit will be manifest. Sadly, I have met Christians who are notably lacking several. For the fruit cannot grow without a healthy branch for the life-giving sap to flow through. We are the branches, and as such we much ensure that we are not blocking the flow of sap to the fruit that could we could produce. Certainly, the Spirit does lives in us if we are merely small shoots rather than large branches, but how freely does it flow through us in our hearts and into our actions?
I never understood the way in which these concepts of the Spirit abiding in us and producing fruit until I experienced it myself. It is somewhat difficult to describe it in a different way, but I will make an attempt.
It is like our heart is a large house. The inner part of us – the sum of our characteristics - resides in this house just as a person would reside in their home. I imagine that different rooms correspond to different states of mind. For instance, one room may be labelled, ‘prayer’, another labelled ‘anger’, and another ‘pride’. There are many such rooms in the mansion of our heart – some are good, and others are bad. Throughout the day, we walk from room to room, sometimes praying, sometimes angry, or sometimes proud. We decorate each room with wall-hangings of our experiences, and furnish our rooms with cupboards and closets of our memories and couches made by the expert hands of habit. We are comfortable in the couches of our habits.
And so, we live. Each day a journey from one room to the next, occasionally adding or removing furniture or wall-hangings. Sometimes we stop to tidy a room by straightening our wall-hangings and picking up the debris of days gone by strewn over the floor.
We let the Holy Spirit in, after He knocks on the door ever so patiently, and we let Him stay with us in the house of our heart. But, too often, we restrict Him to only a few rooms – perhaps ‘prayer’ and ‘church’. Maybe we let Him also come in a join us when we are in our ‘pain’ or ‘hurt’ room. But when we go into some rooms, like pride, we bolt the door shut behind us. We restrict His access to our hearts, and so He cannot spend as much time with us as He should have. If we stop Him from coming with us everywhere in the house of our heart – in all situations and moods – not only can He not be with us in many rooms, but He cannot tidy those rooms by straightening some of the wall-hangings, tidying the cupboards and replacing the couches with better ones.
But, if we let Him have free reign in all places of our heart, what a wonder! It feels like there really is a holy and righteous God living in our hearts when we let Him have freedom there. When we want to sin and the Godly part of us longs to find strength not to, we are given strength in the still and peaceful words of the Spirit who simply says ‘no’, and it is enough. Things we used to want to do gradually change as the Spirit rearranges the furniture – the content – of our hearts.
What could be worse than not letting the Spirit have such freedom in our hearts? Perhaps it is when we let others into our hearts, and they tumble and trip on the mess that’s in our hearts because there’s very little light in some rooms. We seem to enjoy darkness that conceals the disordered and messy rooms of our heart, but we should not. The Holy Spirit should be as a light in our hearts – not placed in a cupboard or small room, but put in the centre of the house so that His light fills every crevice of our beings. When we allow Him to talk and be with us not matter what situation or mood we are in, and listen to what He says, we can truly say God abides with us.
But it is not enough to just hear God without obeying what He says. These are the people who are hearers but not doers of the Word. We must work with God in refurnishing our heart into a state of righteousness. Sometimes this refurnishing, this renewal, involves a shift in our attitudes or thought processes, but other times it can only be achieved by hard work – by doing actions in the real world like loving or being kind to others. For example, how can we say we have the fruits of the Spirit unless we do them? How can we say “I have kindness”, without ever choosing to be kind to others?
Yes, we have a choice about our actions, and we choose what fruit we produce because we choose to a large extent the content of our heart. It is best that we let God have free access to all parts of our heart. If we do this, it is like we are becoming bigger branches that allow the sap to flow more freely through us, so that the Spirit of God will be able to flow through us and into growing righteous fruit in our lives. So, over the next few posts, I hope to cover some practical aspects of the fruit of the Spirit, and hopefully see what they look like in practise.