The apostle Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:22-24)
I remember learning the fruits of the Spirit as a young boy through a song we used to sing. I can’t remember the tune but I never forgot these 9 characteristics of a Spirit-filled life. John MacArthur explains that the fruit of the Spirit are “godly attitudes that characterize the lives of only those who belong to God by faith in Christ and possess the Spirit of God. The Spirit produces fruit which consists of 9 characteristics or attitudes that are inextricably linked with each and are commanded of believers throughout the New Testament.” (MacArthur Study Bible)
The Bible teaches that a Christian is someone who has the Spirit of God. And in this passage, we come to learn what the result of the indwelling Spirit will be. When God comes into your life, God changes your life. Not that we become perfect, but a new reality has invaded our lives, as believers. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) As a result of the regenerating work of the Spirit in our lives, we now have the power to say no to sin, and yes to righteousness.
It is important, however, to keep in mind the biblical doctrine of sanctification. Without having a proper theology of sanctification, it would be easy to get discouraged as Christians. I say that because as Christian’s, we are a work in progress. What Christian do you know could honestly say they have already mastered the fruit of the Spirit? I don’t think anyone I know could honestly say his or her life is entirely characterized by these 9 attitudes and God doesn’t expect that of us.
Sanctification is simply defined as being set-apart unto God. It doesn’t happen overnight, but slowly and progressively God moves us in the direction of His Son Jesus Christ. We begin to look more and more like our Savior as we yield and submit ourselves to God. The bible says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3)
Please don’t misunderstand me – we are saved by grace and through faith alone. I am not advocating a works-based theology. I am simply saying that if God is a part of your life, He is going to change you and make you more like Christ, day by day. Will you have setbacks along the way? Yes, but God will give you the grace to get back on your feet and pursue Christ with full abandonment.
In speaking of false prophets, Jesus once said, “You will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16) In other words, the overflow of their life will indicate whether they are genuine or not. So is it necessary for someone to have the fruit of the Spirit in order to be a Christian? That’s a tough question, no doubt. I will say that it is necessary to have the Spirit of God in order to be a Christian. And if we follow Paul’s logic in Galatians 5, we can be confident that God is going to transform and change and sanctify the person who is in possession of the Spirit. No one will ever perfectly live out the fruit of the Spirit, this side of glory. However, the true Christian will be moving in the direction of Christ and the pursuit of holiness and godliness will be a priority in their life until the day they die.