Greg explains what role the fruit of the Spirit plays in the life of the Christian and whether it’s an indicator of regeneration.
It’s a basic teaching of Christianity that when a person receives the free gift of forgiveness— In other words, it’s not something you earn. You can’t buy it. You can only receive it, okay? —that something changes inside. It’s called regeneration, or the new birth, and this new birth has consequences.
So there are lots of people who say they believe in Jesus, but you look at their lives, and it seems there’s not the slightest bit of evidence that they’re actually trying to follow Jesus at all, and that’s not a good sign. James gives us reason to question the legitimacy of the genuine faith of that person. “Show me a faith without works,” he says, ”and I will show you my faith by my works.”
Now of course, works don’t save you, faith does, but a faith that saves is a faith that makes a difference in the way we behave. Okay, so this is all standard Christianity. Now, the question: The fruits of the spirit — are those necessary things or necessary evidences of the fact that we’re Christians such that if we don’t see those fruits of the Spirit in our lives, this indicates that we’re not really Christian?
Now, the fruits of the spirit come to us from Galatians, and they are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. They’re not instantaneous. They’re something that grow over time. The best evidence that we are Christians is not the fruit of the Spirit but obedience to God in the moral conduct of our lives, okay?
So let me clarify this so it’s not misunderstood. As we become Christians, we participate in good works. This is a phrase that’s used many times. Titus chapter 3, for example, Ephesians chapter 2 — These are two passages that talk about by grace we are saved or God saves us, but the result of it is that we engage in good works. Now, can you engage your good works without demonstrating significant amounts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control?
The answer to that is yes, I think. And that’s the issue. If you say you’re a follower of Christ, but you’re living in consistent, persistent, willful sin, bad sign. If, rather, the trajectory of your life is after the spirit, and you are seeking to live in a way that brings pleasure to God then, you know, that’s an evidence that you really are born again.
Well then, where do the fruits of the Spirit fit in? I think the fruits of the Spirit are evidence of maturing in Christ, not evidence of being a Christian. And I think about some of those fruits myself. You know, I’ve been a Christian for 45 years and, you know, I’m still praying about some of those fruits being produced in my life. Think about them: Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Goodness. Gentleness. Faithfulness. Self-control. Did I get them all? I’m not sure.
But you get the point. Wow. You know, sometimes we are pretty good in one, but then the other ones we’re not doing so good. Get through a hard time, maybe we don’t feel so joyful. You have kids, you’re raising kids, I’m not very patient, you know. So we go back and forth in those kinds of things, and generally speaking, I think what ought to be happening is there’s a general progression of upward improvement in a trajectory regarding those spiritual fruits.
But I would never put that on somebody else’s shoulder to say, “Well, you don’t have enough joy, so maybe you don’t know the Lord,” or something like that, because I’d be guilty of that too, myself, at certain times in my life. Or any of the other fruits of the Spirit. These are things the Holy Spirit builds over time, they are not something that start to happen immediately after we become Christians. Remember, the fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of the Spirit, not the fruit of your efforts. Good works — the things that identify you as a follower of Christ before the world — that, I think, is more fruit of our own efforts. Of course, we have to trust God for it, but it’s in a totally different category than the fruit of the Spirit.