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Between the Sundays Blog

How We Misunderstand the Fruit of the Spirit


Most Christians are familiar with the Works of the Flesh and the Fruit of the Spirit as described in Galatians 5. As familiar as we may be with these two lists, I am afraid many Christians have misunderstood Paul's purpose for including them in this passage.

What Paul Is Not Teaching

Paul's goal is not to provide a list of sins we are to avoid and a list of traits we are to pursue. Neither the list of the Works of the Flesh nor the list of Fruit of the Spirit are meant to be exhaustive. Paul is not teaching in this passage that in order to be a good Christian we have to manually change our outward behavior. He is not suggesting that we try harder in our own strength to become more pleasing to God.

What Paul Is Teaching

Paul is simply showing what a life controlled by the flesh looks like and what a life controlled by the Spirit looks like. His goal is for believers to live lives controlled by the Spirit of God. Paul wants us to understand that fruit in our lives flows from our union with Christ. The 'fruit' he mentions is the result of a relationship with God. It is the byproduct, not of more effort, but of greater surrender to the Spirit of God and a greater focus on our relationship with God. 'Fruit' is the result of the Spirit-led life.

Bringing It All Together

When we focus too much on the two lists and make this passage about what we need to avoid and what we need to pursue, we miss Paul's point and make the Christian life about behavior modification.

In reality, Paul is trying to get us to understand that the Christian life is anything but mere behavior modification; it is about a day-by-day and moment-by-moment surrender to the Spirit of God. It is not about our ability to stop certain actions and begin other actions in our own strength. It is about living a life surrendered to the Holy Spirit.

If you want to have more fruit in your life, the decision you need to make is simple. It is not to try harder to avoid the Works of the Flesh and pursue the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. It is to make your relationship with God a priority because you understand that fruit flows from that union (John 15:4-5).

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