“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 Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”
Living in alignment with the Spirit means bearing the fruit of the Spirit. It should be noted that the passage says “fruit” not “fruits,” which indicates these attributes collectively make up the Spirit-empowered virtues of the Christian life. It should also be noted that the fruit happens when we walk in the Spirit. The fruit is the result of our active response to the promptings of the Spirit in our lives, not a passive waiting for the Spirit to do something.
As we actively abide in Christ and commit to the disciplined process of spiritual growth, the fruit of the Spirit gets produced. The Spirit shapes us into the character of Christ, which is the image of God that man was given at creation but lost at the Fall. In other words, walking in the Spirit is the process of being transformed into the life for which God made us. It is a return to our true identity and purpose.
Scripture speaks to this process of continuous and progressive transformation in 2 Corinthians 3.17-18:
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
Note that spiritual transformation is a process. The fruit of the Spirit does not magically or automatically appear when we first trust in Christ. Every Christian has discovered the painful reality that the works of the flesh — the impulses of the old nature — come to us quite easily and with very little effort on our part. Let your guard down just a bit, and the impulses of the old nature will take over. Walking in the Spirit and bearing the fruit of the Spirit requires active faith, and it requires discipline.
It is for this reason, I think, that self-discipline is the ninth and final fruit of the Spirit in the list in Galatians 5. The Greek word that Galatians uses for “self-discipline” (enkrateia) comes from the root krat, which denotes power or lordship. Self-discipline means exercising power over yourself. It means keeping yourself under control. It is self-mastery over your inner desires, thoughts, actions, and words. It is the control a believer must exercise over his or her life.
Obviously, there is self-discipline that is disconnected from the Spirit. We might call it “self-driven self-discipline.” That is not what this verse is talking about. The message of Galatians 5 is Spirit-empowered self-discipline, which is what happens when a Christian trusts God, seeks to obey scripture, asks for the Spirit’s power, recognizes and rejects the impulses of the sin nature, exercises self-mastery, and “takes every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10.5).
The fruit of the Spirit is produced when we respond to God working in our lives. It is a choice — a decision — we must repeatedly make. This is the message of Galatians 5. Recognize the impulses of the old nature and reject them. Recognize the fruit of the Spirit and walk in them. Make the choice!
You can’t be passive. You cannot just sit back and wait for the Spirit to do the work for you. Bearing the fruit of the Spirit is an inner battle that requires faith-driven effort and Spirit-empowered discipline.
In case there is any confusion or hesitation about this, we have 1 Timothy 4.7 which provides clarity on the necessity of self-discipline: “Train yourself in godliness,” the scripture says. The word for “train” is gumnazo, from which we get our word gymnasium. It means “to exercise vigorously, whether in body or mind.”
Training yourself in godliness is not something that is done to you by God; rather, it is something you do to yourself in response to God and in fellowship with Him. Again, it is Spirit-empowered. It is by grace. It is through faith, and it includes discipline-driven choices and a great deal of hard work on your part.
Want the fruit? Trust God, make the choice to walk in the Spirit, do the work.