Bible Study

Personal Salvation and Evangelism Session 8

We continue with our study of the gift of the Holy Spirit, looking in this session at the fruit of the Spirit resulting in our transformed character.


When we studied repentance, we looked at Romans 12:1-2:

Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)  I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Paul calls us to choose not to be conformed to the world’s values, but to open ourselves to seeing things from God’s perspective so that we can live in ways that are pleasing to God and in ways that show forth God’s character to the world. He calls this change being “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” If we read this verse in isolation it is not obvious what it has to do with the Holy Spirit. But Paul has already told us in 8:5-11 how the renewing of the mind takes place. 

Romans 8:5-11 (ESV)  5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  7For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.  8Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  10But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 8:7-8 says that those who are in the flesh (that is, in a worldly mindset) are hostile to God, unable to submit to God’s law, and totally incapable of pleasing God. Romans 8:9 tells us that anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. In other words, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is necessary to our being Christian and to receiving the benefits of being Christian. When by faith we receive the gracious gift of Christ’s righteousness as a covering for our sin, it is the Holy Spirit who begins gradually to build the righteousness of Christ into our lives. It is the Spirit who enables us to walk daily in newness of life. This gradual transformation that is occurring in our lives through the work of the Holy Spirit points ahead to the completion of that transformation when we at last are brought into the resurrection body and share the glory of Christ eternally.

N. T. Wright says that Paul writes the Letter to the Romans with the model of the exodus in mind. Our past life of slavery to sin compares to Israel’s time in Egypt. Our future resurrection life compares to Israel’s entry to the promised land. Our present life under the direction of the Spirit compares to Israel’s life in the wilderness. The guidance that came to Israel in the wilderness was provided by the laws of Sinai, the pillar of fire and cloud, and Moses’ leadership, but this guidance comes to us through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. 

The Holy Spirit gives us the renewed mind, the new way of seeing as God sees, that alone is able to please God.

It is clear that Paul also has this exodus model in mind when he writes 2 Corinthians 3

2 Corinthians 3:3, 5b-6, 16-18 (ESV)  3And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts…. 5bOur sufficiency is from God,  6who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life…. (There is a long interlude about the veiled glory that shone from Moses’ face in connection with his receiving of the temporary law, a glory that will surely be surpassed by the unveiled glory associated with the permanent gospel of Jesus Christ). 16But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.  17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  18And 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.

What this says is that the Holy Spirit will work through our faith in Jesus to transform us, from one degree of glory to another, into the likeness of Jesus who is himself the image of the Father.

I believe that much of this gradual transformation occurs as the Holy Spirit produces within us the fruit of the Spirit.

Galatians 5:16-26 (ESV) But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  17For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.  18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,  20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,  21envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.  26Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Paul is claiming that, since the Holy Spirit gives us our life in Christ, we must decide to cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s ongoing renewal of our natures. We must come to understand and to recognize the difference between work of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit.

Lives dominated by works of the flesh cannot enter the kingdom of God. Of course, we all slip into fleshly thinking from time to time. And we are saved not by our works of righteousness, but by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, by being covered with Jesus’ righteousness. Paul is not here reversing this basic teaching.

What he is saying is that, if we want to enter the realm where God rules, we must let him rule over our natures; we must submit ourselves to the transforming work of his Spirit by which he gradually is conquering the sin in our hearts. This is simply how we receive the grace he has offered us. A person who is saved by grace cannot be content to remain unchanged, but must cooperate with the Spirit’s transforming work.

This is not an achievement test. This is an orientation test. The question is, “In gratitude for our salvation, are we oriented toward its source?” If we are not, then we probably have not yet received the grace in the first place.  

The journey of Christian transformation under the direction of the Holy Spirit has a recognizable direction. We are moved from what Paul calls “the works of the flesh” to the fruit of the Spirit. The works of the flesh are the things we do in accord with our unredeemed desires, feelings, and thoughts. Paul lists some examples. We could make the list longer: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” We do not need to spend long on this list: It begins with obvious sexual sins (fornication, impurity, licentiousness), moves next to obvious religious sins (idolatry, sorcery), and ends with obvious partying sins (drunkenness, carousing). In the middle is a longer and less obvious list of fleshly works, the ones that most often tear apart churches and families (enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy). Paul had a great knack for wrecking any opportunity for self-righteousness. Never mind that the gentlemen among us may recite, “We don’t cuss and we don’t chew, and we don’t go with girls who do.” If we are jealous, envious, quarrelsome, gossipy, or slanderous, we still fail the test. Paul gives something for all of us to contemplate with humility.

Paul understands that sin is anything that causes us to fall short of God’s goal for our lives. He understands that sin enters our lives when we worship (view as of highest worth and as the source of our worth) anything that is part of creation. Only the Creator is of highest worth. Only the Creator is the source of our worth.  If we attribute highest worth to anything else, we will find our lives and the lives of those around us diminished accordingly, because we have stepped off the path toward our highest destiny as children of God.

But, when we place our faith in Jesus, we no longer worship anything in creation. Instead, we open ourselves for God gradually to build into our lives the qualities that show our ultimate destiny. Paul calls these qualities the fruit of the Spirit.

The Fruit of the Holy Spirit

In order to receive the fruit of the Spirit, we must cooperate with the work of the Spirit in our lives, but it is not a matter of our producing these qualities in ourselves by our own internal reform efforts. The Spirit works in us best when we keep our faith focused on Jesus, not when we spend all our time analyzing our faults. Self-obsession is not the best way to encourage the fruit of the Spirit.

Consider for a moment the production of fruit. Fruit may grow on a tree, a shrub, a vine, or a garden plant. But it grows on something that has roots and stems that bring water and nutrients to it. It grows on some sort of plant that has leaves that use the sun’s light to produce and store energy in forms that make the fruit taste good to us. It grows as a development from a flower that has been pollinated. The plant cannot produce fruit of itself. It produces the fruit because of what its leaves, roots, stems, and flowers do in response to the water, soil, sunlight and bees.            

Likewise, we do not make ourselves into good Christians. Rather, we get better and better as the Word, the Christ, and the Spirit work within us to produce Christlike qualities. That is why it is so appropriate that Paul refers to the emerging Christlike qualities as the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit comes not merely as a result of our New Year’s resolutions, but as a result of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling work in our lives. We cannot make ourselves good. We can only create the opportunities for the Holy Spirit to work unimpeded within us. 

Let’s look at the fruit of the Spirit one at a time (My explanations of the fruit of the Spirit are based on commentaries by Ronald Fung, Timothy George, F.F. Bruce, Ben Witherington, Richard Longenecker, and Ann Jervis.):


Love, as used here, refers to how the love of God takes root in our lives and expresses itself through us. When we believe the good news of Jesus Christ and receive his Holy Spirit into our lives, we are overwhelmed by a flood of divine love in our hearts. This love of God is the source and fountain from which all Christian virtues and all spiritual fruit flow. The indwelling Spirit is characterized by love, and should be the controlling force of Christian life.  Some claim that love is an overarching category which the remaining eight fruit of the Spirit display in specific ways. That is possible.


Joy, for the Christian, is not dependent on pleasant circumstances, but flows from being “in Christ,” “in the Lord,” “in faith,” and “in the Spirit.” Christian joy is founded on the ground of hope in the new creation.  It celebrates our expectation that God will win the ultimate victory over sin and darkness. Indeed, he has won the victory already, and we are in the mopping up operation. Christian joy has a future-looking attitude that hopes for the unseen new creation.


Peace, in the life of the believer, is much more than we might imagine. For Greeks, peace meant finding a well-balanced, self-sufficient life that could not be disturbed by turmoil. For Jews, peace meant total material and social blessedness. But for Christians, peace comes from having a right relationship with God and with fellow believers through Jesus Christ, from having our hearts and minds kept and guarded in Christ-centered focus.


Patience, as Paul uses it, has to do with enduring suffering or wrong treatment without either taking vengeance or giving up. The patient Christian has a slow fuse, is not easily offended, is steadfast, and demonstrates staying power. Christian leaders especially need patience as they teach with “great patience and careful instruction.”


Kindness is not sentimental or wishy-washy; it is not opposite to clarity and sternness. It is rather characterized by a gracious attitude toward sinners. Christian kindness reflects the character of God who is kind to those who rebel against him without ever giving in to their rebellion.


Goodness combines two ideas: (1) a moral excellence that goes beyond mere justice to seek the best for others, and (2) a generosity that expresses itself in self-giving. It is opposite to greed and envy.


Faithfulness here most likely refers to the quality of being credible, trustworthy, loyal, dependable, and reliable. A one-word synonym might be fidelity. God’s faithfulness in Jesus Christ is the foundation of our faithfulness.

Gentleness, Meekness       

Gentleness and meekness are words that are easy for us to misunderstand. These English words are softer than the Greek word that they translate. Moses, Jesus, and Paul each had this quality, and they show that it did not involve the inability to speak plainly and to act boldly. It means having a teachable spirit and a considerate manner. It means being submissive to the will of God. It means keeping personal feelings in check in the interest of larger purposes. It is opposite to someone who will not listen and learn, opposite to someone who is always venting hostility. But the gentle and meek person Paul envisions can still take courageous and vigorous action for the right cause.


Self-control involves mastering and disciplining our own desires and passions. It is opposite to over-indulgence; it is opposite to yielding to temptation. It involves temperance and chastity, not for their own sake, but for the sake of our Christian covenants, communities, missions, and ministries.        

These qualities known as the fruit of the Spirit, when we understand what they mean, remind us of Jesus. In fact, the life of Jesus is the best way to test our understanding of these qualities. If our understanding of the fruit of the Spirit does not fit with the way Jesus lived, we had better fix our understanding.

Let’s be clear. The fruit of the Spirit are not soft, weak qualities. Having the fruit of the Spirit will not guarantee that we will never have conflict or division. Jesus had conflict and division. Jesus called people to make decisions of faith and mission, and some of those he called said, “No.” Some even became hostile to Jesus.

But the gradual growth of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives means that we will not have as much needless and pointless division in our lives. Believers who are growing under the Spirit’s leading  will be gaining wisdom about how to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. They will become more constructive, more creative, more appealing, and more attractive as they represent Jesus.

[Perhaps Paul’s most detailed presentation of the Spirit-transformed life comes in Ephesians 4:1—5:21. I have decided not to include discussion of it in these notes because it does not add much to our understanding of how the Spirit works to transform us. But it does expand the detail on the results of the Spirit’s transforming work.  I commend that passage for follow-up reading].        

Discussion Questions

1. Whose Christlike character has most influenced you? What qualities stood out in their lives?

2. List some characteristics Paul attributes to flesh that have little to do with our physical bodies. Do you agree that, in passages about our behavior, Paul uses the term flesh to refer not to our physical bodies, but to ungodly attitudes of all kinds? Do you agree that the contrast between flesh and Spirit is not between material and non-material, but between ungodly and godly?

3. What fruit of the Spirit have been growing best in your life?

4. Can you think of a time that the Holy Spirit has helped you turn from an ungodly attitude toward a godly one?

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