You’re in the produce section of your neighborhood grocery store. Just for a minute, lay your list aside and look. Piled high, stacked neatly, and arranged in alternating bands of color are fruits of every imaginable flavor and type. Focus on the fruit.
Apples mirror your reflection in their polished surface. Within their crunchy fruit, seeds make a star-shaped design. Grapefruit exude a tangy, sweet aroma, their skin thick and spongy. Bananas perch delicately, bunched by fives and sixes, yellow skin dotted with brown spots. Strawberries wear their seeds as a cloak. Pineapples guard their syrupy sweetness with a prickly exterior. Coconuts challenge any fruit-eater to break through their barrier to get to the good stuff.
Fruit. Varieties of smells and shapes and sizes. All nutritious. All tasty. Each distinct. Each unique.
Fruit is the result of growth. It’s the evidence that a plant or a vine or a tree has been rooted and established, fed and nurtured, watered and staked and pruned to the point of reproducing. Spiritual fruit is what results in our lives when we root ourselves in a relationship with God. When we live a life connected like this with God, he grows his nature in who we are and fruit results: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Consider the opposite for a moment. In the New Testament, the book of Galatians lists certain qualities resulting from a life disconnected from God. The writer, a follower of God named Paul, lists putrid produce like “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies” (Gal. 5:19–21). Not too pretty! Not what we’d paw through at the grocery store! Not what we’d pinch and smell and select to take home to The Fam for the week! Ugh! These are not characteristics we want in our lives.
Ah, but then in verses 22 and 23 Paul describes the results of a life lived in connection with God, a life lived in a healthy direction, a life that makes a difference for tomorrow: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Precious plums they are! We take in their aroma and our mouths water. They are beautiful to our eyes. We imagine a table spread with their offerings, our families gathered round, plates ready, tummies eager for their sustenance. Here is attractive, appealing fruit that we want in our lives, welcome into the lives of our children, and desire in the lives of those in our world.
The fruits of the Spirit are those God-like qualities that make us look like him. They are his nature exhibited in our personalities. When we plant ourselves in a relationship with Jesus, day in and day out, the result of that relationship is the fruit of his characteristics in us. The fruit of the Spirit is what we look like when we’re like Jesus.
For most of us, such a definition comes a bit as a surprise. It can even be unsettling. Looking and acting like Jesus? Huh? Exactly how would that be? That might be a very good thing, but would our own character traits fade away? Would God replace the “me” we know with some saintlike replica that more closely resembles what we believe Jesus to be? Our edgy enthusiasm tamed to a controlled warmth. Our tough determinism melted to a driven discipline. We picture a robotlike woman—only holier. We pull back and wonder, Will I even recognize myself if I live such a fruit-filled life? The question haunts, Will I still be me?
As I stated in the introduction, the fruit of the Spirit is about more than being nice. Naked fruit gets past the peeling. The fruit of the Spirit is indeed God’s characteristics. But it is God’s characteristics exhibited in us. Being like Jesus means showing the spirit fruits—as expressed in our own personalities. “Peace” in your own skin might look like a calm version of a caffeine addict, whereas in the skin of your neighbor it may look like a lobotomy. “Joy” might appear as stillness in you but more like a whooped-up party in your sister.
For me, this “God’s fruit in my own skin” concept comes home when I look at my major life heroes and how far short of their image I fall. Take Mother Teresa. Compassionate. Giving. Fearless. Sacrificial. Content with possessing nothing. I look at the life she lived, immersing herself in the power of Jesus amid poverty and offering hope without ceasing. Wow. Then I look at my whining about how my kids can’t seem to keep their junk in their rooms, about how I have to wait in a stack of traffic for an unexpected forty-five minutes while doing errands, about how my husband doesn’t move his snack plates from the sink to the dishwasher. Yuk.
Mother Elisa looks very little like Mother Teresa. But hey, we’re so hard on ourselves! Yes, there are way too many moments when ugliness emerges in my life responses. I’m not always nice. But there are actually occasions when I find myself engaged by a friend’s need to the point that I race to the hospital to be at her side and don’t seem to notice I haven’t eaten or even gone to the bathroom for hours. Or I notice a child’s favorite shirt is soiled and so throw in an extra load to prepare it for the next day’s needs—just cuz I want to help out. Or I notice I’m extra grumpy before I lose my tongue and don’t actually verbalize what I soooo much want to say.
Maybe I don’t look like Mother Teresa all the time. But maybe, just maybe, I look a little bit like Jesus now and then due to the fact that I’m rooted in a relationship with him and he’s growing me to be like him.
Wait a minute; I’m saying that it’s harder for me to look like Mother Teresa than it is to look like Jesus! Duh, of course. It’s always harder for us to repeat the offering of another human than it is to be the best “me” we can be with the help of Jesus.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the fruit of the Spirit. These are God’s qualities exhibited in our personalities. These are what we look like when we look like God. Strip off the nice and get naked.
1. Think about how peaches grow from a tree, strawberries from a vine, pineapples from a bush. Each fruit looks unique and yet grows as a result of its attachment to the source of growth. Mentally flip through all the people you know who exhibit one or more of the spiritual fruit in their lives: your mother-in-law, your sister, a neighbor, a teacher. Name which spiritual fruits you see in their lives. How does each fruit change from personality to personality? What does this exercise tell you about what spiritual fruit might look like in your personality? Now apply this same thinking to how spiritual fruit might be expressed in your children or in your husband.
2. God’s character grows in you as you “plant” yourself in him. Have you ever made such a decision to “plant” yourself in God? Here’s how:
I want to be like you. I need the help and the promises
you offer. I need the hope of being connected to you and
your perfection in this crazy world. I can’t do life by
myself without messing it up. Please save me from
myself so that I can be the best me I can be by being in
a relationship with you. And, as I “plant” myself in
you, will you please grow in me these qualities that look
like you? I long for a life that matters and that makes a
difference in my children, my family, and my world. I
realize that happens when these qualities are growing
in me out of a relationship with you.
In your name, amen.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-
control. Against such things there is no law. -- Galatians 5:22–23