Walking in the Spirit involves moment-by-moment sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. But is there an objective standard by which we can measure the vitality of our relationship with Him?
Yes, there is. Fruit is the telling sign. It is not simply one mark of a Spirit-filled life; it is the preeminent mark—the public testimony to a believer’s sensitivity to and dependency on the Holy Spirit.
Those who walk in the Spirit possess the following nine virtues: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). I believe there’s a reason Paul simply listed these virtues and moved on. They aren’t goals to pursue. Why? The fruit of the Spirit was never intended to be a demonstration of our dedication and resolve. Instead, it’s the evidence of our dependency on and sensitivity to the promptings of the Spirit.
How else can we characterize believers who walk in the Spirit? The closer you get to them, the better they look. They radiate integrity and trustworthiness. They don’t rely on personality, intimidation, or trumped-up enthusiasm to win you over. They accept themselves as they are and accept you as well. They’re the people you want to be like because of the depth of their character.
We’re not talking about perfection. They still have the flesh to contend with. They can be as unkind and insensitive as anybody else. But when they realize their sin, they are quick to apologize. They are aware that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they can rise above their sinful desires. Tuning in to His presence results in spiritual fruit that remains even during difficult times.
Unconditional love in a marriage or friendship shines brightest in the midst of our differences; in a similar way, the fruit of the Spirit demonstrates its divine source when circumstances and relationships take a turn for the worse. Then it becomes most apparent that the source of the Christian’s abiding character is something that lies deep within. When all the crutches and props are kicked away, and the believer is still standing, no one can argue that his uniqueness was simply a by-product of his environment.
Spirit-filled believers don’t win every battle. Doubt, temptation, hurt, and disappointment trip them up from time to time. But they don’t dwell on their missteps. They refocus their attention on the big picture, acknowledging the truth that their peace is from the Lord. Then they move on. They know “the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6).
The fruit of the Spirit is just that: fruit produced by God. When we abide in Christ and allow Him to live His life through us, the result is character that endures despite the chaos of life.
The fruit of the Spirit includes:
Love—for those who do not love in return.
Joy—in the midst of painful circumstances.
Peace—when something you were counting on doesn’t come through.
Patience—when things aren’t going fast enough for you.
Kindness—toward those who treat you unkindly.
Goodness—toward those who have been intentionally insensitive to you.
Faithfulness—when friends have proven unfaithful.
Gentleness—toward those who have handled you roughly.
Self-control—in the midst of intense temptation.
It is not uncommon for the Spirit’s fruit to take us by surprise. I have seen this happen many times, especially in the lives of new believers. When we shift our focus from self to the Holy Spirit, He can work freely in our lives. The results are uncharacteristic character, true change, and fruit that remains (John 15:16).
That is the nature of fruit. We don’t produce it; we discover it. As you begin walking in the Spirit, you will finish a debate with your kids and realize you didn’t raise your voice. You will walk away from a heated conversation and think, Wow, I didn’t lose my temper. You will be asked to go somewhere you have no business going, and you will hear yourself saying, “No, thank you.”
Eventually you will overhear someone make a comment to the effect of, “I don’t know what’s gotten into him, but he’s really different.” And you will realize that person is right, though not because you set out to change. Transformation will happen only when you surrender to the promptings of the Spirit. Remember, fruit is not something you work to attain. It’s something that can take you by surprise as the Holy Spirit produces it in your life.
Adapted from “The Wonderful Spirit-Filled Life” (1992).