“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Background and Context

The listing the fruit of the Spirit is found near the end of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia. This community of Christians had started well but was running into problems. They had become confused about righteousness – that is, what was required to be in “right relationship with God.”

At first the Galatians were correctly taught that a right relationship with God was based on believing and receiving what Jesus Christ accomplished for them through His death and resurrection. The arrival of the Holy Spirit supplemented this relationship by giving Christians the ability to be obedient. This meant that any form of human law-keeping contributed nothing to a right relationship with God. As time passed, however, the church became confused by some legalistic Christians who insisted that trusting Christ and depending on the Spirit was not enough. The legalists taught that obeying certain laws (especially circumcision) was necessary to achieve and maintain right relationship with God. Paul refers to the legalists as “agitators” (Galatians 5:12) who were robbing the believers of freedom in Christ.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a passionate correction to the false teaching, and an encouragement to stay on the right track – trusting in Christ and depending on the Spirit. Galatians 5:1 declares: it is for freedom that Christ has set us free, and 5:25 states: Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. What Christ accomplished and what the Holy Spirit provides is the life-source for the beautiful fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23.

 Key Terms and Contrasts

In Galatians 5, Paul contrasts the fruit of the Spirit with a list of behaviours and attitudes that emerge from the sinful nature and lurk in every believer. In 5:16 Paul writes: Live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. The Greek word for “sinful nature” (sarx) can also be translated as “flesh”. This word is used here and elsewhere to describe the dark or sinful side of human nature. According to Paul, nothing good dwells in the sarx (Romans 7:18).

The word sarx is not the only New Testament word describing the human body. At times the Greek word soma is also used. Although sarx and soma are sometimes interchangeable, soma is not a negative term. It signifies the body as a good – though temporary - gift from God.  Jesus Christ, fully God and man, had a soma. When He served His disciples at the last supper, He blessed the bread and said “this is my soma, given for you.” Jesus had a good soma, but he never succumbed to the temptations of the sarx.

It is crucial for Christians to distinguish sarx from soma. The needs of the soma are God-given: safety, food, drink, healthy human touch, sexual intimacy.  This must be affirmed because at times in history Christians have neglected or abused their bodies under a false teaching that the body is only sarx.

In the context of the problems in Galatia, Paul surprisingly links the sarx with the false teaching of the legalists. The “acts of the sarx” (5:19-21) include church problems like dissension, factions, anger, and envy. In other words, the sinful sarx can pollute the church.

Paul also contrasts the sour fruit of the sarx with the beautiful qualities of the Spirit. Note the phrasing in the following verses: 5:19 – “the acts of the sarx are…” 5:22 – “the fruit of the Spirit is…” The acts of the sarx emerge from human impulse and ambition. Spiritual fruit emerges from the Holy Spirit within us, and is a beautiful manifestation of the Spirit working within a person who cooperates with God.

A Constant Battle

The struggle between the sarx and the Holy Spirit is a constant battle, even in the most mature follower of Jesus. In Romans 7 Paul describes his own struggles in this regard. He refers to the competing desires within us (Galatians 5:17), and urges the Galatians to not grow weary in the battle (Galatians 6:9).  The Christian life – staying connected to Christ and keeping in step with the Spirit, requires our ongoing cooperation. Thanks be to God – the Spirit is stronger than sarx!

 “against such things there is no law”

 This final phrase in Galatians 5:23 contrasts the life of the Spirit with the fear-based and guilt-driven approach of the legalists that threatened the health of the Galatian community. “Against these things there is no law” means that there are no biblical laws to monitor or restrict the fruit of the Spirit. We can never have too much of them in our lives or the church!

Why are Christians Prone to Legalism?

 Christians throughout history have been prone to slip into the problems that the Galatians encountered, because humans are vulnerable to legalism. The causes for this can be complex. Sometimes people are not properly taught what the Bible says about God’s love and grace. This can be complicated by psychological or relational issues – for example, people raised in abusive or overly-strict homes may be prone to never feeling “good enough”. This can lead to unhealthy habits of trying to earn God’s love through human effort. When this spills into the spiritual life, Christian people can become legalistic.

Whatever the causes, legalism can manifest in various ways: inflexible theological systems, fear-based preaching, rigid traditions and rules, or adherence to certain political views.  The letter to the Galatians has ongoing significance and application. Any form of legalism must be identified and opposed!

Other Images of Fruit in the Bible, and Jesus as the Vine

The use of the “fruit” image is found in a number of places in the Bible. In Psalm 1, the wise person is compared to a tree planted in a nourishing place, meditating on the Torah (law) day and night. This person “bears fruit in season” (Psalm 1:3). Jeremiah 17: 5-8 uses images from Psalm 1 to contrast the fruitful and unfruitful people of God. A warning of bad fruit in Isaiah 5:1-7 describes God’s people as an unfruitful vineyard that has tolerated injustice and unrighteousness. 

In Matthew 7:16-20 Jesus uses the images of trees and fruit to contrast godly and ungodly people: you will know them by their fruit. In Matthew 12:33-37 He again refers to trees and fruit, connecting them to healthy and unhealthy talk: for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

In John 15:1-8, Jesus links the fruitful spiritual life to connection with Him and God the Father. Jesus tells the disciples that He is the “vine” and they are the “branches”. They are to remain in Him in order to bear fruit. Jesus refers to God the Father as the gardener who prunes in order to enable healthy spiritual growth. Taken together with the teaching in Galatians 5, we see an image of character development that involves all persons of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is seamless cooperation within the Trinity – they model harmony and effectiveness. Meditating on these truths can keep us humble – we still have more to learn about the magnificent way in which God is bringing His Kingdom to earth through those who keep in step with what He is doing. This can inspire us to keep opening our hearts to the work of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our lives and church community.

The Fruit of the Spirit at Bethany Chapel - Creating an Attractive Culture

You will notice that the fruit of the Spirit are qualities not unique to Christianity; they are universally acknowledged as positive human characteristics. Other faith traditions emphasize many, if not all, of these qualities. As Christians we should not be startled or troubled by this, but realize that Christ wants His followers to mature in a way that is attractive to the world. The more we can cultivate these qualities in church life, the more compelling our community will become.

What is unique to Christianity is the source of the fruit – the work of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are not producing these qualities by human effort alone. When we stay connected to Christ and open to the work of the Father and the Holy Spirit, Christians will stand out from the world. The unique flavor of our community life will be the “value added” that draws people to our church culture.

In the early years of the church, this “value added” was evident to outsiders. Note how the house churches were described in the book of Acts: they experienced the favour of all people, and God was adding to their numbers daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:47). In the 2nd century, the African Christian Tertullian quoted a pagan Roman who, after spending time with Christians said this: Look how they love one another; and how they are ready to die for each other. In the 3rd century the Christian Cyprian wrote to his friend Donatus: It is a really bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. Yet in the midst of it I have found a quiet and holy people. They have discovered a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of this simple life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians.

Followers of Jesus who desire and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit create a culture. The English root of our word culture – colere - is derived from the same word as “cultivate”, which refers to tilling a garden or field. In church community this refers to the cultivation of certain practices – the way we think, behave and speak in everyday interactions, activities, and ministries.

Our vision at Bethany Chapel is to “opening doors to God’s truth and love.” Our core values underscore the importance of acceptance and encouragement. The pursuit of our vision and values will only be realized if we are cultivating the fruit of the Spirit, day in and day out. This will not happen automatically – we need to keep in step with the Spirit and ask for His help.


Lord Jesus, we want to cultivate the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives and church. We want to remain in You, our source of salvation, freedom, and life. Help us identify, confess, and oppose any forms of legalism. Mature us in your love and freedom. To the glory of God the Father. In Jesus Name, Amen.


  1. What strikes you as important in our teaching on the fruit of the Spirit?

  2. In your life as a follower of Christ, which of the fruit has been most evident? Which of the fruit are you eager to have the Spirit produce more fully? Which fruit do you most value in others?

  3. Paul’s teaching in Galatians makes it clear that legalism is one of the barriers preventing the fruit of the Spirit from emerging. What examples of legalism have you experienced?

  4. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit work harmoniously in our lives and church to produce the fruit. How might you, and our church, more fully embrace the fullness of God in our practises?


Endnote 1 - Distinguishing the Fruit and Gifts of the Spirit

The fruit of the Spirit are not the same as the gifts of the Spirit. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are listed in a number of places in the New Testament (e.g. 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4). These are unique capacities given to Christians by the Holy Spirit. These include gifts such as prophecy, teaching, preaching, hospitality, and administration. Individual Christians differ in how they have been gifted by the Spirit. The purpose of the gifts are to accomplish God’s kingdom purposes in the church and the world.  The fruit of the Spirit differ from the gifts in that they refer to character traits that all Christians are called to cultivate. They are the marks of spiritual maturity for every believer in Christ.

 Endnote 2 - Categorizing the Fruit

Some scholars have made the case that love – the first fruit – is the most important and serves as the foundation for the other eight. This would be consistent with Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 13, in which he declares that love is the greatest expression of true faith.

The nine qualities of fruit have also been broken down into three categories:

  • Upward qualities (based on our relationship with God) – love, joy, peace

  • Outward qualities (affecting our human relationships) – patience, kindness, goodness

  • Inward qualities (born and bred in our innermost life) – faithfulness, gentleness, self-control

Although it is natural to try to organize the nine fruits in various groupings or priorities, there are no clear categories provided by Paul in his list.

Sermon Study Notes

Click on the link to download that Sunday's Sermon Study Notes in PDF format.

Love - September 23, 2018

Joy - September 30, 2018

Peace - October 7, 2018

Patience - October 14, 2018

For Sermon Study Notes from our past Sermon Series on the Gospel of Luke click here.

For Sermon Study Notes from our past Sermon Series on the Book of Philippians click here.