The phrase "the fruit of the Spirit" has caused a great deal of confusion over the years. Perhaps it would be best to begin by explaining what the fruit of the Spirit is not. It is not the result of any effort anyone can make. Not the effort to have faith or to obey or to be loving and kind. The fruit of the Spirit has nothing directly to do with any exertion a believer can make.
What is the fruit of the Spirit?
The fruit of the Spirit is the natural result of the presence of the Holy Spirit residing in a believer. Philippians 2:13 says, "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." Conversely, Isaiah 64:6 says, "all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment…" In and of ourselves, we cannot do good. As Hebrews 13:20-21 says, "Now may the God of peace … equip you with everything good that you may do his will." God accomplishes this as the Holy Spirit indwells believers, changing their character (Philippians 1:6) and manifesting good "fruit." Galatians 5:22-23 lists the characteristics of this fruit.
Love - agape: Agape love is not a sentimental, sweet, affectionate emotion. It is a choice to put others first and to sacrifice ourselves on their behalf (John 15:13). This kind of love can only come through God's power.
Joy - chara: Joy is not happiness; that is, it does not depend on "happenstance." It is independent of our worldly situation. In Philippians 2:1-4, Paul associates complete joy with fellowship and peace in the body of Christ. True joy is the result of a right relationship with God.
Peace - eirene: Peace means everything good within relationships: harmony, friendliness, safety, order, rest, and contentment. First Corinthians 3:3 asserts that the opposite—strife—is from the flesh.
Patience - makrothumia: Patience here does not refer to keeping your temper or waiting out an inconvenience. It actually means longsuffering in the face of persecution or abuse. It brings to mind 1 Corinthians 13:5-7 and Jesus' silence while He was being whipped and beaten (Isaiah 53:7).
Kindness - chrestotes: The Bible never tells us to be "nice." "Niceness" often comes from a fear of what others will think or do. "Kindness" is much harder. It encompasses the moral goodness and integrity required to know the right course of action with the strength to choose it.
Goodness - agathosune: Goodness is kindness with an edge. It is fierce kindness, able to do the right thing even if it's hard, even if it hurts someone. "Good" in the New Testament is nearly always associated with God (James 1:17).
Faithfulness - pistis: Faithfulness in this verse does not mean loyalty or dependability. It means belief in God, acknowledgement of His Word, surrender to Him, and the actions that naturally result from that surrender (Hebrews 11:1). When we possess the Spirit's fruit of faithfulness, we are full of faith/trust in God.
Gentleness - prautes: This word doesn't have a true English translation, although "meekness" is often used. It does not refer to actions or attitudes toward others but to the spiritual condition of submission toward God. It means to accept His correction without disputing or resisting. Much like kindness, gentleness comes from a position of strength. It is submission and grace without concern for one's own rights (Philippians 2:5-7).
Self-control - egkrateia: Self-control can also only be manifested through strength. The root word implies a robust power, mastery, and restraining. Paul's teaching concerning self-control actually scared Felix, the governor he confronted in Acts 24 (see verse 25).
The most important concept regarding the fruit of the Spirit is that it is the Spirit's fruit. We are often admonished to be more loving, to have joy, or to be kind, but we cannot do so without the power of the Holy Spirit in us. It is the Holy Spirit who gives love (1 John 4:7), joy (1 Thessalonians 1:6), peace (Romans 8:6), patience (Colossians 1:11), kindness (2 Peter 1:1-9), goodness (2 Thessalonians 1:11), faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), gentleness (2 Corinthians 10:1), and self-control (2 Peter 1:6). Still, we do have a part. Our attitude and our actions affect how the Holy Spirit works in us. We can quench His power and influence (Ephesians 4:30), or we can share in the work of sanctification (1 Peter 1:15; Hebrews 12:14). The "fruit" of the Holy Spirit is directed and powered by God. If we do not abide in Christ, allowing the Holy Spirit to bear fruit in us, we will be clipped off and tossed away just like a shriveled vine (John 15:1-6).
Who is the Holy Spirit?
When do we receive the Holy Spirit?
What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?
How does the Holy Spirit seal us? What is the seal of the Holy Spirit?
What is the role of the Holy Spirit? How is the Holy Spirit active in our lives today?
Truth about the Holy Spirit