Fruit doesn’t grow spontaneously.

Fruit of the Spirit is the product of cultivation. If we actively follow the Holy Spirit, if we seek his direction and adopt his attitudes, in short order we’re gonna share his attitudes.

And if we passively just figure, “I’m Christian, so I’m going to heaven, so I’m good,” we’re not cultivating a thing. We’re not producing fruit. We’re the same selfish people we’ve always been. Maybe with a few Christianese labels slapped onto our bad behavior in order to justify it to ourselves, but ’tain’t fooling God any.

Sadly that’s the default in Christianity. Lot of fruitless Christians out there. We figure since we don’t earn our salvation, we don’t need to work for anything. We can just sit on our widening western rear ends, do no heavy lifting whatsoever, and God will do all the work.

  • Instead of resisting temptation and obeying God’s commands, we do cheap grace.
  • Instead of demonstrating we’re Christians by our love, Jn 13.35 we demonstrate it by rattling off our statements of faith.
  • Instead of pursuing a continual, growing relationship with God, we say the sinner’s prayer, and figure that’ll do us till kingdom come.
  • Instead of testimonies about what God’s currently doing in our lives, we tell the same old 30-year-old come-to-Jesus story, and figure that’s the only testimony we’ll ever need.
  • Instead of going to church, and becoming an integral part of that support system, we find a church where the services are only 60 minutes long—if we ever physically go, ’cause they live-stream it on their website!—and that’ll do us for the month.
  • Instead of sharing Jesus, we share Facebook memes.
  • Instead of financially supporting our church, we offer lots of moral support. And hey, there’s more where that came from.
  • Instead of reading our bibles… nah, we don’t offer any substitute. We just don’t read it. We did watch that The Bible miniseries when it was on Netflix, though.

Thanks to these practices, we presume the Spirit’s fruit works the very same way. We have the Spirit within us, and he’s gotta be doing something in there, right? So we figure he’s growing fruit. It’s developing all on its own, with no input nor effort from us. We’ll just magically grow fruity.

Yep, I’ve even heard testimonies about it. “So one day, after I became a Christian, I got into an argument with a co-worker, and he just made me so angry! I was gonna take him out back and punch his lights out. I usedta do that sort of thing all the time before I became Christian; just wailed on people. But for some reason—I really can’t explain it!—I didn’t wanna beat the tar out of him. I just felt this weird, peaceful feeling. I felt love for that guy. I can only think it came from God.”

Now, a lot of fruitless Christians lie about what constitutes “fruit” in their lives, so I won’t put it past ’em to likewise lie about their testimonies. More likely they weren’t angry enough to go curb-stomp their antagonists, and since it wasn’t blind rage, maybe it’s love?—maybe it’s a God-thing? But no, the Spirit’s fruit of love isn’t typified by the fact he keeps us from our rage-induced acts of felony battery. Yes he can do such things if he wants, but there’s a far greater chance we accidentally drank a roofie.

There are red flags aplenty in the testimonies of fruitless Christians. We get love which doesn’t look like love, kindness which isn’t all that kind, joy with just a bit of evil mixed in, and I’ve met pagans with way more patience than many a Christian. Fact is, these “testimonies” describe the one moral victory they experienced within a lifetime of compromise, capitulation, and doing as comes naturally. This isn’t in any way a habitual fruit of the Spirit. They have no such things. That’s why they constructed entire stories about these rare exceptions.

Real fruit isn’t the rare exception. And it doesn’t come naturally. We don’t “just change.” We obey God. That’s the soil the Spirit’s fruit grows in. No soil? No fruit.

We’re commanded to produce fruit.

Whenever I say this, I get pushback from people who insist fruit does so grow spontaneously. Because it’s what all their fellow Christians tell them. It’s all they’ve ever heard. God does all the work, and our own works are as filthy rags: We’re not gonna grow righteous through works!

Except I’m not even talking about righteousness. I’m talking about fruit. They’re not the same thing at all. Fruit doesn’t make us righteous; faith does. Ro 3.22 Fruit only makes us fruity. Which is important too. But righteousness is a whole other deal.

And the reason I say we gotta make an effort to grow fruit, is ’cause the bible tells us we gotta make an effort to grow fruit. In fact we’re ordered to produce the Spirit’s fruit. Why would Jesus order us to do these things if it’s just naturally gonna happen on its own? ’Cause it’s not: We gotta intentionally produce it.

  • LOVE: Gotta love one another, Jn 15.17 love neighbors, Lv 19.18 love enemies, Mt 5.44 and love God. Dt 6.5 Doesn’t really leave anyone out. Basically, love everyone.
  • JOY: Gotta seize every chance to have joy. Jm 1.2 Rejoice in the Lord always. Pp 4.4 Shout for joy. Ps 33.1, 66.1 Rejoice even when persecuted. Mt 5.12
  • PEACE: Don’t be anxious or afraid, but peaceful. Jn 14.27 Pursue peace. Ro 14.19 Live in peace with one another, 2Co 13.11 as much as we can, Ro 12.18 making every effort to do so. He 12.14
  • KINDNESS: Be kind. Ep 4.32 Make it part of your character. Cl 3.12 Especially in leadership and servanthood. 2Ti 2.24
  • GOODNESS: Oh come on. The whole Law is about being good.
  • FAITH: Put your faith in God, Mk 11.22 ’cause you aren’t justified otherwise. Ro 5.2 Stand firm in it; 1Co 16.13 put on its breastplate. 1Th 5.8 And if good works aren’t in any way connected with it, it’s dead faith. Jm 2.17

And so on. Gentleness, self-control, mercy, generosity, humility, truthfulness—we’re commanded to do and uphold these things, and in so doing produce fruit. There’s no command against these things. Ga 5.23 But there are many commands, directions, and exhortations for these things.

This idea we’re supposed to passively wait for the Spirit’s fruit to arise in us? It’s like supposing once we set foot in a dojo, we’ll magically know kung fu. Really, all we’ll know to do is posture, and how to make Bruce-Lee-style chicken noises. Same with fruit of the Spirit: It takes practice. Start obeying God: Start doing ’em.

“But I’ve gotta feel them first. If I don’t feel love, isn’t it hypocrisy?” Sometimes this is a fair question; sometimes it’s a cop-out. Yes, we oughta feel love for others. Despite all those Christians who insist love is only an action, and neither a noun nor a feeling, love’s a feeling too. Jesus felt compassion, Mk 8.2, Lk 7.13 and that’s love. Ideally we should also be compassionate. But love isn’t just a feeling, so if you’re not feeling compassion yet, it’s okay. Don’t fake the feelings; that’s hypocrisy. Just do the actions. Start there. The feelings will come later.

But like I said, the “I gotta feel it” excuse is quite often used as an excuse to do nothing. Partly by Christians who don’t know the difference between spirit and emotion; partly by Christians who believe fruit is spontaneous, and are waiting for the fruit to appear before they act. Which is like waiting for the bandages to appear before we start bleeding: Doesn’t work like that. We act when we see a need. We don’t psyche ourselves up first; it’s not a performance.

It is possible for emotion to lead to fruit. But not always to the right fruit. The emotions of a coward won’t lead to bravery: People are brave because they act despite fear.

Besides, anybody can psyche themselves into feelings. Actors do it all the time. (Liars too.) With a little effort, I could feel warm feelings towards everybody in the world; I don’t even need pharmaceutical enhancement. But regardless of my feelings, if I don’t act in love towards anyone, I have no fruit. Just feelings. Useless, fruitless feelings.

Fruit grows with practice.

The reason we’re ordered to do these fruits in the scriptures, is because they don’t come naturally. Human nature is self-centered. I don’t care what optimistic humanists have told us all our lives: We humans have to learn to think of other people instead of only ourselves, or ourselves first. And when the going gets rough, most of us revert to pure selfishness. It’s our survival instinct. Gone wrong, but still.

Despite the Holy Spirit within us, we Christians still have selfishness as our default mode. It’s not going away just because we’ve attached Christian-sounding labels to all our selfish behaviors. It’s only going away when we follow the Spirit, and do the good works he’s assigned us. Ep 2.10 Time to quit the excuses, quit waiting to feel something first, and obey. Go and do.

I admit: I don’t always feel it when I initially obey. Way more comfortable to ignore my neighbor, and figure, “Hey, at least I don’t hate them,” than actually do for them. Mt 7.12 If I really don’t feel like doing anything for my neighbors, it’s really easy to fall into resentment. (Especially with the devil tempting us to indulge that feeling.) But if I do as James instructed and order myself to feel joy, Jm 1.2 if I call out to God and ask him to get rid of my bad attitude, I’m gonna resist that resentment. Working on that gentleness, y’know.

Nope, erasing our negative feelings isn’t the Holy Spirit’s magic reward for obedience. He doesn’t just pour out endorphins like a pharmacist gone mad. It’s for the purpose of serving him better, and loving others better. If my rotten attitude might interfere with the job, the Spirit helps me shove it aside. When it makes no difference, sometimes the Spirit has me deal with it on my own. Oh, he’s there to encourage and empower me to do the right thing, but I have to defeat my selfishness. I have to resist temptation. I have to stop sinning. That’s the self part of self-control.

Same with you.

Fruit of the Spirit isn’t easily gained, nor easily grown. It’s a struggle sometimes. It gets easier. But not when we passively expect it to just grow, spontaneously, with no help from us. Christians who think this way, either turn into giant hypocrites who try to hide all their awfulness, or turn into those irreligious slacker Christians who shrug and say, “Christians aren’t perfect, y’know. Just forgiven.”

We choose to pursue the Spirit’s fruit. He’ll help; he’s the one making the fruit grow way faster than it really oughta. But we’ve gotta make the effort. So do.