From Mack Tomlinson:
What Makes Them the Fruit of the Spirit?
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Paul declares them to be the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). The reason they appear in the life of the believer is because the Spirit is in the life of the believer. They are wholly the fruit of His gracious presence and ministry.
Or are they? And here is why I ask: each of these qualities or characteristics may be found in the life of an unbeliever. Christians, for example, are far from having a monopoly on love. Jesus Himself confirms that in his Sermon on the Mount when he asks his disciples, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Matt. 5:46). Men and women who have never been born of the Spirit love–sometimes, as we know, in the most selfless and self-sacrificing manner. Our convictions about human depravity must never tempt us to deny it.
Nor is love unique in this respect. Unbelievers have joy. They can be patient and are often kind, gentle, and faithful. They exhibit goodness in their relations with one another. They know what it is to be self-controlled. They may be quite at peace in their hearts. All these things which the apostle lists as the fruit of the Spirit are to be found in people from whom the Spirit is ravingly absent.
So what makes the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and other fruits of which the Apostle speaks distinctively the fruit of the Spirit? Perhaps we can best answer in this way: the role of the Spirit is to take qualities and characteristics that are common to humanity and do something special with them, something that only He can do by His presence and ministry in grace. We see this with some of the Spirit’s gifts. Teaching, for instance, in Romans 12:7. The capacity to teach is just about as widespread as humanity. But if a man is to expound and apply the Holy Scriptures in a way that edifies the body of Christ and glorifies God, then he needs to be specially gifted by the Spirit.
And so it is with the Spirit’s fruit. Love, for example, is common both to the believer and the unbeliever. But it is only the believer who loves God, and out of love for Him, obeys Him. It is only the believer who loves believers–loves them because they are believers, and out of that love, serves them. It is only the believer whose love for his enemies moves him to pray for them, bless them, and do them good. It is only the believer whose love for his neighbor prompts him to seek his salvation. Love, in the Spirit’s hands, is made uniquely new. It is given new objects, it springs from new motives, and comes to expression in new ways.
Or think about joy. What does the Spirit do in giving us distinctively Christian joy? We need only think about the things that we have joy in–holiness, the Lord’s Day, the success of the gospel, the truths of God’s Word, the singing of God’s praises, the company of fellow Christians, and supremely the Lord Himself. We take spiritual pleasure in these things that we do only because the Spirit has been at work in our hearts.
And so it is with all the rest. Peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The Holy Spirit does something special with them all. They manifest themselves in our lives in ways that simply would not be possible without Him.
I close with a practical suggestion. Make what we have been thinking about a matter of careful and prayerful meditation. Take the fruits of the Spirit one at a time and reflect on what makes them distinctively fruits of the Spirit. Ponder what the Spirit does with them in the life of a believer and the special ways in which He brings them to expression. And pray that by His power, and for the glory of Christ, they would increasingly be exhibited in your life.
– David Campbell