The fruit of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 is one of the most well-known passages in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul’s list of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control contrasts with the desires of the flesh listed in verses 18-21. Therefore, many readers are interested to know the fruit’s purpose.
The purpose of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is to produce godliness in the lives of Christians that reflects a likeness in character to Jesus Christ. The Spirit’s fruit also results in loving other people in a way that desires their wellness, which also eliminates conflict and disunity among believers.
Why are the “desires of the flesh” plural and the “fruit of the Spirit” singular? Did the Christians in Galatia have conflicts with each other? Why are there 15 sins listed but only nine fruits listed? Why do some traditions list 12 “fruits”? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see How To Develop the Fruit of the Holy Spirit to learn more.
The Three Purposes of the Fruit of the Spirit
Broadly speaking, the purpose of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is to love God, which Jesus said is the greatest commandment (Matt. 22:37-38). More specifically, the purpose of the fruit is multifaceted. According to Galatians 5, its purpose is to love God as expressed through (1) growing in Christlikeness, (2) loving other people, which is the second greatest commandment, and (3) destroying the desires of the sinful nature.
Please note: While the phrase “desires of the flesh” is plural, the “fruit of the Spirit” is singular. All the individual “fruits” or virtues listed in Galatians 5:22-23 come from the same source — the Holy Spirit. By way of analogy, hundreds of oranges (plural) come from one healthy tree (singular).
1. The fruit of the Spirit makes Christians more like Jesus
One purpose of the fruit of the Spirit is to promote godliness in a Christian’s life. The result of believers developing and exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit is to grow in Christlikeness. The more a Christian walks in love, joy, peace, and the other holy virtues the Apostle Paul lists, the more like Jesus they are. He writes elsewhere that God’s predetermined plan is for believers to conform to Jesus’ likeness.
- Romans 8:29 reads, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (ESV)
- 1 Corinthians 15:49 reads, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (ESV)
Author Jerry Bridges writes, “We are responsible to clothe ourselves with Christlike character, but we are dependent on God’s Spirit to produce within us His ‘fruit.'” 
Also see How To Receive the Holy Spirit to learn more.
2. The fruit of the Spirit leads to loving other people
The Christians in Galatia were struggling with conflict. In the passage that precedes Paul’s contrast of the desires of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit (v. 16-23), he reflects on the freedom a follower of Jesus Christ has (v. 13-15). A Christian’s freedom must not be self-centered but should focus on loving people (v. 13). Paul tells them to love each other (v. 14) and stop destroying one another (v. 15).
Though most modern Bible translations insert a subtitle between verses 15 and 16, it’s important to see the connection between the passages. Paul builds on v. 13-15 when he writes v. 16-23, which is clear when he begins verses 16 with “But I say” (ESV, NASB) or “So I say” (NIV, NLT). Therefore, contrasting the desires of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit build on the principle of loving other people.
3. The fruit of the Spirit destroys unloving sinful desires
Before Paul mentions examples of the desires of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit, he explains that righteous virtues prevent sinful vices. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal. 5:16-17, ESV).
The Greek word for “flesh” (sarx) refers to a person’s sinful nature. Some translations render the Greek word according to what it says, “flesh” (NIV, ESV, NASB, KJV). Yet others render it according to what it means. For example, the NLT reads, “Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.”
Paul starts the list of sins by saying that they are clear: “Now the works of the flesh are evident” (v. 19a). He then mentions 15 different transgressions, all of which constitute rebellion against God and hinder love and unity among Christians. Finally, Paul concludes the list with a powerful warning: “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (v. 21b).
Also see What Are the 12 Gifts of the Holy Spirit? to learn more.
|Galatians 5:19-21||Galatians 5:22-23|
|fits of anger||self-control|
Following the list of 15 sins, Paul uses a Greek preposition (δέ) translated as “But the fruit of the Spirit is…” (NIV, ESV, NASB, KJV, emphasis added), which introduces a contrast. While the items in the lists are generally contrasts, each example Paul mentions don’t necessarily have an exact opposite. Some do, like fits of anger and self-control and peace and strife, but many don’t.
Some traditions include 12 virtues because the Latin version of the Bible, the Vulgate, lists a dozen. Modern Bible translations rely on accurate Greek manuscripts, which lists nine.
In verse 24, Paul writes, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” This statement conveys that God has set Christians up for success. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t how a believer earns their identity in Christ. Instead, the fruit is a characteristic of those who belong to Christ. In other words, the desires of the flesh have no power over a Christian.
Also see How Do You Know If You Have Blasphemed the Holy Spirit? to learn more.
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