By Lisa Rieck

Can the Fruit of the Spirit Change the World?

We love to recite them (especially to others, in a sing-songy voice).

Love.

Joy.

Peace.

Patience.

Kindness.

Goodness.

Faithfulness.

Gentleness.

Self-control.

They’re good qualities, of course. Traits we want in ourselves and in those we’re discipling. But do we really believe that the fruit of the Spirit is powerful—and world-changing? Do kind words or a peaceful demeanor really bring about lasting, positive change in cities and countries and continents?

The Beauty of Fruit

The metaphor of fruit is not unintentional. Real fruit, if you’ve noticed, is often beautiful. And it’s good for us, providing important nutrients that fight disease and give us energy to live and serve well. 

So too with the fruit of the Spirit. Each trait is beautiful and life-giving for us and for those around us. Each kind of fruit brings personal renewal and transformation—and renewed, transformed people bring renewal to the people and places around them.

The metaphor highlights another important truth. Fruit is what comes after the hard work of digging, planting, watering, pruning. Which means we can’t simply will ourselves to be more kind or loving or good (trust me, I know). Rather, the fruit of the Spirit is born in us and overflows from us as we experience the Spirit himself and allow him to change our impatient, resentful, jealous hearts.

The Power of Fruit

History reveals some pretty incredible movements that were led by people in whom the Spirit was clearly at work. Take Martin Luther King Jr. Only a man with the Spirit of God at work in him could live out statements like this, after all the violence he’d seen and experienced:

Agape is the love of God operating in the human heart. . . . It is a love in which the individual seeks not his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people, or any qualities people possess. It begins by loving others for their sakes. It is entirely “neighbor-regarding concern for others,” which discovers the neighbor in every man it meets. (From An Experiment in Love, quoted in “3 MLK Quotes that Convict Me Today”)

That kind of love made incredible progress in the fight for justice for Black people in the United States. That kind of love—and patience and faithfulness and self-control—is what’s still needed today to continue to fight for true freedom and justice for all.

The life of Jesus gives us an even clearer picture of the power that comes when we allow the Spirit to develop these traits in us. Jesus exuded perfect self-control, perfect joy, perfect faithfulness, defeating Satan in the desert and then ultimately on the cross when he took the punishment for our hatred, our divisiveness, our disobedience.

Revealing Jesus

Will I ever be as faithful, as loving, as self-controlled as Jesus? Definitely not. But would I love to come as close to him as I can? Absolutely. And, despite my sinfulness (which I’m well aware of), I have hope for change, because I have the promise of God’s Spirit in me, deepening my capacity to be gentle and kind and good.

What I long for is for people to respond to me the way the rulers, elders, and teachers of the law responded to John and Peter in Acts 4: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”

That’s the power of the fruit of the Spirit. When these traits (and others) are displayed in our lives, they beautifully highlight that we’ve been with Jesus. And they reveal to others the kind of God we worship.

So we’ll be taking a closer look at each fruit of the Spirit at the blog, starting tomorrow and continuing over the next nine Wednesdays. We hope they inspire you to be with Jesus. Because people who’ve been with Jesus are used by his Spirit to bring about great change in the world, one small act of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control at a time.


Images by 2100 photographer Matt Kirk.


 

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Lisa Rieck is a writer and editor on InterVarsity’s communications team.

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