Sometimes we buy into the idea that once people accept Christ into their heart, they should be completely done with sin and forever changed. Therefore, when they return to our churches a week later and still have the same old stuff going on in their lives from before they got saved, we judge and accuse them of not being fruitful enough.
But there is no such thing as instant fruit — though we could be fooled into thinking so, because we can stop by the supermarket any time of year and pick up produce that should by no means be present during that particular season. We don’t even stop to think about it. We want the fruit, and we’ll buy it, so stores find a way to get it onto their shelves, whether they have to ship it in from far away or grow it in laboratories.
But unlike supermarket fruit, spiritual fruit is not there whenever we want it. We can’t go up to a spiritual produce area and pick up love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control whenever we’re hungry for it. If we truly want these fruits in our lives, we need to continually offer ourselves over to the Holy Spirit to grow them in us here and now — for only He can do such a thing. Trying to grow the Spirit’s fruit by our own effort is like trying to grow a palm tree in Antarctica — we just don’t have the right elements to make it happen.
That being said, unless God performs the rare miracle of instant virtue on a new believer, we should expect that the believer will need lots of time to grow. While testimonies of instant virtue are possible since it’s the Holy Spirit’s fruit in the first place, such miracles are rare — so rare that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, did “not know a single instance, in any place, of a person’s receiving in one and the same moment, remission of sins, the abiding witness of the Spirit, and a new [and] a clean heart” (fmchr.ch/plainac). In other words, he never saw someone get saved and reach full maturity at the same time. Instead, Wesley typically saw people get saved and walk in a newfound peace for some time, before often falling back into sin.
The Christian journey is a long one and can be quite difficult. We have to invest a great amount of effort to find freedom from our flesh and growth in the Spirit. Though we wish God would just give us the quick fix, that’s typically not how fruit works. It doesn’t just appear in a moment or even overnight.
If you’ve ever grown an apple tree before, you know for the first few years not to expect much more than tiny, bitter apples. You have to wait until the tree has reached a certain maturity to reap good fruit. You have to water fruit trees more than other crops. You have to prune them and protect them from things like fire blight. It takes time, energy and patience. Trees have to be strong enough to weather intense storms if they are to grow old enough to produce mature fruit. And even then, they’ll still have to face more storms, but at least they’ll be big enough to handle them.
That being said, don’t expect all Christians to be strong from the get-go. That wasn’t Paul’s experience or expectation. To the Corinthian church, he said, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh” (1 Corinthians 3:2–3 ESV).
If we are open to it, the Spirit will lead us deeper into the character of Jesus and grow the same fruit in us that we see in Him. He was loving to the point that He spent time with those no one else would even get close to; joyful to the point that He was accused of being “a glutton and a drunkard” (Matthew 11:19); peaceful to the point that He would embrace the violence against Him and silently go to the cross; patient to the point that He would walk around with disciples who constantly missed what He was saying; kind to the point that He often stopped to take compassion on people even when He was exhausted from ministry; good to the point that He healed people without any thanks in return (Luke 17:16–18); faithful to the point that He loved Peter even after Peter denied Him when he needed Him most; gentle to the point that He saved a woman from her enemies and then simply told her to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11 NLT); and self-controlled to the point that He lived His life without ever sinning (1 Peter 2:22).
If we want to grow fruit like Jesus, we will need to memorize Him so that we can imitate Him. We need to analyze His every move so that when we are confronted with similar situations, we can respond as He did. After all, the Holy Spirit is synonymously understood as the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7), so we should understand that if the Holy Spirit is getting His way in our life, we will begin to look and act more like Jesus Himself. As we live Him out, the fruit will follow.
As the Spirit grows this fruit in us, our love will clash with the world’s hate; joy with the world’s depression; peace with the world’s violence; patience with the world’s need for instant gratification; kindness with the world’s rudeness; goodness (perhaps better understood as generosity) with the world’s hoarding; faithfulness with the world’s inconstancy; gentleness with the world’s brashness; and self-control with the world’s urge to please every last desire.
To live like this, we need to let the Spirit of Jesus live vibrantly inside of us and put on our flesh, just as all kinds of other things put on our flesh. I realized this one day when my sister-in-law tried some of my homemade salsa and asked for the recipe. I was happy to write it down for her quickly, but then I realized I didn’t have a recipe. I had learned to make my salsa through trial and error, eventually coming to a method that had no formula, but was created by the means of my senses. I can estimate how many onions or peppers I need by looking at how big my batch of tomatoes are. I can sense if it needs more salt by taking a quick taste at the end. I can tell if I added enough garlic by smelling the end result. I can predict which tomatoes are worth using by giving them a slight squeeze. I can tell when to stop the food processor by listening to the noise it’s making. The recipe lives in my skin and I use all of my senses to make it.
It’s for reasons like this that not just anyone can make cookies “like Grandma used to make,” even if you have her own recipe in hand. Her cookies are living inside of her, making their way out through years of practice and all of her senses. As Christians, we should be just as familiar with the fruit and gifts the Spirit instills in us — and we can be with enough time and practice.
Such practice will eventually lead us to what Wesley called Christian perfection. While this term sounds intimidating, he defined it with five main characteristics: (1) loving God with all our heart, (2) a heart and life all devoted to God, (3) regaining the whole image of God, (4) having all the mind that was in Christ, and (5) walking uniformly as Christ walked.
“If anyone means anything more or anything else by perfection, I have no concern with it,” Wesley noted (fmchr.ch/jwje). Elsewhere, Wesley directly connected Christian perfection to the fruit of the Spirit, calling the manifestation of the Spirit’s fruit in all words and actions to be Christian perfection. If Wesley’s assumption is correct, then the topic of the fruit of the Spirit is no small topic and cannot be ignored.
With this in mind, we must realize that we can’t truncate Christianity to simply getting someone to say the sinner’s prayer. For a long time this has been the ultimate focus of our evangelistic efforts, but to turn Christianity into nothing more than a mental transaction is to almost reduce Christianity to a magical incantation. We have failed to help people experience the fullness of Christian life if we do not join the Holy Spirit in nourishing their lives until they become fruitful.
This requires us to truly commit to the people we minister to. No longer can they come up to the altar one week and then disappear never to be seen again. They must become our family and we must be as committed to them as we are to our own flesh and blood. Sure, it will be hard to grow some of these saplings into fruition, but, fortunately, we have a miracle maker on our side. And as these baby Christians gaze upon the fruit in Jesus’ life and our lives, they will begin to embody such fruit themselves.
Growing fruit is discipleship. It is our call to grow beyond mere salvation, to continue in our sanctification, to enter into Christian perfection, to become a new creation. If we can become loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled people, then we will look like the image of God in as much fullness as humanly possible. We will become a people renewed in love. We will shed our flesh and put on the Spirit (Romans 8:1–11) and grow fruit that is juxtaposed to the things our physical bodies actually desire (Galatians 5:19–24). We will begin to look like Jesus and show the world a glimpse of redeemed and restored humanity. His fruit in us will change both us and the world.
Begin With Love
While all of the fruits are important to grow, we must begin with love; for the Bible constantly draws our attention to it. As we grow this fruit, we will likely expedite the growth of all the others.
In order to grow love, we must first understand that God is crazy about us. He knows every detail about us because He knit us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). He is so meticulous about us that He has even counted how many hairs there are on our heads (Matthew 10:30). He cares about the minuscule details of our life. Despite the dirt in our lives, He chooses us. We’re worth it to Him! He would literally die for us to make that clear, and He already did.
God shows no partiality. He is no respecter of persons. He is loving toward us no matter our racial, ethnic, cultural, religious or sexual identity. He takes care of everyone — those who have it together and those who in their brokenness, tear everything apart for the rest of us. He gives and gives, and He does so freely and gratuitously. Our action does not determine His reaction. His answer is love regardless.
He is the God of the prodigal. He throws parties and celebrates those who return to Him, even after all of their actions have been incredibly insulting. He is a lover of the burnout and the sellout; the least of the least of the least of these; the poor and the homeless; the weak and the beat up; the outcast and the weirdos; and even the religious, the rich and the powerful.
He heals those who deserve to be sick. He remains patient with those who deserve swift punishment. He dies for those who kill Him. He offers forgiveness to those who still have yet to learn that they have people they must forgive themselves. He puts His Holy Spirit inside our imperfect bodies, which continue to subject themselves to all kinds of unholy things.
This is love. This is Jesus. This is the fruit the Holy Spirit wants to grow in us. When Christians allow the Spirit to do so, the world comes to believe that the kingdom of heaven is real. They realize we are citizens of another land (Philippians 3:20), because we certainly don’t look or live like we’re from around here.
Jamin Bradley is a Free Methodist elder who serves as the lead pastor of 1208 Greenwood — a dinner church in downtown Jackson, Michigan, that eats and worships together at the same time. He has published several musical albums and three books. This article is an adapted excerpt from his book “A Taste of Jesus: Growing the Fruit of the Spirit.”