Revivalist and Adult Ministries Director
(retired), Florida Conference
Most people claim to be Christians, but are they?
It’s been said that you can’t tell a book by its cover.
Grandma used to remind us that the proof of the
pudding is in the eating. Would you like to know
how to tell if you’re really a Christian?
If someone asked me what my favorite fruit is, I would probably say apples. What would yours be? Madison Avenue believes most people like fruit, because they invest large amounts of money advertising all kinds of fruit-flavored or fruit-scented products, from yogurt to furniture polish.
While there’s fruit, as in apples, bananas, and mangoes, we also use the word “fruit” when we mean the product or result of some effort or condition. For instance, it might be said that your new car is “the fruit of your labors,” meaning the result of your hard work. Or you might give up on a plan that didn’t seem to work, explaining, “It wasn’t very fruitful.”
But the fruit I am referring to is not the fruit we eat; it’s the result or product of something—in this case, it is the fruit of the Spirit that is the result of having the Holy Spirit in our life. We often speak of being like Jesus. We don’t need to wonder what that means. The fruit of the Spirit in the life is what it means to be like Jesus.
The fruit of the Spirit is not to be confused with good habits, such as parents attempt to instill in their children. It is not conformity to authority. Rather, the fruit of the Spirit is the result of a work performed in a person’s life by a direct act of God: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit” (John 3:6).
Most have had the experience of having someone ask whether we have the Holy Spirit. What they usually mean is, Do we speak in tongues?
My dad used to say that a person shouldn’t even begin to think of the gifts of the Spirit until he has dealt with the significance of the fruit of the Spirit. It could almost be said that the gifts of the Spirit can be counterfeited or, as some might say, bought on the black market. On the other hand, the fruit of the Spirit in the life is a work of grace and is something the Holy Spirit does for us at the level of our innermost person.
The most familiar Bible passage about the fruit of the Spirit was written by the apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22, 23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (NKJV).
This list is indivisible. Notice that the text doesn’t refer to the fruits of the Spirit but the fruit of the Spirit. A person, then, cannot say, “I’ll want some kindness and gentleness please, but I’ll come by for patience later on. The fruit of the Spirit is one, it is a something that God does in our hearts and which is not an option.
The fruit reveals the tree. As we begin our investigation into the fruit of the Spirit, we need to keep four points keep in mind. The first point is obvious yet very important, and it is that we can tell what kind of tree we have by the fruit that grows on it.
This reminds me of a story a man told on himself. Well, actually he told it on his brother, too. He confessed that every now and then when he was a youngster, he and his brother would be sent to their room when they had been naughty. But this punishment wasn’t very effective, because the boys figured out a way to escape.
There just happened to be a big, old fruit tree right outside their bedroom window. So when they had misbehaved and were sent to their room, which was on the second floor above the back porch, they would climb out the window, onto the branches of the old fruit tree, and down the trunk to the ground. From there, they would run across the backyard, over the fence, and into the fields, where they would play ball for a while. Then they would come back over the fence, across the backyard, up the tree, onto the roof, and in the window; and no one ever knew they were gone, or so they thought.
One day they overheard Dad say to Mom, “Mary, the old fruit tree out back hasn’t borne fruit in years. Tomorrow morning I’m going to cut it down.”
Needless to say, the boys were undone. Their avenue of escape was about to disappear. They needed a plan, and they came up with one, as only young, mischievous boys will.
That night, somewhat earlier than usual, they ostensibly went to bed, only to get up after a short time. They gathered together all the money they had saved, went out the window, down the tree, and into town, where they bought all the apples they could find and some black cotton string. When they returned home, they took the string and tied the apples onto every branch they could reach. The old tree looked absolutely fruitful! Then they went to bed and waited for the morning.
The next day Father woke up and went outside to chop down the old fruit tree. But he soon came back in, excitedly calling out, “Mary! Mary! It’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen! That old tree that hasn’t borne fruit in years is covered with apples! You’ve got to come see this; it’s absolutely covered with big, red apples! I don’t believe it! And it’s a pear tree!”
Of course, apples grow on apple trees and pears grow on pear trees. Isn’t it fair to assume, then, that others will know what kind of person you are by your fruit? And they’ll be able to tell whether you’re genuine or if you’re trying to tie good fruit onto a bad life.
Growth is gradual. The second point to consider is that real fruit trees grow slowly but surely. You can buy a beautiful plastic tree that looks like the real thing, and it will sit on your patio forever just as pretty as you please. But it’s as fake as fake can be. On the other hand, when you buy a living, healthy fruit tree, you expect it to mature and grow. The point is: If want to grow real fruit in our lives, we can expect that the process will take time.
We live in a world of instant solutions. There is practically no aspect of life that has not been boiled down to a handful of quick, easy steps and published in a paperback manual. This mentality has even invaded our approach to living simply as human beings. It’s common to find books entitled, “How to Improve Your Personality in Ten Easy Steps,” or “How to Change Your Life in Only One Hour.” Becoming new men and women, they say, is simple. Just follow these six easy steps and—presto!
If you’ve visited a nursery that sells plants, you’ll see foliage at all stages. There are mature plants, seedlings, and cuttings that are just getting started. People are like that, too. In the Christian life, not everyone is at the same stage at the same time. Some may be in the bud stage. Others may have opened up into beautiful, fragrant blossoms. Still others are like hard, unripe fruit that, over time, will grow and develop to full maturity.
But each stage of growth, although it may be as yet incomplete, can be perfect. And we can expect the fruit of the Spirit to grow slowly but surely over your entire lifetime.
Real fruit grows; counterfeit fruit just sits there. Real fruit nourishes and gives life; counterfeit fruit is strictly for looks. Real fruit will be served at the banquet table in Heaven; counterfeit fruit will be burned with the stubble of this earth.
Remember the nurture effect. The third point is what I call the nurture effect. In order to have a good crop of apples, there must be the right mix of good weather, an adequate amount of water, and, of course, some fertilizer.
If there’s not enough sun, too little water, and no fertilizer, you can expect a poor crop. A scorching sun, too much water, and fertilizer burn will also result in a poor crop and may even kill the plant. Proper nurture and protection is a must in growing apples, and it’s the same in growing a Christian character.
A good horticulturist knows how to make the best of the stresses his plants are exposed to. He prunes and mulches the stock so that the stems will harden and develop resistance to the freezing weather that is sure to come. On the other hand, I’ve been told that oranges will be even sweeter if they’re exposed to a light frost just around harvest time.
You will discover that as the fruit of the Spirit grows in your life, your character will be sweeter and more resistant to evil—not in spite of the trials and tribulations that come your way, but because of them.
Stay connected. The fourth point is the most important of all, because without it there can be no fruit at all. Here it is. A branch that breaks off from the stem will not bear fruit. Jesus said this plainly in John 15:4, 5: “Dwell in Me, as I in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself, but only if it remains united with the vine; no more can you bear fruit, unless you remain united with Me. I am the Vine and you are the branches. He who dwells in Me, as I dwell in him, bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing” (NEB).
So then, the four points to keep in mind as we consider the fruit of the Spirit are: 1) Just as you can tell a tree by its fruit, so you can tell Christians by the kind of persons they are. 2) Real trees will grow. In the same way, growing a Christian character is an ongoing process. 3) Fruit will come as we employ the nurture factor. We must feed and protect the Christian life. And finally, 4) We will grow and produce the fruit of the Spirit only if we stay connected to Jesus.
And how do we do that? The answer, friend, is by talking to Him in prayer and by letting Him talk to us when reading His Word.
“Those who, having heard the Word, keep it, will bring forth fruit in obedience. The Word of God, received into the soul, will be manifest in good works. Its results will be seen in a Christlike character and life. Christ said of Himself, ‘I delight to do Thy will, O My God; yea, Thy law is within My heart.’ Psalm 40:8.”—Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 60.
The fruit of the Spirit is like a precious jewel with many facets. Each facet is a characteristic of Jesus and represents a quality that He wants to see reproduced in our lives.
Learning how the fruit of the Spirit grows is another way of understanding how to develop a Christlike character. We want to be like Jesus from the inside out. Contrary to what the two young brothers thought, a pear tree doesn’t produce apples.
Jesus died for us, not only to forgive our sins but also to make it possible for us to be changed from the inside out. It’s exciting to realize that we don’t have to pretend to be like Christ. We can be really, from the heart, like Him as we live and walk with Him day by day. And the first ones to see the difference will be the members of our family.
“By believing in Christ, the fallen race He has redeemed may obtain that faith which works by love and purifies the soul from all defilement. Then Christlike attributes appear: for by beholding Christ men become changed into the same image from glory to glory, from character to character. Good fruit is produced. The character is fashioned after the divine similitude, and integrity, uprightness, and true benevolence are manifested toward the sinful race.”—White, My Life Today, p. 54.
As we live and grow in Christ through prayer and His Word, a total transformation will take place that will make us deep-down, from-theheart Christians. Unless, of course, we think tying on plastic fruit is good enough. But we can’t fool the Master Gardener, or anyone else, for that matter.