The Fruit of the Spirit in the Church
The Holy Spirit, part of the Holy Trinity, is an essential aspect of the Christian dogma and faith. The Holy Spirit dwells in a person the moment they are baptized into Christianity. As written in Romans 8:9, “You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” While the Holy Spirit has many roles in the Scriptures and church – it bestows upon Christians what is known to be fruit of the Spirit which are gifts and graces that are important to the foundation of the Christian living, faith, and service. The fruit of the Spirit must be present in the structures of the church as well as its members’ actions in everyday to preserve church health and spiritual growth.
What is Fruit of the Spirit?
A person cannot live a Godly life using their own wisdom and resources. Even for Christians, the inherent nature of being is sinful, known as the flesh which cannot achieve salvation from God. The flesh produces works of the flesh, “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” The fruit of the Spirit is meant to contrast the works of the flesh, representing the work of the Spirit in the believer. Therefore, a godly life and qualities are not as a result of observance of commandments of legal code, but a harvest of life that is guided by the Spirit. “But I say, walk in 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.” The fruit is ultimately necessary for the Spirit-led living. It restrains the sinful nature of the flesh and promotes the spiritual growth of the soul and faith that thrive in the presence of the fruit of the Spirit, and thus help a Christian attain traits of godliness and eventually the assurance of salvation.
The Bible describes the fruit as “But the harvest of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self-control.” 4 While Paul in the 1 Corinthians does speak of the Spirit distributing gifts to individuals as it wills, the fruit is a singular harvest. The nine graces are not different, but rather multiple facets of the same entity which are cohesive but are demonstrated simultaneously when the Spirit is at work in a believer’s life. The nine elements can be viewed as benefits woven together when a Christian receives the Spirit, and ultimately the foundation in which the fruit will grow. However, the fruit of the Spirit is not received passively, but implanted in Christians as they work with the Holy Spirit through trust, obedience, and submission. The nine elements of the fruit of the Spirit are virtues that true Christians characterize in obeying the word of God and being faithful in the Spirit.
Fruit of the Spirit is meant to be both of a transformative nature which brings the faithful closer to Christ and reducing harshness and other negative traits in personality, as well as something of a relief that brings joy. Christians have historically, and in modern day, been embattled people that struggle with temptations in life with the everlasting ambition to follow the word of God and achieve salvation. The fruit is meant to provide joy and hope which are positive traits that God wants for His followers. In turn, through the fruit of the Spirit, Christians are able to become more patient, more grounded, and finally more faithful in the long term.
Presence in the Church
The church is inherently a community with the ministry not only based on the grace and gifts of God, but critically community centered. The Bible identifies core ministry functions that revolve around shared life and work in a community. This also creates an environment beneficial for growth in the fruit of the Spirit since the fruit promotes the engagement of social relationships and the Christian community. Furthermore, discipleship is a strongly social element which helps in the development of spiritual gifts. The fruit of the Spirit acts as a tool of the Holy Spirit which can spiritually transform the congregation and discipleship into deeper Christlikeness and achieve spiritual connections. It is through the fruit that the community of faith develops and can challenge itself to become better Christians. As church members become closer to in traits to Jesus, spiritual fruits will appear manifested in the nine aspects through actions such as reaching out to others, evangelism, and social concerns and justice.
In Christian theology, it is commonly understood that the church is not a building, but the body of worship consisting of its members. Therefore, the church serves as medium of sort in which the spiritual fruit can be grown. This is not implicit, but in order for the fruit of the Spirit to manifest in Christians, they should take part in an authentic Christian community. Love, kindness, and other elements of the fruit can only be demonstrated when in in a community. It becomes one of the goals of the church to foster an environment and guide the faithful towards demonstrating and acting upon Christian values so that they may receive the fruit of the Spirit, and then foster it so it will grow. Christ performed His deeds through the Holy Spirit and sought to have direct access to God through prayer and relationship. Similarly, Christians seek to affirm this Christ-like identity through the Holy Spirit, and this allows for the fruit to grow. However, it should be done in a communal sense given the importance of the church and how the Spirit acts within it.
Church Structures and the Fruit
Church leadership is a critical element in the church structure. The Bible assumes that church leaders will be credentialed in some formal method, a confirmation that spiritual empowerment is present. Spiritual empowerment is a function when the fruit of the Spirit is mature and spiritual gifts have developed in an individual. In Ephesians 4, Paul indicates that leaders of the church as to be seen as gifts of God. However, in the Church, leaders are not meant to take upon leadership themselves, but are selected for such roles when called by the Spirit, working through the community of faith. In leadership, it is critical to maintain the relationship in the proper order, where spiritual empowerment comes before the formal role credentialing, as there is always a danger that the necessary emphasis of the fruit of the Spirit in leaders may be overlooked. Leadership in the church has always been gift-shaped as indicated by Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12:28, “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” The Spirit equips and strengthens the leaders of the church, ranging from apostles and prophets to evangelists, teachers, and pastors. There are a variety of roles with specific spiritual gifts given which contributes to nurturing gift-shaped ministries.
Another key structure of the church are traditions. There is a myriad of spiritual traditions which help Christians to experience comfort and worship as a community. Many traditions stem from the Bible, empowered by the Spirit. While traditions may be good, there is danger to them when the ideology of traditionalism becomes central to the church. Traditionalism is a mode of thinking where the congregation view something as the only way way of doing something, teaching it as a matter of right and wrong and a tradition becomes difficult to rethink or change. Essentially, traditionalism occurs when the church and Christians become so embedded in a specific tradition that it becomes essential to their worship and potentially divisive against those who may not follow those traditions. Sharrock writes, “If true division is to separate from error for the sake of the truth, then false division is to embrace and advocate error at the expense of truth: thereby bringing division of the Body of Christ.” False teaching arises from wrongful interpretation of the Scription in terms of extra-biblical traditions or experiences. The fruit of the Spirit is an inherently traditional interpretation of the Scriptures in most Christian denominations. However, it is important to maintain a view that it is the human interpretation and may differ from the possibilities that the Spirit intended. Spiritual fruit should be valued and considered but not used in the form of traditionalism as a divisive characteristic as to those who supposedly possess it and those who do not.
Legalism in the church is a prevalent but dangerous sentiment. Legalism is the attachment of certain behaviors practices to the belief that performing them will help earn salvation before God. Legalism may involve taking God’s commandments out of context, attempting to create a rigid system of rights and wrongs, and implement a mechanical form of law-keeping known as externalism. However, this goes against a significant number of Christian teachings which indicate that the Commandments were given in the context of the Covenant. Furthermore, the New Testament distinctly sought to distinguish between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. This also goes back to traditionalism where certain Christians believe that traditions are the rule of law necessary for salvation and cannot be deferred from. There is a common belief in the church that the essence of Christianity involves following the right rules, even if such as extrabiblical. The Bible does not address all aspects of human behavior, particularly if they are modern. Legalism seeks to make this rule-following an external test of authenticity in Christianity. However, such structures are a violation of the gospel since human tradition is substituted for the fruit of the Spirit. The essence of Christianity comes from this Fruit, and while commandments and traditions exist, they are nothing more than guides. The gospel calls Christians to repentance and godliness, which can be achieved only through the fruit of the Spirit in daily worship.
Applying the Fruit of the Spirit
As mentioned earlier, discipleship is strong aspect of the community that helps in the development of spiritual gifts. The fruit of the Spirit are given to each member of the Christian congregation individually to be used in the community in the benefit of others. In turn, being present in a Christian community, opens up the faithful to the gift-shaped ministry of others (personal ministry in this context is discussed later).
The fruit of the Spirit can be applied in many ways that produces the positive outcome of justice. The fruit promotes inclusiveness and peace to prevent conflict and division – peace is rooted in justice. The fruit inherently values love, and a suffering love cannot allow injustice to occur before them. The fruit may emphasize self-control, which implies saying no to personal desires for the sake of justice for others in a unequal society. These are some examples in how the Spirit-empowered discipleship can lead to justice if the fruit is applied in daily lives. Justice can be a positive consequence in the nature of the spiritual fruit is fully embracing as God’s goodness inherently promotes justice and fairness, to fellow Christians and people around.
In Ephesians 5:9, it is written “For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth.” Many Christians seek to follow God’s teachings, way of life, and find his truth. Truth or honesty are glaringly not one of the characteristics in the fruit of the Spirit, despite integrity is an essential trait for Christians often promoted in the Bible. Truth also has more weighted meanings such as bad men disguised as good men or warning of false prophets. In Matthew 7:15-20, it is written, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” The fruit, metaphorically, serves as an identifier of the Christian spirit. Meanwhile, honestly also goes alongside many of the other aspects of the fruit. It is implied that having the fruit of the Spirit in a Christian’s life, truth will follow. Honestly, in all contexts is without merit, unless it is accompanied by these aspects of love, patience, goodness, and others. It helps an individual to achieve spiritual and scriptural truth as well as a Christian seeks God in prayer and worship through the fruit of the Spirit.
Grace flows in the gift-shaped ministry of the church, as the faithful become more mature and familiar in obeying biblical mandates, even in areas where they were not gifted, but receive support from others. By being around someone with the gift of serving, helps to increase one’s capacity to serve through the flow of grace which shares the gifts in the community and nurtures the fruit of the Spirit not only as an individual mandate but as communal spiritual exchange. The spiritual fruit is inherently the grace of God working through Christians and grace becomes an element of kindness and trust seen in every day actions. Grace becomes both the precedent and the product of the spiritual fruit, helping to experience the faith and acting upon it in the context of the church.
It is effectively the demonstrations of the fruit of the Spirit in personal ministry that builds upon the foundations established in church structures. It can be argued that the fruit of the Spirit are the most important elements in Christian discipleship and faith. Christians often depend on various fruit based on their character as well as life situations, where the fruit can contribute faith, hope, and guidance to Christians. While adhering to the fruit of the Spirit in everyday life is encouraged, certain contexts can greatly benefit from the fruit to help Christians maintain faith, a Christ-like inner demeanor and stability of the soul. For example, greed that is a natural human behavior can be countered by the fruit of goodness and giving back. Anger that drives so much hatred in the modern world can potentially be mitigated by the fruit of gentleness, helping to connect with God and create calm.
Personal ministry is important in the context of the church structure and health as each member is an individual ministry in itself that contributes and creates the overall ministry of a congregation or even denomination. God likely intended for personal ministries to serve a critical role as written in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Personal ministry is dependent on a person’s spiritual positioning and gifts in the church which directly correlate with the knowledge and use of the fruit of the Spirit. Christians are encouraged to embrace the fruit in a manner the promotes self-development and help as building blocks of a wholesome Christian that develop both the personal ministry and the structures of the church at large.
The fruit of the Spirit is an essential aspect of the Christian faith and cohesiveness of the church. The fruit is present in the church in a multitude of ways and it is important that the Spirit guides the critical structures such as leadership and ideology. This paper has shown that the health of the church strongly depends on the presence of the fruit of the Spirit in elements of its structure, leadership, and individual members of the congregation acting within the faith towards aspects of justice, truth, and grace. The fruit of the Spirit is an essential part of the Christian tradition that continues to contribute to important parts of the Christian worship and salvation.
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