The Fruit of the Cross

The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. (Galatians 5:22–25 NLT)

A litmus test is something that, when introduced into a situation or solution, illuminates a key characteristic of that thing being tested. The original litmus test is a strip of paper used to test roughly where a solution sits on the pH scale: acid or base. Even though a litmus test is imprecise and cannot indicate a specific pH level, the term itself has captured our imaginations; after all, many of us yearn for a simple test that can serve as a marker for a wider spectrum of information. For example, a political litmus test is often a key question asked of a candidate that will supposedly indicate their stance on a host of varied and unrelated topics. It doesn’t seem to matter to most people that this precludes nuance or subtlety.

The list of attributes in Galatians 5:22–23 is often used as a sort of spiritual litmus test to indicate whether we are acting like Christ or, as Paul describes it, following the desires of our sinful nature. This is likely, at least in part, why this passage has been counted among the more popular throughout the ages. These characteristics that mark a Spirit-filled life have captivated Christians since Paul’s letter first arrived in the mailbox of the church in Galatia.

Yet, like an actual litmus test, their usefulness as an indicator of all but the most basic truth in our lives is limited. That’s not to say Galatians 5:22–23 is useless as a benchmark of godliness, but too often we think of each of these fruit as a destination to be reached rather than attributes to become – day by day and year by year – more deeply and firmly rooted in our lives.

In an ongoing effort to become more and more like Christ, in this Lenten season, let’s take some time to more closely examine the characteristics of a Spirit-filled life through the lens of this list in Galatians 5. Over the next six and a half weeks, we’ll investigate each of them in detail – looking at what they are, what Jesus says about them in the Sermon on the Mount, where they are visible in his life the week of his death and resurrection, and what all of it means for us today. Before we get into them, though, we’ll take a few days to consider the fruit of the Spirit more generally.