I remember the night I became a believer in Jesus. The Holy Spirit had been working on my heart for some time. When I was 21, God used Galatians 5:22–23 to bring me to a saving knowledge of Jesus. I was raised in a Christian home and had been a follower of my parents’ faith. But it was not until that night as a young adult that God allowed me to see that I did not have a personal relationship with Him when I was a child.
The sermon that evening at church was on the fruit of the Spirit, and I was making a checklist of the ones I successfully practiced and others that needed work. I could use more patience, but I am very faithful, I pridefully thought. At the end of the sermon, the Holy Spirit pierced my heart when my pastor said, “This fruit is a gift given at salvation. It is not something you are able to work to obtain.” At that moment, the scales were removed, and I realized that I had been working to gain God’s favor on my own. Only because of Jesus’ saving work on the cross could I be accepted by a holy God.
“This fruit is a gift given at salvation. It is not something you are able to work to obtain.”
As the years pass, I often try to make those checklists again, although they sound more spiritual now. “God, help me work on my self-control,” I say on Monday mornings as I wake up to a new work week. “I need more patience with my family, God,” I pray as I feel guilty for snapping at my husband and son. But it is not more self-control or patience that I primarily need.
Paul wrote the book of Galatians in an urgent state. In many of his letters to the New Testament churches, Paul gives a warm greeting and encouragement before getting down to business and teaching or admonishing the church. Even in the letter to the church of Corinth, where sin was practiced openly, he greeted and encouraged them before calling out their sin—but not in the letter to the Galatians. Why? Because their sin was more severe than the others. The gospel was being attacked; they were preaching another gospel.
The Galatian church began at the right place. They believed and taught that salvation came only through the work of Jesus, but they also taught that in order to grow as Christians, believers were required to work in their own strength. This blasphemous instruction rejected the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification in the lives of believers.
Jesus said, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me” (John 16:7–9, NASB). The doctrine of sanctification—the work of the Holy Spirit, where we are moment by moment becoming holy until we are with the Lord in heaven—was being attacked, and Paul was not having it. He called them “foolish,” asking who had “bewitched” them (Galatians 3:1).
The Work of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit’s work in the life of believers is vital. He is our Helper and Comforter. He convicts us of sin, opens our eyes to the Scriptures, and intercedes on our behalf. We cannot be true, sanctified believers without the Holy Spirit. Sanctification is a supernatural work.
How do we obtain the fruit of the Spirit, which “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (5:22–23, NASB)? Paul answered, “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (vv. 24–25, NASB).
When filled with the Holy Spirit, we obey God in our daily walk, study His Word, confess our sins before God and our brothers and sisters in Christ, and spend time with Him in prayer. This is how we mature as believers in Jesus and manifest the Spirit’s fruit.
As we grow, our prayers change from, “I need more patience, God,” to, “In this circumstance, make me more like Your Son.”
We receive the gift of the fruit of the Spirit at salvation, but we cannot pick and choose which fruit we will work to improve upon. This does not mean we cannot ask God to give us patience in our time of need, but our desire should be deeper. Instead, as we grow, our prayers change from, “I need more patience, God,” to, “In this circumstance, make me more like Your Son. I trust and thank You, no matter the outcome.”
Spiritual growth does not happen overnight. It’s a lifelong process—one with bumps and bruises along the way. But as we are filled with the Spirit, we cannot help but bear His fruit. We will be known to those around us as loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. This is the abundant life Jesus promised (John 10:10). This is how we can freely share the Good News of the gospel to a dark and hopeless world. Let’s stop asking for more patience and start asking for less of us and more of Him.