By the Revd Dr Peter Sanlon
As we travel towards the heavenly city, we expect and seek that the Spirit would change us – make us increasingly reflect the character and image of Christ. One of the Biblical pictures used to describe this is the Spirit growing fruit in us: ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.’ (Gal. 5:22–23)
What are the implications for how change happens in our lives, from the fact that it is described as ‘fruit’ grown in us? Answering the question guards us against false expectations, superficial change and misleading promises.
First the image of fruit suggests that at a fundamental level the change in our lives is the work of the Spirit within us. We have a role to play, but when all is said and done, we give glory to God for his supernatural work in our lives.
Secondly, fruit grows slowly and at times imperceptibly. So we may not always be conscious of the extent of change in our character.
Thirdly, fruit does in time develop to a point where it is sweet and enjoyable to eat! So it is to be expected that the believer over time gets to enjoy the sweet pleasure of some aspects of Christ like character.
Fourthly, that the fruit is described as singular, means that the virtues listed are in reality aspects of one organic fruit. Growth is to be sought and desired in all areas of virtue. It is not like personality where we may well have leanings or tendencies to one or two aspects of a personality – God is concerned to develop our Christlikeness in all aspects of who we are.
More can be said, but one further implication of the fruit imagery is that we do support the growth of fruit by weeding, pruning and fertilising. We have a role to play as the Spirit grows his fruit. That the work is God’s does not mean we have no part to play – we can and should employ discipline, effort and self-reflection to create fertile soil for the Spirit’s fruit in us.
Our world is one that seeks and demands sudden and revolutionary change. That can happen in a pilgrim’s life – but the normal and more common work of the Spirit is growth that is secret, quiet, imperceptible – but real, substantive and satisfying all the same. May we seek the Spirit’s work in our lives. May he grow his fruit of Christ-like character.
The Revd Dr Peter Sanlon is the rector of Emmanuel Anglican Church, Tunbridge Wells.