It’s always nice to see a familiar passage of Scripture with a fresh perspective. This happened for me recently when my small group was discussing Galatians 5. At the end of this chapter, Paul contrasts “the works of the flesh” with “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:19-23).
Until now, I have always focused on the primary distinction Paul makes as captured in the final word of each phrase – flesh vs. Spirit. While Paul’s emphasis is on distinguishing our natural tendencies from the characteristics the Holy Spirit produces in believers, my eyes were opened to another helpful dimension of the comparison when someone in the group commented, “Fruit takes a long time to grow.”
It took a minute to sink in, but I understood her point eventually – and it is profound. The list of “works” identifies common attitudes and actions which characterize who we are apart from Christ. In other words, we were all born with the capacity – in and of ourselves – to “gratify the desires of the flesh” in whatever form those impulses are manifested (5:16).
Those who have a relationship with God by faith, on the other hand, have the Holy Spirit living inside of them. Part of His task is producing in them “fruit” – godly character – that accompanies authentic faith and glorifies God instead of self.
Although the lists prove that both sinfulness and godliness can be displayed in a variety of ways, there is a noteworthy principle implicit in the word “fruit” and explicit in a cursory comparison of the items. While the “works” certainly attest to underlying tendencies and orientations of the heart, many of them can be achieved almost immediately. The Spirit-produced alternatives, though, are developed over time and become increasingly characteristic of the Christian the longer the Spirit works.
In this context, the comment “fruit takes a long time to grow” has at least two implications. First, fruit is sweetest when it’s most fully developed. Making kind or faithful choices, for example, is the starting point, not the finish line. Kindness and faithfulness are the result of a Spirit-empowered pattern of kind and faithful decisions. Second and most important, the Spirit is like a wise and patient farmer who does the dirty work today so the harvest can be enjoyed in due season. He’s taking His time for a reason, cultivating something that gets better with age. Like one of my former professors often said, “God grows things, and He’s not in a hurry.”
The lady in my small group was right. In contrast to the instant gratification promised by the “works of the flesh”, fruit does take a long time to grow. Like an apple seed which eventually matures into the real thing, the Holy Spirit is in the process of making us who we are destined to be (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 1:6). One day the fruit of His work in our lives will be in full bloom, and He will get all the glory.