Though the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5 is about our own spiritual health and character, in truth these are the characteristics of Jesus. Cultivating the fruit of the Spirit is really about each believer growing in Christlikeness. Respected Old Testament scholar, Christopher Wright makes the case for this association very clearly in his wonderful little book Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit. The beauty of this book is its expression of spiritual health as navigating will-power and responsibility.
On the one hand, Wright clearly demonstrates that the Fruit of the Spirit has its source in God, not self. Fruit is the result, he states, of simply life. It’s the natural result of being a living tree. He states it this way:
Why does a tree bear fruit? Not because there is some law of nature that says it must. But simply because of the life within it, rising up from the soil and water that feed its roots and flowing in the sap through every branch and twig. A tree does not bear fruit by keeping the laws of nature (if we can use our imagination and think like a tree), but simply because it is a living tree, being and doing what a tree is and does when it is alive. So what Paul is saying with his list of beautiful qualities is this: these are the qualities that God himself will produce in a person’s everyday, ordinary human life because the life of God himself is at work within them. (21-22)
The fruit described here is not about us and what we must do. This is not about will-power and pulling yourself up by your own spiritual bootstraps. This is about God, about Jesus, and about our connection to Him. In fact, Wright demonstrates clearly that each of the fruit finds its origin and reference in the character of God first. He demonstrates for us what it means to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, etc.
In addition, Wright connects each fruit to the person of Jesus as God in the flesh. Jesus models the true fruit of the Spirit in earthly existence, as He lives out godliness before our eyes. As we grow, then, the goal is always to look more like Jesus. The fruit of the Spirit is the identifying marker of Christlikeness.
But, despite its divine source, each fruit requires us to cultivate it at some level. If we aren’t the cause of our spiritual growth in Christlikeness, neither are we to be purely passive. As Wright walks through unpacking each characteristic he gives attention to what it looks like displayed in the Christian life. He gives practical descriptions of the exercise and habituation of these fruit, and ends each chapter with a series of questions for reflection. We are invited not simply to thank God for His work in us, but to cultivate the growth of this fruit. If healthy trees naturally produce fruit it doesn’t thereby absolve gardeners of their task.
Overall this is a quality book. Wright is an excellent scholar, but here he is entirely accessible to average readers. He sheds real light on what each fruit is. Where “goodness” may feel a bit ambiguous, Wright clarifies what it really looks like. He also does good exposition, pointing to parallel texts of Scripture that further reveal each fruit as it is. This would be an excellent tool for small group Bible study, a college class, or personal devotional. Its attention to Scripture, its sound doctrine, and its practicality make it a quality resource. Most of all Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit helps us not to become self-dependent, nor lethargic in our spiritual growth. For that reason alone it is worthy of your time.