Suppose you were put on trial, “accused” of being a Christian. How would the prosecution build their case against you? What evidence could they present as proof of your “guilt”?
The question is ultimately summed up like this: How can you know for certain that you have God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in you? And how can others know that it is working in you? The apostle Paul showed that it is only the Holy Spirit dwelling in your mind that makes you a Christian: “But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Rom. 8:9).
Since this is the prerequisite for being a Christian, there must be traits or qualities we can see in ourselves that reflect our spiritual state.
Just as there are traits in true Christians today that determine whether they are Sardis, Philadelphian or Laodicean (Rev. 3:1-22), there are characteristics that we must all exhibit in order to even be considered by God to be a part of the body of Christ.
Notice what the apostle Paul was inspired to write in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” These are areas in which we all must be growing daily, striving to overcome our three main enemies: Satan (Jms. 4:7), the world (vs. 4; Rev. 18:4), and our own human nature (Rom. 8:7).
Let’s examine what it means to have these traits—how they affect our relationship with God and our fellowman, and how growth in these areas will ultimately determine our reward in God’s kingdom.
The first fruit that Paul lists as evidence of God’s Spirit working in a person’s mind is love. What does it mean to have love? The world’s “Christian” churches universally teach a false concept of love—one that reduces it to a mere feeling, a hollow emotional expression punctuated with words that tend to have meaning only during certain times of the year. Teaching that God’s “harsh law” was done away by Christ’s sacrifice, they claim that in order to be Christian, all one needs is “love.”
But how does God define true Christian love? There are actually many aspects of this trait, which is expressed in the original Greek language as agape. First, notice Christ’s words in John 15:13: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Here, Christ showed that the ultimate expression of godly love is the willingness to put one’s own life on the line for others.
Now notice Ephesians 5:29: “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the church.” In other words, to exercise true godly love is to go against the natural human instinct of self-preservation, putting the concerns of others above our own (Phil. 2:3). When giving what has come to be known as “the golden rule,” Jesus Christ exhorted, “And the second is like, namely this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). And in John 13:35, He said, “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one to another.”
The second fruit of the Holy Spirit is joy. Speaking to His disciples, Christ said, “These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:11). The Greek word translated “joy” is chara, meaning “cheerfulness, calm delight, gladness.”
Are you evidencing joy in your life? Do you face your trials with cheerfulness, calm delight, gladness? This should be our mindset throughout our Christian walk.
Notice how Paul emphasizes this attribute in Hebrews 1:9 : “You have loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows.”
Now read Christ’s words in the parable of the talents: “His lord said unto him, Well done, you good and faithful servant: you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter you into the joy of your lord.”
As Christians, we are being judged according to what we do with what we have in the time that we have. Those who grow and overcome in this lifetime, being faithful stewards of the gifts that God has given them, will ultimately enter into “the joy of the Lord.”
The third evidence of having God’s Holy Spirit working within you is peace. In John 14:27, Christ said to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
The word peace is translated from the Greek word eirene, meaning “peace, quietness, rest.” Christians are those who remain peaceful through trials and other negative circumstances in their lives. In fact, Christ showed that we are to be active promoters of peace: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9). As Christians, we are to strive to maintain peaceful relationships with others, turning the other cheek when we are wronged (Matt. 5:39; Luke 6:29). And, as Psalm 34:14 shows, we are to “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.”
The fourth characteristic seen in the lives of true Christians is longsuffering. “Suffering long,” enduring through trials, requires a great degree of patience to always remember that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
Some confuse longsuffering with patience. While the Bible does emphasize the need for God’s people to exercise patience, this only becomes longsuffering if one waits while enduring some kind of pain—in other words, patience under duress. It is through suffering for an extended period of time that you can develop patience, in waiting for God to work things out in His own time and in His own way. The apostle James wrote, “Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience” (5:10).
Also notice what Christ said in Matthew 24:23, “Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.” Those who pray “Thy kingdom come” must exercise—and grow in—wisdom and patience, discerning the “signs of the times,” watching and praying always, in order to not be among those deceived by false ministers and false christs. Always be on guard against the possibility of becoming impatient for Christ’s Return, the binding of Satan, and the establishing of the kingdom of God. We must always remember that Christ Himself does not know the exact “day and hour” of His Return (Matt. 24:36).
Now notice Revelation 3:10: “Because you have kept the word of My patience, I also will keep you from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. The New King James version renders the phrase “the word of My patience” as “My command to persevere”; this helps to better convey the meaning. Several verses show how patience, endurance and perseverance are vital in our Christian lives, especially in the end time, when world conditions will be worse than they have ever been.
Read the following scriptures:
- Matthew 10:22: “And you shall be hated of all men for My name’s sake: but he that endures to the end shall be saved.”
- Acts 14:22: “Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”
- Revelation 13:10: “…Here is the patience and faith of the saints.”
- Revelation 14:12: “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.”
- Luke 21:19: “In your patience possess you your souls [lives].”
- Daniel 12:12: “Blessed is he that waits…”
These verses show the importance of patience (through longsuffering) in the lives of those who are “called according to [God’s] purpose” (Rom. 8:28). In Matthew 24:13, Christ also said, “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”
The fifth fruit of the Holy Spirit is gentleness. What does it mean to be gentle? The Greek word used in Galatians 5 is chrestotes, meaning “gentleness, goodness, kindness.”
To grasp what this means in the life of a Christian, first notice Paul’s words in I Thessalonians 2:7: “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherishes her children.” Here, Paul is showing one aspect of his role as a minister, which mirrors what Christ said in Matthew 23:37: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kills the prophets, and stones them which are sent unto you, how often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not!”
To be gentle is to realize that we all require a certain degree of “handling with care.” It means to deal with people in such a way as to take their needs and feelings into consideration, understanding that, just as you have certain sensitivities, others are also sensitive in various ways.
The sixth trait seen in a true Christian is goodness. Ephesians 5:9 states, “(For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)” The word used here in the Greek is agathosune, meaning “goodness…virtue or beneficence.” Webster’s Dictionary defines beneficence as “doing or producing good; especially: performing acts of kindness and charity.”
This trait is also summed up in Matthew 5:44: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
Christ further expounded upon this in Luke 6:31-35: “And as you would that men should do to you, do you also to them likewise. For if you love them which love you, what thank have you? For sinners also love those that love them. And if you do good to them which do good to you, what thank have you? For sinners also do even the same. And if you lend to them of whom you hope to receive, what thank have you? For sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love you your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and you shall be the children of the Highest: for He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.”
Christ is showing that one of the tests of true conversion is whether or not we can show goodness to those who are not naturally inclined to show goodness to us in return. This goes directly against human nature, which tends to seek vengeance and retribution for wrongdoing. We must continue to grow in this area so that we can ultimately hear Christ say, “Well done, you good and faithful servant…” (Matt. 25:21).
The seventh fruit of God’s Spirit is faith, which is also listed as a gift of the same Spirit (I Cor. 12:9). In Hebrews 11:6, Paul writes, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” But what is faith? In verse 1, it is defined as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
In other words, faith is its own proof of the validity and certainty of God’s promises. It is our proof that God will “make good” on His words. It is our proof that He will intervene in our trials. Through faith, we can be assured that God will not require us to endure more than we can bear (I Cor. 10:13).
The Greek word translated “faith” in Galatians 5:23 is pistis, which means, “persuasion…credence; moral conviction…especially reliance upon Christ for salvation.” We have to place our trust fully in God, “Being confident…that He which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
It takes faith to endure to the end (Matt. 10:22), realizing that God will “never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).
As the eighth fruit of God’s Holy Spirit, meekness (Greek: praotes, meaning “gentleness…humility”) is a quality that is often viewed by others as weakness. Most people would consider a meek individual as one who is easily swayed—a “pushover.”
But notice how God describes Moses, a man whom He used to perform mighty miracles in delivering Israel out of slavery and leading them to the Promised Land:
“Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3).
So, meekness is not a lack of strength. It is an attitude of approaching God and our neighbor through humility, realizing that we can do nothing apart from God (John 5:19, 30)—but that, through Christ, we can do all things (Phil. 4:13).
The ninth fruit of God’s Holy Spirit, temperance (from the Greek word egkrateia, meaning “self-control”), is a quality that is clearly lacking in today’s society. From eating disorders to “road rage” to violence in schools—the evidence of the lack of self-control is everywhere.
Those who do have God’s Spirit dwelling in their minds should be exercising control over their emotions and actions, not “giv[ing] place to the devil” (Eph. 4:27). And this should be obvious to those around us. We should not allow circumstances or situations to dictate our mood, demeanor or language. Rather, Christians should remain in control of their emotions and attitudes, remembering that “There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it” (I Cor. 10:13).
Recall the analogy at the beginning of this article. If you are evidencing these nine fruits in your life, the jury hearing your case should be able to hand down a verdict of “Guilty” on the charge of being a Christian. You should be able to “[have] a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation [behavior] in Christ” (I Pet. 3:16).