Rooted in Christ

Fruit versus Deeds

Why "fruit" of the Spirit but "works" of the flesh?

"But the fruit of the Spirit is..." Gal. 5:22 (NKJV) 

Our Lord Jesus warns us about false teachers. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matt. 7:15–17). 

Our Lord directs us to examine the fruit, the visible product, in order to know the trustworthiness of the source. The kind of fruit bears witness to type of tree and the quality of the fruit to the fitness of the tree. 

Inspecting the fruit of something tells us a number of things. If the fruit is an apple, we know that the tree is an apple tree. If the fruit of the tree is healthy, we know that the tree itself is healthy. This principle is helpful in identifying the value of teaching we receive. If the teaching is in accord with the Bible, we know the fruit is spiritually nourishing to our soul. Examining the fruit is also helpful in evaluating our own spiritual health and the health of others. In medical terms, fruit is like a symptom for diagnosis of our heart before God. 

In describing those who have been made alive by the Holy Spirit, taken by Him to belong to Christ, the apostle Paul spreads before us a cornucopia of fruit for our examination. The fruit is Spirit-produced and indicative of the good soil of regeneration. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23). 

With all this emphasis on fruit, why then does Paul describe the products of the flesh as “works”? “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like” (Gal. 5:19–21). Why not “fruit of the flesh”? 

Paul wants us to see a contrast, not only of character but also of cause. Those who are born of the Spirit and so united to Jesus Christ as the vine of life will organically manifest the life of Christ in them. The fruit will be consistent with the nature of the Root, and it will necessarily grow as an exhibition of life in Him. Just as an apple tree produces apples and a healthy apple tree produces healthy apples, so our new life in Christ will show up to the glory of God. 

We are God’s workmanship of grace. The deeds of the flesh point to what proceeds from the natural man (unregenerate) and is the product of self-effort. The fruit of the Spirit point to what proceeds from the spiritual man (regenerate) and is the product of the Spirit. 

“Deeds” speak to an assortment of godless behavior not necessarily exhibited by every unbeliever. “Fruit” speaks to an assessment of godly behavior that should be exhibited by every believer because it testifies to union with Christ. 

Our calling is to: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Gal. 5:16–17). We are to live our lives in direction from the Spirit (i.e., the Bible) and in dependence upon Him (e.g., faith, prayer). 

Paul explains this synergism in his letter to the Philippians. He first holds up the harvest of fruit: “being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:11). He then explains its production: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12–13). 

The deeds of the flesh reveal the pollution of a soul dead in sin. The fruit of the Spirit show the handiwork of God in those alive in Christ, a bouquet of glory fragrant with the aroma of grace.

Digging Deeper

  1. Why does Paul speak of works (or deeds) of the flesh but the fruit of the Spirit?
  2. What part do these fruit play in our lives as believers?     

Father, by the Holy Spirit fill me with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of Your name. 

For study of the fruit of the Spirit through abiding in Christ see A Vine-Ripened Life (Stanley D. Gale, Reformation Heritage Books) 

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Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Stan Gale

Stanley D. Gale (MDiv Westminster, DMin Covenant) has pastored churches in Maryland and Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He is the author of several books, including A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ and The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. He has been married to his wife, Linda, since 1975. They have four children and nine grandchildren. He lives in West Chester, Pa.
Books by Stan Gale