How to Recognize the Holy Spirit
NINE TESTS FOR SPIRITUAL FRUIT
2 Parts: Part 1
Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org
Of all the blessings that are ours in Christ, is any greater than the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit?
The Spirit is “the sum of the blessings Christ sought, by what he did and suffered in the work of redemption,” Jonathan Edwards writes (Works of Jonathan Edwards, 5:341). The Spirit illumines our Savior’s face (John 16:14). The Spirit puts “Abba! Father!” in our mouths (Romans 8:15). The Spirit plants heaven in our hearts (Ephesians 1:13–14).
For all the blessings the Spirit brings, however, many of us labor under confusion when it comes to recognizing the Spirit’s presence. As a new believer, I was told that speaking in tongues and prophesying were two indispensable signs of the Spirit’s power. Perhaps others of us, without focusing the lens so narrowly, likewise identify the Spirit’s presence most readily with his miraculous gifts: visions, healings, impressions, and more.
To be sure, the Spirit does reveal himself through such wonders (1 Corinthians 12:8–11), and Christians today should “earnestly desire” them (1 Corinthians 14:1). Nevertheless, when Paul tells the Galatians to “walk by the Spirit” and “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16, 25), he focuses their attention not on the Spirit’s gifts, but on the Spirit’s fruit.
So if we want to know whether we are keeping in step with the Spirit, or whether we need to find his footsteps again, we would do well to consider love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Fruit of the Spirit
In order to understand the Spirit’s fruit, we need to remember the context in which it appears. Paul’s list came at first to a community at odds with each other. The apostle found it necessary to warn the Galatians not to “bite and devour one another,” nor to “become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:15, 26). The Galatians, in turning from God’s grace in the gospel (Galatians 1:6), had evidently begun to turn on one another.
In this context, the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit describe two communities: the anti-community of those in the flesh, seeking a righteousness based on their works (Galatians 5:19–21); and the true community of those in the Spirit, justified through faith alone in Christ alone (Galatians 5:22–23).
As we use Paul’s list to examine ourselves, then, we need to ask if these graces mark us, not when we sit in peaceful isolation, but when we move among God’s people. I may appear patient, gentle, and kind when alone in my apartment, but what about when I am with the church? Who we are around others — baffling others, irritating others, oblivious others — reveals how far we have come in bearing the Spirit’s fruit.
Now, what are these nine clusters of fruit that manifest the Spirit’s presence? To keep the survey manageable, we will include only one or two angles on each virtue, and restrict ourselves mostly to Paul’s letters.
Love: Do you labor for the good of your brothers and sisters?
When God pours his love into our hearts through the Spirit (Romans 5:5), our posture changes: once curved inward in self-preoccupation, we now straighten our backs, lift our heads, and begin to forget ourselves in the interests of others (Philippians 2:1–4). We find our hearts being knit together with people we once would have disregarded, judged, or even despised (Colossians 2:2; Romans 12:16). Our love no longer depends on finding something lovely; having felt the love of Christ (Galatians 2:20), we carry love with us wherever we go.
Such love compels us to labor for the good of our brothers and sisters (1 Thessalonians 1:3), to patiently bear with people we find vexing (Ephesians 4:2), and to care more about our brother’s spiritual welfare than our own spiritual freedom (1 Corinthians 8:1). No matter our position in the community, we gladly consider ourselves as servants (Galatians 5:13), and are learning to ask not, “Who will meet my needs today?” but rather, “Whose needs can I meet today?”
Better by far to carry even an ounce of this love in our hearts than to enjoy all the world’s wealth, comforts, or acclaim. For on the day when everything else passes away, love will remain (1 Corinthians 13:7–8).
Joy: Do you delight in the Christlikeness of God’s people?
For Paul, the fellowship of God’s people was not peripheral to Christian joy. He could write to Timothy, “I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy” (2 Timothy 1:4), or to the Philippians, “In every prayer of mine for you all [I make] my prayer with joy” (Philippians 1:4). To be sure, the joy of the Spirit is, first and foremost, joy in our Lord Jesus (Philippians 4:4). But genuine joy in Christ overflows to all who are being remade in his image. By faith, we have seen the resplendent glory of our King — and now we delight to catch his reflection in the faces of the saints.
The pinnacle of our horizontal joy, however, is not simply in being with God’s people, but in seeing them look like Jesus. “Complete my joy,” Paul writes to the Philippians, “by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2). What would complete your joy? When we walk by the Spirit, the maturity of God’s people completes our joy. We rejoice when we see humility triumph over pride, lust fall before a better pleasure, the timid speak the gospel with boldness, and fathers lead their families in the fear of the Lord.
Peace: Do you strive to maintain the unity of the Spirit, even at significant personal cost?
The Holy Spirit is the great unifier of the church. Because of Jesus’s peacemaking work on the cross, the Spirit makes Jew and Gentile “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15); he gathers former enemies as “members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19); he builds us all “into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:21–22). No matter how different we seem from the person in the next pew, we share a body, we share a home, we share a sanctuary — all because we share the same Lord, and will one day share the same heaven (Ephesians 4:4–6).
Those who walk by the Spirit, then, do not grieve him by tearing down what he has built up (Ephesians 4:29–30), but rather “pursue what makes for peace” (Romans 14:19): We ask for forgiveness first, even when the majority of the fault lies with the other person. We renounce unwarranted suspicions, choosing rather to assume the best. We abhor all gossip, and instead honor our brothers behind their backs. And when we must engage in conflict, we “aim for restoration” so that we might “live in peace” (2 Corinthians 13:11).
Patience: Are you growing in your ability to overlook offenses?
As a fruit of the Spirit, patience is more than the ability to sit calmly in traffic or to wait at the doctor’s office well past your appointment time. Patience is the inner spiritual strength (Colossians 1:11) that enables us to receive an offense full in the face, and then look right over it. Patient people are like God: “slow to anger” (Exodus 34:6), even when confronted with severe and repeated provocation (Romans 2:4; 1 Timothy 1:16).
Patience is integral to one of the church’s primary responsibilities: discipleship. When Paul exhorted Timothy to “preach the word . . . in season and out of season,” he told him to do so “with complete patience” (2 Timothy 4:2; cf. 3:10–11). Ministry in the church, no matter our role, places us around people whose progress is much slower than we would like. We will find ourselves around “the idle, . . . the fainthearted, . . . the weak,” and instead of throwing up our hands, we must “be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). We must come alongside the plodding, stumbling saint, and remember that he will one day shine like the sun (Matthew 13:43).
(Part 2 tomorrow)