Are human beings basically good at heart? We might want to think so or wish that were the case, but is it true? What does the Bible say?
Have you really looked into what the Bible reveals about the human heart? You might find its diagnosis and description surprising!
The prophet Jeremiah wrote: “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9, New Living Translation, emphasis added throughout).
Jesus Christ said, “For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22, NLT).
The apostle Paul wrote: “As the Scriptures say, ‘No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one’” (Romans 3:10-12, NLT).
Other scriptures portray raw human nature in similar ways.
These scriptures are not meant to describe the overall character of every individual. The world has lots of very nice people and lots of people somewhere in between the extremes. Many factors contribute to the formation of a person’s character and personality—family, friends, teachers, religion, laws, environment and everything we allow into our minds.
But people are not inherently righteous. If we were, we would only need to acquire some “improvements” from God. Jesus compared that idea with the foolishness of pouring new wine into old wineskins (Luke 5:36-39). Each person must become a totally “new man” (Ephesians 2:15; Ephesians 4:24).
The Bible frequently warns of the evil influences of Satan the devil and the demons, the “world” and “this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4). But while we must resist our spiritual enemies on the outside, our biggest enemy is on the inside—the human heart. We need a spiritual heart transplant!
Needed: a radical transformation of our hearts
What we especially need to understand is God’s plan of salvation revealed in the Bible. That plan involves the process of replacing our natural minds and hearts with the mind and heart of God so we can be admitted into the family of God! This miracle is accomplished primarily by the power of God’s Holy Spirit working within us.
God says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways” (Isaiah 55:8). Our thoughts and ways must conform to God’s thoughts and ways, which is why Paul wrote that you must “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). This is a radical transformation indeed!
In Philippians 2:5 Paul wrote, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” That’s what we need! We can have the mind of Christ by the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.
But just what does the holy, righteous, pure and perfect character of God look like as it’s being developed in a person? What are the virtues, attributes, characteristics and qualities the nature of God expresses? God inspired Paul to list nine key virtues of God’s character in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
The Greek word translated “fruit” in Galatians 5:22 is singular because it is referring collectively to nine virtues—that is, the produce of the Spirit or what the Spirit produces—in the life of a Christian in whom that Spirit dwells. However, we sometimes refer to plural “fruits of the Spirit” when we are focusing on the individual virtues.
Can people have those virtues without the Holy Spirit? To some extent, people can have love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control without the help of the Holy Spirit. Earlier we mentioned some of the many influences that shape each person’s character and personality, either for the good or bad.
However, without the help of the Holy Spirit, those good qualities will be shallower, weaker, less reliable and less consistent. And while some people have some of those virtues, it is much less likely that they will be filled with all nine virtues.
Galatians 5:22-23 is quite inspiring since “fruit of the Spirit” refers to the virtues produced by the Holy Spirit rather than by our mere human efforts. With the Holy Spirit, one can have much more of these virtues than he ever could by human effort alone. Knowing this should motivate anyone who has not been baptized to seek to be baptized so he or she can receive God’s Spirit.
Contrasts in Galatians
The book of Galatians is one of Paul’s most corrective epistles or letters. Highly disappointed and alarmed that many Church members who had correctly understood and responded to God’s calling were later led astray by false teachers, he points out numerous contrasts between God’s truth and the false teachings that had infected them.
Paul draws a major contrast between the “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-21 and the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23. The Greek word for “flesh” is sarx, Paul using a form of this word to refer to the corrupt sinful nature of the human heart. Paul could perhaps have used the word “fruit” (Greek karpos) in place of the word “works” (Greek erga) because in this context both terms are referring to products, results or effects.
However, it may be that Paul is subtly pointing out a related problem—the heresy infecting the churches in Galatia that a person can be justified (made spiritually guiltless and righteous)by human works rather than by grace and faith in God (see Galatians 2:16-17; Galatians 3:11; Galatians 3:24; Galatians 5:4).
We suggest you carefully read and think about verses 19-21 to better appreciate the contrast with the wonderful fruit of the Holy Spirit in verses 22-23. Following are brief summaries of each of the nine fruits Paul lists.
The fruit of love
Love obviously belongs at the head of the list. Godly love is so all-encompassing that it can include all the other fruits.
“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16). The two “great” commandments are to love God and to love all of God’s children, which is everyone (Matthew 22:35-39). That means that the Ten Commandments are telling us exactly how to love God and how to love our neighbors.
Love is a major theme of the Bible, which is God’s “instruction book” for mankind. In the New King James Version, the word “love” appears 362 times.
In the Bible’s use of the word “love,” whether as a verb or a noun, the emphasis is on action and doing, not feelings and emotions. We love God by obeying, worshipping and serving Him. For example, 1 John 5:3 tells us, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.”
We love people by how we treat them. God says to love your neighbor as yourself, which means we are to treat others as well as we treat ourselves. The Golden Rule is spelled out in Matthew 7:12: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets” (NLT).
Godly love is summarized in 1 Corinthians 13, the beautiful “love chapter.” Paul here said if I “have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2).
The fruit of joy
Some people tend to think that joy is not really important, especially if they equate it with just having fun or only a nice aftereffect of some pleasant experience. But real joy is far beyond that.
As a matter of fact, God wants real joy to be one of our high-priority goals. God commands His people to rejoice. “Rejoice” means to think joy and express joy. In the New King James Version, “joy” appears 158 times and “rejoice” appears 199 times!
Once we understand God’s truth, we should feel a sense of “my cup runs over” with gratitude for all that God has done, is doing, and will do for us (see Psalm 23:5). Rejoicing is a way of expressing that gratitude.
A joyful person uplifts those around him and makes the world a better place. Therefore, expressing ourselves cheerfully is an important responsibility regardless of how we are feeling inside.
All of the fruits of the Spirit are important ingredients to being “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14-16). People are much more likely to have a good impression of our religious beliefs if they see joy and the other virtues in our character and personalities.
The fruit of peace
The word “peace” is found in the New King James Version 397 times! The importance of peace can’t be overstated. The world will become a paradise after the “Prince of Peace” returns to the earth (Isaiah 9:6).
It’s a huge blessing when we can be in a peaceful environment, but by having God’s Spirit within us we can have inner peace even when we are suffering or surrounded by turmoil. Paul sums this up beautifully in Philippians 4:6-7: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (NLT).
The epistles of Paul and Peter begin with the encouraging greeting of “grace to you and peace.” It’s significant that coming under the grace of God at repentance and baptism enables us to have profound peace.
We are to be “peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9; see also Romans 12:18). We are well-equipped for that if we have God’s Spirit.
The fruit of longsuffering
The majority of English Bibles translate the Greek word makrothumia as longsuffering, but others translate it with more modern terms such as patience, tolerance or forbearance. The meaning seems to be a combination of all these words. It definitely has a stronger meaning than today’s view of the word patience.
The Greek word makro (from which we get macro) means “large” or “long.” The root word thumos means “temper.” Therefore, makrothumia literally means long-tempered, the opposite of short-tempered or having a short fuse. Compare with 1 Corinthians 13:4: “Love suffers long.”
Jesus Christ is “longsuffering toward us” (2 Peter 3:9). Thankfully He doesn’t lose His temper toward us!
“You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19, NLT). Our relationships with others should be “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).
The fruit of kindness
The apostle Paul accurately foretold a selfish, cold, unmerciful and hard-hearted world “in the last days” (2 Timothy 3:1-3). Many people have been neglected, shunned, abused, ridiculed, bullied and starved for human kindness!
The fruits of the Spirit obviously overlap in practice. Kindness clearly relates to love, longsuffering and gentleness.
Kindness includes being tenderhearted, merciful and compassionate toward others. To exercise kindness often involves some self-sacrifice and generosity on our part, especially of our time. But know that God will bless you for that sacrifice (see Philippians 2:3-4; Matthew 5:7; Matthew 10:42; Matthew 25:34-40).
Jesus Christ practiced a kindness that was radical for that time and culture. He respected, loved, healed and helped every type of person, including women, children, minorities, the poor, the sick and those with disabilities. When He saw suffering, He was “moved with compassion” (Matthew 9:36; Matthew 14:14; Matthew 18:27). We must follow His example!
Some people are kind only to their family and friends, while others treat their families worse than anyone else. Both of those examples are sinful (see Luke 6:27-36; 1 Timothy 5:8).
The fruit of goodness
In the Bible, the “goodness” of God often refers to His gracious generosity in providing abundantly for mankind’s needs (Psalms 23:6; Psalms 65:11). When we know we have been blessed by God, we like to say, “God is good!”
But God’s goodness is much more than those things. It is the very essence of God’s nature—His righteousness and holiness. To the extent that we have God’s goodness, we have godliness or God-likeness.
The Bible gives us God’s complete “instruction in righteous-ness” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). To be good, we must learn what is good and then do good.
God summarizes His standards of goodness in the Ten Commandments. King David wrote, “All Your commandments are [or define] righteousness” (Psalms 119:172).
Some people make the mistake of thinking they are good if they have a lot of Bible knowledge. But if they aren’t living by that knowledge, God is more displeased with them than He is with someone who has no knowledge (see James 4:17; Luke 12:47-48). We must be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22; see James 1:21-25).
The fruit of faithfulness
Most Bible versions translate the Greek word pistis in Galatians 5:22 as “faithfulness,” although it is usually translated as “faith” in other verses. It seems clear that faithfulness is primarily what Paul was referring to in this verse, but faithfulness is closely related to faith. We could say that faithfulness is being full of faith, which enables a person to persevere and remain steadfast, loyal, trustworthy, devoted and true to his commitments.
When a person is baptized, he is entering a covenant with God and promising to remain faithful to God. “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). In a wedding, both the bride and groom promise to remain faithful to each other throughout their lives.
The gift of the Holy Spirit within us greatly strengthens a person’s ability to stay faithful to all his commitments, especially his commitment to God.
All those who have committed their lives to Jesus Christ hope to hear these words when resurrected to eternal life: “Well done, good and faithful servant;you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21-23).
The fruit of meekness and gentleness
The next Greek word in Galatians 5:22-23 is praotes. Older English Bibles usually translate it as “meekness,” but since that word has drifted from popular usage, newer Bibles usually translate it as “gentleness.”
People often misunderstand meekness, partly because it rhymes with weakness, but true meekness is a great strength. It’s an ideal word for describing elephants because a tamed elephant is extremely strong yet also very careful and gentle.
Be aware that gentleness refers mostly to actions, whereas meekness refers to attitude as well as actions.Meeknessproducesgentleness.
Consider the great contrast between meekness and some of the “works of the flesh,” which Paul lists as “hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions” (Galatians 5:19-21).
God highly prizes meekness and gentleness. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
The fruit of self-control
For the last virtue in Galatians 5:23, some older Bible versions say “temperance,” but that word has changed somewhat in meaning over time and has come to mean moderation.
“Self-control” is a good translation. It includes self-discipline. A true disciple must be self-disciplined. Many people overeat, overdrink, over-spend and overindulge in lots of things.
It’s fitting that self-control is the last in the list as that implies that we need self-control to maintain all the other virtues in this list.
Of all the things we have to govern in this life, self is often the biggest challenge. We must rule over our appetites, desires, impulses and reactions. Many people are ruled by their feelings and can’t control their anger. In fact, one measure of maturity is emotional control.
We must wage spiritual warfare, “bringing every thought into captivityto the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
However, self-control is not human willpower. Ultimately, effective self-control is not self alone controlling self. Shortly before Jesus returned to heaven, He told His disciples that they would soon receive “power from on high” (Luke 24:49). That power from God is what we must have to rule over self! And it requires yielding to God working in us.
To conquer the “works of the flesh” and produce the fruit of the Spirit, we need the gift of God’s Holy Spirit dwelling within us.
In the next chapter of Galatians is this inspiring message from Paul: “If you live to satisfy your sinful self, the harvest you will get from that will be eternal death. But if you live to please the Spirit, your harvest from the Spirit will be eternal life. We must not get tired of doing good. We will receive our harvest of eternal life at the right time. We must not give up” (Galatians 6:8-9, Easy-to-Read Version).
So, how do you measure up? Does your life show the fruit of God’s Spirit? If not, what’s stopping you from doing what God says you should do to receive the great blessings that come with that?
Other Fruit of the Holy Spirit
The word “fruit” can mean benefits, effects or results. There certainly are many benefits of having the gift of the Holy Spirit besides the nine fundamental qualities listed in Galatians 5:22-23 as the fruit of the Spirit. Let’s notice some others presented in Scripture.
• Ephesians 5:9 actually has the same phrase found in Galatians 5:22—“fruit of the Spirit.” Ephesians 5:8-9 says: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth” (emphasis added throughout). These form a good summary of the results God’s Spirit will produce in the lives of believers, which are listed in greater detail in Galatians 5:22-23.
• In Romans 14:17, Paul spoke of the “righteousness, peace, and joy produced by the Holy Spirit” (International Standard Version). This overlaps the list in Galatians 5:22-23 and adds the crucial element of righteousness.
• God’s Spirit miraculously enables a person to deeply understand God’s spiritual truth. Without the help of God’s Spirit, a person is spiritually blind (see 2 Corinthians 3:14; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; Matthew 13:16-17). Particularly profound is what 1 Corinthians 2 says about the “deep things of God” being a “mystery” and “hidden” until God reveals them “through His Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:7-10). “No one comprehends the thoughts of God except [by] the Spirit of God” (verse 11, English Standard Version).
• Another wonderful result of God’s Spirit at work in a person’s life is brought out in 2 Timothy 1:6-7, where Paul tells us the “gift of God” is not “a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
• God uses His Spirit to lead and guide us, even to “teach” us what to say when we’re under pressure (Romans 8:14; Luke 12:11-12). Jesus also said the Holy Spirit will “bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26).
• In Ephesians 1:13-14, Paul speaks of “the gospel of your salvation” and goes on to say: “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, [which] is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” (New International Version; see also 2 Corinthians 1:22; 2 Corinthians 5:5). That perspective gives us a firm foundation for our faith.
• When God gives anyone a spiritual gift, it is by His Holy Spirit that He does so (see Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12).
• With God’s Spirit dwelling in us, we have a close, intimate relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 John 1:3-7). And along with Paul, we can say, “Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).