How Can Unimmersed Persons Display the Fruit of the Spirit?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at 8:52pm
QUESTION: Is it possible for a person who does not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to bear the fruit of the Spirit as named in Galatians 5:22-23? I know individuals who have not obeyed Acts 2:38, which connects receiving the indwelling Holy Spirit with baptism, and yet they seem to exhibit aspects of the Spirit’s fruit. How can we explain this?
ANSWER: The reason for the frequent confusion on this issue is the false assumption that none of these kinds of fruit can be present in a person’s life unless he or she has the indwelling of the Spirit. This is not a proper conclusion to draw from Galatians 5:22-23, however.
There are two reasons why individuals who do not have the Spirit’s indwelling presence can still manifest, to a degree at least, the fruit of the Spirit. First, the various virtues listed by Paul—love, joy, peace, and the rest—are in reality the natural state for human beings made in God’s image. Such “righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:24) are part of the original “image of God” which the Creator built into the human race in the beginning. This image includes an innate knowledge of God’s basic moral laws (Romans 2:15), and originally an innate presence of these virtues in the human heart. One of the effects of sin upon humanity, however, is that this image, including these virtues, has been damaged and marred. This does not mean, though, that it is completely destroyed. Every sinner still possesses vestiges of the image, to a degree that depends on how much of himself he has yielded to the power of sin. Thus we can expect these virtues—at least some of them, to some degree—to be present in most people. (From the negative side, this is the same reason why we do not find all of the “deeds of the flesh” [Galatians 5:19-21] present in all sinners.)
The second reason why some individuals who do not have the Spirit’s indwelling presence can manifest the fruit of the Spirit is that they have been convicted of sin, righteousness, and judgment by the Spirit-inspired Word of God (John 16:8-11), and they are making an effort to obey the Word and to lead a virtuous life. They are trying to live according to the Bible, under the knowledge and motivation engendered by biblical teaching. Those who have thus come under the influence of the Word (Hebrews 4:12-13) will be able to bear the fruit of the Spirit to some extent. This explain why OT saints, none of whom had the indwelling of the Spirit, were able to exhibit certain of these virtues.
Why, then, does Paul call this list of virtues in Galatians 5:22-23 “the fruit of the Spirit”? We must remember that there are two aspects of the Spirit’s sanctifying work: he sanctifies indirectly through the Word, and directly through his indwelling presence. When anyone seeks to live according to the moral teaching of the Word of God, the Spirit of God is at work in his life. When that person, through free-will effort, becomes more loving, more patient, or more self-controlled, he is under the influence of the Holy Spirit and is thus producing “the fruit of the Spirit.” This does not mean that every person who thus bears some of the Spirit’s fruit is saved. It does not mean that the Spirit is dwelling within him. Though this is a widespread assumption, it is quite false and unwarranted.
We must be careful to avoid a fallacy in logic here. Just because “all A is B,” this does not mean that “all B is A.” I.e., that “all who have the indwelling of the Spirit will produce his fruit” does not necessarily imply that “all who produce his fruit have the indwelling of the Spirit.” Some in the latter group may simply be under conviction through the power of the Word.
So what advantage does the Christian have in his efforts to produce the fruit of the Spirit? The answer should be obvious. The Christian has not only the knowledge and power of the Word working in his heart, but also the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit himself, who is able to directly energize our wills and to empower us to produce this fruit far beyond what our unaided efforts could achieve. This does not eliminate struggle in our efforts to become virtuous, but for those who are serious about fruit-bearing it eliminates the fear of defeat. That is why we can affirm that “all who have the indwelling of the Spirit will produce his fruit.”
In the final analysis, then, the presence of the fruit of the Spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22-23 is not an infallible sign that a person has the indwelling of the Spirit, but the absence of this fruit is a likely sign that the Spirit is not present.
[This essay is adapted from my book, Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit (College Press, 2007), 374-375.]