The Bible mentions both the gifts of the Spirit and the fruits of the Spirit. I’ve posted before about how to know what your spiritual gifts are, but I think there can be some confusion in Christian circles about what’s a fruit, what’s a gift, and what the differences are between the two.
If you take all the spiritual gifts listed in the Bible from Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4, you get a list that looks something like this:
Romans 11:29 tells us that “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” That means that they can’t be taken away from you. Even if you lie, cheat, murder, or abandon your faith altogether, you still have your gifts. Oftentimes we are born with them. This is one explanation for how we end up with false prophets: their motives may not be good, and the character may not be there, but the gifts remain. These people can often prophesy accurately; they just don’t necessarily use their gift of prophecy for good or for God.
Matthew 7 says that God will give good gifts to those who ask him. This is good news for those of us who don’t feel especially gifted: we can ask for gifts! Even better, this verse comes just after the verse that tells us if we ask, it will be given to us.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!Matthew 7:7-11 NIV
Gifts, as the term implies, are given, not earned. The gifts of the Spirit are just that: gifts. They are God’s gifts to you, and you can ask for them.
1 Corinthians 14:1 also tells us to “eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.” There’s nothing wrong with wanting the gifts of the Spirit; in fact, it’s encouraged!
Galatians 5 outlines nine fruits of the Spirit:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”Galatians 5:22-23 NIV
Matthew 7 talks about both fruit and gifts. Verse 16 says, “You will know them by their fruits.” “Them” actually refers to false prophets. This chapter warns us not to fall for the schemes of people who operate in the gifts but don’t have the fruit to prove that they are truly followers of Christ.
We all know people who seem really polished and may even be popular, but they have no character. Their lives are an act. They aren’t really following Jesus; their gifts just attract people who aren’t discerning enough to see that they don’t have the fruit to match their gifts.
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.Matthew 7:15-20 NIV
Luke 6:43 says, “No good tree bars bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.” Galatians 6:7-8 warns, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”
We reap what we sow. We can only bear fruit through a continual relationship with Christ. Any fruit in our lives is the result of our fellowship with him and nothing more. John 15 says we cannot bear fruit unless we remain in Christ. He is the vine; we are the branches.
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.John 15:5-8 NIV
So what’s the difference between fruit and gifts? The fruits of the Spirit are signs that a person has been growing and developing in his or her faith. The proof is in the pudding. Of course, no person is perfect, and Christians are by no means exempt from that rule. We can and do still mess up. But inevitably, someone who has been walking with the Lord a long time will start to cultivate fruit in his life.
Gifts, on the other hand, can be there no matter if we’re growing in a relationship with Christ or not. People can have them regardless of their character.
Gifts are gifts. Fruit is fruit. Profound, I know. 😉 But this simple understanding has changed the way I see gifts and fruit, and maybe it will change your perspective, too.
Gifts may attract people to you, but those same people will only know you are a believer when they see your fruit. Don’t be afraid to ask for the gifts, and keep cultivating the fruit that can only come from a relationship with Christ! Galatians 6:9 encourages us with this: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”