The Bible speaks about both the “gifts” and “fruit” of the Holy Spirit. Are these the same things? And if not, what is the difference – and should we be striving to develop one more than the other?
There can be some overlap between what the Bible says regarding gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit – both ultimately come to us through the Spirit of God – but there are also differences between the two. At the most basic level, gifts of the Spirit are given to us; fruit of the Spirit is developed in us over time – it is the result of the Spirit working in our lives. Put another way, God gives gifts, but he grows fruit in our lives. It is important that we understand other differences, also.
Gifts of the Spirit
The Scriptures speak of a number of gifts of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 12:4). For example, Romans 12:6-8 lists the gifts of prophesy, serving, teaching, encouragement, giving, leading, and showing mercy. 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, on the other hand, mentions wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, discernment of spirits, speaking in different languages, and the interpretation of languages. As you can see, apart from the mention of prophecy, these two lists are quite different. So we have to put many scriptures together to find all the gifts the Bible enumerates, and even the combined lists are doubtless not complete regarding all the possible gifts God can give.
Overall, however, it is clear that the gifts of the Spirit are outward flowing to accomplish the work of God. They often represent skills or aptitudes that we are given in order to better serve. As such, no one receives all the gifts of the Spirit, and no single gift is given to all God’s people (1 Corinthians 12:28-29). But every Christian is given at least one gift either at conversion (Ephesians 3:7-8) or as the need arises. Each one of us is given the gift of an aptitude or skill, and it is our responsibility to identify that gift and to put it to work to help others (1 Peter 4:10). Some gifts may seem more impressive than others, but every gift is important and necessary in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:21-23).
But just because these gifts are given through the Spirit of God does not mean we have no part in developing and using them. Take the gift of knowledge, for example. God does not simply pour facts into our minds. He blesses us with an aptitude for learning and understanding things and perhaps also in being able to memorize facts and to see their significance. In any case, we must work in order to use the gifts we are given. And we must always remember that unless we use our gifts and use them in love and not for self-aggrandizement, they are rendered useless (1 Timothy 4:14, 1 Corinthians 13:1).
Fruit of the Spirit
When we turn to the Bible’s words on the fruit of the Spirit we find very different things. The fullest list is in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where we find: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23). These qualities are clearly different from those the Bible calls the gifts of the Spirit. Although they all have outward manifestations, they are attributes that signify inner changes in our very nature. For example, we can increase in the gift of knowledge, yet our behavior may not change; but we cannot truly increase in the fruit of love or patience without our behavior being affected. In fact, the fruit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 is in direct contrast to the acts of carnal human nature listed in the preceding verses in Galatians 5:19-21.
Although Paul mentions nine specific qualities, he speaks of the singular “fruit” of the Spirit rather than the plural “fruits” – indicating that the various qualities are perhaps all aspects of the central quality of love. But whether this is the case or not, we need to develop as many of the aspects as possible in order to produce spiritual fruit in every part of our lives: “so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).
While we are individually limited to which gifts of the Spirit we receive, we can develop all of the fruit of the Spirit and we should strive to develop it all as much as possible. Jesus himself referred to this in saying “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8).
So we can summarize by saying that the gifts of the Spirit primarily involve what we do, while the fruit of the Spirit involves what we are. There is certainly overlap in some areas – gifts can appear to change us inwardly and fruit is manifested in our outward behavior. But the differences teach us important lessons. We must not neglect to nurture and develop fruit in our lives just because it is clear that we have been given gifts and we are busy utilizing them.
In the same way it is imperative that we do not concentrate entirely on developing fruits in our own lives while neglecting to use the gifts we may have been given to serve others. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul says that we should “earnestly desire the best gifts…” (1 Corinthians 12:31), yet he also stresses that the gifts are nothing without the fruit underlying them (1 Corinthians 13). Jesus also reminds us (John 13:35) that men would recognize us as his disciples not by our gifts – but by our fruit.