Before his conversion to Christ, Charles Wesley looked like a believer. He studied the Bible, participated in prison ministry, and even traveled to America to preach the gospel to Native Americans. Only after he began reading Martin Luther’s book on Galatians, however, did he understand his own need for salvation.
It is possible to exhibit certain qualities that resemble the fruit of the Spirit and not be a Christian. For example, there is an important difference between a person who has a nice temperament and a person made kind by the Holy Spirit. Jonathan Edwards said that the only way to tell the difference between authentic spiritual fruit and the virtues of character resulting from temperament or training was to distinguish whether or not the qualities were “all linked together . . . [If] one link be broken, all fall to the ground, and the whole ceases to be of any effect.”
Moreover, the Bible, especially our passage today, clearly teaches that the genuine fruit of the Spirit is produced through a vital, ongoing connection between the believer and Jesus Christ. We can’t produce the fruit of the Spirit by attending seminars and reading books. To become more loving, joyful, self-controlled, and gentle, we need, as the Gospel of John says, to abide in Christ.
To understand what this means, we are commanded to “remain” in the words of Christ. Does this mean ingesting a hefty dose of Bible reading every day? Certainly this is a commendable practice. But notice that the Holy Spirit is meant to be a Helper to us in the task of absorbing God’s Word. Yes, we should commit to opening the Scriptures every day, but we should also look to the Holy Spirit to illumine its truth and remind us of its principles when we most need them.