Fruit of the Spirit and Gifts of the Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit and Gifts of the Spirit

In this lesson we want to discuss the fruit of the Spirit and gifts of the Spirit, delineate the differences between the two while also demonstrating their relationship. 

Fruit of the Spirit is a way of talking about the process of maturing or growing in Christian character, identified by the presence of particular Spirit-nourished traits. 

A gift of the Spirit is “a God-given ability for service.” 1 This may be a talent that we are born with (for instance, teaching or administration, see I Cor. 12:29). A gift of the spirit may also be  a supernatural endowment of the Holy Spirit which is given when we are born again (for instance, prophecy, see I Cor. 12:29). Growing in our ability to exercise our gifts involves not only learning how to us the gift itself but also maturing in our character. So there is an interplay between gifts and fruit.

Fruit of the Spirit

The Lord desires that we grow into the full person that He designed us to be. This happens as the Holy Spirit immerses us into a living relationship with a living Lord. Our immersion into this relationship began when we were spiritually regenerated — we were baptized into union with Christ and the Holy Spirit came to indwell us. But salvation is not just a one-time event. It is a lifestyle — a daily walking in the Spirit.

This is a lifestyle which is accessible to each and every Christian because the Holy Spirit is working in every person who has surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus, working in us to produce the character which enables us to live this life. The attributes of this Spirit-formed character are described by Paul as “fruit of the Spirit”. They are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22,23). These are qualities of the character of Jesus. The Holy Spirit wants to develop in us the mind and heart of Jesus.

Since the true character of a person cannot be hidden from the world, our lifestyle in the Spirit is visible. Of course we need to be patient with ourselves — Christian character does not develop overnight — it must be cultivated, even as fruit must be cultivated. But we must be intentional in surrendering to and cooperating with the work of the Spirit. While it is true that anyone who has truly encountered Jesus and surrendered to His Lordship will show some measure of healthy change in their life, the depth of our growth will correspond to our yieldedness to the Spirit.

This must be emphasized — cooperation with the Spirit is necessary if the fruit of the Spirit is to prosper is us. Good fruit must be cultivated. The Holy Spirit will cultivate holy character in us but we must give ourselves to the process. The Spirit will not force His purpose on us. We must cooperate by appropriating the means of grace and growth: prayer, worship, reading the Word of God and reflecting on it, living it, practicing the qualities of the new life, actively resisting old habit and thought patterns, resisting the temptations and corruptions of the world, giving place to the promptings of the Spirit.

The Apostle Paul said, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” but then he added, “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phlpns. 2:12.13). It is a cooperative work. Only the Holy Spirit can produce the character of Jesus in us but He does so only as we yield ourselves to Him day by day, as Paul directs us, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:1,2).

As we yield our life to the Lord while refusing conformity to the values and customs of this world, we will experience the transforming work of the Spirit: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). 

Notice the emphasis on intimacy in that Scripture — you have to stand close to a mirror to see the image in it. In the same way, as we gaze intimately into the glory of the Lord in His word, in worship, in prayer, we experience transformation in Him. The Psalmist says, “They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces will never be ashamed” (Ps. 34:5). When Moses came down from the mountain, from the presence of the Lord, his face radiated the glory of God (Ex. 34:29-35).

We have been immersed into relation with Christ by the Spirit and as we yield to the work of the Holy Spirit, we will grow in Christ-like character, the fruit of the Spirit will progressively mature in us and we will be able to use our spiritual gifts more effectively. Conversely, immature character leads to immature exercise of gifts. There is then a relationship between fruit of the Spirit and gifts of the Spirit, though gifts and fruit are distinct from each other. 

For instance, love is not a gift of the Spirit but a fruit, a quality of character which, as defined by Jesus, is self-sacrificing care and concern for others. However, the presence of mature, Christly love in a believer, or lack of that quality, will impact the exercise of any gift of the Spirit.

Likewise, prophecy is not a fruit of the Spirit but a gift which we receive and exercise. But if we are not growing in love, this will impact our prophetic utterance of truth as Paul admonishes us, “But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:15).

As we grow in the fruit of the Spirit which is the character of Christ, we will be able to exercise our gifts with greater impact. As we exercise our gifts faithfully, we will mature in our understanding of them and in our capacity to use them in a Christ-like way. But immature personalities exercise gifts recklessly, even destructively. Paul said to the Corinthian church, “I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge … so that you are not lacking in any gift” (I Cor. 1:4,5,7). But Paul also said, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ” (I Cor. 3:1).

Gifted babies! Richly gifted but immature. Rich in gifts, poor in fruit. All the gifts of the Spirit were present and in operation in the church at Corinth but the lack of maturity in the exercise of gifts led to division and sin and the breaking down of the church, rather than its building up. How sad! The reason the Holy Spirit is at work in every believer is to form the character of Christ in us so that we may employ our gifts to the building up of the church to the glory of God. 

Gifts of the Spirit:

Just as the Spirit is at work in us producing a mature, Christ-like character, He is also at work gifting us with endowments for service. The English word which we translate “gift” is actually expressed by several different words in the language of the New Testament. 

In Ephesians 4:7 we read, “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” This word “gift” is “dorea” (Strong’s 1431) and denotes a free gift. It is used by Peter on Pentecost, after he preached and the people cried out, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter replied that they should repent and be baptized, “and you will receive the gift (dorea) of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). The Holy Spirit is freely given to all who turn to Christ in repentance and faith. We might also say that every gift that has ever been given to the church is through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In Ephesians 4:8 we read a different word, “Therefore it says, ‘When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.’” Paul is referring to the fact that after the triumphant ascension of Jesus to heaven, He poured out gifts on the church. The word gifts is “doma” and refers to a present.  Paul goes on to describe these particular doma-presents: “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11).

In Matthew 7:11 Jesus said, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” This word for gifts is “doron”, a sacrificial offering.

In Romans 12:6 Paul says, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” That word for gifts is “charisma  / charismata.” This word is also used throughout I Corinthians 12 (for instance, 12:30) and emphasizes the grace (charis) of God in providing the gift — free, unmerited — an expression of God’s grace.

The charismata are often used in the context of supernatural giftings for service whereas doma may represent natural talents as well as supernatural giftings. However, in I Cor. 12:28, Paul refers to “gifts (charismata) of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.” I tend to think of helps and administration as doma gifts and healings as charismata. Evidently, the terms can be interchangeable. Of course, when we surrender our natural giftings to the Lord, He is able to bless and supernaturally empower them through the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

We should add that the word pneumatikos is used in I Cor. 12:1, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware” (also 14:1). The word which we translate “spiritual gifts” is the word “pneumatikos” which simply means spiritual or spirituals. The English word gifts is implied and therefore added but is not actually in the text.

In I Corinthians 12:7, in the midst of a discussion on spiritual gifts, Paul says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The Greek word for manifestation is phaneroosis which may also be translated, “shining expression”. It is from the root phanos, meaning lantern. A spiritual gift is a lantern from God, a shining expression of the grace of God. Here Paul is not speaking of natural talents but charismata, supernatural endowments from God. God graciously grants us supernatural lights that we might better see Him and serve Him in this dark world and so that the world might better see and encounter and experience and understand the living Savior through His church. 

For instance, miracles and healing help us to see more clearly the compassionate and merciful character of God. Prophecy helps us to understand more surely His word and will.

Notice, “To each is given.” There are no ungifted followers of Christ. Notice also that these gifts are given “for the common good (or toward the profit).” 2 Toward whose profit? People profit as God’s grace is lavished upon them through the exercise of gifted ministry. But also God profits because the gifts of the Spirit reveal Him and Self-revelation is God’s desire. 3

We have been commanded to let our candles shine before the world in such a way that God is glorified, again to quote Paul, ““Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly” (Rom. 12:6).

However, if a gift is not used to glorify God and bless people then it may be taken away. For instance, in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus said of the unfaithful steward, “Therefore take away the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents.” Although this parable does not refer specifically to gifts of the Spirit, the principle of  stewardship can be applied. There are sobering examples in Scripture of people and churches which did not let their light shine so as to glorify God. As a result, they lost their light.

We read in the Revelation that the seven churches are symbolically represented as seven lampstands (l:20). To the Church at Ephesus, which had abandoned the bright and fervent passion for Jesus which had characterized its earlier days, Jesus says, “Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place — unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5). 

Jesus is saying, “Unless you return to the original relationship which you had with Me wherein you experienced My lavishing of love and grace upon you and you poured out your love for Me, then you will lose your lampstand — you will lose your church.” He will begin by removing the favor, blessing and anointing that had enabled the church to be successful. We see that today — churches and entire denominations losing the oil of Christ’s anointing, thereby extinguishing the flame. There may still be a church in that place, as an empty lantern may continue to stand on a table, but there is no light. Eventually, Jesus will remove even the empty, darkened lantern.

Why? In the case of Ephesus, that was the flagship church in Asia Minor, out of which the other regional churches had been established. Jesus did not want those churches to look at Ephesus — successful and lukewarm, prosperous and dying from within — did not want other churches to look at that and say, “Oh, that’s the model.” 

How ironic that Paul had said to the Ephesian Church, “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift … And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:7,11,12).

Grace was given, gifts were distributed that the Church might be upbuilt. Were the Ephesians good stewards of God’s lanterns, the light-bearing gifts of the Spirit? Evidently not, for several decades later Jesus directed John to say to the church, “Remember … repent… or I will remove your lampstand …”

Today Ephesus is a ruin, an archeological dig. There is no city there, no Christian Church, neither does God’s light shine in that place. Christ removed the lampstand.

What was lacking in the character of the Ephesian believers that led to the loss of light? We do not know. We do know that candle gifts were given and then removed. Light was shining brightly for a generation or two and then the lantern went dark. Some spiritual disease blighted the fruit of the Spirit which led to the loss of light-bearing gifts.

Are we today using all of the gifts which God has made available to His church? Are we exercising our gifts in union with maturing character, a ripening of the fruit of the Spirit? The gifts of the Spirit are divine enablements for the blessing of people and to glorify God. We are not owners but stewards of the gifts of the Spirit. They are not given to us but through us. As God is glorified and as people are blessed, the church is built up.

If we are growing in the fruit of the Spirit, in Christ-likeness, we will be passionate about sharing the gifts of God with a needy world. It is a simple law of finance that one cannot draw a profit from anything until it is invested. We have not been called to preserve or embalm the gifts of the Spirit. We have been called to invest them in a hurting world by exercising them in and through the church, that God might be glorified, people blessed and the church built up.

Why should we hide these candle gifts in religious storage vaults when they are so urgently needed in our darkening churches and in cities collapsing in chaos? Why should we bury God's lanterns beneath the thick and deadly shadows of vain philosophies, false teachings and immature personalities when they could be held aloft in holy fellowship and thereby bring light to a desperate and lost world? Why would we attempt to give our gifts without also giving ourselves to the holy discipline of maturing, fruitful character?

We have at our prayerful request an inexhaustible stream of empowering brightness, a light which can never be overcome or diminished. The Source of our Spirit-lanterns is that same light, eternal and triumphant, to which the Apostle John bears witness, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend (or overcome) it” (John 1:5).

Jesus confessed Himself to be the Light of the world but He also called His followers lights, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). 

This is what Isaiah was pointing to when he said, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Isaiah 60:1). We shine as we allow Jesus to shine in us and as we allow the Holy Spirit to shine through us in visible, lantern-like demonstrations of mercy, truth and power — manifestations of the Spirit. This is God’s will for His people — that gifts, candles be divided amongst the household of God, in order that we might shine “as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). 

The Apostle Paul said to the Corinthian church, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (I Cor. 12:11). The word Paul used for the distribution of gifts is diaireo — meaning divisions, which suggests a dividing and multiplying of gifts. 4 The image is like a candle which is used to light other candles without losing any of its own luster. 5 The Holy Spirit can enlighten and gift a million million believers without diminishing His own light. Truly, the Source of our light is infinite; we have only to let Him shine in us and through us. 

Returning to the history of the Church at Ephesus, we see what can happen when a lantern ceases to give light — it is removed from the lampstand. However, as we use our lanterns properly—  we are speaking spiritually— it increases in its capacity to shine. As we are used of God in sharing light, we grow as light-bearers. This spiritual truth is demonstrated in II Kings 4:4-7 where we see that the widow's oil did not decrease when it was poured out but rather it increased — it increased as it was used, as it was poured out. In the same way, the barley loaves of John 6:11 were multiplied only as they were blessed, broken and distributed.

God has given the gift of light to His church and the light increases as we use it; but we must use the light we have. We must be willing to let God pour His gifts through us, indeed, we must be willing to be poured out with the gift. As any farmer can tell us, grain multiplies not in the barn but when it is scattered in the field.

In Paul’s dealings with the Thessalonian Church we see more clearly the relationship between gifts of the Spirit and fruit of the Spirit. In I Thessalonians 1:5 Paul reminds the church that the Gospel did not come to them “in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” They also “received the word in much tribulation” (1:6), and also “with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1:6). That there was violent opposition to the preaching of the Gospel in Thessalonica is confirmed in Acts 17:1-9. But from Paul's description of the work there, we know that Christ was more than able to overcome and triumph. The establishing of the church in that city was a work of divine authority, done in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Yet Paul had to write a word of caution and warning to the church. He said, “Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances” (I Thes. 5:19,20). The word used for quench is the same as Jesus used in Matthew 25:8 in speaking of the maidens whose lamps were going out. 6 Paul is saying, “Don’t let your lanterns go out.”

Notice the relationship between quenching the Spirit and despising prophecy. Prophecy in a general sense refers to the proclamation of known truth — the truth which has been entrusted to the church. Prophecy may also refer to fresh revelation received through the Holy Spirit and proclaimed by the believer who has been blessed with this gift. When we despise the proclaiming of truth, we are quenching the Holy Spirit for as Jesus said, He is “the Spirit of truth (who) will guide (us) into all the truth” (John 16:13).

In reading through the two letters to the Thessalonians we see two different ways in which the Spirit might be quenched. The first has to do with an improper understanding of the fruit of the Spirit, the second is related to a wrong understanding of the gifts of the Spirit.

1. In the first instance, Paul may have feared that the Thessalonians were dealing with a temptation to return to the immoral lifestyle of their pre-Christian days. Therefore he says: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality … for God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you” (I Thes. 4:3,7,8).

And evidently, because of an expectation of the imminent return of Jesus, there seems to have been a lack of discipline in their work habits (I Thes. 4:11,12 and 2 Thes. 3:6-12). This may also have led to a slack attitude in their corporate life, especially in regard to the teaching ministry. And so Paul says: “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another” (I Thes. 5:12,13).

To disregard God’s call to the holy life is to disregard the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Tolerating sin in our lives will quench the Spirit. Refusing to walk with the Spirit in sanctification, refusing to be deliberate in cultivating the fruit of the Spirit, refusing to be intentional in cooperating with that maturing process whereby Jesus increases in us and we decrease — this unyieldedness will effectively quench the Spirit. The Spirit may be quenched individually or corporately as believers and churches refuse to allow God to cultivate in them the character of Jesus. The call to the sanctified life whereby the fruit of the Spirit becomes visible in us is not an option but a necessity. Spirit-quenched people build Spirit-quenched churches; Spirit-enlivened people build spiritually lively churches.

The light-bearing gifts of the Spirit cannot shine as God intended then to shine through corrupt lanterns! If the glass is smudged with soot, the light is diminished. Compromised lives may have been interrupting the shining of heaven’s light through the church at Thessalonica.

2. The Thessalonians may also have been quenching the Spirit through laxness in regards to the proper use of spiritual gifts, as we read in 5:19,20, “Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances”. A lackadaisical attitude toward the prophetic, and this includes the teaching ministry of the church — can lead to a misuse or neglect of the gifts of the Spirit and that will quench the Spirit just as effectively as immorality in the church. Of course Paul adds, “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (I Thes. 5:21). All manifestations of the gifts, especially prophecy / teaching, ought to be received with care and ought to be tested. But the potential misuse of a gift in its exercise is no reason to allow the greater abuse of its neglect.

There have been various speculations as to why the Thessalonians developed a wrong attitude toward the gifts. It is suggested that they came to despise or look down on the gift of prophetic and teaching ministries because some who were exercising these gifts did not measure up to the required standards of holiness in this young Christian church; or maybe the gift was being cheapened by the interposition of emotional outbursts and human thoughts. 7

It is true that there have been times when the prophetic / teaching ministry has been dishonored and diluted. There have been times when the Church has had to respond to an exercise of the prophetic office by saying, “That was not a work of the Spirit.” But arrogant disdain for the gifts of the Spirit is not a work of God either. How much better is Paul's solution: test the gifts, hold fast to that which is good and abstain from any evil which would discredit a gift.

The contemporary church, surrounded by a militantly pagan culture, must be just as vigilant as the Thessalonian church in guarding against the intrusion of lifestyles which can quench the Spirit. But it is just as necessary that we guard against the development of neglectful attitudes toward the gifts of the Spirit. 

There is today in many churches a pronounced disdain, even contempt for some of the gifts of the Spirit. True, there has been a misuse of some gifts and some persons whose ministries have been closely identified with certain gifts have not measured up in their living. But for those who hold the gifts of the Spirit in contempt, can it be said that contempt for the things of God is consistent with the character of the Holy Spirit?

Paul exhorts us to “earnestly desire the greater gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31). Desire may speak not only of an aspiration or eagerness to exercise a particular gift but also the willingness to develop the gift. For instance, an administrative or teaching gift would surely involve a natural talent and a supernatural anointing but would be enhanced by seasons of preparation. So it is God the Holy Spirit who gifts us but we also must commit ourselves to the process of training. Preparation also means that we must commit ourselves to the work and discipline of holy maturity, growing in the fruit of the Spirit so that the Spirit may pour out his gifts through us.

In too many churches today there is a poverty, a dryness in worship and ministry. We must face the truth that one of the reasons for this condition is that we are not using all of the gifts which God has made available to His church. We are not using all of our resources but are instead holding some of them in contempt. 

Another reason for a poverty of ministry is that we are not growing in the maturity of the fruit of the Spirit which allows the gifts to be released with maximum impact.

Gifts of the Spirit were given “for the good of all” — that we and God might profit. As the Holy Spirit shares His gifts with a needy world through the church, the church is upbuilt, God is glorified, people are blessed and God profits through the profit of His people.


1. Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Holy Spirit (Chicago, Illinois: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago,1965), p. 83.

2. Spiros Zodhiates, “The Gifts of the Spirit”, Pulpit Helps,  June, 1981, p. 1. 

3. Ibid., p 1.

4. Ibid., p 6.

5. Ibid., p 6.

6. Stanley M. Horton, What The Bible Says About The Holy Spirit (Springfield, Missouri, Gospel Publishing House, 1976), p. 169.

7. Ibid., p 169.

Study Questions

1. What is the difference between fruit of the Spirit and gifts of the Spirit?

2. How does fruit of the Spirit influence the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit?