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Cover image via ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
“How do I know when I’m feeling the Spirit of the Lord?”
A common question. Paul’s letter to the Galatians gives a great answer: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (5:22-23). If we feel these things, then we are enjoying the Spirit.
Let’s examine the fruits of the Spirit more closely and ponder what Paul meant by them.
Of all the fruits of the Spirit, love is foremost, and Paul lists it first. Agape, charity or love, is the subject of his famous discourse in 1 Corinthians 13: Without charity, we are nothing, regardless of any other spiritual gifts we may have. Mormon teaches us to “cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all [gifts] . . . the pure love of Christ.” How do we “cleave” unto charity? “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love” (Moroni 7:46-48).
The second fruit of the Spirit is joy, or khara in Greek. The word is closely related to kharis, grace, and refers to the sweet feeling that comes from receiving the grace and favor of Jesus Christ. We know we are in his grace when we repent and follow Him with real intent.
The word “peace” translates the Greek word eirene, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word shalom, meaning “health, wholeness, well-being.” Isaiah calls the Messiah sar-shalom, the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6). Under the rule of this Prince, there is continual peace. “Learn of me, and listen to my words,” the Savior asks us. “Walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me” (D&C 19:23). He is the only true, enduring source of peace in this life.
In Greek, “longsuffering” is makrothumia, from makros (long) and thumos, (desire); in other words, the ability to delay gratification, to wait patiently for your heart’s desire to be realized. We naturally want what we want, and we want it now. But a major purpose of mortal life is to learn to bridle our desires, particularly the desire to control others or to “get even.” Our example is Christ, who suffered patiently all that a sick world had to inflict on him.
The word we translate as “gentleness” is chrestotes in Greek, a unique word that is nearly untranslatable. It derives from the word chrestos, which means both “kindly” and “useful” and is the word Jesus uses in Matthew 11:30, “For my yoke is easy.” According to scholars, chrestotes “is the Spirit-produced goodness” which meets an identified human need and avoids harshness or cruelty. “We have no adjective in English that conveys this blend of being kind and good at the same time” (Strong’s Concordance #5543, #5544).
“One scholar has noted that when the word chrestotes is applied to interpersonal relationships, it conveys the idea of being adaptable to others. Rather than harshly require everyone else to adapt to his own needs and desires, when chrestotes is working in a believer, he seeks to become adaptable to the needs of those who are around him” (Rick Renner, Sparkling Gems from the Greek, Vol. 1, Teach All Nations, 2003, p. 534 ).
The root of pistis (“faith”) means to be persuaded, the “divine persuasion” that comes from God by revelation. Faith as a fruit of the Spirit is not just blind belief but an anchor to the soul of those who intentionally follow Christ and know what the Spirit feels like.
The word we translate as “goodness,” agathosyne, might have been invented by Paul. It appears nowhere in Greek writings except in Paul’s letters and refers not just to “goodness” in general, but to those good works that the Spirit invites us to perform. For example, in 2 Thessalonians 1:11, Paul prays that we might have the power to accomplish all the agathosyne that God prompts us to do.
“Meekness” is a fruit of the Spirit not much in fashion these days; it is equated with weakness. But in Greek, the noun prautes is a divine balance between “power” and “restraint” and might be equated with “righteous dominion,” to borrow a phrase from Doctrine and Covenants 121:39. In referring to Jesus’ self-description as “meek and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29), Elder David A. Bednar notes, “The Savior chose to emphasize meekness from among all the attributes and virtues He potentially could have selected. . . . Meekness is strong, not weak; active, not passive; courageous, not timid; restrained, not excessive; modest, not self-aggrandizing; and gracious, not brash. A meek person is not easily provoked, pretentious, or overbearing” (“Meek and Lowly of Heart,” General Conference, April 2019).
Jesus invites us to “walk in the meekness of my Spirit” (D&C 19:23). He is the source of meekness. We cannot be meek in the way Christ is meek without following Him.
The last fruit of the Spirit mentioned by Paul is “temperance,” enkrateia, meaning “mastery over oneself, the ability to control one’s thoughts and actions.” The word literally means “inward power.” To Paul’s Greek-speaking readers, it was “the foundation of all virtues.”
How do we obtain the fruits of the Spirit?
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said, “These spiritual fruits are not a product of temporal prosperity, success, or good fortune. They come from following the Savior, and they can be our faithful attendants even in the midst of the darkest storms” (“A Yearning for Home,” October 2017 General Conference).
The moment we begin to follow the Savior, we start to taste the Spirit. We gradually become more open to it and recognize it more and more easily. I am personally a witness of this. We can experience the Spirit, as President Uchtdorf says, even in the most difficult circumstances. But to walk in the Spirit we must follow Christ intentionally.
Obviously, if we experience feelings opposite of the fruits of the Spirit, we are not enjoying the Spirit. Paul defines those opposites for us, making clear the difference between the sweet fruits of the Spirit and the bitter fruit of “the works of the flesh.”
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance [contention], emulations
, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like . . . they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
Hate, contention, selfish gratification of our lusts, cruelty, evil, unbelief, pride, and a lack of self-control—these are the forces that destroy our peace in this life and deny us exaltation in the next. To the extent these things govern our lives, we are far from the Spirit of the Lord.
The danger to our souls is ever present. Unless we make a deliberate effort every day to walk in the Spirit, we tend to fall into the “works of the flesh.” This was the issue Paul faced in his letter to the Galatians.
“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-9).
Those who troubled the saints in Galatia were “Judaizers,” Christians who believed it was still necessary to keep the Law of Moses (the torah) to be saved. Paul corrected them, teaching that the covenant of the torah was “our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Galatians 3:24-25).
Every covenant has its associated tokens, and each action required by the Law of Moses was a token intended to point the House of Israel to Christ, to enable them to understand the many facets of the Savior’s mission. When the Savior came, He made a new covenant with a new token, which was baptism: “Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27).
We face the same dangers today that the Galatians faced: false teachers. President M. Russell Ballard says, “Today we warn you that there are false prophets and false teachers arising; and if we are not careful, even those who are among the faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will fall victim to their deception” (“Beware of False Teachers and False Prophets,” October 1999 General Conference).
We can recognize false teachers if we are walking in the Spirit. We will detect in them pride, contention, and a lack of meekness. They might display a kind of spirituality, but they lead us away from Jesus Christ. They generally substitute some other practice or observance for the gospel of Christ, as the Judaizers did among the Galatians.
For Paul, the new covenant in Christ was a higher law less prescriptive of outward observances and more focused on walking in the Spirit. He refers to it as “the law of Christ,” which we fulfill by “bearing one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). Elder Robert D. Hales explains the difference between the old law and the new gospel law:
“When the Savior called His disciples to follow Him, they were living the law of Moses, including seeking ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,’ but the Savior came to fulfill that law with His Atonement. He taught a new doctrine: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you’ (“Come, Follow Meby Practicing Christian Love and Service,” October 2016 General Conference). By doing these things, we may walk in the Spirit of the Lord.
When we strive to walk in the Spirit, we experience the fruits of the Spirit. These fruits nourish our souls just as wholesome food nourishes our bodies. The fruits provide us constant spiritual nourishment, but our lives and our homes must be centered on Jesus Christ if we are to enjoy the peace of the Spirit.
Sister Anne C. Pingree described such a home. She was invited to visit a member family on a trip to Japan, and this was what she experienced:
“From the moment we stepped inside the front door, slipped off our shoes, and were graciously greeted by a young, soft-spoken Relief Society sister, I sensed a spirit of order, peace, and love. Little children scurried upstairs carrying their playthings. In this family of eight, with seven still living at home, it was clear what the family valued. Evidences of the Lord were all around—pictures of the Savior on the wall, a family photograph and picture of the temple in a prominent place, copies of well-used scriptures and Church videos neatly stacked on a nearby shelf. The fruit of the Spirit, . . . love, joy, peace, . . . gentleness, goodness, faith, seemed to reside in that home” (Anne C. Pingree, “Choose Ye Therefore Christ the Lord,” October 2003 General Conference).
Ask yourself: Is your family nourished by the fruits of the Spirit? Does your home give evidence that the Spirit of the Lord is there? Is your life filled with love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, and faith? Or are you caught up in the “works of the flesh”—pride, selfishness, contention? Are there “some that trouble you?” Are you living by the “law of Christ” or putting more emphasis on outward observances? What could you do to more fully enjoy the fruits of the Spirit in your life?