On our farm in Wisconsin, we had apple trees, and a variety of other fruit. Each produced fruit according to its kind. Each had its own flavor. Each variety was fruit that we as a family enjoyed.

In John 15 Jesus shares a parable. He says, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (15:5a, ESV). He tells us that the branch must remain in the vine if it is to produce fruit. He adds, “Abide in me, and I in you” (15:4a). You cannot bear fruit “unless you abide in me… Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (15:4b, 5b). Fruit in ministry is the fruit of remaining, or abiding, in Christ. I have seen some of that fruit in my ministry. “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (15:8).

That abiding relationship is what causes us to be caring, to be where we are needed. What does it mean to abide? To abide in the Lord is to have faith. It is to strongly desire to have time with him, to talk to him in prayer, to hear him through his Word. It is feasting with him in Holy Communion and worship, to hunger and thirst after him. To abide with him is to desire that he walk with us everyplace we go. To abide with him is to so prepare ourselves by letting go of our wishes, that our Lord may work through us.

Abiding: letting the Word of God soak through every pore of our being, letting its rich fragrance permeate every facet of life for us. Abiding: letting the wealth of the Word of God influence every discussion, every relationship, every event of our life, individually and as a congregation. When the Word is abiding in us, when we seek such a close relationship with our Lord, we show ourselves to be his disciples, his students, learning his way of life. When we abide, we bear much fruit, which is bringing glory to the Father. When we abide—that is, let Christ control our lives—we can ask for what we wish, and it will be given us.

Some of the fruit that comes from abiding in Christ is the fruit of the Spirit as found in Galatians 5. Jesus, in John 16 (KJV), calls the Holy Spirit the “comforter” and the “Spirit of truth.” He will transform us from one degree of glory to another until we all reach maturity in Christ. Martin Luther writes, in the explanation to the third article of the Apostles’ Creed, “…the Holy Spirit calls me through the gospel, enlightens me with his gifts, sanctifies and preserves me in the one true faith.”

“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23a). To bear these as the fruit of a life in Christ is a tall order in a world that promotes self-centeredness. Yet he is willing and able to transform us. Love comes first in the list, and is the basis of all the other fruit. Love is what gives each of the fruits its flavor. The word “love” in the Greek is “agape”—self-giving love. Paul speaks of this love in 1 Corinthians 13 and John writes of love in his first letter. This love considers others’ needs before one’s own needs.

When we love as Jesus loved us, there is joy in our lives that defies logic; there is peace in our hearts that the world cannot understand; we are willing to wait on others, put their needs ahead of ours. All these fruits are intensified in the person who not only lives by the Spirit but keeps in step with him. As we do this, we grow in our understanding of the biblical worldview.

In chapter 12 of Paul’s letter to the Romans, he gives us the path to fruitful living. We are to offer our bodies to God as a living sacrifice. We have died with Christ, and the life we now live is by faith. Then we are to be changed from the way the world does things and let the Spirit renew our minds to follow the precepts of the Scripture.

For me, I see the Holy Spirit changing my life mainly through daily reading the Bible, the Word of God. It is in the Word that the Spirit teaches us about God, his plan of salvation, and how he desires to work through our lives. He clarifies what is written. He teaches us about grace, mercy, and justice, for example. The Word of God is the only source of truth, the only basis for the teaching of the Church. The Word of God is the manual on how to live a life of faith in Christ. I have been shown gems of truth in every chapter. I have known the Spirit to show me new insights that I had not seen previously.

A second way that I see the Spirit at work in my life is through prayer. Prayer is like having a conversation with a good friend. Prayer is sharing the concerns of our hearts with the Lord and listening to what he has to say. The Holy Spirit can even pray for us with groans that words cannot express when we don’t know what to pray for (Romans 8:26).

In John 16, Jesus explains that the Spirit will teach us all that Jesus has for us. I suppose we could say we are in the school of the Spirit. Think of each fruit as a lesson. The Spirit shows us what the Bible says about that particular fruit and how we could live it out. As we learn to love as Jesus loved, we move on to the lesson on joy. Sometimes I need to ask him to love a person through me, even when that person rubs me the wrong way. Sometimes he must repeat the lesson until I am able to apply it in my life.

A key lesson for us to learn is that the Lord is in charge and that he seeks followers through whom he can bring blessings to the world. There are at least three groups where we can share the fruit of the Spirit. The first group is our family. Do the members of our family experience our expressions of love? A second group is the body of believers we are part of, and the whole Christian Church. The third group is people in the world around us. Paul reminds us that we are ambassadors for Christ, sharing God’s message of reconciliation. This message cannot be shared clearly unless the fruit of the Spirit is apparent in our lives.

Rev. Harold E. Petersen is a member of Bethel Lutheran Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. He was raised in a farming family in Wisconsin. He attended Waldorf and Concordia Colleges. After graduating from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, he spent six years in Ethiopia as a missionary. He has served six Lutheran parishes in the United States.

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