An Analysis of Luther’s Understanding of the Fruit of the Spirit and Its Implications for our Sanctification Part II

Before we enter into an analysis of Luther’s view of the Fruit of the Spirit, it is important to quote Paul in Galatians. Galatians 5:22-23 reads: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such there is no law.[1] Here we find the initiation of Paul’s thoughts of what actually means to live in, by, and through the Spirit. In the previous chapters he has deliberated much of his time on the warring of the flesh and the spirit. Now without further hesitation the apostle brings to his readers what it actually means to walk in the spirit. Similarly to I Corinthians 13, Paul begins this section by listing love as the first of all attributes. Love is the central and principal fashion which believers reveal their new life in Christ Jesus. Paul does not mention love out of coincidence. Rather, as Luther so clearly states, “It might have been enough to have said ‘love,’ and no more; for love extends itself into all the fruits of the Spirit. And in I Corinthians, Paul attributes to love all the fruits which are done in the Spirit…”[2] Love therefore, is the primary language or context in which Paul sets his argument for what it means to live a new life or a sanctified life.[3]

In the context of love, Paul sees “joy” as a consequential display of Christ-likeness. Luther’s comments here are reflective of his passion. He writes concerning joy that it is “the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride, that is to say, sweet cogitations of Christ, wholesome exhortations, pleasant songs or psalms, praises and thanksgiving, whereby the godly do instruct, stir up, and refresh one another.”[4] Unlike modern expressions of joy,[5] Luther sees the fruit of the Spirit as integral in corporate worship. Joy is never devoid of community life and therefore should serve as a means of encouragement to one another. It appears here that Paul is not in any way bringing a new concept to the attention of the reader, but rather borrowing profusely Davidic language from the Psalms that speak of rejoicing and adoration. A conspicuous application of such a text relates itself to worship. Normally our joy is not tied to our worship of God.

The concepts of peace and patience seem to be united in Paul’s writings. Once again Luther writes that the peace spoken of in Galatians has both a theocentric focus and anthropocentric focus. To be at peace with one another is to strengthen the body by bearing one another’s burden. Luther summarizes by saying that when the devil cannot overcome his prey, he attempts to stretch their patience, thereby conquering many. Godly patience with one another and a peaceful expectation that God will right the wrongs is a desirable trait in the life of the believer.

Following that same pattern, it is not unlikely that Paul would use one of our Lord’s most cherished features: gentleness. As we are to imitate our Lord, the triune God sanctifies us by our gentleness. As Luther comments so eloquently, “Christians must not be sharp and bitter, but gentle, mild, courteous and fair spoken, and as such as make others to delight in their company.”[6] The newness of life[7] involves a change of demeanor. Further, it changes our hostile spirits into a child-like spirit that answers with graciousness[8] instead of bitterness and contempt.

[1] New International Version

[2] Luther, 378.

[3] As mentioned earlier there are other such lists in the New Testament (I Peter), but Paul’s focus here is concise and to the point, therefore worthy of consideration.

[4] Ibid., 378.

[5] Charismatic demonstrations of joy tend to be individualistic and anti -community.

[6] Luther, 379.

[7] II Corinthians 5:17 speaks of a “new creation.”

[8] I Peter 3:15.


About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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