Galatians 5:22 and 23 list the fruit of the “spirit,” and different theologians and Bible teachers have stated their opinions about what “spirit” refers to. The word “spirit” is, after all, a very flexible word with at least three different meanings in Galatians alone.  Most theologians are Trinitarian, and simply say that “spirit” refers to “the Holy Spirit,” the “Third Person of the Trinity.” For those of us who are Biblical Unitarians, however, that explanation is hardly satisfactory. What we will show in this article is that the fruit of the spirit is the fruit of the new, spiritual nature that each Christian received at the time he or she was born again. Then we will see that it is up to each of us to know what godly, fruitful Christian character is and strive to develop it in our lives.
Meanings of “Spirit”
The word “spirit” has quite a few meanings in the Bible, and it is often difficult to determine which usage is meant in a given verse. Some of the usages of “spirit,” alone or in combination with other words, are: God (Matt. 1:18); Jesus (2 Cor. 3:17 and 18; Rev. 2:7); the gift of God that was put upon certain believers who lived in the administrations of the Old Testament and Gospels (Luke 1:41 and 67, 2:25); the gift of God that is born and sealed in each and every Christian (Acts 2:38); angels (Heb. 1:14); demons (Matt. 10:1); beings that are identified as neither angels or demons, but which are spiritual in nature (Acts 23:9; Rev. 1:4); the natural life of the physical body, which is often referred to as “soul” but is actually a spiritual reality, not a material one (Luke 8:55); and the products of a person’s mind, such as his attitude, emotions, thoughts, or desires (Matt. 5:3; 2 Cor. 7:13; Gal. 6:1-KJV).  Because “spirit” has so many biblical usages, the best way to determine which usage is being referred to in any given verse is by looking at the context of the verse.
Before we begin our quest to determine the meaning of “spirit” in the phrase, “the fruit of the spirit,” we should point out that this is a study in which commentaries and articles done by theologians are almost totally unhelpful. That is because most of those in theological circles do not accept that there is such a thing as the gift of holy spirit given by God and born inside the believer. The first theologian we know of who understood and set forth many of the different usages of “spirit” was E. W. Bullinger (1837-1913) in his work, The Giver and His Gifts, written in 1905. Typical of most people breaking ground in new territory, he did not understand the fullness of the New Birth and the gift of holy spirit, but nevertheless, Bullinger is to be highly commended. Even though he was a Trinitarian, he recognized that not all the uses of the Greek phrase pneuma hagion (“Holy Spirit” or “holy spirit,” depending on the context) refer to what orthodox Christians call the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.  Sadly, his important and ground-breaking work has been ignored by the Christian Church.
Historically, theologians have understood the “spirit” in Galatians 5:22 to be one of two things: the Third Person of the Trinity or the “human spirit,” which they understand to be the emotions and attitudes of the person. The majority of those theologians assert that “spirit” refers to “the Holy Spirit,” the third person of the Trinity, and Lightfoot’s explanation for that is typical: “Throughout this passage the pneuma is evidently the Divine Spirit; for the human spirit in itself and unaided does not stand in direct antagonism to the flesh.” 
The Conflict: Flesh Versus Spirit
In our study of what is the “spirit” of the fruit of the spirit, it is important to notice that the context of the fruit of the spirit starts in verse 13. Before that, the context is the Galatian Christians being troubled by outsiders. At verse 13, the context shifts to the behavior of the Galatians themselves.
Galatians 5:13 (ESV) 
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
This is the first use of “flesh” in the section, and it also occurs in verses 16, 17, 19, and 24. In each verse it refers to the natural desires that are produced by the flesh itself that can sometimes be an obstacle to godliness, and also to the sin nature that manifests itself in our flesh. The reason that the translation “flesh” (KJV, ESV, NASB) is better than “sin nature” (NIV) is that we all have desires that are not essentially sinful or part of our sin nature, such as sleeping or eating, but which can work against our being godly if we overindulge our fleshly wants in the wrong time or place. The word “flesh” represents the arena in which both our sin nature and fleshly desires work against us.
Already in verse 13 we see the conflict between the “flesh” and godliness. We have freedom in Christ, but we are to use that freedom to live godly lives, not to indulge our sin nature and our fleshly, worldly desires. We are to serve one another in love, and if we do not, we will end up being spoiled, selfish people who bite and devour each other (v. 14). The solution to how we can live without indulging the flesh is given in verse 16:
Galatians 5:16 (ESV)
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
If we Christians will live by the spirit, we will not indulge the flesh and thus hurt each other. But what is the usage of “spirit” in this verse? We know from the scope of the subject of holy spirit that in the Old Testament God put His gift of holy spirit on believers to facilitate communication with them and so they could manifest His power.  Furthermore, we know that in the Administration of Grace in which we live, God’s gift of holy spirit is born in us and gives us His very nature.  Via this gift, both God and Jesus work in the believer to be godly and powerful. Thus, the context rules out usages of “spirit” such as God, Jesus, or angels. Evidence is added to that conclusion when we realize there is no article “the” preceding “spirit” in the Greek text, which says we are to “live by spirit.” Generally, when there is no article, the word “spirit” refers to the gift of God, holy spirit.
We should make the point that the context also eliminates our attitudes and emotions as the meaning of “spirit” here. When it comes to our fleshly passions, our attitudes and emotions are more a part of the problem than a part of the solution. Our attitudes and emotions do not by nature resist the passions of the flesh, but in fact often augment them. This is especially clear in verse 18, which says that if we are led by “spirit” we are not under law.  Surely being led by our attitudes and emotions does not free us from laws that govern our lives; if anything, laws help us to control them.
We are left with two distinct possibilities for what God means when He says, “walk by spirit.” The first is that “spirit” in this verse refers to the gift of holy spirit in manifestation, that is, the gift of holy spirit we received when we were born again as it is manifested externally (which happens as God energizes it when we have faith).  The second is the new spiritual nature that we have as a result of having God’s spirit born and sealed inside us.
As we pointed out above, the context and our knowledge of the scope of the subject are the clearest guides to the meaning of “spirit.” In this context, “spirit” is contrasted with the “flesh,” which we saw was our sin nature and our natural worldly desires. Furthermore, if we live “by spirit,” we “…will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” That rules out the gift of holy spirit in manifestation, i.e., the gift of holy spirit as it is manifested as speaking in tongues, prophecy, a message of knowledge or wisdom, miracles, etc.  Manifesting the gift of holy spirit by speaking in tongues, doing healings, etc., does not restrain our flesh.
Both the Bible and history show us that many people who powerfully manifest the gift of holy spirit are unrestrained in the flesh. In the last few decades, scandals involving Church leaders from many denominations have rocked the Christian world and shown us all too clearly that manifesting the power of God does not mean that one’s sensuality and flesh have been restrained. Furthermore, verses such as 1 Corinthians 13:1 show us that a person can speak in tongues, a manifestation of holy spirit, and not have love, a fruit of the spirit. Some people who manifest the gift of holy spirit much in their lives never fully develop the wonderful virtues that are listed as the fruit of the spirit.
As we read Galatians 5 carefully, we see that the “spirit” in the phrase “walk by spirit” is in direct contrast to the “flesh,” our old sin nature, and furthermore, that living by spirit restrains our fleshly desires. From this it is clear that “spirit” is referring to our new, spiritual nature that we received when we got born again. Bullinger saw this, and commented on verse 16: “Walk spiritually, or according to the new nature; and then ye will not fulfil the lust of the flesh (or the old nature).”  He also pointed out that the usage of “spirit” in verses 17 and 18 was also the new nature.
The Christian’s New Nature
What is the new nature of the Christian? When we were born again, God placed His spiritual seed in us. At that time something was “born” in us (1 Pet. 1:23). What was born in us was the very nature of God, which is why 2 Peter 1:4 speaks of us having “divine nature.” God is holy, and God is spirit, so another way He describes what was born in us is “holy spirit.” God’s gift of holy spirit, His very nature, is now our new nature, sealed inside us when we believed (Acts 2:38; Eph. 1:13). Because it was created in us, we are called “new creations” (2 Cor. 5:17).
The holy spirit we have today is very different from the gift of holy spirit that existed before the Administration of Grace, which is why John 7:39 says there was no “spirit” before Jesus was glorified (which is very clearly translated in the NRSV ).  In contrast to what God gave “upon” people in the Old Testament, the holy spirit He promised to pour out in the Millennial Kingdom will be “in” people, and will work in them to live godly lives. The spirit God will pour out in the Millennial Kingdom is what He has now given to us by grace. 
This new kind of holy spirit that God created and sealed inside us by grace gives us a new nature that is holy, which is why Christians are referred to as “saints” (literally, “holy ones”) in the Epistles to the Christian Church (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:1; etc.). Unfortunately, the word “saints” does not communicate the full truth of the Greek text, which reads hagios, and is the same Greek word translated “holy” in the phrase “holy spirit” (or, as in most versions, “the Holy Spirit”). Translating hagios as “holy” in the phrase “holy spirit,” but “saints” when referring to Christians, obscures a very important truth: we Christians become “holy” when we get “holy spirit.” The gift of holy spirit gives us a new, spiritual nature, which makes us holy. 
The moment a person becomes a Christian, he receives a new, holy nature. From that moment on he has two natures, an old, sin nature, and a new, spiritual nature. The new holy nature we have works in us to be godly, just as our sin nature works in us to be ungodly. These two natures struggle against each other inside us, which is the lesson Galatians 5:17 teaches.
Galatians 5:17 (NASB)
For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
The Greek scholar and translator Kenneth Wuest has a very insightful translation of verse 17 that he worked up from the Greek text, paying attention to the subtle meanings of the words: “For the flesh constantly has a strong desire to suppress the Spirit, and the Spirit constantly has a strong desire to suppress the flesh. And these are entrenched in an attitude of mutual opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you desire to do.”  The new holy spirit nature born inside us constantly battles against the old sin nature inside us.
The new nature within us is very different from the holy spirit in manifestation. The new nature is resident within us all the time, whereas the manifestations of holy spirit occur only as the holy spirit born in us is specifically energized by God in cooperation with our decisions to utilize them. Our new holy spirit nature is part of us, it is in every cell of our being, and it makes us spiritually powerful people. That the gift of holy spirit is “in” us means that it is born in us and woven into the very fabric of who we are, just like our old nature. Perhaps an apt analogy in regard to both natures is that of immersing and soaking a garment in purple dye. The dye permeates every fiber of the material to the end that it can only accurately be described as a “purple shirt.” Both a shirt and purple are what it is.
Referring to the gift of holy spirit born inside me, I used to say, “The gift is the God-given ability.” While that is true, there is, I believe, a deeper truth. The gift is not separate from “me,” but born, sealed, and infused into me. It is my new, divine nature. Thus, it is more accurate to say, “The gift gives me the God-given ability.” It is not as if “the gift” is powerful and “I” am not. No, I am powerful because God gave me the gift of holy spirit that is now my new nature.
Christ in Us
The Bible says I have “Christ in [me]” (Col. 1:27), which is figurative language meaning that the very nature and power of the risen Christ was born into me, and into each Christian.  That gift of holy spirit, that Christ in me, is my new divine nature, which is as much a part of who I am as my old sin nature. And just as my sin nature pulls me toward sin, my new, divine, Christ-in-me nature pulls me toward being like Christ in every way.
Most of the Christians with whom I have spoken about “Christ in you” focus on the power of Christ that each Christian has and how the Christ in us makes us spiritually powerful like Christ. “Christ” in us does indeed make us spiritually powerful, but that is not all it does. It influences us to be like Jesus in every way. Bullinger speaks accurately about our new, divine, nature, and how it is in conflict with our old nature.
The presence of this New Nature necessitates conflict with the Old Nature: and this conflict is therefore the best assurance that we are “in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17). This it is which ever [always] distinguishes the true child of God from the mere professor. The true believer always has an abiding sense of inward corruption; while the merely religious person never has it at all, and knows nothing of it. 
Once we understand that the “spirit” in this context is our new nature, our new, divine, Christ-in-me nature, the verses in Galatians 5 make sense, and the “fruit of the spirit” becomes easy to understand. Verse 16 says that if we live our lives by our new, holy, spiritual nature, we will not gratify the lusts of our flesh, and verse 17 tells us why. Just as our old sin nature pulls us to sin, our new holy nature is struggling to be godly. The struggle will end only with our death or the Rapture. Which of the two natures has the upper hand in our lives? The one we support by the free will choices we make. Verse 18 states a similar truth to verse 23, that those who walk by their new, holy nature, manifesting the character of God, are not under law, that is, they have no need for laws to keep their lives in check by threats and punishment.
The next five verses (19-23) expand upon what we have just seen in verses 16-18, that the flesh and the new spiritual nature are at war. The Bible lists the works of the flesh (our old nature) and then the fruit of the spirit (our new nature), thus portraying the vast difference between them.  The specific things mentioned in each list are important for a few reasons. First, they help us evaluate whether we have more of the flesh or spirit showing in our lives. Although there is good in the worst of us and evil in the best of us, our free will, our daily decisions, and our determination (or lack thereof) to be godly will put us in one category more than the other.
Second, we need to realize how far down the flesh will drag us if we do not battle it—all the way to having no inheritance in the kingdom, which should wake us up and be plenty of motivation to live godly lives.  Third, the two lists vividly portray the lifestyle of those who strive to live godly lives in contrast to the lifestyle of those who do not. For some people, the fleshly indulgence of illicit sex, selfishness, and drunkenness is all they want, while for others, love, peace, and joy seem much more desirable.
The lesson of this section in Galatians is quite clear. Each Christian has a sin nature and a new nature, each of those natures is vying for supremacy in our lives, and one of them will dominate the other. There is no such thing as “neutral territory” or a “de-militarized zone.” The sin nature and the new, holy nature are at war, and will not call a truce and agree to “share us.” God wants us to be totally sold out to Him, and our flesh nature wants us to give ourselves to it with abandon. In the end, we, by our freedom of will, decide and determine what will shine forth from us.
The Strength of Our Free Will
Many of us would confidently assert that we have felt the powerful pull toward ungodliness that our sin nature and fleshly desires have on us, while at the same time stating we are not as aware of the influence of our holy nature. But just how strong is the “pull” our sin nature exerts on us? From God’s perspective, the influence of the sin nature is not nearly as strong as most Christians seem to think it is. After all, we do not have to have a sin nature to be tempted. Adam and Eve had no sin nature, but when they were tempted they fell into sin from the strength of the temptation and their lack of will-power. Furthermore, the Word says that Jesus was “…tempted in every way, just as we are…” (Heb. 4:15). He never gave in to any of his temptations, but we can be sure they were real and difficult to deny.
In our modern world, being a “victim” is very popular, so the idea of being a victim of our sin nature (“I just couldn’t stop myself”) is appealing to the “it’s-not-my-fault” crowd, who shift the blame just as Adam did (Gen. 3:12). However, if we take an honest look at our lives, we will realize that in many things we are not as obedient to God as we would like to think. The Bible tells us to bring our thoughts captive to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), and to think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Nevertheless, the vast majority of us regularly ignore that admonition and expose ourselves to all kinds of things that are more worldly than godly. Furthermore, we often do not hold to the biblical admonition to be content with food and shelter (1 Tim. 6:8), but instead expose ourselves to many kinds of advertisements that produce discontentment in us.
Some things we expose ourselves to in the visual media, the songs and music we listen to, and some of the excesses in which we indulge, produce ungodly desires within us. Those are real desires, and they feel like our sin nature urging us to sin, when in fact they are just the fruit of our own disobedience. For example, if we watch television shows and movies with sexual themes and sexual innuendos (and worse), and listen to music that elicits sexual desires, later, when our thoughts and feelings turn to illicit sex and sexuality, that is not our sin nature, but the fruit of our disobedience.
We often confuse the fruit of our sin with the tugging of our sin nature because the ungodly desires we have are separated in time from the sin we commit or the lack of wisdom we exhibit. We may not feel the effect of our free-will decisions for days, weeks, or months. For example, it may be hours, days, or weeks after watching a sexual movie or listening to hours of music with sexual themes that we have inappropriate sexually oriented thoughts and feelings that require serious effort to overcome. Our free-will decisions have an effect, and the seeds, good or bad, we plant in our minds will grow and produce a noticeable effect. This is why we should be diligent and aggressive about keeping the commandments of God.
Both our old nature and our holy nature are working in us. However, neither of them is overpowering, and we, by our free-will decisions, choose which will have the upper hand.
Go For the Godly Fruit
We have seen that the “spirit” in the “fruit of the spirit” is our new spiritual nature that we received when we were born again. We also saw that this new nature is trying to produce wonderful and godly things in our lives, and that it is at war with our old nature, the flesh. We further saw that our will, what we decide to do, casts the deciding vote in what will be manifested in our lives.
The “fruit” are called “the fruit of the spirit” because they are the fruit that our new, spiritual nature would produce in us if it were free to do so. However, due to our sin nature and our flesh, and due to the fact that we have free will and are subject to our own choices, producing the fruit of the spirit requires active cooperation between our free will and our new, divine nature. Our divine nature cannot grow the fruit of the spirit on its own.
A Christian who makes the free-will choice (yes, it is a choice) to be unloving or impatient or without self-control will see his flesh dominate his life. On the other hand, the new nature of holy spirit is constantly at work to produce fruit in us, and if we make the decision to develop the fruit of the spirit, we can do so. We can be assured that God is committed to help us have the fruit of the spirit fully developed in our lives.
Addendum: Bullinger and Wierwille 
As I have studied the subject of the fruit of the spirit, it seems that both E.W. Bullinger and Victor Paul Wierwille (Founder of The Way International) had important pieces of the puzzle, but neither fully saw the whole picture. As I have read and re-read their work on the subject, I have recently come to the following conclusion:
Wierwille clearly understood that when a person got born again, he received the gift of holy spirit born inside him. He also understood that holy spirit within us could be energized by God and produce the manifestations of holy spirit. What he seems not to have fully understood, or at least never wrote clearly about, is that when we get born again, the new birth infuses us totally and becomes a new nature in us that produces an effect on us as real and profound as that of our old flesh nature.
Wierwille focused more on the power that holy spirit gave us and how it makes us spiritually powerful. He spoke of the gift as the God-given ability. Wierwille’s focus on the power we have via the gift of holy spirit shows up in how he thought of “Christ in you” (Col. 1:27) as referring to how spiritually powerful the Christian is—and we are! But that is not all “Christ in” us does. As our new nature, it exerts an influence to be like Christ in every way.
In contrast to Wierwille, Bullinger clearly grasped that holy spirit born in the person became his new divine nature and exerts an influence to make him holy. Thus, he called the holy spirit inside us our “New Nature.”  But Bullinger, who did not manifest the power of holy spirit by speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing, etc., never connected our new holy spirit nature with the power we have. He never put the manifestations of holy spirit together with the New Nature.
Both Bullinger and Wierwille made important points about the gift of holy spirit. When we combine their insights, we arrive at a much more complete understanding of what God has given to us. God gives us holy spirit in birth. When born inside us, the holy spirit infuses us totally and becomes our new, “divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4), which, like our old nature, has an influence on us. Our old nature tugs on us to live by our fleshly desires, while our new divine nature tugs on us to live in godliness. The new nature inside us makes us capable of living godly lives full of the fruit of the spirit. Also, the new nature in us makes us spiritually powerful people, capable of manifesting holy spirit by speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing, and the other manifestations listed in 1 Corinthians 12.
 Spirit” in Galatians refers to several things, according to the context: our new divine nature (5:16, 17, 18 and 22), our “attitudes and emotions” (6:1-KJV), and, by the figure of speech Synecdoche, the whole person (6:18).
 For a more complete understanding of the usages of “spirit” in the Bible, see our book The Gift of Holy Spirit: The Power to be like Christ, Appendix B, “Usages of Spirit in the New Testament.”
 Bullinger’s book, The Giver and His Gifts (Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI reprinted 1979), is an important work in the field of the gift of holy spirit. The book was reprinted by Kregel in 1985 with the title, Word Studies on the Holy Spirit. For questions on the Trinity and the identity of Jesus Christ, see our book, One God & One Lord: Reconsidering the Cornerstone of the Christian Faith. For questions about the gift of holy spirit versus the Third Person of the Trinity, see our book, The Gift of Holy Spirit: The Power to be like Christ.
 J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, reprinted 1993), p. 210.
 The ESV is the English Standard Version, which came out in 2001, and is an “essentially literal version.” It tries to stay literal to the text except when the original would not be well understood if followed literally. It is much more literal than the NIV, yet often seems to represent a better “feel” of the text than the sometimes slavishly literal New American Standard Bible. We use it in this section because it keeps the literal “flesh” instead of adopting the “sin nature” translation of the NIV.
 See our book, The Gift of Holy Spirit: The Power to be Like Christ, Chapter 3, “Power from on High.”
 See our book, The Gift of Holy Spirit: The Power to be Like Christ, Chapter 6, “The Gift of Holy Spirit Today,” point # 5, pp. 47 and 63-67.
 Although most English versions say “the law” or “the Law” in verse 18, the Greek text does not have the definite article “the” before “law.” The verse reads that those who are led “by spirit” are not “under law.” Thus, the use of “law” in this verse refers to any and all laws. People who are led by spirit are not slaves to laws, but will never need the control they provide to keep themselves and others unharmed in every way.
 This is the meaning taken by Victor Wierwille, Receiving the Holy Spirit Today (American Christian Press, New Knoxville, OH, 1982), p. 284.
 For a better understanding of the manifestations of holy spirit, see our book The Gift of Holy Spirit: The Power to be like Christ, Chapter 8, “Walking in Power: The Manifestations of Holy Spirit.”
 E. W. Bullinger, The Giver and His Gifts (Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI reprinted 1979), p. 148.
 Scripture quotations marked (NRSV) are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 See our book, The Gift of Holy Spirit: The Power to be Like Christ, Chapter 6, “The Gift of Holy Spirit Today,” pp. 45 and 46, and Appendix C, “The Promised Holy Spirit.”
 See our book, The Gift of Holy Spirit: The Power to be Like Christ, Chapter 3, “Power from on High.” Appendix C, “The Promised Holy Spirit.”
 It is important to realize that a Christian is “holy” by virtue of his holy nature, not his godly behavior. This is different from the Old Testament, when holy nature was not available and holy behavior made one holy. See our book, The Gift of Holy Spirit: The Power to be Like Christ, Appendix A, “The Administration of the Sacred Secret,” especially point “D,” “Holy Ones,” pp. 214 and 215.
 Kenneth Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1944), p. 154. In his book, Wuest gives the rationale for his translation.
 The exact figure of speech is Hypocatastasis, a comparison by implication.
 E. W. Bullinger, The Giver and His Gifts (Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI reprinted 1979), p. 18.
 It is interesting to note that after correctly assessing that the “spirit” in this section of Galatians refers to the new nature, Bullinger switches in verse 22. He seems to lose focus on the “fruit” of the spirit, and refers to “the fruit of the spirit, or spiritual gifts of the great Giver, the Holy Spirit” which to him is the Third Person of the Trinity. He does not explain why he would make this sudden and major shift in the middle of a cohesive context.
 Having no inheritance, no rewards, in the Kingdom is not the same as not being saved. When Christ sets up his kingdom on earth, some people will have lands and houses as their inheritance, their reward for obedience, and some will not. See our book, The Christian’s Hope: The Anchor of the Soul, Chapter 6: “Rewards in the Future Kingdoms.”
 We compare Bullinger and Wierwille here because they are the only two people we are aware of who have done exhaustive verse by verse studies of the holy spirit that show the genuine flexibility of the word spirit.
 E. W. Bullinger, The Giver and His Gifts (Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI reprinted 1979), p. 17-19.