The fruit of the Spirit is essential, not because it is a checklist unto salvation but because it is the inevitable byproduct of the Holy Spirit dwelling in you. We have a funny relationship with the word “essential” often relating it to what one must do to be saved. While there are essential components to our faith response to God, there is a lot more to the word than that.
The blood of Jesus being given for us was essential. We had nothing to do with that happening.
The Spirit indwelling the believer is an essential part of God sealing us for redemption. God gives the Spirit, we receive him.
Being a part of a community of faith is an essential aspect of our faith and transformation. Again, God even provides that.
But back to the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Holy Spirit should be a given in the life of the Christian because it is exactly what is produced when the Holy Spirit operates in our lives. Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 where he contrasts the fruit of the Spirit vs the acts of the flesh. He makes it very clear that the flesh and the Spirit work against each other and that you really cannot have it both ways, “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” (5:17). Paul elaborates on that in Romans 8 where he contrasts life by the Spirit or lived in line with the desires of the Spirit and life lived by the flesh.
Living by the Holy Spirit is an essential part of the Christian life and that means we do not “do whatever we want” but more and more live doing what the Spirit who is in us wants us to do. Obedience is a key part of this. The metaphor Paul uses to make this point in 1 Corinthians is the temple…that as Christians we have the Spirit dwelling in us, making us God’s holy temple. Therefore we are not to engage in sexual immorality, gratifying the sinful cravings of the flesh because that would desecrate the temple God has made us to be.There is a misconception that among some in churches of Christ that obedience doesn’t matter. This couldn’t be further from the truth. What is really disputed is the effect of obedience (whether or not it merits our salvation vs being the outgrowth of our salvation), not the need for or expectation that we actually be obedient to God.
Last point, we often look at the fruit of the Spirit from an individualistic perspective rather than from a communal perspective but Paul speaks in communal (plural) terms, not individualistic (singular) terms. So the fruit of the Spirit is not just about individual actions but about the corporate actions of the church body and what that body is producing. The Spirit is also forming us (not just me) into God’s holy temple. So the essential work of the Spirit is producing things in God’s people as a whole. If a congregation lacks these things they should pray for God to help them produce the kind of fruit that is consistent with the Spirit that is in them.
“[And the God] who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” – Eph 3:20