How Does the Spirit Produce Love?
And Why He Does It This Way
The Holy Spirit is God. He has the power to create love in our hearts any way he pleases. Why then does he create that love only through our conscious trust in the promises of Jesus?
That is what he does. According to Galatians 5:22, “The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love.” So it is clear that the Holy Spirit is the one who produces genuine love in the heart. But Galatians 5:6 says, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” This means at least that love comes from faith. Faith “works through love.”
So which is it? Is love produced by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22)? Or is faith the thing that produces love (Galatians 5:6)?
Galatians 3:5 shows how the two sources of love fit together. Paul asks rhetorically, “Does [God] then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” This means (at least) that the powerful work of the Spirit in our hearts is not owing to works of law but to hearing with faith. So the way that faith and the Spirit combine to bring about love is that the Spirit works his miracles (including love) through faith. When we exercise faith, the Holy Spirit is flowing in the channel of that faith with love-producing power.
But let’s be more precise. It says that the Spirit works miracles through “hearing with faith.” In other words, the faith that brings the Spirit is faith in something heard. It is faith in God’s word, the gospel. Which means it is faith in all that God promises to be for us in Christ. When we read or hear a portion of God’s promise to us in Christ, and we believe it, that is, we trust and rest in it and are satisfied by it, then the Holy Spirit is flowing to our hearts and love is being produced.
So we see that the Holy Spirit does not produce the fruit of love apart from faith in Jesus and his word. Particular acts of faith in his promises bring empowerments of love. Now the question rises, Why? Why does the Spirit limit himself to bring about love only through conscious faith in the word of Jesus?
The answer seems to be that the Holy Spirit loves to glorify the all-satisfying dependability of Christ and his Word (John 16:14: “[The Spirit] shall glorify me”). If the Holy Spirit simply caused acts of love in the human heart without any clear, ongoing causal connection between love, on the one hand, and faith in Christ’s promises, on the other hand, then it would not be plain that Christ’s all-satisfying dependability is honored through love. But the Spirit is utterly committed to getting glory for Jesus. Therefore, he keeps himself quietly beneath the surface, as it were, and puts forward “hearing with faith” as the conscious cause of love.
You can see this again in John 7:37-38, “Jesus cried out, saying, 'If any man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture said, From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'" The next verse says that this river of life-giving water flowing out from us is the Holy Spirit. And surely he is flowing out in love. Which means again, then, that the Spirit produces love where Jesus is trusted, that is, where Jesus is found satisfying like a fountain of water.
Conclusion: When you want to become a loving person, by all means pray for the transforming and empowering work of the Holy Spirit. But also take down your Bible and look to Jesus in his word. Meditate longingly on his promises until he satisfies your heart with all that God is for you in him. When that happens, the Spirit and his fruit of love will flow.
Looking to Jesus’ power and love,
© Desiring God Foundation. Distribution Guidelines
Share the Joy! You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in physical form, in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For posting online, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. For videos, please embed from the original source. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. © Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org