The fruits of the Spirit for kids aren’t about character training or good morals…they’re about the Gospel.
Sometimes it seems like growing spiritually is like trying to roll out pizza dough. I squash it with my rolling pin only to have it snap back to its original shape. I roll it again and it snaps back again, but this time it’s a little bit wider. It takes a lot of tugging and rolling to get that pizza dough to conform to the pan. (But it’s worth it!)
Growing spiritually is similar because we tend to grow a bit, then snap back—like that elastic pizza dough. Then the Lord tugs and rolls our souls again, and we grow a little . . . only to ooze inward once more.
But it’s worth letting him work in us, kneading and growing and rolling our souls, because in the end, the pizza he’s making is a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
(Maybe with a mushroom garnish.)
The key is that God does the rolling, tugging, and growing, usually by giving us situations that force us to depend on him. And this applies to our children’s growth as well.
Alas, my pizza dough spiritual growth analogy isn’t in the Bible, but there’s another one that is: the fruit of the Spirit.
The Problem With the Way We Teach The Fruits of the Spirit
In my more than twenty years in children’s ministry, I often used curricula that turned the fruit of the Spirit into character traits we wanted to see in our kids. We labeled apples and bananas with permanent markers and gave them grape-scented stickers and magnets, but kids just didn’t understand.
Worse, they didn’t grow spiritually. Finally, I figured out why.
The fruits of the Spirit aren’t a to-do list.
Training our kids to do better at each fruit of the Spirit isn’t Christian because the fruits of the Spirit aren’t just nice character traits to practice. They are evidence of a life that is crucified with Christ and living in the resurrection power of his Spirit.
They’re fruit, not rules.
Training kids to obey God without also telling them about the hope of Christ will either create moralistic children or make them rebel.
Just ask the ancient Israelites. They were given law, and they rebelled until they lost their land. Then they turned into legalistic Pharisees, adding to the law until it was an incredible burden on everyone.
The law is not the Christian way. The gospel is the Christian way.
But what is the gospel?
The gospel is the good news of how God sees you and treats you.
Not only did God make you, he adores you. But you (and everyone else on this planet) have sinned. It breaks the relationship between you and God because he is holy. God’s holiness and your sinfulness are like oil and water. They just don’t mix. God fixed it from his end by coming as a man to remove the power of sin over us through his death and resurrection. He invites you into relationship with him. Your job is to believe in his love. Accept his forgiveness, then put your hand in his and let him help you choose love every day.
The gospel offers so much freedom—to our kids and us.
It frees us from the expectation that they’ll behave well (because honestly, they’re sinners, just like us!) and it reminds us to depend on God for our goodness.
Just like we can’t tell an apple tree to try harder to bear fruit, we can’t tell our kids to try harder to bear spiritual fruit. No one can force themselves to love more—at least, not on the inside. To be truly transformed into more loving people, we need to be changed from the inside out.
Therefore, writing the word love on an apple won’t help kids actually grow that fruit of the Spirit (or even truly understand what it is). Even making our kids memorize verses about love or make goals to be more loving is unlikely to help them grow the fruit of love. Any growth they do experience is outward obedience instead of true heart-transformation.
Teach the Fruit of the Spirit to Kids with a Gospel-Centered Approach
When Paul wrote about the fruit of the Spirit, he was giving us a metaphor for true life change.
We are like plants, and to grow good fruit we need to be rooted in God’s love for us.
Jesus said he is the Living Water and the Light of the World, so when we spend time with him, our lives grow and change, just as if we were plants with proper watering and sunshine. Then, like a tree, we will grow good fruit.
And the good fruit that grows in our lives as a result of being with Christ is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
The fruit of the Spirit is evidence of a soul that is growing in Christ. And the fruits of the Spirit for kids are the exact same thing: evidence of small souls growing in Christ.
God is all the fruits rolled into one amazing, all-powerful being who cares for you and your child with fierce, eternal love.
“God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ” (Colossians 1:19), meaning that “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).
Jesus is all of God’s attributes displayed in a single human being, which is why the best way to grow in the fruits is to get to know Jesus.
There aren’t any hacks here, no “tips and tricks to make your child be good.”
Our kids will only be good when they fall in love with the good God who loves them enough to die for them. He covers them with his goodness and gives them his Spirit to help them grow a beautiful character that reflects Jesus.
John 15:5–8 reminds us that the only way to grow good fruit in our lives is to live deeply connected with Jesus, every day.
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.”John 15:5–8 NLT
A Fruit of the Spirit Book for Kids
If you’d like to truly help your kids grow in the fruit of the Spirit, you need Fruit Full: 100 Family Experiences for Growing in the Fruit of the Spirit.
The book centers around this concept: that as we spend more time with Jesus, connected to the vine, we will grow in the fruit of the Spirit. The fruits then will naturally grow because they are the evidence of a life rooted in Christ.
Each of the one hundred devotions will help kids see the fruit of the Spirit through the hands, heart, and habits of Jesus.
As children connect with him, the Holy Spirit will change their own hands, hearts, and habits to be more like Christ.
Over the one hundred devotions, you’ll discover the fruits of the Spirit as seen in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
Each day, your family will:
- explore a Christ-centered Bible passage and short devotional;
- start a fruitful conversation using the suggested discussion starter;
- engage in a meaningful prayer that will help you draw closer to Jesus.
Each ten-devotion section also opens with ten simple, hands-on activities you can incorporate into your days to help your kids connect deeper with each aspect of Christ’s character. Your family can use those activities any time or not at all.
I have also incorporated these hands-on activities into a full set of lesson plans available for free on my blog. (Scroll to the bottom to find the links!)