Galatians 5 – Standing Fast In the Liberty of Jesus
A. A final appeal to walk in the liberty of Jesus.
1. (1) A summary statement: in light of all that Paul has previously said, he now challenges the Galatians to walk in the truth he has presented.
Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.
a. Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free: The fact is that Jesus has made us free. If we live in bondage to a legal relationship with God, it isn’t because God wills it. God pleads with us to take His strength and walk in that freedom, and to not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.
i. Significantly, it is Christ who has made us free. We don’t make ourselves free. Freedom is a gift of Jesus, given to us and received by faith. When we struggle to free ourselves, we just become more entangled again with a yoke of bondage.
ii. Paul also made it emphatic: the liberty. Today, people live in the headlong pursuit of “freedom,” which they think of as doing whatever they want to do, and never denying any desire. This is a kind of liberty, a false liberty; but it is not the liberty. The liberty is our freedom from the tyranny of having to earn our own way to God, the freedom from sin and guilt and condemnation, freedom from the penalty and the power and eventually freedom from the presence of sin.
b. Stand fast means that it takes effort to stay in this place of liberty. Someone who is legally made free in Jesus can still live in bondage; they can be deceived into placing themselves back into slavery.
i. The great evangelist D. L. Moody illustrated this point by quoting an old former slave woman in the South following the Civil War. Being a former slave, she was confused about her status and asked: Now is I free, or been I not? When I go to my old master he says I ain’t free, and when I go to my own people they say I is, and I don’t know whether I’m free or not. Some people told me that Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation, but master says he didn’t; he didn’t have any right to. Many Christians are confused on the same point. Jesus Christ has given them an “Emancipation Proclamation,” but their “old master” tells them they are still slaves to a legal relationship with God. They live in bondage because their “old master” has deceived them.
c. Yoke of bondage: This phrase reminds us of what Peter said in Acts 15:10 about those who would bring the Gentiles under the law: Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? The Jews themselves were not able to justify themselves before God by the law, so they shouldn’t put that heavy, burdensome yoke on the Gentiles.
i. Certain Jewish teachers of that day spoke of the Law of Moses as a yoke, but they used the term in a favorable light. Paul saw a legal relationship as a yoke, but as a yoke of bondage. It is related to slavery, not liberty. This yoke of bondage does nothing but entangle us. We try hard to pull God’s plow, but the yoke of bondage leaves us tangled, restricted, and frustrated.
ii. It certainly was bondage. Jewish teachers counted up 613 commandments to keep in the Law of Moses. “Even to remember them all was a burden, and to keep them bordered on the impossible. Small wonder that Paul referred to subjecting oneself to them all as entering into slavery.” (Morris)
2. (2-4) The danger of embracing the law as a way to walk with God.
Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
a. If you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing: When we embrace the law as our rule of walking with God, we must let go of Jesus. He is no longer our righteousness; we attempt to earn it ourselves. For the Galatians in this context, to receive circumcision – the ritual that testified that a Gentile was coming under the law – meant that he no longer trusted in Jesus as His righteousness, but trusted in himself instead. So Paul could say “Christ will profit you nothing.”
i. The legalists among the Galatians wanted them to think that they could have both Jesus and a law-relationship with God. Paul tells them that this is not an option open to them – the system of grace and the system of law are incompatible. “Whoever wants to have a half-Christ loses the whole.” (Calvin)
ii. “Circumcision is the seal of the law. He who willingly and deliberately undergoes circumcision, enters upon a compact to fulfill the law. To fulfill it therefore he is bound, and he cannot plead the grace of Christ; for he has entered on another mode of justification.” (Lightfoot)
iii. How tragic! Jesus, dying on the cross, pouring out His blood, His life, His soul, His agony, His love for us – and it will profit you nothing! Two men died with Jesus; for the one who put his trust in Jesus, it was eternal life. For the one who trusted in himself, it profited him nothing.
iv. This point was so important to Paul that he mustered all the strength he could in a personal appeal: he began with Indeed I, Paul. When he continued on and wrote I testify, Paul remembered his former training as a lawyer – and was deadly serious. “Tongue cannot express, nor heart conceive what a terrible thing it is to make Christ worthless.” (Luther)
b. Every man who becomes circumcised… is a debtor to keep the whole law: When we embrace the law as our rule of walking with God, we must embrace the whole law. We become debtors to keep the whole law, and that is a heavy debt.
i. Again, the legalists among the Galatians wanted them to think they could observe some aspects of the law without coming under the entire law. But when we choose to walk by law, we must walk by the whole law.
ii. If we come to God on the basis of our own law keeping we must keep the whole law and our law-keeping must be perfect. No amount of obedience makes up for one act of disobedience; if you are pulled over for speeding, it will do no good to protest that you are a faithful husband, a good taxpayer, and have obeyed the speed limit many times. All of that is irrelevant. You have still broken the speeding law and are guilty under it.
iii. This does not mean that the mere act of being circumcised means that someone is under a legal relationship with God, and must keep the whole law for salvation. Paul spoke to the Gentile Christians among the Galatians, who were being drawn to circumcision as adults, as evidence that they had come under the Law of Moses as the “first step” to salvation. We will later see that Paul didn’t care one way or another about circumcision (Galatians 5:6). What he detested was the theology of circumcision as presented by the legalists.
c. You have fallen from grace: When we embrace the law as our rule of walking with God, we depart from Jesus and His grace. We are then estranged from Christ, separated from Him and His saving grace.
i. The danger of falling from grace is real, but it is often misunderstood. Most people think of “falling away” in terms of immoral conduct, but we are not saved by our conduct. However, we are saved by our continuing reliance by faith on the grace of God. Someone may fall from grace and be damned without ever falling into grossly immoral conduct.
ii. Boice on you have fallen from grace: “The phrase does not mean that if a Christian sins, he falls from grace and thereby loses his salvation. There is a sense in which to sin is to fall into grace, if one is repentant. But to fall from grace, as seen by this context, is to fall into legalism… Or to put it another way, to choose legalism is to relinquish grace as the principle by which one desires to be related to God.”
iii. Literally, Paul wrote, “you have fallen out of grace,” which is not the same as the colloquial English phrase “you have fallen from grace.”
3. (5-6) The answer of faith to the legalist.
For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.
a. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith: Those walking in the Spirit wait for righteousness by faith; they are not trying to earn it by performing good works. No one is a legalist through the Spirit.
i. Wuest on eagerly wait: “The word speaks of an attitude of intense yearning and an eager waiting for something. Here it refers to the believer’s intense desire for and eager expectation of a practical righteousness which will be constantly produced in his life by the Holy Spirit as he yields himself to Him.”
b. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love: Those walking in the Spirit know that being circumcised or uncircumcised means nothing. What matters is faith working through love, both of which were conspicuously absent in the legalists.
i. Each aspect of this verse is precious. It sets us in a place: in Christ Jesus. Morris on in Christ: “Paul never defines what the expression means, but it clearly points to the closest of unities.”
ii. In that place, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything – neither one matters at all. You aren’t better if you are circumcised or uncircumcised. You aren’t worse if you are circumcised or uncircumcised. The only harm is trusting in something that is completely irrelevant.
iii. This verse also tells us what does matter in this place: faith working through love. You have faith? Wonderful; but it must be faith working through love. If your faith doesn’t work, it isn’t real faith. If it doesn’t work through love, it isn’t real faith. But your love alone isn’t enough; your love must also have faith: an abiding trust in Jesus and what He did for us.
iv. Faith must work through love. Herod had faith that John the Baptist was a true prophet, but there was no faith working through love, and he had John the Baptist murdered. Real faith, saving faith, will work through love.
4. (7-12) A final confrontation.
You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is. And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased. I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!
a. You ran well: Paul remembered their good start in the faith, but he also knows that it isn’t enough to start well. They were still in danger of falling from grace.
b. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? Paul knew that the false teaching came from a person (who hindered you); but it didn’t come from Jesus (This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you).
i. At the root of it all, the Galatians were leaving Jesus to pursue the false and empty teachings of man, in this case legalism.
ii. Lightfoot on hindered: “A metaphor derived from military operations. The word signifies ‘to break up a road’… so as to render it impassable, and is therefore the opposite of… ‘to clear a way.’” The Galatians were doing well until someone broke up the road they ran on.
c. A little leaven leavens the whole lump: The warning is driven home – the corrupting influence of legalism and other doctrines that diminish Jesus are like leaven in a lump of dough. A little bit will soon corrupt the whole lump.
i. In the Jewish way of thinking, leaven almost always stood for evil influence. Paul is saying that the legalistic commitment they have right now may be small, but it is so dangerous that it can corrupt everything.
d. I have confidence in you: Wanting to leave the confrontation on a positive note, Paul expressed his confidence in the Galatians (which was really a confidence in the Lord who is able to keep them). Yet, Paul was equally confident that judgment awaits those who lead them astray and away from Jesus (he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is).
i. Remember Jesus’ solemn warning against those who would lead one of these little ones astray (Matthew 18:6-7). The judgment is sure, whoever he is. “It does not matter who he is; he may be highly acclaimed in the community where he teaches, but if he is perverting the gospel he is a guilty person and his rank and reputation will not shield him.” (Morris)
e. If I still preach circumcision: Paul makes it clear that he no longer preaches the necessity of circumcision. The fact that he is persecuted by the legalists is evidence enough of this. Instead, Paul proudly bears the offense of the cross.
i. Someone might accuse Paul of preaching circumcision because he asked Timothy to be circumcised (Acts 16:1-3). But Paul didn’t have Timothy circumcised so Timothy could be saved or “more saved.” He did it so Timothy could more freely evangelize among unsaved Jewish people.
ii. Legalism can’t handle the offense of the cross. The whole point of Jesus dying on the cross was to say, “You can’t save yourself. I must die in your place or you have absolutely no hope at all.” When we trust in legalism, we believe that we can, at least in part, save ourselves. This takes away the offense of the cross, which should always offend the nature of fallen man. In this sense, the offense of the cross is really the glory of the cross, and legalism takes this glory away.
f. I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off! Finally, Paul wished that those who demanded circumcision among the Gentiles would go all the way themselves, and amputate their genitalia altogether and not merely their foreskins.
i. Sacred castration was known to citizens of the ancient world; it was frequently practiced by pagan priests of the cults in the region of Galatia. Paul’s idea here is something like this: “If cutting will make you righteous, why don’t you do like the pagan priests, go all the way and castrate yourself?” Morris rightly observes, “This was a dreadful thing to wish, but then the teaching was a dreadful thing to inflict on young Christians.”
ii. “This word was habitually used to describe the practice of mutilation which was so prevalent in the Phrygian worship of Cybele. The Galatians were necessarily familiar with it, and it can hardly bear any other sense.” (Rendall)
iii. In writing this, Paul also wished that these legalists would be cut off from the congregation of the Lord as required by Deuteronomy 23:1: He who is emasculated by crushing or mutilation shall not enter the assembly of the LORD.
iv. With such a dramatic conclusion to this point, Paul has made one thing clear: legalism is no little thing. It takes away our liberty and puts us into bondage. It makes Jesus and His work of no profit to us. It puts us under obligation to the whole law. It violates the work of the Spirit of God. It makes us focus on things that are irrelevant. It keeps us from running the race Jesus set before us. It isn’t from Jesus. A little bit will infect an entire church. Those who promote it will face certain judgment, no matter who they are. Legalism tries to take away some of the glory of the cross. In light of how serious all this is, it is no wonder that Paul says he wishes they would even cut themselves off!
B. How to live in the liberty of Jesus.
1. (13-15) Using liberty to love each other
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!
a. For you, brethren, have been called to liberty: Paul has made the point over and over again – the Christian life is a life of liberty. Jesus came to set the captives free, not to keep them in bondage or put them in bondage all over again. It is worth asking if people see us as people of freedom and liberty. Often, Christians are seen as people more bound up and hung up than anyone else is.
i. “He is not saying that a certain measure of liberty was grudgingly accorded believers. He is saying that freedom is of the essence of being Christian; it is the fundamental basis of all Christian living.” (Morris)
b. Only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh: The great fear of the legalist is that liberty will be used as an opportunity for the flesh. The idea is that people will just go out and sin as they please, then say to a spineless God, “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” and then go on doing whatever they want again. Paul recognized the danger of this attitude, so he warned against it here.
i. First, Paul writes to brethren. These are those who are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26). These are those who were baptized into Christ and have put on Christ (Galatians 3:27).
ii. These ones have been called to liberty. As Paul put it earlier in the chapter, they have been made free by Jesus Christ, now they are called to stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free (Galatians 5:1). They have been set free; now the question is, “How will they use their liberty?”
iii. Do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh: Clearly, we can choose to use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh. That option – that danger – is open to us. We can take the glorious freedom Jesus has given us, spin it, and use it as a way to please ourselves at the expense of others. Because the context focuses on the way we treat one another, Paul has in mind using our freedom in a way that tramples on the toes of others.
iv. Rendall on opportunity: “This term was applied in military language to a base of operations, and generally to any starting-point for action.” We are tempted to use our liberty in Jesus as a “base of operations” for selfish sin.
v. It is easy to think liberty is “the right to sin,” or “the privilege to do whatever evil my heart wants to do.” Instead, this liberty is the Spirit-given desire and ability to do what we should do before God.
c. But through love serve one another: This is the antidote for using liberty as an occasion for the flesh. The flesh expects others to conform to us, and doesn’t care much about others. But when we through love serve one another, we conquer the flesh. It isn’t through an obsessive, contemplative attitude of navel-gazing that we overcome the flesh, but by getting out and serving others.
i. This is exactly the pattern set by Jesus. He had more liberty than anyone who ever walked this earth did. Yet He used His liberty to through love serve one another.
d. For all the law is fulfilled: This attitude of service towards one another fulfills the great commandment (You shall love your neighbor as yourself), and it keeps us from destroying ourselves through strife (beware lest you be consumed by one another!). It’s as if Paul addressed the legalists again, and said: “You want to keep the law? Here you have it: Love your neighbor as yourself and you have fulfilled the law in one word.”
i. “If you want to know how you ought to love your neighbor, ask yourself how much you love yourself. If you were to get into trouble or danger, you would be glad to have the love and help of all men. You do not need any book of instructions to teach you how to love your neighbor. All you have to do is to look into your own heart, and it will tell you how you ought to love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luther)
e. Bite and devour one another: This reminds us of a pack of wild animals. That’s how the church can act when it uses its “liberty” as a platform to promote selfishness. If you want to see some action, put two selfish people together. Selfish people will eventually be consumed by one another.
i. “The loveless life is a life lived on the level of animals, with a concern only for oneself, no matter what the cost to other people.” (Morris)
2. (16-18) Using liberty to walk in holy living.
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
a. Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh: Simply put, if we walk in the Spirit (instead of trying to live by the law), we naturally shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. Again, the fear of the legalist – that walking in the Spirit gives license to sin, and that only legalism can keep us holy – is just plain wrong.
i. To walk in the Spirit first means that the Holy Spirit lives in you. Second, it means to be open and sensitive to the influence of the Holy Spirit. Third, it means to pattern your life after the influence of the Holy Spirit.
ii. We can tell if someone walks in the Spirit because they will look a lot like Jesus. Jesus told us that the mission of the Holy Spirit would be to promote and speak of Him (John 14:16-17, 14:26, 15:26, 16:13-15). When someone walks in the Spirit, they listen to what the Holy Spirit says as He guides us in the path and nature of Jesus.
iii. “Life by the Spirit is neither legalism nor license – nor a middle way between them. It is a life of faith and love that is above all of these false ways.” (Boice)
b. And you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh: There is no way anyone can fulfill the lust of the flesh as they walk in the Spirit. The two simply don’t go together. The Holy Spirit doesn’t move in us to gratify our fallen desires and passions, but to teach us about Jesus and to guide us in the path of Jesus. This is the key to righteous living – walking in the Spirit, not living under the domination of the law.
i. Luther on the lust of the flesh: “I do not deny that the lust of the flesh includes carnal lust. But it takes in more. It takes in all the corrupt desires with which believers are more or less infected, as pride, hatred, covetousness, impatience.”
c. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: Walking in the Spirit is the key, but it doesn’t always come easily. Often, it is a battle. There is a battle going on inside the Christian, and the battle is between the flesh and the Spirit. As Paul writes, these are contrary to one another – they don’t get along at all. When the flesh is winning the inside battle, you do not do the things that you wish. You don’t live the way you want to; you live under the flesh instead of under the Spirit.
i. When Paul uses the term flesh, he didn’t mean our flesh and blood bodies. Precisely speaking, our flesh isn’t even that fallen nature, the “old man” that we inherited from Adam, because the old man was crucified with Jesus, and is now dead and gone (Romans 6:6). Instead, as Paul uses it here, the flesh is the inner man that exists apart from the “old man” or the “new man,” and which is trained in rebellion by the old nature, the world, and the devil.
ii. Even though the old man was crucified with Christ, and is dead and gone (Romans 6:6), his influence lives on through the flesh, and he will battle against us until we experience God’s final antidote to the flesh: a resurrection body.
iii. Boice on flesh, and sarx, the Greek word translated flesh: “When Paul speaks of sarx he means all that man is and is capable of as a sinful human being apart from the unmerited intervention of God’s Spirit in his life… It came to mean man as a fallen being whose desires even at best originate from sin and are stained by it. Thus sarx came to mean all the evil that man is and is capable of apart from the intervention of God’s grace in his life.”
iv. “When the flesh begins to cut up the only remedy is to take the sword of the Spirit, the word of salvation, and fight against the flesh. If you set the Word out of sight, you are helpless against the flesh. I know this to be a fact. I have been assailed by many violent passions, but as soon as I took hold of some Scripture passage, my temptations left me. Without the Word I could not have helped myself against the flesh.” (Luther)
d. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law: The antidote to the flesh is not found in the law, but in the Spirit – and if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. You don’t need to be, because you fulfill the will of God through the inner influence of the Holy Spirit instead of the outer influence of the law of God.
i. This effectively “writes” the law of God on our hearts, inside of us. This is the great work of the New Covenant, promised in the Old Testament: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people (Jeremiah 31:33).
ii. The inner influence is far more effective than the outer influence. “The mistake that is made so often is that the Mosaic law is substituted for the restraint of the Holy Spirit, and with disastrous results… A policeman on the street corner is a far more efficient deterrent of law-breaking than any number of city ordinances placarded for public notice.” (Wuest)
3. (19-21a) Examples of the works of the flesh that walking in the Spirit helps us to overcome.
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like.
a. Now the works of the flesh are evident: Paul has just written about the battle between the flesh and the Spirit in every believer. Though it is an interior, invisible battle, the results are outwardly evident. It’s almost as if Paul apologizes for having to make this list, because the works of the flesh are evident. Yet, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he knows it is important to be specific, because we must know specifically how we walk in the flesh. We can’t see the flesh, but we can see what it does.
i. Lists of good and bad behavior would be a familiar form to many of Paul’s readers. “In many writings in antiquity there are lists of virtues or vices or both, and such lists are found in the Old Testament, and elsewhere in the New.” (Morris)
ii. Some have sought to organize this list in four categories: sensual sins, religious sins, interpersonal sins, and social sins. We shouldn’t regard this as an exhaustive list, but it adequately gives the idea of what the person who walks in the flesh does.
iii. “If you will read the chapter, you will notice that the apostle has used no less than seventeen words, I might almost say eighteen, to describe the works of the flesh. Human language is always rich in bad words, because the human heart is full of the manifold evils which these words denote.” (Spurgeon)
b. Adultery, fornication, uncleanness… lewdness: These are all sensual sins, relating to sex. We are often appalled at the sexual immorality of our day, but we should remember that the times Paul wrote in were as bad if not worse. “There is ample evidence to show that the sexual life of the Greco-Roman world at the time of the New Testament was sheer chaos. Such evidence has come not from Christian writers but from pagans who were disgusted with the unspeakable sexual immorality.” (Fung)
i. Adultery is violating the marriage covenant by sexual immorality. This word isn’t included in the list of many ancient manuscripts, so many translations (such as the NIV) don’t include it. But that doesn’t mean that God gives a free pass on adultery, because even if Paul didn’t write the word in this list, it is included under the next word, “fornication.” Adultery is sin, and those guilty of it should confess their sin and repent of it instead of excusing it. The Holy Spirit never led anyone into adultery.
ii. Fornication is the ancient Greek word porneia, and it speaks of sexual immorality in a broad sense. Porneia started out meaning “the use of a prostitute,” but by Paul’s day it was “used for a wide variety of sexual sin.” (Morris) Therefore, fornication covers “Illicit connection between single or unmarried persons; yet often signifying adultery also.” (Clarke) Webster’s dictionary defines fornication as “Voluntary sexual intercourse between two unmarried persons or two persons not married to each other.” Sex before and outside of marriage – which Paul calls here fornication – “was so widespread that it was apparently accepted as a normal part of life… Paul cannot accept any such view of the practice; he sees it as totally wrong.” (Morris) The Holy Spirit never led anyone into fornication.
iii. Uncleanness is another broad word, referring to sexual impropriety in general. It should be thought of as the opposite of purity. If it isn’t pure before God, then it is uncleanness. It covers many sexual sins that are not actual intercourse or even interaction with another person (such as pornography). Uncleanness also covers impure speech, or suggestive speaking filled with double meanings. The Holy Spirit never led anyone into uncleanness.
iv. Lewdness (sometimes translated licentiousness) has the idea of “ready to sin at any time.” It speaks of someone who flaunts their immorality, throwing off all restraint and having no sense of shame, propriety, or embarrassment. Morris defines it as “a disregard of accepted rules… conduct that knows no restraint.” Lewdness can be thought of as public and open uncleanness. “A man may be unclean and hide his sin; he does not become licentious until he shocks public decency.” (Lightfoot) We live in an incredibly lewd culture, yet the Holy Spirit never led anyone into lewdness.
c. Idolatry… sorcery: These are religious sins. They are sins of worship, and remind us that it isn’t only tragic to worship the wrong God, or seek the wrong spiritual power – it is sinful as well.
i. Idolatry is the worship of any god except the LORD God revealed to us by the Bible and in the person of Jesus Christ. When people serve a god of their own opinion, of their own creation, they reject the true and living God – and that is sin. Someone might say, “Well, I can believe whatever I want!” and they certainly can; but they also bear the consequences of their wrong belief. The Holy Spirit never led anyone into idolatry.
ii. Sorcery (translated witchcraft in the NIV) is the service and worship of occult and spiritual powers apart from the true God. It also has another dimension, revealed by the word for sorcery in the original language Paul uses: pharmakeia, from which we get our word for “pharmacy.” Morris defines sorcery as “the use of any kind of drugs, potions, or spells.” In the ancient world, the taking of drugs (especially hallucinogens) was always associated with the occult, and the Bible’s association with drug taking and sorcery points out that drugs open up doors to the occult that are better left closed. William Barclay wrote, “this literally means the use of drugs… it came to be very specially connected with the use of drugs for sorcery, of which the ancient world was full.” The Holy Spirit never led anyone into sorcery or getting high on drugs.
d. Hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envies… murders: These are each “people” sins. They are sins that primarily express themselves in how we treat others. God cares about our sexual and moral purity, and He cares about the purity of our religion and worship. But He also passionately cares about how we treat one another. The fact that Paul uses more words to describe these interpersonal sins shows how important our treatment of each other is to God.
i. Hatred (ekthra) is an attitude of heart, and it somehow expresses itself in actions such as contentions, outbursts of wrath, or many other works of the flesh. But hatred is the inner motivation for the ill treatment of others. Just as love is the inner motivation for the kind and good treatment of others, hatred is an inner motivation. Laws can be passed to punish the evil that men do against each other; but no law can answer the problem of hatred, which motivates those acts. But the Holy Spirit never led anyone into hatred.
ii. Contentions translates the ancient Greek word eris. “Originally, this word had mainly to do with the rivalry for prizes… it means the rivalry which has found its outcome in quarrellings and wrangling.” (Barclay) Most commonly it is translated as strife (as in Romans 13:13 and 1 Corinthians 3:3), and simply speaks of a combative and argumentative spirit. The Holy Spirit never led anyone into contentions.
iii. Jealousies translates an ancient Greek word (zelos) that is sometimes used in a positive sense – as for being zealous for something good. But here, clearly, the connotation is wrong. In this context it means “the desire to have what someone else has, wrong desire for what is not for us.” (Barclay) The Holy Spirit never led anyone into jealousies.
iv. Outbursts of wrath translates an ancient Greek word (thumos) that speaks of a sudden flash of anger, not a settled state of anger. It means to lose your temper, being unable to control your anger. The Holy Spirit never led anyone into outbursts of wrath.
v. Selfish ambitions translates the ancient Greek word eritheia, and the word has an interesting history. It started out as a perfectly respectable word meaning “to work for pay.” Over time, it began to mean the kind of work that is done for money and for no other reason. Then it was used to describe politicians who campaign for election, not for what service they can give to the government and the people, but only for their own glory and benefit. “It ended up meaning ‘selfish ambition’, the ambition which has no conception of service and whose only aims are profit and power.” It is the heart of a person whose first question is always, “What’s in it for me?” To be sure, the Holy Spirit never led anyone into selfish ambitions.
vi. Dissensions translates the ancient Greek word dichostasia, and it literally means “standing apart.” Romans 16:17 and 1 Corinthians 3:3 translate this word as divisions. “Dissension describes a society… where the members fly apart instead of coming together.” (Barclay) The Holy Spirit never led anyone into dissensions.
vii. Heresies translates an ancient Greek word (hairesis) which originally simply meant “to choose.” Over time, it came to mean someone who divisively expressed their “choices” or opinions. We think today of heresies in terms of wrong ideas and teachings; but the emphasis in the word is actually the wrongful dividing over opinions. Heresies can be thought of as hardened dissensions. “There is all the difference in the world between believing that we are right and believing that everyone is wrong. Unshakable conviction is a Christian virtue; unyielding intolerance is a sin.” (Barclay, Flesh and Spirit, cited in Morris) The Holy Spirit never led anyone into heresies.
viii. Envy is the ancient Greek word phthonos. It doesn’t so much want what someone else has (as in jealousies), but it is bitter just because someone else has something and we don’t. The ancient Stoics called this “grief at someone else’s good,” and the ancient philosopher Euripides said it was “the greatest of all diseases among men.” The Holy Spirit never led anyone into envy.
ix. Murders translates the ancient Greek word phonos, which is well translated by the English word murders. This is another word (like adultery earlier) that is not in every ancient Greek text, and isn’t included in translations such as the NIV. But there is no dispute that murder is a work of the flesh, and that the Holy Spirit never led anyone into murders.
e. Drunkenness… revelries: These can be thought of as social sins – sins that are often committed in the company of other people. The fact that Paul includes these two sins in his list shows that they were works of the flesh that the Galatian Christians had to be on guard against. Romans 13:12-13 lists drunkenness and revelries as part of the Christians’ past of darkness that now need to be cast off as we walk in the light.
i. “They let us see that the early church was not made up of people whose pre-Christian lives were of the highest standard… Paul recognizes reality and reminds his readers that whatever kind of sin they had favoured in their pre-Christian days should be decisively abandoned.” (Morris)
ii. Drunkenness is clearly described as one of the works of the flesh. While Christians may differ as to if a Christian can drink alcohol, the Scriptures precisely forbid drunkenness. We must not think that only being “falling down drunk” is a sin; but being impaired in any way by drink is sin, as well as drinking with the intention of becoming impaired. Ephesians 5:18 also describes drunkenness as dissipation, which means “wastefulness.” Getting drunk is a waste; Trapp writes of drinking “all the three outs” – “that is, ale out of the pot, money out of the purse, and wit out of the head.” For certain, the Holy Spirit never led anyone into drunkenness.
iii. Revelries, translating the ancient Greek word komos, doesn’t mean simply having a party or a good time. It means unrestrained partying. Barclay says, “It describes the kind of revelry which lowers a man’s self and is a nuisance to others.”
f. And the like: This demonstrates that Paul understands that his list is not exhaustive. These are not the only works of the flesh. It isn’t as if one could find a work of the flesh that is not described in this list, then one would be free to do it.
4. (21b) The danger and the destiny of those who live in the works of the flesh.
Of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
a. Of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past: This shows that Paul often instructed Christians in how they should live, and this wasn’t just an occasional emphasis. Paul knew that we are saved by God’s grace and Jesus’ work alone, not by what we have done, are doing, or promise to do. But he also knew that those who are saved by God’s grace have a high moral obligation to fulfill – not to earn salvation, but in gratitude for salvation, and in simple consistency with who we are in Jesus.
b. Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God: To walk in these works of the flesh is to be in plain rebellion against God, and those in plain rebellion against God will not inherit the kingdom of God.
i. What is at stake here? The kingdom of God, which describes where God rules, and the benefits of His rule are realized. Because Paul speaks of inheriting the kingdom of God, we understand he means “heaven.” Paul says plainly, that those who practice such things will not go to heaven. Neither will they know the wonder and the glory of the kingdom of God on earth.
ii. Who are the people in danger? Those who practice such things. This means more than someone who has committed adultery, or fornication, or sorcery, or drunkenness, or any of these. This speaks of those who continue on in these sins, ignoring the voice of the Holy Spirit telling them to “stop.”
iii. “The tense of the verb (present) indicates a habitual continuation in fleshly sins rather than an isolated lapse, and the point is that those who continually practice such sins give evidence of having never received God’s Spirit.” (Boice)
iv. Practice “represents a present participle, ‘people doing such things’, and it carries the implication that they do them constantly.” (Morris)
v. “The verb prassontes [practice] referring to habitual practice rather than an isolated lapse.” (Stott)
c. Will not inherit the kingdom of God: The strength and certainty of Paul in this verse is striking. Paul may sound rigid or even harsh here, but he is consistent with the Biblical idea of conversion. When we come to Jesus to have our sins forgiven and our soul saved, He also changes our life. It doesn’t happen all at once, and the work will never be perfected on this side of eternity, but there will be a real change none the less (1 John 3:5-9). As Charles Spurgeon is said to have put it, “The grace that does not change my life will not save my soul.” The idea isn’t that a Christian could never commit these sins, but that they could never stay in these sins.
i. “Christians also fall and perform the lusts of the flesh. David fell horribly into adultery. Peter also fell grievously when he denied Christ. However great as these sins were, they were not committed to spite God, but from weakness. When their sins were brought to their attention these men did not obstinately continue in their sin, but repented. Those who sin through weakness are not denied pardon as long as they rise again and cease to sin. There is nothing worse than to continue in sin. If they do not repent, but obstinately continue to fulfill the desires of the flesh, it is a sure sign that they are not sincere.” (Luther)
5. (22-23) Examples of the fruit of the Spirit that walking in the Spirit produces in our lives.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
a. But the fruit of the Spirit: The works of the flesh seem overwhelming – both in us and around us. God is good enough and big enough to change everything with the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit can always conquer the works of the flesh.
i. Significantly, it is the fruit of the Spirit set across from the works of the flesh. Works are works, and fruit is fruit. Fruit has several important characteristics.
· Fruit isn’t achieved by working, but is birthed by abiding.
· Fruit is fragile.
· Fruit reproduces itself.
· Fruit is attractive.
· Fruit nourishes.
b. Fruit of the Spirit: Paul used the plural in describing life after the flesh (works of the flesh), but he uses the singular (fruit, not fruits, of the Spirit). In the big picture, the Spirit has one work to do in all of us. These aren’t the gifts of the Spirit, which are distributed on an individual basis by the will of the Spirit; this is something for every Christian.
i. “It may be significant that the word fruit is singular; Paul is not speaking of a series of fruits that would be shared around, so that one believer has one, another another. Rather he is referring to a cluster, such that all the qualities are to be manifested in each believer.” (Morris)
c. The fruit of the Spirit is love: It is fitting that love be the first mentioned, because it encompasses all of the following. It may even be said that the following eight terms are just describing what love in action looks like. “It would have been enough to mention only the single fruit of love, for love embraces all the fruits of the Spirit.” (Luther)
i. Love translates the ancient Greek word agape. In that language there were four distinct words for “love.” Eros was the word for romantic or passionate love. Philia was the word for the love we have for those near and dear to us, be they family or friends. Storge is the word for the love that shows itself in affection and care, especially family affection. But agape describes a different kind of love. It is a love more of decision than of the spontaneous heart; as much a matter of the mind than the heart, because it chooses to love the undeserving. “Agape has to do with the mind: it is not simply an emotion which rises unbidden in our hearts; it is a principle by which we deliberately live.” (Barclay)
ii. We could say that this is a love of the Spirit, because it is a fruit of the Spirit. This is above and beyond natural affection, or the loyalty to blood or family. This is loving people who aren’t easy to love; loving people you don’t like.
iii. “When you wax indignant because you have been badly treated, and you think of returning evil for evil, remember this text, ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love.’ ‘Ah,’ you say, ‘it was shameful!’ Of course it was: and therefore do not imitate it: do not render railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing, for ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love.’” (Spurgeon)
iv. It is also helpful to understand the works of the flesh in the light of this love of the Spirit. Each one of the works of the flesh is a violation or a perversion of this great love.
· Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, and lewdness are counterfeits of love among people.
· Idolatry and sorcery are counterfeits of love to God.
· Hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, and murders are all opposites of love.
· Drunkenness and revelries are sad attempts to fill the void only love can fill.
d. The fruit of the Spirit is… joy: One of the greatest marketing strategies ever employed was to position the kingdom of Satan as the place where the fun is and the kingdom of God as the place of gloom and misery. But the fruit of the Spirit is joy.
i. We could say that this is joy of the Spirit, because it is a higher joy than just the thrill of an exciting experience or a wonderful set of circumstances. It is a joy that can abide and remain, even when circumstances seem terrible. Paul knew this joy personally; he could sing when manacled in a dark prison dungeon (Acts 16:25).
ii. Barclay on chara, the ancient Greek word used here for joy: “It is not the joy that comes from earthly things, still less from triumphing over someone else in competition. It is a joy whose foundation is God.”
iii. “Believers are not dependent upon circumstances. Their joy comes not from what they have, but from what they are; not from where they are, but from whose they are; not from what they enjoy, but from that which was suffered for them by their Lord.” (Spurgeon)
e. The fruit of the Spirit is… peace: This peace is peace with God, peace with people, and it is a positive peace, filled with blessing and goodness – not simply the absence of fighting.
i. We could say that this peace is a peace of the Spirit, because it is a higher peace than just what comes when everything is calm and settled. This is a peace of God, which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
ii. The ancient Greek word used here for peace is eirene, and it “means not just freedom from trouble but everything that makes for a man’s highest good. Here it means that tranquility of heart which derives from the all-pervading consciousness that our times are in the hands of God.” (Barclay)
iii. The early Christians really knew and loved the joy and the peace of the Spirit. Two very common Christian names in the early church were Chara (Cara) and Eirene (Irene).
f. The fruit of the Spirit is… longsuffering: Longsuffering means that one can have love, joy, and peace even over a period of time when people and events annoy them. God is not quickly irritated with us (Romans 2:4, 9:22), so we should not be quickly irritated with others.
i. Longsuffering in itself is a work of the Spirit. “Longsuffering is that quality which enables a person to bear adversity, injury, reproach, and makes them patient to wait for the improvement of those who have done him wrong. When the devil finds that he cannot overcome certain persons by force he tries to overcome them in the long run… To withstand his continued assaults we must be longsuffering and patiently wait for the devil to get tired of his game.” (Luther)
g. The fruit of the Spirit is… kindness, goodness: These two words are closely connected. About the only difference is that goodness also has with it the idea of generosity.
h. The fruit of the Spirit is… faithfulness: The idea is that the Spirit of God works faithfulness in us, both to God and to people. “It is the characteristic of the man who is reliable.” (Barclay)
i. “The ability to serve God faithfully through the years and through the temptations of life is not something we achieve by heroic virtue. It comes from the Spirit.” (Morris)
i. The fruit of the Spirit is… gentleness: The word has the idea of being teachable, not having a superior attitude, not demanding one’s rights. It isn’t timidity or passiveness; “It is the quality of the man who is always angry at the right time and never at the wrong time.” (Barclay)
i. Morris on gentleness: “It is important for the Christian to see that the self-assertiveness that is so much part of the twentieth-century life should not be valued highly. It is much better that each of us curtails the desire to be pre-eminent and exercises a proper meekness (or gentleness).”
j. The fruit of the Spirit is… self-control: The world knows something of self-control, but almost always for a selfish reason. It knows the self-disciple and denial someone will go through for themselves, but the self-control of the Spirit will also work on behalf of others.
k. Against such there is no law: Paul wrote with both irony and understatement. There is certainly no law against love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But more so, if a person has this fruit of the Spirit, he doesn’t need the Law. He already fulfills it.
i. Morris on against such there is no law: “This is a masterly understatement. It draws our attention to the fact that the kind of conduct that Paul has outlined is that which lawmakers everywhere want to bring about.”
6. (24-26) Keeping in step with the Spirit.
And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
a. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires: God has a place for our flesh, with all its passions and desires. He wants us to nail it to His cross, so that it may be under control and under the sentence of death.
i. Crucified is an important word. Paul could have simply chosen the word “killed,” but he used the word crucified because it speaks of many things:
· It reminds us of what Jesus did for us on the cross.
· It reminds us that we are called to take up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24).
· It reminds us that the death of the flesh is often painful.
· It reminds us that our flesh must be dealt with decisively.
b. Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh: This speaks of something that the believer does, being directed and empowered by the Spirit of God. It was not and is not the sovereign, “unilateral” work of God.
i. The old man, the self inherited from Adam, is crucified with Jesus as the sovereign work of God when we are born again. Romans 6:6 says, Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him. We are simply told to reckon, or account, the old man as dead (Romans 6:11), we are not told to put him to death. But the flesh is another matter. We are called to choose to work with God to do to the flesh exactly what God did all by Himself to the old man: crucify the flesh.
ii. “Please notice that the ‘crucifixion’ of the flesh described here is something that is done not to us but by us… Galatians 5:24 does not teach the same truth as Galatians 2:20 or Romans 6:6. In those verses we are told that by faith-union with Christ ‘we have been crucified with him’. But here it is we who have taken action.” (Stott)
iii. Boice on have crucified: “The verb is in the active voice and points rather to what the believer has himself done and must continue to regard as being done.”
iv. The problem of our flesh will not be finally dealt with until we are resurrected. Until then, we are to constantly “nail it to the cross,” so that it hangs there, alive yet powerless over us. “To resist the flesh… is to nail it to the Cross. Although the flesh is still alive it cannot very well act upon its desires because it is bound and nailed to the Cross.” (Luther)
c. With its passions and desires: In Jesus Christ, you can live above the passions and desires of your flesh. The resources are there in Jesus. Look to Him. See your life in Him. If you are one of those who are Christ’s, then you belong to Him – not to this world, not to yourself, and not to your passions and desires.
d. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit: We can better understand what Paul wrote here if we understand that the ancient Greek words for walk are different in Galatians 5:16 and 5:25. The first (peripateo) is the normal word for walking, used there as a picture of the “walk of life.” The second (stoicheo) means “to walk in line with” or “to be in line with.” Paul here is saying, “Keep in step with the Spirit.”
i. The idea is, “The Spirit has given you life. Now let Him direct your steps.” Or, as the Revised English Bible has it, “If the Spirit is the source of our life, let the Spirit also direct its course.”
ii. “The verb stoicheo means ‘to be in line with, stand beside a person or a thing, hold to, agree with, follow’. The present imperative indicates that this is to be the habitual practice.” (Morris)
e. Let us not become conceited: Paul concluded this section of walking in the Spirit with this warning, knowing that some will become conceited in their own walk in the Spirit. This can be a masterful stroke of Satan. We can think of a child of God finally walking in the Spirit – then Satan tempts him to be conceited about it. Soon, he is sure that he is almost always right and everyone else is wrong. It often happens gradually, so Paul warned, “Do not become conceited.”
i. Morris on conceited: “To be conceited, to be sure that we are always right (even if that means that other people are always wrong!) is a perennial temptation to believers… It is easy to assume that because we are Christ’s we will always say and do the right thing. Paul is warning his readers that believers can be too confident that they are right in what they are contemplating.”
f. Provoking one another: When we are conceited – always sure we are right, always confident in our opinions and perceptions – it definitely provokes other people. It will rub them the wrong way and be the source of many conflicts.
g. Envying one another: When we are conceited, we also are open to the sin of envy. If we know someone is more right, or more successful than we are, we resent it and envy them.
i. This whole chapter lends itself to a searching examination of ourselves. We often think that our problems and difficulties are all outside of ourselves. We think that we would be fine if everyone just treated us right and if circumstances just got better. But that ignores the tenor of this chapter: the problems are in us, and need to be dealt with by the Spirit of God. Augustine used to often pray, “Lord, deliver me from that evil man, myself.” With that kind of reality check, we can see a new world, and a new life – and not one other person or one other circumstance has to change. All we must do is yield to the Spirit of God, and begin to truly walk in the Spirit.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission