Though Christian freeom can be misused in libertinism, Paul encourages the Galatian Christians to allow their freedom to be an opportunity for the Spirit to manifest the character of Christ.
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Emphasis on freedom is always susceptible to being misunderstood and pushed beyond its contextual limitations. Having asserted "the liberty which we have in Christ Jesus" (2:4), identified Christians with Sarah, the "free woman" (4:22,23,30,31), and declared that "it was for freedom that Christ set us free" (5:1), Paul perceptively cautions the Galatian Christians about the misuse of liberty. As we attempt to reconstruct the situation in the Galatian churches by reading between the lines of Paul's correspondence, it may be that Paul was not only advising the Galatians with a precaution of the propensity of men to push freedom to an extreme, but also reacting to reports that behavior among the Christians of Galatia had dissipated into misrepresentative and unloving expressions. This does not necessarily mean, however, (as some have suggested) that Paul is now countering a distinct group of antagonists who are antinomian, in contrast to the Judaizing legalists addressed previously in the letter.
As noted previously (cf. comments on 5:1), Christian freedom entails both a freedom from diabolic tyranny and legalistic slavery, as well as a freedom to function as God intends by the dynamic of God's grace. By the work of Christ the Christian is free from sin (Rom. 6:14), Law (2:19) and elemental powers (3:3,9); free from the legalistic and moralistic expectations of behavioral conformity to rules and regulations; and free from the self-effort of performance productivity of "works" to please or appease God. By His "finished work" (Jn. 19:30) on the cross, Jesus Christ "set us free" (5:1) and delivered us from misused humanity, and by His resurrection from the dead Jesus Christ has graced us with the directed freedom to receive the functional dynamic of His own life and character. Every Christian person has the volitional freedom to make the choices to be receptive to the expression of God's character (instead of being a "slave to sin" - cf. Jn. 8:34,35; Rom. 6:6), and the teleological freedom to be man as God intended by deriving and manifesting God's character in Christian behavior unto the glory of God.
It must be recognized, though, that freedom is never absolute freedom. Freedom is not freedom from all constraint or restraint, and freedom to do anything one wants to do. Man does not have the inherent capability and power to do so, and God in His omnipotence exercises His power only in the consistent context of His own character and the self-limitation He has imposed on Himself to respect man's choices. Freedom is always freedom in context; never an unlimited absolute. God's freedom is in the context of His own character and stated self-limitation, while man's freedom is in the context of his choices of spiritual derivation. Though the Christian person may be volitionally free to sin, within the context of his being indwelt by the Spirit of Christ he is not teleologically free to misrepresent the character of Christ in self-oriented, self-indulgent, self-assertive, sinful behavior that does not manifest the love of Christ, who is the basis of his identity as a "Christ-one," i.e. Christian. Such understanding is foundational to Paul's explanation of Christian freedom and his caution to avoid allowing freedom to be misused in unloving behavior.
Paul's keen logical mind recognized that his argument for freedom could be pushed beyond its intent; that his argument against nomistic legalism could be inordinately extended into an argument for antinomian libertinism. He recognized the same tendency when writing at a later date to the Romans: "Shall we continue in sin that grace may increase? May it never be!" (Rom. 6:1). In denying the legalism that quenches liberty, the pendulum can swing to the opposite extreme of a license that misuses liberty. Neither extreme will produce loving behavior, so Paul finds it necessary to emphasize the contextualized liberty that we have under the Lordship of the living Lord Jesus to manifest His character of love in our interpersonal relationships the freedom to love by the Spirit.
5:13 In contrast to the Judaizing agitators who were attempting to put the Galatians under a "yoke of slavery" (5:1), and upon whom Paul had just expressed his anatomical mutilation-wish (5:12) that would excise them from their devious deeds, Paul reminds the young Galatian Christians that "you were called to freedom, brethren;..." Still regarding them as Christian "brethren," in contrast to the "false brethren" (2:4) who advocated bondage to the Law, Paul reiterates (cf. 5:1) the freedom in Christ that God has called Christians to participate in. This was not just Paul's proclamatory calling for freedom, but God's calling to the freedom of sanctification (I Thess. 4:7), with the corollary provision of His effectual calling wherein, "Faithful is He who calls you; He will bring it to pass" (I Thess. 5:24). Paul wanted the Galatians to understand the behavioral implications of Christian freedom, wherein they were free to be functional humanity, free to be man as God intended, free to let Christ reign as Lord in their lives, and free to express the character of God in their behavior.
The precautionary check against abuse of such freedom is addressed by, "only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh,..." Preemptively, Paul recognizes the tendency of man to selfishly push freedom into improper latitudes of laxity and license. Later Paul would tell the Corinthians to "take care lest this liberty of yours become a stumbling-block" (I Cor. 8:9). Peter would likewise write, "Do not use your freedom as a covering for evil" (I Pet. 2:16). The Greek word that Paul used for "opportunity" (aphormen) implies that freedom can be misused as a "starting-point, a spring-board, a stimulus, an occasion" (cf. I Tim. 5:14) for the self-indulgence of the "flesh". Though "flesh" can be employed to refer to the physicality of "flesh and blood" (cf. 2:20) or the broad spectrum of created humanity (cf. 2:16), Paul seems to be using "flesh" here to refer to the patterned propensities of selfishness and sinfulness that remain within the desires of a Christian's soul (cf. Rom. 7:15-21). The Christian is not "in the flesh" (Rom. 8:9) as an enslaved state of behavioral orientation (cf. 5:24), but he can still walk "according to the flesh" (Rom. 8:12,13) by reverting to the self-orientation of self-effort (cf. 3:3), self-assertion, self-promotion, self-gratification, (cf. I Jn. 2:16), etc.
Such self-orientation and self-focus is antithetical to the "love by which we are to serve one another." Instead of being self-oriented, divine love is unselfish and other-oriented. "God is love" (I Jn. 4:8,16), and the freedom to express His character as Christians is the freedom to seek the highest good of others apart from selfish narcissistic concerns. The ultimate example of such was Jesus' love for us in giving Himself for us (cf. 2:20). By His spiritual indwelling in us as Christians we have the dynamic provision whereby we can be receptive in faith to His working through us in love (cf. 5:6). The presence of Christ within the Christian is not only for our own spiritual benefit, but also for His loving beneficence toward others. It is always Christ in us for others! That we are free from enslavement to the Law, and free to love by serving (enslaving ourselves to) others, is not a self-contradictory irony. Remember, the contextualization of Christian liberty is in our subordination and submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ as He expresses His love toward others. Jesus' love was evidenced in His "taking the form of a bond-servant" (Phil. 2:7) willing to die for others (all men). In like manner, servanthood love is the evidence of Christian discipleship (Jn. 13:35). Writing later to the Corinthians, Paul explained, "Though I am free from all, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more" (I Cor. 9:19). It is instructive to note Paul's "one another" phrases in the ensuing context (5:13, 15 twice, 26 twice; 6:2), for it reveals that our Christian freedom is not to be conceived only individualistically, but in the other-oriented dynamic of Christ's loving character expressed in the deference of interdependent loving fellowship among Christians, and in interpersonal relationships beyond the Christian fellowship.
5:14 "For," to explain more fully, "the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in that, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" While the Judaizers were advocating that the Galatian Christians should fulfill the Law by being "under the Law" (3:23; 4:4,5,21; 5:18) and "keeping the whole law" (5:3) by performing the demands of the Law, such as circumcision and religious observances, Paul is indicating that the entire objective of the Law is fulfilled by God's grace exhibiting His character of love in Christian behavior. Jesus had explained in His Sermon on the Mount that He had not come to denigrate the Law, "but to fulfill the Law" (Matt. 5:17) in the dynamic of His own Being. Later, to a Pharisaic lawyer, Jesus explained that the greatest commandment is to "love the Lord, your God," and the second is to "love your neighbor as yourself," and "on these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 22:36-40). Jesus was not repudiating or rejecting the Mosaic Law. It had served its purpose in the old covenant, part of which was to proclaim the character of God. But the inscribed Law of Moses had no dynamic provision to empower the character of God. The empowering dynamic of God was made available only by the indwelling presence of the Spirit of the risen Lord Jesus in receptive Christians, whereby the "law of Christ" (6:2) completes and consummates the old covenant Law by fulfilling and bringing it to fruition in love. Jesus is indeed the "one word" (logos - cf. Jn. 1:14) in and by Whom the whole law, the "royal law" (James 2:8), the "perfect law, the law of liberty" (James 1:25) is fulfilled as He expresses His divine love to others. To the Romans Paul therefore wrote that the commandments are "summed up in the saying, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Rom. 13:9), and "love is the fulfillment of the law" (Rom. 13:8,10). This is not merely a reductionism that implies that it is easier to be receptive to God's character by faith than to attempt to keep the commandments, but is an explanation of the dynamic consummation of the Law in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.
Paul's quotation of Leviticus 19:18, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," is one of several quotations that establishes this phrase as the most cited verse of the Old Testament Pentateuch within the New Testament Scriptures (cf. Matt. 5:43; 19:19; 22:34-40; Mk. 7:31; 12:33; Lk. 10:27; Jn. 13:24; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8). The Jewish lawyer asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" (Lk. 10:29), and in the parable of the wounded traveler Jesus explained that one's neighbor is anyone we come in contact with who has a personal need, evidencing that this love is not some vague, ethereal sentiment or feeling for the well-being of others, but is a practical, down-to-earth expression of ministry to mankind. That we are to "love our neighbor as ourselves" recognizes that there is a natural concern for ourselves, an almost instinctual sense of self-preservation, but it is not necessarily an inculcation to "self-love" as advocated by contemporary pop-psychology for the development of self-esteem, self-worth, self-value, self-image, etc. Self-orientation, as previously indicated, is antithetical to the other-orientation of God's love in Christ. To love others "as ourselves" is to seek the best interests of others as instinctively, unhesitantly, and spontaneously as we are concerned about our own best interest, and that can only be accomplished as "the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given to us" (Rom. 5:5).
5:15 Contrary to such expression of God's love, Paul advised the Galatians, "But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another." The conjunction, "but", can indicate an existing condition, in which case it might be translated "since...". Perhaps Paul had received word that the Galatian Christians, under the influence of the legalistic Judaizers, were becoming quarrelsome and contentious, engaging in selfish infighting and internecine conflicts. Neither legalism or license will ever produce unity and love since they derive their motivation from the same self-oriented and rejective root of satanic character.
The three words that Paul uses to describe this unloving behavior were all used in the Greek language to describe savage, animalistic behavior indicative of a pack of wild animals as they nip, rip and slaughter other animals. When a group of people engages in power-struggles that entail back-biting, cutting each other down, chewing each other up, and eating each other alive like a bunch of social cannibals, the sense of community is destroyed in the absence of love. "Watch out, beware" of such behavior, Paul warns the Galatians. He will subsequently describe the divisions, dissensions and factions that are "works of the flesh" (5:19-21), and are often indicative of religious communities which fail to understand the freedom to love by the Spirit.
5:16 "But" in contrast to such behaviors, "I (Paul) say," as an apostle and in contrast to the religious false-teachers, "walk by the Spirit,..." As in 4:1, Paul is introducing an important contrastual statement by his pronouncement, "But I say...". Consistent with his theme of the liberty of love under the Lordship of Christ, Paul encourages the Galatian Christians to recognize their responsibility ("walk" is an imperative verb) to conduct their lives under the controlling influence and empowering of the Spirit of Christ. Step by step as we walk through life, the Christian is to be "led by the Spirit" (5:18; Rom. 8:14), "keep in step with the Spirit" (5:25), and "be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18) as the operational and controlling impetus of the Christian life, whereby we manifest the character-fruit of the Spirit (5:22,23). Later, to the Colossians, Paul would write, "Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord,...bearing fruit in every good work" (Col. 1:10). But we must ever be mindful that the generative strength for doing so is not human potential, natural talent, nor the procedural precepts of religious rules or moral mandates. The dynamic to function in the freedom of Christian love is "by the Spirit." The divine energizing and enabling of God's Spirit within the Christian's spirit (cf. Rom. 8:16) is the provision and resource of Christian behavior, rather than external constraint and conformity of law.
The consequence of choosing by faith to "walk by the Spirit," will be that "you will not carry out the desire of the flesh." The conjunctive "and" is consequential, while the duplicated negative in the Greek is an emphatic disavowal indicating that while "walking in the Spirit," one will most definitely and assuredly not, by any means, enact and accomplish "the desire of the flesh." The fleshly patterns and propensities to selfishness and sinfulness in the soul of a Christian will be thwarted from their objectification in being "acted out" in the manifestations of misrepresentative behavior whenever the Christian is faithfully and receptively "walking by the Spirit." The self-seeking "desire of the flesh" will be superseded by the other-oriented love of God's Spirit. The supremacy of the power of God's Spirit is intrinsic to Paul's argument, for he is convinced without a shadow of a doubt that the action of God in man will supersede, overcome, and swallow up the negative and selfish expressions of fleshliness. John would later concur by writing, "Greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world" (I Jn. 4:4). The responsibility of the Christian is maintained in the recognition that a choice not to be receptive in faith to "walk by the Spirit," will inevitably involve bringing to fruition the self-seeking desire of the flesh. "Whatever is not of faith, is sin" (Rom. 14:23).
As the tendency of religion is always to advocate human performance of action or abstention, the interpretation of this verse in Christian religion has often been misconstrued. In a rather dyslexic rendering of Paul's statement, religious teachers have often reversed the phrases to indicate, "Do not carry out the desire of the flesh, and you will be walking in the Spirit." By the abstention of suppression, or the self-denial of self-seeking desire, it is thought that "walking in the Spirit" is defined by what one does not do. "Don't do this and don't do that, and you will by consequence be 'spiritual' and walking in the Spirit." Not so! Paul's argument throughout the epistle to the Galatians is that man's performances of "doing" or "not doing" are not the basis of the Christian gospel, but Christianity is the dynamic of God's grace functioning in the Christian by the presence of the Spirit of Christ unto the expression of His divine character.
5:17 Continuing his explanation of the interaction of "Spirit" and "flesh", Paul writes, "For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh;..." The self-seeking desire of the patterns of our "flesh" is set against the other-directed, loving desire of the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit is obviously personified in the triune Godhead, and Paul seems to personify the patterning of the "flesh" as capable of "setting its desire" against the Spirit, cognizant of course of the personal source of all evil in the satanic Evil One (cf. I Jn. 3:8,10). Contrary to much religious inculcation, it is not the Christian who is obliged to fight against and suppress the "flesh" by "dying to self" or "mortifying one's desires," but it is the Spirit of Christ who sets His desire against the flesh as we are receptive to such in faith. Once again the performance-orientation of religion is avoided by the grace provision of God in Christ.
When Paul further explains that "these" (flesh and Spirit) "are in opposition to one another," he is noting the behavioral conflict between the patterned selfishness of our soul and the desire of God's Spirit to manifest divine character in our behavior. Having its root in the cosmic conflict of God and Satan, this adversarial conflict of behavioral motivation is a spiritual warfare between mutually antithetical and irreconcilable spiritual sources. Paul would later deal with the same behavioral conflict in Romans 7:14 8:13. The two conflicting motivations are not to be regarded as equal antagonists constituting a dualistic equality (like the Yin-Yang dualism of Eastern philosophy) ending in a frustrating stalemate of ethical dualism. In the previous verse we already noted the supremacy of the Spirit's power in the Christian. But despite the superior power of the Spirit of God in the Christian, the "flesh" patterning is not eradicated from the soul in a form of perfectionism that denies the behavioral conflict. It must also be noted that the conflict is between "flesh" and Spirit, not between an "old man" and a "new man" (cf. Eph. 4:22,24; Col. 3:9,10), not between an "old sinful nature" and a "new godly nature" (cf. Eph. 2:2; II Pet. 1:4), even though some versions of the Bible mistranslate these words in such a way as to create ambiguity of terminology and schizophrenic misunderstanding of Christian identity.
The adversarial opposition of "flesh"
and Spirit creates a behavioral situation "so that
you may not do the things that you please," This
is an extremely difficult phrase which has been interpreted in
many different ways, depending on the placement of the two subjunctive
verbs "will" and "do," whether one or both
is to be negated, and whether the phrase is contingent on the
impulse and impetus of the "flesh" or the Spirit. Some
of the variable options of interpretation are represented in
the following interpretive translations: "The opposition
of flesh and Spirit creates a consecutive or consequential situation
5:18 "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law." Again, this is not the "if" of possibility, but the "if" of fulfilled condition, meaning "since, as is the case, you are Christians who are led by the Spirit, then you are not under the Law." Later, to the Romans Paul would write, "All who are being led by the Spirit, these are sons of God" (Rom. 8:14). All genuine Christians are indwelt by the Spirit of God and Christ, the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9), and the divine presence of the Spirit within our spirit (Rom. 8:16) becomes the operational provision of God's grace to dynamically direct, guide and lead us that we might discern what God wants to do in our lives. This is not to imply that the Spirit constrains or compels us to act in a manner that impinges upon volitional freedom apart from the responsibility to be receptive and available to the leading of the Spirit. Nor is this to say that the Christian always and inevitably follows the leading of the Spirit without choices that misrepresent the character of the One who lives in us (I Jn. 1:8). But since we are, as Christians, led by the Spirit to walk according to the Spirit (5:16,25) in the teleological freedom to express the love-character of the Spirit (5:22) which is the essential fulfillment of the Law (5:14), then we are not subjected under the behavioral performance standards of the Mosaic Law. "The requirement of the Law is fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:4).
Paul was continually cognizant throughout the writing of this epistle that the infiltrating Judaizers were advocating that the Galatian Christians subject themselves "under the Law" and submit to the keeping of the performance-standards of the Law. He had already established that righteousness does not come by the works of the Law (2:16,21; 3:11,21), that the curse of inadequate performance is upon all who attempt to keep the Law (3:10), that Christians have been redeemed from such a curse by the work of Christ (3:13: 4:5), as the jurisdiction of the Law has been terminated (3:19), and we are no longer under the Law (3:23-25). But perhaps the Judaizers were insisting that the only way to keep the sinful desires of the "flesh" under control was to submit to the legislative restraints of the Law in the "dos" and the "don'ts" that attempt to suppress their external expression. If so, they were ignorant of the fact (as all religion is) that external constraints can never rule out inner behavioral tendencies of self-orientation. The self-effort of legal performance will never overcome the self-seeking desire of the flesh. Paul explained to the Colossians that the regulations of "do not handle, do not taste, do not touch;... matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, have no value against fleshly indulgence" (Col. 2:21-23). Paul wanted the Galatian Christians to know that the external performance of the regulations of the Law, functioning "under the Law," might mask the desires of the flesh, but they could never prevent or overcome those desires (cf. Rom. 7:7-13). Only the fulfillment of the Law (5:14) in the gospel of God's grace in Jesus Christ provides the inner dynamic of the Spirit, freeing mankind to express the character of God's love under the Lordship of Christ. In fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy (Jere. 31:31-34), "the law is written in our hearts" (Heb. 8:10; 10:16) in the ontological dynamic of the "law of Christ" (6:2), allowing us to be "led by the Spirit" in love.
5:19 Paul now begins to set forth the contrast of "the deeds of the flesh" (19-21) and "the fruit of the Spirit" (22,23). These are not simply contrasting lists of moral vices and virtues as were found in the Greek moralists centuries prior to Jesus Christ, and which continue to be expressed in philosophy and religion to the present. In Paul's mind the desires and the deeds, the attitudes and the actions, always had to be traced back to polarized spiritual sources in God or Satan. The self-seeking desire of the flesh was indicative of an evil and diabolic character of self-orientation conveying self-aspiration, self-gratification and self-promotion (cf. I Jn. 2:16) based on a fallacious premise of self-potential to perform and produce for the betterment of man by the self-effort "works" or "deeds" of the flesh. The other-directed fruit of the Spirit is expressive of the love-character of God (cf. I Jn. 4:8,16). The Christian, by the receipt of the Spirit of Christ in faith, is thereby volitionally free to choose to receive and derive character from either God or Satan in the midst of his behavior. In this sense the Christian is the only one who is really volitionally free to choose the receptive derivation of character in his behavior, since the unregenerate are "slaves of sin" (Jn. 8:34,35; Rom. 6:6,17).
Paul's point in listing these "works of the flesh" is still in the context of asserting that the teleological freedom of the Christian to fulfill God's objective of expressing His character within His creation to His own glory, could never be used as an excuse or pretext for exhibiting such behaviors as here mentioned (cf. 5:13). As noted in reference to the savage behaviors mentioned in 5:15, these actions may have already been reported among the Galatian congregations after the arrival of the Judaizing religionists.
Paul commences his list by indicating, "Now the works of the flesh are evident,..." Referring to them as "works" of the flesh connects them to the self-effort performance "works of the Law" (2:16; 3:2,5,10), as well as with "works of darkness" (Rom. 13:12; Eph. 5:11). Interestingly enough, these behavioral expressions of the patterned selfishness and sinfulness in man's soul will be evidenced in the context of both legalism and license, in both of the extremes that disallow the Christian liberty to love by the Spirit under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. These selfish behaviors are so patently obvious and plain for all to see, even though the latent spiritual source and character is often not identified in a consistent theodicy.
"Immorality" is derived from the Greek word for "prostitute," which is the root of the English word "porno". It refers to any sexual activity outside of God's intended context of marriage between one man and one woman. It is broader that just premarital fornication, as translated in some versions of the New Testament (cf. KJV).
"Impurity" expands the concept of sexual irregularity beyond the sexual acts themselves to any act and attitude that is defiling, unclean, or indecent; to anything other than the pure, clean and proper use of our physical bodies as the purity of God's character is expressed in us.
"Sensuality" denotes a lack of constraint whereby our passions, impulses and senses are given free rein to engage in wantonness, debauchery, excess and immoderation. Without constraint there may be a shameless loss of public decency as well as dehumanizing exploitation of others.
5:20 "Idolatry" is the inordinate devotion or worship of someone or something other than God, by attributing ultimate worth to such an object. The sexual sins previously mentioned were often integrated with religious idolatry in the pagan worship of Cybele, Diana, Aphrodite, Baal, etc.
"Sorcery" is a translation of the Greek word from which we get the English word "pharmaceutics." Throughout human history drugs have been utilized in religious activities as the medicine-men and magicians have mixed up strange potions in witchcraft and occult activities.
"Enmities" refers to hatred of one's perceived enemies, and engaging in hostile antagonism with them.
"Strife" translates a Greek word that also identified the goddess Eris, the goddess of contentiousness and quarrelsomeness that leads to war. Actions of agitation and provocation that stir up trouble, discord and wrangling are indicated by this word.
"Jealousy" is a translation of the same word from which we get the English word "zealous." It is the boiling fervency of ungratefulness and resentment concerning what others have or do.
"Outbursts of anger" comes from the root of the Greek word meaning "to kill." Uncontrolled fits of passion and rage wherein one's fury and temper are so acute that it could lead to life-threatening action are implied by this word.
"Disputes" are rivalries and altercations caused by mercenary motives when a person attempts to manipulate and use another person for his own personal gain at the expense of the other.
"Dissensions" are any occasion when people refuse to stand together in unity, and instead stand against one another in disunity and divisiveness.
the Greek word from which we get the English word "heresies."
In its broadest meaning it refers to the sectarian and partisan
attitude of wanting to choose up sides in order to engage in
"Drunkenness" is the Greek word that we now refer to as the drug "meth." It refers to the over-indulgence that leads to being intoxicated and controlled by another substance.
"Carousings" is derived from the Greek word komos, the name of the Greek god of revelry. The quest for and involvement in the uninhibited excess of cavorting and partying is implied by this word.
Paul concludes the list by adding "and things like these," to explain that this is not an exhaustive listing of selfish behaviors, but comprises a few of the behaviors that are representative of the "works of the flesh." We must avoid the systematizing tendency of attempting to arbitrarily place the behaviors mentioned by Paul into classifications and categorizations that tend to be self-limiting. Paul simply lists these actions without any implied grouping.
Having listed these behaviors, Paul says directly to the Galatian recipients of his letter, "I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." "Just as I cautioned and forewarned you when I was present with you and preaching the gospel for the first time (cf. Acts 13:14 14:24), I tell you again in advance, forewarning you of God's judgment, that those persons who continue to behave in these ways, and keep on practicing these actions in an unconcerned and habituated pattern of behavior, failing and refusing to exercise their teleological freedom to express the character of God in the restored purpose of humanity in Christ, they evidence that they have not received the "first-fruits of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:23), the "pledge of our inheritance" (II Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:14) in the indwelling presence of Jesus Christ, and thus will not participate in the future consummation and continuum of Christ's reign in the eternal kingdom." That Paul had previously spoken about the "kingdom of God" to those in southern Galatia is documented by Luke's report of Acts 14:22 where Paul advised that "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." The kingdom should not be limited to a precise millennial period in the future in a particular realm of location or place. The reign of Christ as Lord and King has already been established (cf. Lk. 17:20,21; Rom 14:17; Col. 1:13), though it is not yet consummated in its unhindered expression (cf. I Cor. 15:24; Eph. 5:5; II Tim. 4:18). Paul had previously explained that the inheritance of God was not based on legal performance (3:18) or on Judaic ethnicity (3:29), but on the reception of the Spirit of Christ (4:6,7), and his emphasis here is that if there is no evidence of Christ's indwelling reign in one's life by the Spirit, evidenced presently by His character in Christian behavior, then there is no reason to expect that the Lordship reign of Christ will commence and be realized at a time and place beyond this life, whereupon the judgment of God (Heb. 9:27) upon unbelief shall be enacted.
5:22 In contrast to the "works of the flesh," those activities that express selfish character that is contrary to the character of God, Paul writes, "But the fruit of the Spirit is...". Whereas "works" of the flesh imply a self-oriented performance, the "fruit" of the Spirit implies a consistent expression and manifestation of the essential nature of the root-source. The spiritual root-source is the divine Spirit of God, so the "fruit of the Spirit" is the consistent expression of the character of God. The character-fruit that Paul mentions here is incapable of being produced or "worked up" by the self-effort of man, and is not intrinsic to the natural temperaments of man. Only God can produce and express His godly character. The power of divine character-fructification is only by His divine enabling. The Christian has received the personal presence of the Spirit of Christ (cf. Rom. 8:9), and since His divine character is inherent in His Being, we have been invested with the complete provision and resource of the character of Christ (and therefore do not need to be constantly praying to receive such). Our volitional freedom as Christians allows for the teleological freedom to allow Jesus Christ to manifest His character in our behavior, evidencing that we are Christian disciples (Jn. 15:8) wherein Christ as the vine (Jn. 15:5) produces the character-fruit that indicates that we are rooted in and deriving from Him (cf. Matt. 7:16,20; 12:33).
That Paul uses the singular "fruit" instead of a plural "fruits" would seem to indicate that these comprise a singular cluster of character "in Christ," and that they are not to be isolated particularly in separated bins of independent and detached consideration. They should be viewed conjunctively as a holistic consideration of Christ's character. The character of Christ is not limited to the characteristics that Paul lists here, though, for this list, like the previous list, is not exhaustive. Elsewhere Paul refers to the "fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:11), and "the fruit of light which consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth" (Eph. 5:9).
"Love" is the first divine character trait mentioned, and may be the most comprehensive so as to be inclusive of all others. We have previously noted (5:13,14) that "God is love" (I Jn. 4:8,16). It is the essence of His Being to be self-giving and other-directed. Because it is His ultimate teleological objective to have His divine character exhibited in the behavior of His created human beings, Paul can thus say that "the whole Law is fulfilled in...love" (5:14). Christians have received the presence and character of God in Christ, and "the love of God has been poured within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Rom. 5:5). Thus we have the divine provision to "love in the Spirit" (Col. 1:18) with the "love of the Spirit" (Rom. 15:30). The love of God expressed through us will be unselfish, unconditional and non-selective, seeking the highest good of the other without self-seeking thought of reciprocal benefit. When expressed in the collective Christian community, such "love is the perfect bond of unity" (Col. 3:14), contrary to the divisive "works of the flesh." Such expression of God's love serves as the distinguishing mark of Christian discipleship (Jn. 13:35).
"Joy", from the Greek word chara, is the celebration of God's grace-giving (charis) in Christ. The Christian who loves Christ and believes in Christ will "greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory" (I Pet. 1:8). Jesus told His disciples that when they received the Spirit their "heart would rejoice, and no one would take that joy from them" (Jn. 16:22), and indeed they "were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 13:52). The presence of Christ in the Christian is inconducive to an attitude of gloom and doom, or a demeanor that is sour and dour. John Wesley once said that "sour godliness is the devil's religion." Doleful "dill-pickle Christians" who are negative, pessimistic and melancholy misrepresent the character of Christ. But neither is joy to be regarded as but a temporary "happiness" dependent on current circumstances. The word "happiness" is derived from the old English word hap, meaning "chance," whereas the "joy of the Lord" is a settled permanence of appreciation of God's grace in the midst of, and despite, all circumstances. "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials" (James 1:20).
"Peace" is also the character of the "God of peace" (Rom. 15:33; I Thess. 5:23) manifested in the "Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6), Jesus Christ. Subjectively the Christian experiences the "peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, guarding his heart and mind in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:7), fulfilling Jesus' promise to His disciples, "My peace I give unto you..." (Jn. 14:27). Such peace is not simply the absence of conflict, struggles or problems, but is a divinely supplied security, serenity and tranquillity in the midst of situations, the assurance that God is in control, the positive perspective of the plenteous provision of the Person of Jesus Christ in the midst of any circumstance. When such internal peace is experienced by the Christian as he allows "the peace of Christ to rule in his heart" (Col. 3:15), the social implications of "Christ as our peace" (Eph. 2:14) can be applied to our interpersonal relationships as we become "peacemakers" (Matt. 5:9) seeking "peace with all men" (Heb. 12:14). The harmony and "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3) allows the function of the kingdom of God to be "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17).
"Patience" is likewise the character of "the Lord God who is merciful, gracious and patient" (Exod. 34:6; II Pet. 3:9). Jesus Christ "demonstrates His perfect patience" (I Tim. 1:16) towards each of us as He seeks to manifest His saving life in us. The Spirit within us then "directs our hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ" (II Thess. 3:5). The patience of Christ is not fatalistic resignation, passive acquiescence, or stoic endurance. Rather, the divine character of patience forbears in long-suffering especially in the midst of provocation. The patience of Christ in us is not quickly offended, irritated, or put off with people. We can only "be patient with all men" (I Thess. 5:14) and with one another as Christians (Eph. 4:2), when we "bear fruit in every good work...strengthened with God's power...for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience" (Col. 1:10,11). Christ's patience is also willing to wait for God's timetable, and His sufficiency in every situation. This is why "tribulation works patience" (Rom. 5:3; James 1:3), providing opportunities for the divine character of patience to be expressed.
"Kindness" is derived from "the kindness of God" (Rom. 11:22) whose "lovingkindness is everlasting" (Ps. 106:1). The "kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind was manifested in Christ Jesus" (Titus 3:4; Eph. 2:7). The Boy Scout motto, "Be Kind," attempts to inculcate a duty of kindness, but Christian kindness, rather than being occasional acts of duty, is a constant character-attitude that puts legs on love by seeing another's need and reaching out to assist them by God's direction and sufficiency. Christian kindness is more than polite civility and courteousness that passively exclaims, "Ain't it nice to be nice to nice people." The kindness of Christ is linked with compassion (Col. 3:12) and with tender-heartedness (Eph. 4:32). Kindness is sensitive and respectful of other's feelings, considerate of their perspective, thoughtful about taking the initiative to tenderly address the welfare of another.
"Goodness" is very similar to "kindness" as these words merge into one another in the description of God's loving character. "No one is good except God alone" (Mk. 10:18; Lk. 18:19), Jesus said, when He was addressed as "Good Teacher" by one who did not recognize His essential divinity and goodness. The recognition that "goodness" is of God is inherent even in the etymology of the English word; the words "good" and "God" are related. It is reported that "Jesus always went about doing good" (Acts 10:38), deriving such character from God the Father. He explained that "the good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good" (Matt. 12:35; Lk. 6:45). The "good treasure" of the Christian is the presence of Christ by the Spirit in our "earthen vessels" (II Cor. 4:7), wherein is the power to express His character of goodness. "The one doing good derives what he does out of God" (III Jn. 11). The concept of "goodness" has been so relativized in humanistic thought ever since "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Gen. 2:9,17) that many consider it inconceivable or offensive to assert that absolute goodness can only be derived from the presence and activity of God. The "goodness" that is the fruit of the Spirit is not the relative goodness of "You're a good man, Charlie Brown," but the goodness of a Barnabas who was "full of the Holy Spirit and faith" (Acts 11:24). "Let us not lose heart in doing good" (Gal. 6:9), Paul will later write.
"Faithfulness" is intrinsic to God's character. "He is faithful and cannot deny Himself" (II Tim. 2:13). He is faithful to His promises (Heb. 10:23); faithful to empower us against temptation (I Cor. 10:13) and protect us from the Evil One (II Thess. 3:3); faithful to forgive us our sins (I Jn. 1:9); and faithful to bring to pass by His dynamic of grace in Jesus Christ all that He has called us to and desires to do through us (I Thess. 5:24). Jesus Christ who is "faithful and true" (Rev. 19:11) and "faithful over His house" (Heb. 3:6), the church, expresses His character of dependability, reliability, and trustworthiness in the loyalty and discipline of Christian behavior that is receptive to His activity. Only thus can we be "faithful unto death" (Rev. 2:10) exhibiting the faithfulness of God.
5:23 "Gentleness" was identified as the character of Christ when He invited the "weary and heavy-laden" to come to Him for rest, for He was "gentle and humble of heart" (Matt. 11:29). Writing to the Corinthians, Paul referred to "the meekness and gentleness of Christ" (II Cor. 10:1), which did not require him to be self-assertive, demanding, or threatening. The character of Christ is not harsh, abrasive and forceful, engaging in manipulative pressure and retaliation. But neither is the character of Christ weak, withdrawing, and waffling, refusing to stand up to wrongdoing and injustice, like a wimp. "Meekness," as this word is sometimes translated, is not weakness! Gentleness is the firm and fair strength of God that avoids a show of force, if at all possible, desiring to be "considerate of all men" (Titus 3:1) and allow God to change things "in a spirit of gentleness" (Gal. 6:1). Jesus said, "Blessed are the gentle, for they (rather than the forceful) shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5).
"Self-control" is a rather unfortunate and misleading rendering of the Greek word that Paul employed (which simply means "in control"), although it adequately renders the meaning of the word as it was encouraged by the Greek moralists. In the context of the "fruit of the Spirit," being the expression of God's character, the translation of "self-control" creates an ambiguity with the humanistic thesis of being in autonomous control of oneself. God is obviously in autonomous control of Himself, but His intent within His derivative human creatures is to allow for His divine control and expression of character. God does not want us to be "out of control" in wanton subjection to the self-seeking desires of the flesh enacted in "the works of the flesh," but instead wants us to be "controlled within" by the Spirit of the risen Lord Jesus, allowing for a Godly control of our being and behavior. The same word is connected with righteousness in Acts 24:25, and seems to imply an "inner discipline" in I Cor. 9:25. Dropping the prefix "self-", it is best to view this character trait as the Godly control and management of our inner-being whereby we have stability and consistency in our lives.
Paul concludes his listing of these representative "fruit of the Spirit" by noting that "against such things there is no law." Generally speaking, there is no moral law that condemns behavioral attitudes such as these, for this kind of positive behavior would meet the demands of all ethical conformity. If the operational objective of law is to restrain ungodly behavior (I Tim. 1:9), then there is nothing in this kind of character that requires restraint. More specifically, Paul may have had in mind the Judaizing tendency to think that the Law could restrain the "works of the flesh" by man's determined self-effort of performance, and thereby produce positive character, attitudes and behavior. "Concerning these kinds of character," Paul might be saying, "there is no Law that can produce or generate the character of God's Love."
5:24 Reiterating the supremacy of the Spirit over the self-orientation of the "flesh," and relating such triumph to the "finished work" (cf. Jn. 19:30) of Christ at the crucifixion, Paul wants to make clear that the flesh/Spirit conflict is not an egalitarian balance that ends in an experiential "no win" stalemate and stand-off. By way of logical conclusion in the chronological present, Paul declares, "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." All Christians "belong to Christ Jesus" (cf. 3:29), identified with Him as "Christ-ones," having "been crucified with Christ" (2:20), having "put on Christ" (3:27), and being "in Christ" (3:26,28). Paul is indicating that all genuine Christians participate in a victory over the "flesh" which the Law could never effect (cf. Col. 2:23), for such a victory could only be effected by identification with the death of Jesus Christ and the empowering of His Spirit.
This verse is one of the most difficult and enigmatic statements in Paul's epistle to the Galatians. Commentators have tended to "weasel" their way around the problems posed by this text; and their interpretations, for the most part, are inadequate and unsatisfactory. Sincere Christians have been baffled by Paul's statement; some have felt guilty that they must not have "crucified the flesh" since they still battle such and commit sins (I Jn. 1:8); leading some to doubt, therefore, whether they really "belong to Christ Jesus" and are really Christians; leading some to determine to engage with renewed self-effort in the performance procedures of "dying to the flesh," "dying to self," "denying oneself," etc.; this in complete contradiction to the entire thesis of Paul in this epistle, as he advocates the grace and liberty of the gospel.
That Christians "have crucified the flesh" must be understood figuratively or metaphorically. It cannot mean that the patterns of selfish and sinful behavior in one's soul have been "put to death" or "killed" in the sense of being terminated, eliminated or obliterated. Such an interpretation would present a contradiction with Paul's assertion that "the flesh sets its desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh..." (5:17). The tense of the verb "have crucified" (aorist) indicates that the action took place decisively, deliberately, and definitely at a particular time, and with finality. The most obvious time for this to have transpired in all Christians would be the decisive repentance required in conversion (and illustrated in baptism). This negates all interpretations that would encourage a continuous experiential process of "mortifying the flesh" and "dying to self" through suppressionist techniques or religious disciplines (ex. prayer, fasting, repentance, etc.).
By way of figurative expression Paul indicates that the Christian has enacted some form of separation, severance or disconnection from the "flesh" patterning. The "flesh" is to be considered, regarded or reckoned (cf. Rom. 6:11; Col. 3:5) as dead, or not viable as an expression of our new identity (cf. II Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10) in Christ. Not wanting (volitional freedom) to misrepresent the character (contrary to teleological freedom) of the One with whom he is identified, the Christian is to remain dynamically receptive in faith to the superseding strength of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, in order to avoid and overcome the tempting draw of both legalistic and libertine motivations and occasions of the "flesh," with its ever-present self-oriented passions and cravings.
5:25 Though some consider this verse to be the beginning of a new paragraph, the connecting concepts with the previous verse (5:24) are too tight to warrant a separation of thought. The "flesh" and Spirit contrast is still being emphasized, as well as the death and life contrast of "crucifying the flesh" and "living by the Spirit." "If" (since this is the case for all genuine Christians) "we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." Having begun (3:3) to live by the Spirit at our initial conversion and regeneration when the "Spirit of life" (Rom. 8:2; I Cor. 15:45), the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9), brought His "newness of life" (Rom. 6:4) into our spirit by His own presence (I Jn. 5:12), the consequential implications and objective of this new spiritual condition is not to progress by legalistic or libertine expressions of the "flesh" (3:3), but to allow the Spirit of Christ to exercise His Lordship in our lives in order to enable us to "line up, keep in step, and correspond" with a consistent expression of His character in the conduct of our lives. Having "passed out of death into life" (John 5:24; I Jn. 3:14) at regeneration, our sanctifying "walk by the Spirit" (cf. 5:16) should consistently and representatively express the character of the One who lives in us, and has become our life (Col. 3:4). We are to behave like who we have become, manifesting the godly character, the "fruit of the Spirit" (5:22,23) of the One with whom we have identified as "Christ-ones," i.e. Christians. This is accomplished only by faithful receptivity of His activity in our behavior, for "as we received Christ Jesus, so we are to walk in Him" (Col. 2:6), by faith.
5:26 When we "walk by the Spirit" (5:16,25) manifesting the "fruit of the Spirit" (5:22,23), "Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another," for these are not consistent with the character of Christ. Instead, they are misrepresentative "works of the flesh" (5:19-21), as were possibly reported to Paul as occurring within the Galatian churches. Both legalism and license lead to the violation of our teleological freedom to be all that God intends us to be by the expression of His character, as they foster the self-effort and self-seeking of our "flesh" patterns. Instead of the humility that is the character of Christ (cf. Phil. 2:3-8) because it recognizes man's place in reference to God and accepts that it is not what we do but what He does that is of value, the "flesh" prompts the "empty conceit" (cf. Phil. 2:3) of pretentious, haughty, arrogant pride, a self-inflated sense of one's own importance, which religiously becomes "spiritual pride." Such boastful pride leads to competitive power-plays and challenges of provocation concerning belief-systems, morality standards, personal position, etc., as well as grudging resentment of another's success, prosperity or position. The "one another" phrases that Paul employs indicates that he is emphasizing the interpersonal relationships that should exist among Christian peoples. The humility and acceptance, harmony and unity, that should be indicative of collective Christian behavior when Christians are "through love, serving one another" (5:13) and "bearing one another's burdens" (6:2), is so quickly perverted when they "bite, consume, and devour one another" (5:15), "challenge and envy one another" (5:26), manifesting the divisive "works of the flesh" (5:19-21) that misrepresent the Body of Christ. Paul will continue to consider the interactive relationships of Christians within the Church community in the verses that follow (6:1-10).
Contrary to the Judaizers' inevitable attempts to interpret Paul's gospel of grace and freedom as an opening for antinomian license, Paul explains in these verses that our teleological freedom is to lovingly serve one another as Christians by the dynamic empowering of the Spirit. Only thus are we free to function as God intended man to function, and unto His glory.
As important as the gospel of the indwelling life of Jesus Christ is, we must not develop an inordinate focus on "Christ in me" to the extent that it negates the other-oriented essence of God's love expressed as "Christ in me for others." It would be a self-oriented gospel that merely concerned itself with the benefits of Christ in me, apart from the beneficence of Christ in me, through me, unto others. If the consistent demonstration of "walking by the Spirit" (5:16,25) is not "Christ in me for others," then there is no validity in asserting "Christ in me," for the character of Christ is love (and the correlative "fruit of the Spirit" - 5:22,23), actively expressed for the sake of others. The consistent expression of the character of Christ in the Christian must be consummated in loving expression that "serves one another" (5:13). Jesus explicitly declared that He "did not come to be served" (Matt. 20:28), but was "among us as One who serves" (Lk. 22:27), and He continues to manifest the same unchangeable loving character of service to others in Christians today.
That the living Lord Jesus wants to manifest His character of love, and is competent to do so by His Spirit, is an important emphasis of this passage. We have noted that the action of the Spirit is the greater power that supersedes the propensities of the flesh (cf. 5:16). Dutch theologian, Herman Ridderbos, has explained that "the dominant viewpoint under which Paul views the Christian life is not the continuing onslaught of the flesh on the Christian, but the power of the Spirit which enables him to win the victory over sin."1 This is consistent with Paul's statement to the Romans: "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death" (Rom. 8:2). Much of the teaching within Christian religion has tended to emphasize the Christian's inability, his weakness, and the sinful tendencies of the "flesh," advocating sin-consciousness, brokenness, confessionism, and legalistic, suppressionistic encouragements to "die to self." When these emphases predominate, you can be sure that an old covenant religion of Christianized Judaism has been reinstated, and the Judaizers are just as active today as they were in Galatia. The new covenant emphasis of Paul's gospel of grace and liberty recognized the sufficiency of the "finished work" of Jesus Christ to overcome the power of sin and to cause us to be all that God intends by the manifestation of His life and character (cf. II Cor. 4:10,11). This is not a theology of passive perfectionism or transcendent triumphalism, but a recognition of Christus Victor2 and the sufficiency of God by His Spirit in the Christian life and community.
Another applicable observation can be made by noting Paul's collective or corporate emphasis on "serving one another" (5:13), as contrasted with "biting and devouring one another and consuming one another" (5:15), or "challenging one another and envying one another" (5:26). These, in addition to the obviously interactive behaviors of the "works of the flesh" (5:19-21) such as enmities, strife, jealousy, disputes, dissensions, factions, envyings, etc., indicate that misrepresentative character and behavior is often exhibited in the collective social context of religion. Whether or not Paul was reacting to reports of such in the Galatian churches, personal and historical observation makes it apparent that such attitudes and behaviors are rampant in religion, whether legalistic or libertinistic, whether conservative or liberal. Religion will never generate or engender love! Religion has long been the fertile ground of immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, drunkenness, carousing, etc. (5:19-21), as well as boasting, challenging, envying (5:26), and back-biting, devouring (5:15) behaviors. Only when Christians individually and collectively recognize their freedom to love and serve one another (5:13) by the dynamic grace of God's Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, will we fulfill God's intent and present a witness of God's character to the world around us.
Herman, Paul: An Outline of His Theology. Grand Rapids:
Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1975. pg. 272.