Monday, June 06, 2011

Galatians Part 10: Paul defends the gospel (e)—2:15-6:16

B. Called to freedom—5:13-26

One of Paul’s central themes is that of freedom (2:4; 4:26, 31; 5:1). He did not define it practically before this point in his epistle, so now he moves toward defining what he means by freedom for Christians.

Image courtesy of Worshipping Christian
1. Do not let freedom lead to the desires of the flesh—5:13-15

5:13—For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another—Paul’s mention here of freedom is very similar to that in 5:1, but now he warns them not to allow this freedom to become an excuse for sinful behaviour. The opposite of legalism is antinomianism, the idea that since we are not under the Law that we are not under any law and can therefore live like we want, yet will be saved anyhow. Paul answered this question in Rom 6:15, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!” This shows a misunderstanding of grace. Paul also asked, “WHAT shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” Paul’s very obvious answer to this question is “no!”

Just because we are no longer under the Mosaic legislation does not mean that we have no law at all! “For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.” (Heb 7:12) The fact remains, we are not without law at all. We are under a new law. The law of Christ, based on grace. Under this law we do not work for our salvation by the things we do. We are saved by grace through faith. However, under this new law “He who began a good work in [us] will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:6) God is at work in our lives to sanctify us. Our walk with Christ WILL lead to a holier life as we are being sanctified by Him!

“We wholeheartedly agree that a Christian is not in any sense ‘lawless.’ Anyone who even suggests that we are pitting love against law and leaving Christians with only ‘subjective feelings’ to govern their life is being deliberately dishonest. The question is not ‘objective law versus subjective love’ as the rule to govern our life as Christians. We all agree that a believer's rule of life is clear objective laws or commandments. The heart of the issue is where the New Testament believer finds the full and final objective laws that are to govern his life and attitudes. The real question is this:

'Are the Ten Commandments as written on the tables of stone in Exodus twenty the highest standard of moral conduct that was ever given, or is the teaching of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount and in Holy Spirit inspired Epistles an even higher standard of moral conduct?'

This is the real issue: Is the teaching and authority of Christ merely equal to Moses or does He go beyond Moses and make higher demands that cannot be found in the Law of Moses? Do both the Sermon on the Mount and the New Testament Epistles contain ethical and spiritual demands that go beyond anything found in the Old Covenant law? Do, or do not, both our Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles insist that the New Covenant brings with it a new and higher set of objective laws and demands? The greater and final authority of our Lord Jesus Christ as the new and final Lawgiver is the heart of the issue! Who is really the ‘big man on campus’ in the conscience of a child of God living under the New Covenant--Moses or Christ? That is the one vital question!”1

5:14—For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF—The antidote in this case for possible antinomianism is service to one another in love. Since love is the fulfillment of the law, we will do good to consider others before ourselves. If our first thought is how we could do good to the family of God, then opportunity for the flesh will start being suppressed.

5:15—But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another—It is simple. Fight amongst each other and we will devour each other. We do not know what caused strife among the Galatians, but it probably was due to the Judaizers. Strife in any community will eventually lead to the disbanding of that community.

2. Walking by the Spirit will lead us away from the desires of the flesh—5:16-26

5:16—But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh—The remedy against the desires of the flesh is to walk in the Spirit. What does it mean to “walk in the Spirit?” It simply points to our conduct as the result of the Spirit in our lives. Back in 3:2 we discovered that we received the Spirit (salvation) by faith. Now Paul extends that idea by telling us to conduct ourselves in a way harmonious to the very gospel that we claim to have received. We received the Spirit (salvation) by faith; now walk by the Spirit (way of salvation) by faith.

5:17—For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please—The flesh is in constant conflict with the Spirit. In 3:3 Paul asked the Galatians, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” The Galatians started off as Christians by the work of the Spirit, how could they even conceive of completing the race by the flesh in following the law? Now, having learnt that the law had been done away with, it must still be understood that it does not mean that they can live in abandonment to the desires of the flesh! The flesh and the Spirit are opposed to one another. If we give in to the desires of the flesh, we may end up doing things we do not really want to do (Rom 7).

5:18—But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law—When we look at the contrast painted by Paul in chapter 3 of the Spirit over against the law, we can see that Paul by no means is speaking of a life of mysticism where we sit and wait until we hear God’s voice before we make a move! Opposite of living by the Law is living by the Spirit, and that is a life of walking in faith and grace as opposed to living by the law. Being led by the Spirit is to respond to the inward leading of the Spirit in faith and obedience. How do we know that we need to give to the poor begging in the streets? Do we wait for the “still small voice” to tell us, or do we give because we already know that the Bible has instructed us to do so? In the leading of the Spirit we will recognize situations around us that have already been told us in the Scriptures.

5:19-21—[19] Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, [20] idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, [21] envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these—Next Paul goes into an incomplete list of things that are considered as “deeds of the flesh.”

Deed Greek Transliteration Meaning
immorality πορνεια porneia “every kind of extramarital, unlawful, or unnatural sexual intercourse,”2 prostitution, fornication
impurity ακαθαρσια akatharsia all moral uncleanness, refuse (garbage)
sensuality ασελγεια aselgeia living without any moral restraint, licentiousness or lustful tolerance, bad sexual behaviour, drinking too much alcohol
idolatry ειδωλολατρια eidōlolatria worship of idols
sorcery φαρμακεια pharmakeia using drugs for magical effects, sorcery, magic, magic arts
enmities εχθρα echthra hostility, hatred
strife ερις eris discord, strife, contention, quarrels
jealousy ζηλος dzēlos envy, jealousy
outbursts of anger θυμος thumos rage, wrath, anger
disputes εριθεια eritheia selfish ambition, strife, contentiousness, selfish disputes
dissensions διχοστασια dichostasia division
factions ἁιρεσις hairesis choice, sect, heretics, dissension
envying φθονος phthonos envy, jealousy
drunkenness μεθη methē intoxication
carousing κωμος kōmos revelry or excessive feasting

Things like those listed above are not as a result of being demon possessed, but they are acts of the flesh. Paul even sees sorcery as an act of the flesh.

There are four groupings of deeds:

1. Sexual immorality – immorality, impurity, sensuality.
2. False religion – idolatry, sorcery.
3. Bad conduct to other humans – enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying.
4. Excessiveness – drunkenness, carousing.

of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God—Paul warns the Galatians that those who habitually live in sin give evidence of never being saved at all. Those who as a part of their character continually practice such sins are not Abraham’s seed.

5:22-23—[22] But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, [23] gentleness, self-control—Having shown us what are reckoned as “deeds” of the flesh, Paul now informs us what the results are when we have received the Spirit. “The term ‘acts’ [‘deeds’ v21] already has definite overtones in this letter. It refers to what a human being can do, which, in the case of the works of the law (2:16; 3:2, 5, 10), has already been shown to be inadequate. The fruit of the Spirit, made possible by the living relationship between the Christian and God through Christ (cf. 2:20; Jn 15:1-7).”3 The word “fruit” in the Greek is in the singular, stressing the unity of these segments of the same fruit. It is like cutting open an orange and looking at the different segments inside. Each segment is not a different fruit, but rather a piece of the whole. “[4] Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. [5] I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:4-5) These segments of the fruit of the Spirit are evidence of the presence of the Spirit in one’s life.

The fruit can be classified into three groups:

1. Spiritual virtues – love, joy, peace. These focus Godward.
2. Social virtues – patience, kindness, goodness. These focus outward socially.
3. Personal virtues – faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These focus internally on personal character.

against such things there is no law—Since these virtues are the product of the Spirit, the law cannot oppose them. The law was given to restrain evil, and there is no evil in the fruit of the Spirit.

“The aspects of the fruit of the Spirit advocated by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23 occur not only here but also elsewhere in the Scriptures. Most of the attributes are those by which God himself lives.”4

Aspect5 Greek Number6 Definition Attribute of God Attribute for Christians
love 26 sacrificial, unmerited deeds to help a needy person Ex 34:6; Jn 3:16; Ro 5:8; 1Jn 4:8, 16 Jn 13:34-35; Ro 12:9-10; 1Pe 1:22; 1Jn 4:7, 11-12, 21
joy 5915 an inner happiness not dependent on outward circumstances Ps 104:31; Isa 62:5; Lk 15:7, 10 Dt 12:7, 12, 18; Ps 64:10; Isa 25:9; Php 4:4; 1Pe 1:8
peace 1645 harmony in all relationships Isa 9:6-7; Eze 34:25; Jn 14:27; Heb 13:20 Isa 26:3; Ro 5:1; 12:18; 14:17; Eph 2:14-17
patience 3429 putting up with others, even when one is severely tried Ro 9:22; 1Ti 1:16; 1Pe 3:20; 2Pe 3:9, 15 Eph 4:2; Col 1:11; Heb 6:12; Jas 5:7-8, 10
kindness 5983 doing thoughtful deeds for others Ro 2:4; 11:22; Eph 2:7; Tit 3:4 1Co 13:4; Eph 4:32; Col 3:12
goodness 20 showing generosity to others Ne 9:25, 35; Ps 31:19; Mk 10:18 Ro 15:14; Eph 5:9; 2Th 1:11
faithfulness 4411 trustworthiness and reliability Ps 33:4; 1Co 1:9; 10:13; Heb 10:23; 1Jn 1:9 Lk 16:10-12; 2Th 1:4; 2Ti 4:7; Tit 2:10
gentleness 4559 meekness and humility Zec 9:9; Mt 11:29 Isa 66:2; Mt 5:5; Eph 4:2; Col 3:12
self-control 1602 victory over sinful desires Pr 16:32; Tit 1:8; 2:12; 1Pe 5:8-9; 2Pe 1:6

5:24—Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires—Paul reminds the Galatians that when they came to Christ, they repented of their evil works with its passions and desires. This can be described as repentance. They have turned their backs on such deeds as can be produced by the desires of the flesh.

5:25—If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit—Since the Spirit brought new life to the believers, they also need to walk by that same Spirit.
“According to his usual custom, the apostle draws from the doctrine a practical exhortation. The death of the flesh is the life of the Spirit. If the Spirit of God lives in us, let him govern our actions. There will always be many persons daring enough to make a false boast of living in the Spirit, but the apostle challenges them to a proof of the fact. As the soul does not remain idle in the body, but gives motion and rigour to every member and part, so the Spirit of God cannot dwell in us without manifesting himself by the outward effects. By the life is here meant the inward power, and by the walk the outward actions. The metaphorical use of the word walk, which frequently occurs, describes works as evidences of the spiritual life.“7

5:26—Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another—Walking by the Spirit has practical results. It leads us to “not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.” Spiritual pride by those who think they have it made, since they “walk” in the Spirit, is shown by Paul not to be walking by the Spirit at all.

End Notes

[1] Reisinger, John, But I say unto you, Chapter 7, book is available online at
[2] Friberg, Timothy & Friberg, Barbara & Miller, Neva F., Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2000, p323.
[3] Barker, Kenneth L. & Kohlenberger III, John R., Consulting Editors, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, Volume 2: New Testament, Premier Reference Series, An Abridgment of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1994, p741.
[4] Barker, p742.
[5] Barker, p742. The table here is supplied by Montgomery in Barker.
[6] The numbers provided by Montgomery in Barker are based on:
Kohlenberger III, John R., Goodrick, Edward W., Swanson, James A., The Greek English Concordance to the New Testament with the New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1997.
[7] Calvin, John, The Commentaries of John Calvin on the Epistle to the Galatians, From the Calvin Translation Society edition found online at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL).

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