Galatians 5:16-26

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Understanding And Applying the Text

Paul simply said to love our neighbor as ourselves. Like that is easy! Paul knows full well that neither we nor the Galatians can keep this law. We cannot love our neighbor as ourselves. We are sinners. So here Paul provides the solution. Paul says to walk in the Spirit follow His leading and fight against the flesh and its desires. Paul is not denying the doctrine of justification by faith alone nor that should we do good works.

When Paul says that the flesh and Spirit oppose or fight each other, he is restating what he wrote to the Romans.

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”

Romans 7:18

When Paul speaks about the flesh and Spirit warring he is not speaking to the unregenerate. They have no inner conflict. It never bothers their conscience when they sin. Instead, Paul is speaking here to the Christian.

If the flesh is the source of my desires, how am I to overcome these desires? I am, after all, flesh. Paul provides the answer “in the Spirit.” Christ alone can supply us with perfect righteousness. So we must always believe and hope in Christ.

“as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’”

Romans 9:33

When your desires are not pleasing to Christ do not despair. Rather rely on Him for righteousness not on yourself. When we rely on Christ for our righteousness the law cannot accuse us because He is without sin.

Paul enumerates some of the works of the flesh. First, he mentions various kinds of carnal lusts, such as adultery, and sensuality. But carnal lust is not the only work of the flesh. Paul also counts idolatry, witchcraft, fits of anger, and the like as works of the flesh. We can boil them all down to their most basic form, idolatry. We may not make statues, kneel before them, and pray to them. But every religion that worships God in ignorance or neglect of His Word and will is idolatry. Scriptural illiteracy is epidemic in the church today. Idolatry can put on such a good front. It can act very spiritual. The sham may go unrecognized.

When Paul refers to divisions he is referring to heresies. Heresies have always been in the church. But, the Word, faith, sacraments, service, Christ, and God, are common to believers.

The statement, “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” is a very hard saying. Who among us has not done almost all these things? But take heart Christ’s blood has covered us. And we have inherited His righteousness.

Paul also enumerates some of the fruits of the Spirit. Note these are the fruits of the Spirit. It is not your fruit. It is fruit the Spirit bears through us. That is, it is the Spirit’s fruit, not ours.

A true Christian is not a hypocrite. Yes, He is a sinner. He does not fear God as he should. Nor does he love God as he should. But he resists the things the flesh inclines him to do. He crucifies the flesh with its evil desire by walking in the Spirit.

Paul concludes this chapter with an admonishment against conceit. That is, we are not to provoke each other. Not are we to envy each other. Conceit or pride, as St. Augustine points out, is the mother of all heresies. Pride can be harmful anywhere but it is particularly poisonous when it gets into the Church. You may argue about knowledge, art, money, politics, and so on without doing any real harm. But when we quarrel about Christ’s work we harm the church. Those things are salvation or damnation, or eternal life and death. Does that mean we are not to confront error? No! Paul is confronting false teachers here in this letter. The false teachers had rejected the true doctrine of the gospel, that is, the doctrine of grace. They brought their version of the gospel. They confused the Galatians and caused quarrels among them. This goes to show that neither the false teachers nor the Galatians walked in the Spirit. The Gospel is not there for us to aggrandize ourselves. The Gospel is to aggrandize Christ and the mercy of God.

We fight the flesh because it is in opposition to the Spirit. And the Spirit aids us in overcoming the flesh. The phrase Paul uses is, “to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” This is a way of thinking that is completely foreign to our postmodern mindset. We believe we should be able to do what we want. That, we claim, is the essence of freedom. We even justify our evil desires by saying things like, “I am this way because God made me this way. If God did not want me to be this way, He would have made me differently.” The truth is, that what we want is the result of sin. We are the way we are because we are sinners.

The result of, loving your neighbor as yourself, is the commandment Paul is addressing. He lists several attributes or actions that are of the flesh and several that are of the Spirit. I read the list of things we are to oppose, “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” I am guilty of them all. I read the list of attributes I should have, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control,” I have none of these. I have promised God and resolved countless times to be a better person. But I never kept my promise. I have learned from experience that I cannot keep my promise to be a better person. It is only Christ in me that can change me. It is Christ’s life, not mine.

Trying to be more loving, patient, and kind will only bring frustration. You will fail. These are the fruits of the Spirit. Allow the Spirit to live through you and produce its fruit. The Spirit is truth and truth comes from the word of God.

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