Galatians 5: 13 – 26 Life by the Spirit
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one commandment: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like. I warn you as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
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When I was studying the passage on Friday (Galatians 5: 1 – 12), I was very powerfully shown the core of Paul’s belief, the gospel that he preached. I will repeat here the three sentences that struck me most forcefully:
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,”
“For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.”
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
In today’s passage Paul feels that he must make it clear that liberty does not mean licence; he’s not contradicting yesterday’s wonderful revelation, but he knows that it could be misunderstood.
He uses the metaphor of the opposition of the flesh and the Spirit, and writes, “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.” When he says this, I don’t think he means we shouldn’t enjoy the world. After all, God created the world and saw that it was good. Jesus participated fully and joyfully in human life – his first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana. In the present day, many people are moved towards God by the beauty of his creation, and human love can give a wonderful foretaste of heavenly love.
If we look at Paul’s list of the acts of the flesh – “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like” – we see they are a list of basic human drives. If someone puts them first, ahead of the prompting of the Holy Spirit, then they will harm others and themselves. We need to be ever aware of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and give his promptings priority over our own human desires.
It would be a mistake to take Paul’s list as a list of rules; it is a list of examples of behaviour that results from giving priority to the desires of the flesh. Paul is saying, ‘If you behave like this, you are not living according to God’s will.’ It’s not a list of rules, because you cannot use it to achieve righteousness, which is exclusively God’s gift.
Paul includes another list. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Again, this is not a list of rules. It is what happens when you listen to the Holy Spirit and allow him to guide you in doing God’s will. These are, as Paul says, the fruits of the Spirit. If somebody is displaying these characteristics, then the Holy Spirit is working in them and through them. Don’t strive self-consciously for the fruit. Just listen to the Holy Spirit and act as he suggests.
Thank you for your love. Thank you for your grace that brings the righteousness for which we hope by faith. Thank you for the fruits of the Spirit in our lives.
Please inspire everyone who reads this blog post to listen obediently to the Holy Spirit, and to experience his fruits more and more.
In Jesus’ name, Amen