Life in the Spirit, with its fruit (not fruits) – Wednesday, 28th Week in ordinary time – Galatians 5:18-25
We have often heard of the life in the Spirit seminars. If a preacher ever desires to break the word on this topic, chapter 5 of Galatians has enough course material for several powerful spiritual talks.
Paul fears that his readers are being distracted. The Judaizers are becoming a corrupting influence, like a little yeast that leavens the whole batch of dough. (Gal 5:9, I Cor. 5:6, cf also Matt. 16:6; Luke 12:1) Paul admonishes the false teachers of Galatia; they will pay ‘a penalty’ for their wrongdoing. He has borne much persecution due to these false teachers and for one who could not suffer fools easily, he adds a bit of humour to his anger. The Judaizers pushed the agenda of circumcision. Paul hopes for a little slip in the knife’ it is circumcision they desire, but will end up being castrated (verse 12)
Paul reiterates the issue of freedom he had broached earlier with the Galatians. He had insisted that freedom in Christ is freedom from the requirements of the Jewish law. Freedom is a tempting thing. It could easily be used to serve one’s self. Freedom, as opposed to the law, does not mean freedom with disregard to the law. It is not to be confused with the right to do whatever one wants. Paul is seeking to avoid a pendulum swing here to anarchy.
In 5:13, a few verses before the text of today, he sets parameters to this freedom; it is not freedom for self-indulgence (Greek “the flesh”), but rather “through love become slaves to one another” (Galatians 5:13). The gospel asks more, not less; for though it prescribes only one requirement, love for neighbour, that one is unqualified and its implications and cannot be specified in advance. Where freedom is not exercised in love it leads to mutual destruction.
Just as love is the proper context of freedom (verses 2-15), so the Spirit is its proper context, that by which love is empowered and guided. Paul says, we are led by the Spirit (vs18).Walking by the Spirit is opposite of “walking according to the flesh”. 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. Simply put, if we walk in the Spirit (instead of trying to live by the law), we naturally shall not fall for the lust of the flesh; fifteen sins which he lists in verse nineteen.
Walking in the Spirit is the key, but it doesn’t always come easily; 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. Now the works of the flesh are evident. Though it is an interior, invisible battle, the results are outwardly evident. We can’t ‘see’ the flesh, but we can see what it does. 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.
Against the works of the flesh is placed the fruit of the Spirit. It is interesting to note that while Paul used the plural in describing life after the flesh (works of the flesh), he uses the singular (fruit, not fruits, of the Spirit) to talk of the spirit. This fruit (singular) is the “full harvest of righteousness” (Phil 1:11) bestowed on those who live by faith. It is significant that love stands first in the list which describes the content of that life (cf. vs. 6). Love, joy, peace, etc. are not to be regarded as separable Christian virtues, for man does not achieve them by his own heroic effort, but receives them by faith. Paul is not speaking of a series of fruits that would be shared around, so that one believer has one and another believer is given another. Rather he is referring to a cluster, such that all the qualities are to be manifested in each believer. In the big picture, the Spirit has one work to do in all of us.
What then do we do with our flesh? Paul says (5:24) 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 . The cross reminds us of what Jesus did for us. 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.
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. It is easy to assume that because we are Christ’s we will always say and do the right thing. When we are conceited it definitely provokes other people. It will rub them the wrong way and be the source of many conflicts.
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.
St 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.