When Paul urges us to walk by the Spirit in Galatians, what does he mean? Paul argues we don’t need the Law to keep us from pursuing sin. We have something better. We have the Spirit of God teaching us to pursue goodness.
Chapter 1: Paul introduced two of his three key themes: 1) his apostolic authority and 2) the gospel of justification by faith alone. Paul claimed you can recognize the true gospel by its substance (grace based on the cross of Jesus Christ); its source (divine revelation).
Chapter 2: Paul argued he learned the gospel through revelation from Jesus Christ. He reviewed his biography to prove that he had no chance to learn the gospel from the other human beings. Yet the other apostles confirmed he preached the same gospel.
Chapter 3-4: Paul gives five persuasive arguments for justification by faith alone.
Chapter 5: Paul encouraged them to stand firm in the gospel and then begins a series of five exhortations.
In this final section from 5:13 to the end, Paul gives a series of four exhortations, closing with his final thoughts in 6:11-18.
- Galatians 5:13-24—Paul exhorts them not to use freedom as an excuse to indulge in sin.
- Galatians 5:25-6:5—Paul exhorts them to humility and loving others.
- Galatians 6:6-8—Paul exhorts them to invest in the truth.
- Galatians 6:9-10—Paul exhorts them to pursue doing what is good.
13For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. 16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For 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. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy, 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. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. – Galatians 5:13-24
- The Judaizers teach that if we aren’t required to obey the Law, then we’ll return to a life of hedonism and debauchary.
- Paul counters we don’t need the Law to restrain us from evil, because now we have something better: the Spirit of God at work in our lives.
- Most often when Paul speaks of “the flesh” he means everything we are apart from God, i.e. the moral condition of fallen people apart from any work of God.
- “To walk by the flesh” is pursing holiness with my own resources and self-effort.
- “To walk by the Spirit” is to count on God to make me holy through the work of His Spirit.
- Paul’s first exhortation is don’t use freedom from keeping the Law as an excuse to pursue evil. Instead, serve one another through love.
- Paul contrasts two different responses to not being under threat from the Law. 1) I could use that freedom as an excuse to be selfish. Or I could use that freedom to treat others as I would wish to be treated. We are free to treat others with love because we are secure in our inheritance from God.
- The Spirit can curb your natural inclination to evil in a way Law-keeping never could.
- We don’t control the Spirit. We can’t manipulate him into transforming us. His hands are not tied until we pray the right prayer (John 3:7-8). The Spirit is like the wind, an invisible force we can’t control, but we see its effects.
- The natural inclination of unredeemed humanity and the direction of the Spirit are opposites.
- If we take the work of the Spirit of God seriously, we are not free to just do whatever we want to do. We don’t have a license to sin. The Spirit teaches us to flee from sin and run the opposite direction because we are seeking the things of God.
- In this list (Galatians 5:19-21), Paul gives examples of the kinds of things the Spirit teaches us to flee from. These behaviors do not put you beyond the mercy of God, but they ought to make you seriously evaluate the direction you are heading.
- The Law is like a thermometer. A thermometer tells me I am sick, but it doesn’t make me well. Trying to follow the Law shows me I have a problem, but it won’t make me the kind of person described on this list. Only the Spirit of God can do that.
- To be crucified with Christ is a metaphor for repenting and making that about face.