LifeWay Explore the Bible Series for July 13
Freedom brings possibilities and responsibilities
By Jim Perkins
Madison Hills Baptist Church, San Antonio
Freedom brings possibilities and responsibilities. Citizens enjoy the freedoms we have inherited and also the responsibility to engage every opportunity for service to his or her fellow citizens. Our greatest challenge, perhaps, is to know where and how best to invest our lives and energies to become this type of citizen.
The Galatian Christians faced a similar challenge–they had gained freedom from the obligation to observe the law in order to be justified before God. They still faced the opportunity and responsibility, however, to fulfill God's perfect spirit and intent of the law by serving one another in love (5:13-14). Paul addressed how that could be accomplished in 5:16-18.
Paul's simple and yet profound solution is introduced in verse 16–“live (literally “keep on walking”) by the Spirit,” which means to live with your conduct directed and energized by the Spirit. As they were guided and directed by the Holy Spirit they would not be distracted or tripped up by the designs of the Judaizers or the libertine tendencies of their “sinful natures.”
This address by Paul is to the Christian community, and in verse 17 he described the ongoing conflict–a veritable war–in the life of the believer. This is no evenly matched struggle between the flesh and the Spirit, however, for the Christian following the leadership of the Spirit will experience victory in this intense and unrelenting conflict.
Paul chose to include two lists in this discussion of life by the Spirit. This first list (5:19-21) is a catalog of vices chosen because by their very nature they could provide an appropriate example of the “acts of the sinful nature” (literally “works of the flesh”) Paul insisted could not be a part of the Christian's life.
While we do not have the space here to define and discuss each vice listed, two aspects of this list should be noted. First, lists of vices and virtues were common in the ethical literature of Paul's day. The apostle did not attempt to replicate those lists in his letter or to provide an exhaustive list of all probable vices–he admits to that impossibility in verse 21–“and the like” (or, “I could go on and on”). Instead, perhaps Paul chose to include many of the acts of moral rebellion against God that were prevalent in the Galatian communities, especially as pertained to their present situation where the activities of the Judaizers had prompted infighting (5:15).
Second, Paul closes this section with the forceful warning of verse 21: “Those who live like this” will be excluded from the kingdom of God. One should not interpret this as a reversal of Paul's position in chapters one through four (salvation by faith in Christ alone). See this, instead, as a statement of the obvious: One who chooses daily to walk according to the flesh and habitually perform the acts of the sinful nature demonstrates that his or her life is not marked by the new life of Christ within (2:20; also 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 19-20).
The list of the works of the sinful nature Paul included seemed to scatter in a chaotic dispersion of life decayed and separated from God. The list of the “fruit of the Spirit” (note the singular) in verses 22 and 23 represents the life of the Spirit in the believer, which causes remarkable virtues or graces such as these to flow naturally as an outcome of the Christian's life. It is not surprising that Paul chose to list love (agape, or God's type of love) first here, for some would suggest that it is the fountain from which the other graces flow.
Paul's statement in verse 23 that “against such things there is no law” does not mean that he researched the matter and found no law against the fruit of the Spirit. Here we deal with that which is not prescribed or proscribed by any law; instead, it is the natural outflow of the presence of the risen Christ.
Remember here also that Paul probably did not intend for this list of graces to be exhaustive (note the “such things” of verse 23). Instead, see it as representative of the results of belonging to Christ and crucifying the sinful nature.
Paul returned in verse 25 to the indicative/imperative construction with which he began chapter 5. The very life we live is because of the presence of the indwelling Spirit; therefore, we must “keep in step” (march in line) with the Spirit. Living by the Spirit is the inner reality, then, while walking by the Spirit is the outward manifestation of that reality. Again, the life-giving root for life is the presence of the Spirit, while walking daily by the Spirit is the fruit that results from that life.
Life in the Spirit will have a practical, ethical outcome in everyday life. Still cognizant of the strife mentioned in verse 15, Paul now exhorted the Galatian believers in verse 26 to forsake the jealousy, envy and divisiveness of the sinful nature and instead allow the fruit of the Spirit to grow in the midst of their fellowship(s).
Questions for discussion
This section of Scripture speaks to Christian discipleship. What spiritual disciplines would you need to include daily in your life to grow in your discipleship to Christ?