But I say, walk in [the way of] the Spirit and you will avoid gratifying the desire of the flesh. For [just as] the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, so also [the desires of] the Spirit is [are] against the flesh. These [are set to] oppose each other, preventing you from doing what you would do. But if by the Spirit you are led, you are not under Law. The works of the flesh are clearly manifest and they are: sexual immorality, uncleanness, obscenity, idolatry, sorcery, incitement, violence, jealousy, anger, rivalry, discord, division, envying, drunken brawling, and such like. I tell you, as I have said 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; there is no law against these things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its affections and desires.
     If we [now] live by the Spirit, then let us fall in line with Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provocation of one another, no envy of one another. - Galatians 5:16-26/transliteration by Bruce C Wearne

Path of light

PICTURE: Ray Fragapane/Unsplash

 

IN A NUTSHELL

Paul compares the fruit of the Spirit with the works of the flesh.

Recall that Paul is addressing a community of those believing in Jesus Christ - Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, male and female (3:27-28).

How was this letter received? Did the chairman of the church council receive it, make a judgment that it would cause waves and simply file it away? Should we be surprised if we were to discover that that had occurred in some instances?

It was not what Paul had intended but then the message itself, its radical and decisive turn, is something that generations of Christians have repeatedly filed away. By its tone, this was no "confidential report for leaders only".

This was a loud call to repentance, a decisive declaration that Christians need to turn from their foolish presumption - I imagine it was written with half a dozen copies sent to various locations throughout the Galatian region, each with Paul's own signature (see 6:11).

Of course, we don't know those details for sure, but what we do know is from what we have and what we have is a letter of Paul calling people back to the right path - the path of the Spirit of God who had spurred them to take the decisive step and believe in Jesus Christ crucified in the first place (3:1-5).

That constitutes the main thread or "underlying metaphor" of the entire letter. It is designed as a call those tempted to stray down the "weak and beggarly" path (4:9). Instead, Paul encourages the disciplined cultivation of the gifts of the Spirit (5:22-26).

The letter is thus a "roadmap to recovery" for those stepping out in the Spirit (3:1-5), those "on the way" (Acts 9:2, 19:9, 23, 24:22), among those who have allowed themselves to be waylaid (1:6).

As such, it is the latest Christian "update" of the Lord's covenantal promise to Abraham. These Christ- followers are the latest consequence of God's historic word - "Get going" (Genesis 12:1-3).

By all means, implies Paul, make Abraham your example - live by faith in the Promises of God. This is what Jesus had said to those who believed in Him (John 8:31-38), those who would be the true sons and daughters of Abraham, the people who continue in His word. They know the way of truth which discloses authentic freedom. In Christ Jesus the image of God in humankind is fully restored so that now the fruits of

God's Spirit can be lavishly harvested in our lives. That is what sends us on our way rejoicing. That is what the Lord earnestly covets in our lives.

But Paul has written because the Galatian churches were headed back on a path ignoring the Spirit's true leading. They were searching for righteousness by works of the law, adhering to a misunderstanding of the Mosaic code.

The zealotry they had decided to follow - literally "to convert back to" - involved the same old zealous desire to keep and record all the instances of Torah violation and mete out whatever appropriate redress was required. This would avoid any need for the flesh to be crucified with all of its passions. That, now, is how the believer - crucified with Christ - should consider his or her life. But on the "works of the flesh" path, that status is denied; even as the cross becomes our Heavenly Father's barrier to the fulfillment of such radically misplaced zeal.

If one believes the Messiah has come to turn passive Jews into zealous rulers of Gentiles, this will be the result. It will be a way of life in which every effort is made to prove one's worth by works of the law.

For those taking up Jesus' invitation to follow Him, the cross is the indispensable road-sign of God's grace on the Highway opened up by the Spirit of God's Son in our midst. It tells them in unmistakeable terms that they have been freed to walk by the same Spirit (5:16); they are led by the Spirit, they are now free (18).

To line up with "the ways of the cosmos" - STOIKEIA TOU KOSMOU - is to forget the breadth of God's ordinances and the purposes of Torah. It is to try to assure oneself of one's standing before God by avoiding God's own rescue work. His image-bearers are not left to fend for themselves. Instead, lives are to be filled with the Spirit's fruit, a foretaste of the final harvest, the glory to come. That is why the work of Jesus Christ indeed removes all claim to fame. Rivalry and competition is unveiled for the folly that it is.

The Spirit's path allows those following it to discover who we are, subverting those deep down instincts to self-conceit where we think that by our own efforts we are on the way to making something of ourselves (5:26 ref 6:3).

The problem here is not with the recognition that every last detail of our life derives from God's creation-order. Rather it is with the assumption that we can assure our own meaning by acting as judge and jury over our lives.

We are on the path because of God's personal blessing. It is not by our own efforts. We keep to the Spirit's path to experience Our Father's delight in what He brings to life in our lives. The fruit of the Spirit - that lovely list of human attributes - is nothing less than an early harvest of the Lord's delight that He earnestly looked forward to when He breathed into His image and planted a garden in Eden for His image-bearer so long ago (Genesis 2:8).

This is the way in which the desires and passions of the "workings of the flesh" are overcome - our life in Christ becomes the result of God's desire for our flourishing which He still earnestly seeks to cultivate (see James 1:18,25; 4:5). He keeps His promises all along the way.