Galatians 5:16–26

Read the passage.

In most of Paul’s letters, he teaches theology in the first section and then instructs the readers in the practical application of that theology in their lives. The letter to the Galatians is no exception, and this is the turning point. “Because of all that I have just told you,” Paul could say, “always and continuously be doing these things.”

The first command he gives is to “walk by the Spirit”. The meaning of “walk” indicates a pattern of behavior or a lifestyle. “Spirit” is contrasted with “flesh” not because our phyiscal bodies are evil, as some Gnostics claimed, but because God is holy and we are not. Paul often uses “flesh” and “physical man” as a metaphor for our sin-cursed natures, but in other letters he affirms that we will get new, glorified, and still physical bodies when we are resurrected in Christ, just as He was. So then, if we pattern our lives according to the Holy Spirit, we won’t satisfy the evil urges of our old nature. Holiness and sin are opposed to each other, and they cannot dwell in the same place.

The list of sinful behaviors in verses 19–22 are, of course, not exhaustive. If the Judaizers heard them, they would be nodding along because they never would do such things. But then the middle of the list rolls up: “enmity, strife, jealosy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy…” and we can tell that they are condemned. Examine yourselves, beloved, and be certain you have nothing to do with these practices either. But if you do (spoiler alert: you certainly do), then repent of them and ask the Lord Jesus for forgiveness and His grace. And if you stubbornly think, “I can check off all of those; I’ve never done any of them,” then I point out the catch-all Paul puts at the end. Only God is good and sinlessly perfect; He is the standard we are measured against, not anyone else around you. Pay particular attention to verse 26.

The fruit of the Spirit list is well-known, and for good reason. I would like to say it is not an exhaustive list either, but I can’t come up with anything that wouldn’t fall under one of the existing items. Notice that unlike the works of the flesh list, none of the fruit of the Spirit are things you do. Instead, they are attitudes that you have while you are walking in the Spirit. This is because even “good deeds” can be done in the flesh, even such things as preaching (Phil. 1:15–17) and praying (Luke 18:9-14). Remember, we are to walk in the Spirit, which drives out the selfish desires and motivations of the flesh.

There is no one like You, holy and perfect.

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