The opening words of verse 16, “but this I say,” signals that what Paul is about to say regarding the Spirit and the flesh is instruction aimed at a specific problem in the Galatian church. Looking back to verse 15, Paul exposes a situation of conflict in the congregation which was tearing the church apart. Congregational conflict was illustrative of the flesh at work and to counter the devastating consequences of strife generated by the flesh Paul proposes the way of walking in the Spirit.
A command stands at the outset of verse 16: walk in the Spirit. The necessity of walking in the Spirit is highlighted by the fact that deep down in the soul of every believer is the antagonistic work of the flesh. This internal opposition between the flesh and the Spirit leaves the believer in a perpetual state of spiritual tension. The solution to this state of spiritual conflict is to walk by the Spirit in order to not fulfill the desires of the flesh.
As Paul begins to unfold the degenerate works of the flesh, he begins by putting a spotlight on sexual sins. The sexual ethic proclaimed by Paul and the rest of the NT writers took aim at the degradation of the Greco-Roman world. This culture was so awash in sexual immorality that one writer claimed that “chastity” was the one new virtue which Christianity introduced into that world and that the gift of the gospel to the men of that era was the hope of living in sexual purity. The contextual setting of the exposition of these fleshly works of sexual sin indicates that underneath the surface of this kind of gross sexual immorality are religious and philosophical commitments. Addressing those false religious and philosophical commitments, Paul proposes a counter religious perspective spelled out in the dominant theme of the whole textual unit beginning in verse 16: walk in the Spirit. The Biblical and Christian answer to living in sexual immorality is self-control which is a gracious fruit worked in the heart of the believer by the Spirit of God.
As Paul moves forward in expounding upon the grotesque works of the flesh he spotlights religious sins, idolatry and sorcery. Both sins share the peculiar quality of seeking to place trust in something other than the true and living God. A Biblical understanding of idolatry and sorcery requires that believers make a careful examination of their hearts and lives in order that they might root out and kill such sins.
In previous verses, Paul indicated that the Galatian congregation was being torn apart by strife, and for that reason, he expounds the works of the flesh in order to expose sin and call for repentance. This list of 8 works of the flesh most specifically addresses the problem of congregational conflict. Two main categories expose these sins of animosity: attitudes and actions. Paul expounds 4 fleshly attitudes and 4 fleshly actions which betray animosity in the heart and which form the roots of congregational and interpersonal conflict.
As Paul wraps up his unfolding of the works of the flesh, he comes to the sins of intemperance, drunkenness, and carousing. Though both sins include the excessive use of alcohol, important distinctions exist. Drunkenness is the use of alcohol or drugs to the point that one loses self-control (moral, physical, emotion, spiritual control), while carousing is excessive drinking in public settings with the intent to engage in other kinds of immoral behavior. The sobering thought Paul uses to reinforce the warning and prohibition against such sins is found in the concluding clause of verse 21 that those who practice such sins will not inherit the kingdom of God.
As Paul transitions from the works of the flesh to the fruit of the Spirit, he begins with so-called “foundational graces.” The first fruit of the Spirit listed is the fruit of love. Like the rest of the fruit, the fruit of love is supernatural, sovereingly placed in the heart simultaneously with all the spiritual fruit by the Spirit of God. All believers have had the love of God poured out in their hearts at regeneration and therefore all believers are duty bound to exercise this gift in service to God and their neighbor.
The world thinks joy is a feeling, a dopamine uptake, or something that one experiences in ideal circumstances. A Biblical understanding of joy is quite different. Scripture teaches that joy is not about circumstances or feelings, rather, it is the soul’s delight in God. This message explores a Biblical understanding of joy and shows how it is mediated by the Spirit through the word.
The spiritual fruit of peace is nothing less than divine peace. This divine administration of peace is grounded in the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. Being reconciled to sinners through the blood soaked cross, God mediates His very own peace to believers by the operation of the Holy Spirit. When this divine peace takes up residence in the soul of the believer it puts order in their lives and calls them to pursue peace in all their relationships.
Transitioning from foundational graces to social graces, Paul lists “patience” as the fourth fruit of the Spirit. The word for patience means something like “long to anger” and refers specifically to the intentional act of restraining anger in the face of provocation. Patience, unlike “steadfastness” or “endurance,” has to do with people and social situations rather than to events or circumstances. By restraining anger in the face of provocation, redeemed sinners act in a god-like fashion since long-suffering is a divine quality (Ex. 34:6). When believers exercise patience towards one another, they engage in the kind of behavior which contributes to congregational unity and peace.
A popular bumper sticker, “practice random acts of kindness” seems to promote an action in common with Scripture. On closer inspection, it is clear that Biblical kindness is very different than humanistic kindness. At the heart of the difference between these competing concepts is the thought that Scripture explicitly says that unbelievers are not “kind” (Romans 3:12) and that true kindness is manifesting the genuineness of Christian sonship by conforming to the ethical pattern of conduct displayed by the Heavenly Father who is kind to ungrateful and evil men (Luke 6:35).
Faithfulness is a Christian virtue which can only be produced and cultivated in believers by grace. The relationship between the virtue of faithfulness and Christian grace was stated powerfully by Albert Barnes who said, “True religion makes a man faithful. The Christian is faithful as a man.” This message expounds the meaning of faithfulness as a divine quality produced in the believer by the Spirit of God which is manifested in firm, reliable behavior.
The spiritual fruit of gentleness is often misunderstood to speak of a kind of spineless, cowering, wimpish behavior which calls upon the believer to be trampled upon like a doormat. However, gentleness, in its long history of use in the Greek language is associated with strength; indeed, Plato considered gentleness to be a virtue of the ideal warrior. Instead of calling upon the believer to manifest contemptible weakness, this virtue calls for firm composure in all situations. This virtue finds its ultimate expression in Jesus Christ who testifies that he is “gentle” (Matt. 11:29) and forms an essential element of Christian living.
One of the central virtues of the Christian life is self-control. Scripture speaks about this Christ-centered virtue in many ways. This message draws on passages from the Old and New Testaments demonstrating that it is an essential quality for Christian living and that it is a necessary mark of a maturing believer. The application section concludes the message with concrete instruction about how to cultivate self-control.
Capping off his exposition of the fruit of the Spirit, Paul concludes by closing the loop on his overall point when he says “against such things there is no law.” In speaking of the law abiding nature of these fruit of the Spirit, Paul returns to the doctrine of Christian liberty which initiated the unfolding of the radical spiritual antagonism between the flesh and the Spirit. Paul’s conclusion is that to walk in the fruit of the Spirit is to make proper use of Christian liberty. This liberty is used appropriately when believers who come to live by the Spirit actually walk in the Spirit by crucifying the lusts with its passions and desires and practice the righteousness of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.