Studies in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians
by Bob Burridge ©2017
Lesson 14: Galatians 5:16-26
Lives That Show God’s Glory
The idea that the Christian has a life of blissful ease that’s free from temptation is a dangerous myth. Christ doesn’t make us perfect on this side of heaven. We don’t automatically overcome all our sins and wrong ideas. God does not take away the pressures, hard choices, challenges, and pain, and we still try to find easy ways to deal with those things which aren’t always in agreement with God’s ways. We still have to battle temptations, self-centered attitudes, and disappointments.
That battle doesn’t end when we become a redeemed Christian. But there are things we can be doing here in this life while our Father makes us more fit for our home in heaven.
Paul begins this next section of his letter to the Galatians with an imperative verb, a command.
Galatians 5:16, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
That’s what we’re supposed to be doing: walking in the Spirit. It means we are told to go all through the day guided by God’s Holy Spirit.
Paul was aware of God’s promise in Ezekiel 36:27, “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” There in Ezekiel God tells us that he puts his Spirit into us, and he’s the one who causes us to walk according to the principles he’s taught us.
Obedience isn’t done to get God to put his Spirit in us. It’s what God produces in us when his Spirit is there. Any good we do is made possible by his grace. We don’t earn sonship in God’s family. No one is more deserving than another. We are all fallen humans – separated from God at conception by a barrier of sin. Our guilt offends God, and we are unable to repair that relationship by ourselves.
That’s why Jesus Christ came to die in our place. He paid the debt of his people’s sins, and credits them with his own perfect righteousness.
When we become believers, we don’t suddenly become righteous in our thoughts, words and actions. But God’s promise is that he puts the Holy Spirit in us. He makes our hearts know and trust his promises. He makes us able to do things that truly honor and glorify our Savior. The evil imperfection attached to all we do, is covered over by the righteousness of our Savior.
Yet at the same time, the Spirit creates a desire in us to make us want to obey and honor God. So for the believer who has the Spirit living in him,there’s this direct command. It’s not a one-time thing. The verb here is in a present tense form, so it means this should be an ongoing practice. We are to be “walking in the Holy Spirit.”
The flesh Paul’s talking about here is the way of our fallen human nature. It’s not the Dualism of the ancient philosophers that blames the physical body for everything. God made the material world to declare his glory, and to be enjoyed in a right and holy way. We are both body and soul, a physical part and a spirit part. When we neglect the spirit part we behave as if we’re just bodies, we live as if it’s all just the flesh.
If our physical pleasures and comfort are more important to us than the Spirit’s leading, we make excuses for sin, and miss out on that close fellowship with God.
An interpretive translation of Galatians 5:16 would be, “Be walking in the Holy Spirit. When you are guided by him you will be able to avoid being taken in by the lusts of your fallen nature.”
There’s a battle going on even in the redeemed soul.
17. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.
God’s word tells us how we should live as his children, but it’s the Holy Spirit who helps us understand his word, gives us a desire to obey it. He makes us able to do things truly centered on showing God’s wonder and power.
Since we’re not yet perfected in our obedience in this life, we often give in to our old ways and habits even though we know better and want better.
There’s a way to turn that battle around. The Holy Spirit is there to guide and enable us.
18. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
He guides you by applying God’s promises, not by making threats or impossible demands. That’s the contrast here. If you’re being led by the Spirit, then you’re not trying to merit God’s help by yourself. You are set free from that frustrating struggle to overcome by your own efforts. You can admit your weaknesses and failures without excuses.
You know that God’s law can’t be kept in our fallen condition. The law shows us what’s true and right to do, and shows us that we can’t measure up. So the law points us to what our Savior would accomplish on the cross. It helps us appreciate how he took our place and paid our eternal debt.
When we put our trust in the Living Savior, the Holy Spirit becomes our guide. Romans 8:14 says, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” Philippians 2:13 says, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”
By grace we are given the desire to obey. That’s an evidence of true redemption.
In our fallen condition, our lost soul has destructive attitudes.
19. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness,
20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies,
21. envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
These 15 things come from the corrupt heart. If they’re present, there’s no evidence of the Spirit’s presence. There’s nothing to show that we are children of God’s Kingdom. This negative evidence should alarm the believer. Believers in Christ have no business behaving this way. When they do they are driven to repent and ask for God’s help.
The Holy Spirit produces attitudes in us that bring glory to God and health to our souls. Paul lists these 9 things which are what the Spirit is there to produce in our lives.
22. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23. gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
1) Love is the first thing in this list of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus was asked what was the foremost of all the commandments in Matthew 22. He said in verses 37 and 39, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul,
and with all your mind.’ … and ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Then he added in verse 40, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 Paul lists 16 qualities of what God means by love: Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails …”
2) Joy is the next thing listed here as a fruit of the Spirit at work in us. God created us humans to be capable of experiencing what we call joy. Life should be an enjoyable experience that glorifies the Creator.
For those redeemed in Christ, that joy will be realized fully in eternal glory after our life here is over. But, by covenant, God promised that we can taste that joy now. Not that everything goes well, but that even in the hard times, there can be an inward joy in the Lord.
Jesus made it very clear that this is part of the blessings of belonging to him. In John 15:11 he said, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” Then in John 16:24 he said, “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” And in John 17:13 Jesus said, “But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.”
Several times the Apostle John wrote that one of the main goals of his letters was that the joy of his readers might be made full in Christ. (1 John 1:4, 2 John 12)
But just as you can’t get fruit from a dead plant, there’s no real joy without the Holy Spirit. It is part of God’s covenant promise to those made alive in Christ. Real joy can’t be realized unless it’s first implanted in you by God’s grace. The world can only simulate real joy. It becomes just a quest for it’s emotional effects. But the joy God promises to his children is the inward condition that produces those feelings. In Romans 14:17 Paul said, “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
3) This leads into the next evidence of the Spirit at work in you: Peace. This isn’t just freedom from war, threats, tragedies, or just uncomfortable things. It’s the confidence that we are held up through disruptive events by God’s loving comfort and care.
Isaiah 9:5 said that Jesus would be “the Prince of Peace”. Isaiah 53:5 explains how he would secure that peace for us. It says, “the chastisement for our peace was upon Him.” That is, he endured our agony, our chastisement, to secure peace for his people.
Colossians 1:20 says that Jesus, “made peace through the blood of His cross.” It was there that Jesus paid for the sin that separated His people from God. When talking about the reconciling work of the blood of Christ, Ephesians 2:14 says, “… He himself is our peace…” This peace is that inner comfort, confidence and tranquility that the Holy Spirit can produce in your heart.
4) The Holy Spirit also helps us to be longsuffering. Some translations say “patience”. That’s a very close synonym.
Patience and longsuffering often appear together in God’s word. Patience is that “general ability to endure the passing of time while waiting for something.” When a person puts up with something for a long time”, it’s called “longsuffering”. This is part of “Practical Calvinism”. It’s “being satisfied with God’s wise providence, and confidently waiting for things to come in his good time.”
God isn’t only Lord in matters of eternity and salvation. He’s also sovereign in daily situations such as: traffic jams, long check-out lines, delays in appointments, delays in seeing justice carried out, anticipated surgeries, school exams, personal confrontations, business deals, and so on…
In Romans 12:12 when Paul commands patience in tribulation, he immediately adds “continuing instant in prayer.” We need God to work patience in us and to make us longsuffering. It’s not something you can do on your own. It’s that faith, that confident trust in God, that powers our efforts.
Psalm 27:14, “Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!”
5) The Spirit also makes us kind. The Greek word here is “chraestotaes” (χρηστότης). Lexicons define it by offering a list of English synonyms: “mildness, respectability, kindness, friendliness, goodness, honesty, hospitality, niceness, benevolence”. They all come close to the original meaning of this word.
Ephesians 2:7 tells us that it was God’s kindness that’s at the root of his grace toward us in Christ. It says, “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
We, as those representing God to the world, need to be kind too. A child once prayed, “Dear God, make all the bad people good, and make all the good people nice.” It’s sad to admit, but often true, that well intended people mistake winning arguments for winning hearts. One of Peter Marshall’s famous prayers, “O God, when I am wrong, make me easy to change, and when I am right, make me easy to life with!”
6) The Spirit produces goodness in us. The original Greek word used here is “agathosunae” (ἀγαθωσύνη). It literally means “something to be desired.” Even those who totally reject God’s word say they want what’s good, but they have wrong ideas about what “good” is.
An article in Liberty Magazine in October 1931 was written by a well known figure in American History. He attacked the dangers of communism, subversion, and graft in government. He said, “Virtue, honor, truth and the law have vanished from our life, we are smart-Alecky. We like to be able to get away with things. And if we can’t make a living at some honest profession, we are going to make one any way.” Who was that well known American? — he was the notorious gangster Al Capone!
His problem wasn’t that he hated good. His problem was that to him, “good” was whatever served his own interests. As long as everybody let him do what he desired and wanted to do, he was a strong supporter of law and order.
Al’s problem, like many today, is that he had no absolute standard for deciding what makes something good. When a moral principle got in his way, he would say that moral principle was no longer good. Isaiah 5:20 warns, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil”
God’s word tells us what good is. Those are the things the Holy Spirit makes us desire.
7) The Holy Spirit makes us faithful. The Greek word used here is “pistis” (πίστις). It can be translated as, “faith, faithfulness, or loyalty”. It’s that quality of unyielding dedication to and confidence in the promise of God.
In October, 1864 the Civil War was going through a bloody and costly stage. The Northern General Sherman was marching through the South. In Altoona in the mountains of Georgia north of Atlanta there was a small Union fort. General Corse was sent to defend it with troops to reinforce the garrison to 1,944 men.
Confederate General French surrounded the fort with a far superior army. When access to the fort was closed off, French asked the Union garrison to surrender. He said his offer would “avoid needless effusion of blood.” Union General Corse replied saying he was prepared for “the needless effusion of blood when ever it would be agreeable to General French.”
The huge southern force attacked with fury but were amazed at the strong resistance. The courageous and committed northern troops inflicted serious injury on the much larger and better equipped enemy.
But Union General Corse had seen something on a distant hill, that the confederates hadn’t seen. Signal flags appeared many miles away. It said, “Hold the fort. I am coming. Sherman.”
Corse’s confidence in his cause and commitment to his duty was strengthened by the assurance of relief troops on the way. Confident of victory, he stood faithfully in the face of the enemy.
When Philip P. Bliss heard the account of General Corse he wrote a hymn called, “Hold the Fort”. The lyrics are inspiring and profound:
Ho, my comrades, see the signal Waving in the sky!
Re-enforcements now appearing, Victory is nigh.
“Hold the fort, for I am coming” Jesus signals still,
Wave the answer back to heaven, “By thy grace we will.”
See the mighty host advancing, Satan leading on;
Mighty men around us falling, courage almost gone!
See the glorious banner waving! Hear the trumpet blow!
In our Leader’s name we triumph over ev’ry foe.
Fierce and long the battle rages, But our help is near;
Onward comes our great Commander – cheer, my comrads, cheer!
“Hold the fort, for I am coming” Jesus signals still,
Wave the answer back to heaven, “By thy grace we will.”
Where does our confident trust, our faithfulness to God and to others, come from? It’s produced in the believer’s heart as a fruit of the Holy Spirit – it’s a confidence in the promises of God, our signal flags on the distant hill.
8) God’s children should also be gentle. Some translations say “meek”. The original word here is “prautaes” (πραΰτης). It means “to be in subjection to something or someone greater”.
Gentleness toward others comes from understanding that we’re here to honor and live for God, not for our selves, not for our own glory and gain. Our attitude as believers should reflect that understanding of our place in God’s world. Rather than being argumentative, arrogant and self-defensive, we need the Holy Spirit to make us learn to be gentle. Proverbs 15:1 gives this simple advice, “A gentle answer turns away wrath”.
9) The last element of this Spirit-produced fruit is self-control. When God’s glory is put first in our lives, and we confidently and patiently trust in him above ourselves, we learn to have better control over our thoughts, words, attitudes and actions. 2 Peter 1:4-6 tells us to be, “… partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness,”
These 9 attributes are what the law prescribes but can’t accomplish. But that doesn’t mean we can’t realize these things in our lives.
24. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
26. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
If the source of our life is the Holy Spirit, then the Spirit ought to be leading us daily. This is the command of God to his children. We’re not living this way if we’re conceited, if we provoke others, or if we envy others.
So how do we win the battle? The first step toward this fruit is to be restored to fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. Without that redemption that comes by faith in his sacrifice for your sins, you won’t be able genuinely to produce this fruit in your life.
Rather than abandoning God’s way and trying to accomplish them on your own, use the tools God gives you. He promises to use his word to teach us the truth and to keep us from sin. He calls on us to pray that we would walk in the paths of righteousness for the sake of his name. He gave us the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper by which he helps us to grow in Christ-likeness. And he gives us a Christian family in the church to encourage and sometimes admonish us.
By these means, based on what Jesus did to save you, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, you can see your life, more and more, begin to yield this important crop of godly fruit as God by undeserved grace produces it in us.
(The Bible quotations are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.)