posted on Mar, 18 2016 @ 06:03 PM
The epistle to the Galatians is the text which Browning’s monk “in a Spanish cloister” was hoping to use to tempt his enemy into heretical
Certainly this letter stands out among the letters of Paul as presenting the contrast between Faith and legalism.
Paul fears that the Galatians are being tempted to rely upon obedience to the Law in their approach to God, which would undermine their
reliance upon faith.
So he warns them that subjection to the Law is a state of slavery, and they should not allow themselves to return to that bondage.
The chief hazard of this line of argument is that it appears to leave them free to do anything they like, however immoral it might be by the old
Many people have been quick to criticise Paul’s teaching on those grounds.
Others have been willing to take advantage of any excuse to abandon moral standards.
One traditional solution is the assumption that only the “ritual law” is affected, while the moral side of the Law, and especially the Ten
Commandments, remains intact.
However, there is no support for this distinction in the words of Paul.
Luther’s formula in this connection is that “Faith governs the conscience, Law governs the body”, but this is much less radical than the answer
Paul supplies himself;
“But now we are discharged from the Law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code BUT in the new life of
the Spirit”. –Romans ch7 v6
In other words, the rule of the Law has been displaced, and replaced by the presence of the Spirit.
Insofar as we continue to avoid things like theft, adultery, and murder, this is no longer under the command of the Law, but under the guidance of the
In the second part of the fifth chapter, Paul explains in more detail the difference between the guidance of the Spirit and the behaviour of the
flesh, which the Law was originally designed to curtail.
He observes in v6 that “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but Faith working through love”.
After digressing to another personal appeal, he picks up this point again in v13.
“You were called to freedom”; that is, freedom from the Law.
But they should not allow this to be an opportunity for “the flesh” to do whatever it likes.
(So if the flesh is not to be controlled by the Law, it must be controlled in some other way.)
This has a bearing on their behaviour towards each other (vv14-15).
For the Law, in the sense of what God really wants from them, is both summed up and fulfilled in the one command or “word” that “You shall love
your neighbour as yourself”.
This means that they should be loving one another and serving one another rather than “biting and devouring one another”.
This will be a key element in the difference
between Spirit and flesh, which have completely contrasting natures (on opposition which runs through Paul’s letters, constantly).
They oppose each other in action (vv16-18). It is the nature of the flesh to lead people away from what the Spirit wants them to do. It is the
function of the Spirit to lead them away from what the flesh wants them to do.
So it is incumbent upon us to refuse to gratify the desires of the flesh.
We will do that if we “walk by the Spirit”. This metaphor refers to the continuous movement of our lives. The Spirit is not a single detached
event, but an on-going influence over the way we conduct ourselves.
And he wants us to understand that being “led” by the Spirit in this way takes away the necessity of coming under the commands of the Law. They
are two different ways of guidance.
Then he explains the difference between the effects of the flesh and the effects of the Spirit (vv19-23)
“The flesh” means the natural state of humanity, since the original falling away from God.
Paul refers to the behaviour which the flesh promotes as “the works” (TA ERGA) of the flesh. Of course this brings to mind “the works of the
Law”, which he’s already condemned.
The point is that both sets of “works” are ineffective in promoting righteousness.
There is a list of “works of the flesh”, which is not intended to be exhaustive.
They fall into two groups.
The first group illustrates the behaviour which divides us from God. “Fornication, impurity and licentiousness” have that effect because they
offend against his established preference for the stable married relationship.
Idolatry and sorcery are examples of breaches of the first commandment.
In the second group, we find examples of the kind of behaviour which divides us from each other.
They include “strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness”. “Party spirit”, of course, is the spirit which divides people by promoting parties or
It’s worth noting that “drunkenness, carousing and the like” are placed to fall into the second group.
There is no suggestion that the drinking of alcohol, as such, is an offence against God; it is the state of drunkenness which comes under
condemnation, because of its impact on the way we treat other people.
In contrast, the Spirit produces “fruit”.
This word will have been chosen because Paul did not want to talk about the “works” of the Spirit, or allow any suggestion that there were
“things to do” to achieve these effects.
Paul does not say “the fruits of the Spirit are”, though I’ve often heard it sung that way.
He writes “the fruit of the Spirit IS”.
There is one fruit.
The nine qualities which he lists are different aspects of that fruit.
There is no need to analyse them in detail.
They add up to a sweetness of character which promotes good relations both with other people and with God himself, illustrating the previous statement
that “love” is the fulfilment of the law.
They include “faith” and “self-control”, which would inhibit idolatry and adultery.
“The works of the flesh” are restrained by “the works of the Law”, but Paul observes that there is no need for law to act against these
qualities of the “fruit”.
He could have added that “law” does nothing to promote them either.
You won’t get the fruit of the Spirit by means of obedience to the written code.
Finally, Paul shows how the contrast between Spirit and flesh fits into the main body of his argument
He has already explained (ch2 vv19-20) that he “died to the Law” when he was “crucified with Christ”.
He now extends this by adding the thought that the believer “dies to the flesh” at the same time.
“Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh”.
The flesh and the Law go together, and the believer is freed from them both (v24)
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (v25).
Whatever gives us life must also continue to sustain us.
In the flesh, we “live by” the breath which God gave us at our birth, the spirit which he breathed into Adam. This is not just true for the
beginning of our lives, because we also “continue to walk” by the same breath.
In the same way, we now live in God “by the Spirit”, which gave us new life.
Therefore we need to “walk by the Spirit” as well; that is, continuing to live under its guidance.
The new life in Christ is to be a fresh start in every sense.