By Dale Krueger
Prior to his Damascus experience, Paul was thoroughly immersed in the study of the Law. The Spirit of the living Christ so transformed him that he saw himself as even being “crucified with Christ” (2:20). Now he saw the Law from a totally different perspective. He proclaimed the evangelical message that had freed him from the burden of the Law. When the Galatians were in danger of being sucked back under the Law, Paul uses the rhetorical skills that were an integral part of his thought processes and his creative imagination to try to persuade the Galatians to stand firm in their freedom and not to submit again to the yoke of slavery (5:1). His evangelical imagination was truly inspired. One can imagine that his secretary could hardly keep up with the passionate outpouring of his words on the freedom given by the Spirit through the Gospel of Jesus the Christ.
Paul testified to the love that he had received through Christ (2:20) and how God sends the Spirit of Christ into believers (4:4-6). He spells out the implications of this love (5:6, 13-14) and admonishes the Christian with a half-command, half-promise (5:16). The Christian’s daily conduct is to be guided by the Spirit.
Within the believer, however, is still another power, the flesh (5:16). Although this word, “flesh,” has other meanings, here it means the inclination of the person to live an existence totally centered on the self. A constant battle goes on within the Christian (5:17a). “The flesh,” ever seeking self-gratification as a sufficient end in itself, is pitted against the Spirit, who empowers the believer toward loving service of others. The believer is “led by the Spirit” (5:18). When a person allows the flesh to dominate him, his lifestyle will give evidence of this (5:19-21a). The common feature in the sample list of vices is evident in the self-centeredness that underlies every item, for each work of the flesh reveals the attempt to live apart from God.
Lists of New Testament vices and virtues are indicative of catechetical instructions given in the early church. Paul reminds the Galatians of what he had previously had told them: “I predict, as I told you before, that they, whose lifestyles give continual evidence of these things, will not inherit the kingdom of God” (5:21b). The present tense of the verb refers to a lifestyle that is continually governed by “the flesh,” the drastic consequence of which is no inheritance of the kingdom of God. The Spirit of the Son, the kingdom of God, will be absent from those who lives are dominated by “the flesh.”
Paul now comes to the climax. “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patient endurance, gentleness, goodness, loyalty, meekness, a disciplined life” (5:22-24). The believer’s lifestyle is different from those who are governed by “the flesh.” The word “fruit” is a singular noun and that fruit is “love.” It is no accident of composition that love stands at the head of the list, for it is most distinctively Christian. Christians took over this little-used word and made it their own. Love is a deeply felt concern for others, an inward compulsion which turns the individual outward in service of others.
Paul intended that the rest of the list should be seen as expressions of the one all-embracing grace of love. For example, it is seen as the actions of the Christian to bring joy into the lives of others or to promote harmony among people or when he is patient with another who may even have injured him. The Christian will discipline himself so that the “fruit” will grow in service to others.
The “fruit of the Spirit” shows the effect of Christ’s death, for “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (5:24). Although the flesh has not been completely eliminated, the overwhelming presence of the crucified and resurrected Lord prevents the flesh from accomplishing its “works.” Faith grows in the believer as the Spirit of the crucified and risen Christ produces the fruit of love. Such is the life of Christian freedom.
Pastor Dale Krueger