Galatians 5:16-26 Walk in the Spirit WC McCarter
Pastors and churches all across America have been attempting to diagnose the culture. They want to watch the trends and the various forms of media in order to see how they may either accommodate the culture or battle the culture. Yet, a passage like we find in Galatians five today is fundamental to understanding ourselves and the culture. We need to focus on our spiritual battle before we can take on the culture.
READ Scripture- This is the Word of God
The Command (16)
Verse 16 is a clear command to walk in the Spirit. In the NT, to “walk” means to live. It refers to a lifestyle commitment. Do we all sin? I believe so. I do not think anyone attains perfection in this age. We are only made completely perfect when Christ returns and we are glorified. So, we all sin from time to time and must ask forgiveness for it, but that does not mean that we live in our sins. The danger is found in a lifestyle of sin. The apostle says to, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” A person walks in either of two categories: the Spirit or the flesh. To walk in the Spirit is to submit to the will of God, obey His commands, pursue righteousness, and be changed from the inside-out. The Spirit has been sent forth from the Father and Son to indwell all Christians. He has come into our lives in order to regenerate us, that is, give us new birth and to put to death the deeds of the flesh, that is, to progressively make us holy. The Spirit longs for us to bear witness to Christ, and He enables us to live a life worthy of the calling we have in Christ Jesus.
The “flesh,” on the other hand, refers to the unredeemed nature. It is what has been called the Adamic nature, the sin nature, the unregenerated nature, and more. Thus, the “flesh” does not only refer to physical sins, but it refers to all those things apart from Christ. The apostle says that if a person walks in the Spirit he/she will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.
The Conflict (17-18)
How is it that walking in the Spirit keeps a person from fulfilling the lusts of the flesh? These two are in conflict with one another. You cannot walk in both. You either operate according to the Spirit or you operate according to the flesh. In verse 17 we find the explanation for our inner struggles. Do you feel from time to time that you are torn? Do you feel like you want to do what you know is right, and yet you do the complete opposite? Do you know why you cannot do what you want to do? It is because the flesh haunts you from the dead. Remember, Paul has said in 2:20 what is true of all believers, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. . . .” The old “ego” is dead. The old “I” has been put away. Yet, the old you haunts you from the grave so that Paul can say what he says in Rom 7:15-25 (turn there). Toward the end of his life the apostle said in 1 Tim 1:15, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”
You see, there is within us two agents operating, the Spirit and the flesh. These two are constantly battling it out inside us. This is the great Christian conflict. What you want to do, you don’t do; and what you do not want to do is exactly what you actually do. This is a frustrating thing, but it is the Christian life. Slowly but surely, we are conquering the lusts of the flesh. Day by day, we are suppressing the flesh so that one day we will have ultimate victory over it. This is the process of maturity. Do we attain sinlessness in this life? As I have already said, I do not believe so. Yet, I do believe that we can reach a certain level of Christian maturity when we do not sin very often or grievously. We can master the flesh to a certain extent in this life and that should be our goal. The problem is that so many Christians are not at war with the Adamic nature. We have to stop submitting to sinful and selfish desires and go to battle with those things. Do not let the sinful nature master you.
The last point that Paul wants to make before turning to the contrasts between the Spirit and flesh comes in verse 18. He says that those who are led by the Spirit are not under the Law. Why is that? Is the Law not necessary to keep the Christian in check? We do not need the Law because the Holy Spirit is our guide. He is the one who convicts us of sin, righteousness, and judgment. We do not need some external Law because we have the Spirit of God leading us internally to do those things which are right, good, and holy.
The Consequences of the Flesh (19-21)
We are obviously not free to fulfill the lusts of the flesh. Verses 19-21 give a lengthy list of the works of the flesh and conclude with “those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” The flesh can only produce things that do not lead us into the kingdom of God. What I see is that this list is the product of self-reliance. Those are truly our works whether we are “winging it” all through life or submitting to the Mosaic Law. The Law only makes these things known and condemns them with no remedy. There are at least four categories of sins here, those things pertaining to: sexual sins, religious sins, and also sins of culture and alcohol. Of course, this list of sins is not exhaustive, so he ends by saying “and the like.” If someone practices these things, that is, if they think that these things are acceptable, if they do not repent of such things, if they walk in these things, if any of these things become a lifestyle, then that person will not inherit the kingdom of God.
The Consequences of the Spirit (22-26)
In contrast, the Spirit produces all things that lead to life, namely love. The contrast here is between “works of the flesh” in v19 and “fruit of the Spirit” in v22. Two lists are given. The second list is the product of the Spirit working in us. These things are not by our doing. The fruit of the Spirit is singular which means that there is one fruit that the Spirit seeks to develop in us. So, the fruit of the Spirit is what? Love! “All of the other virtues listed result in some manner from love” (Longnecker). Now there is no doubt that love and the rest come by the working of the Spirit in us, but do not discount the individual responsibility each of us has. V25 says, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” or as the NIV says, “let us keep in step with the Spirit.” V26 is a final plea against Judaizer behavior in the church. If the Spirit is working then the things of the flesh will deteriorate, but if the things of the flesh persist then the church will deteriorate.
Conclusion and Christian Application
“1. I am not what I ought to be. Ah! how imperfect and deficient. 2. Not what I might be, considering my privileges and opportunities. 3. Not what I wish to be. God, who knows my heart, knows I wish to be like him. 4. I am not what I hope to be; ere long to drop this clay tabernacle, to be like him and see him as He is. 5. Not what I once was, a child of sin, and slave of the devil. Though not all these, not what I ought to be, not what I might be, not what I wish or hope to be, and not what I once was, I think I can truly say with the apostle, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’” --John Newton, Based on the words of 1 Cor 15:10, (Quoted from Letters by the Rev. John Newton, authored by Josiah Bull, p. 400).
We are not yet perfect, but we no longer operate in the flesh. Slowly but surely we are pressing on in the Spirit toward holiness.