I continue to be so convicted by a Bible passage that I memorized so many years ago…Galatians 5:22: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” It is a good verse, a key verse to my faith. A few years ago I did a personal study of this passage. What does it really mean to bear the fruit of the spirit; to truly live a life yielded to the Spirit of the Most High God.
I, like many mentors of mine, believe to my core that the transforming power of Christ is the key to true and lasting change in our world. But how…I realize that Christ’s death on the cross is sufficient for me to be right with God…but now what…The more I seek God, His Love and His Justice…the more my heart yearns to be close to Him… the more I realize in very practical terms that God’s Holy Spirit is key to continued transformation.
Now before I get an overwhelming chorus of “Duh” written in the comments section of this post…I urge you to read on. Most of us have been taught about the mystical, ethereal Spirit of our Most High God… I am discovering a Holy Spirit who is very real and accessible. A spirit who is close enough to whisper…and…even though I have only dug into this verse, just a little, I am already overwhelmed at this concept of Life by the Spirit.”
But I am getting ahead of myself…first…let’s unpack this verse a bit.
Survey of Galatians…
I started by reading the complete letter. I then took a closer look at the people of Galatia.
From my study I discovered that Paul wrote this letter to the Galatian church because they were moving down a path of legalism. Rather than choosing the “unadulterated path of grace” through Christ that brings about true life and the freedom to bear true fruit by the Spirit of God, they were sliding into being “enslaved by the law.” They had received the Spirit of God and yet were choosing to attain righteousness through human effort.
By the time Paul gets to the end of Chapter 5, He clearly separates the end result of human effort from a life yielded to the Spirit. He continues this contrast in Chapter 6 and ends his letter basically by stating that the works of the flesh don’t amount to much. What matters is the new creation that we are in Christ.
It is this new creation in Christ and the fruit that it bears through God’s own, “set apart” spirit in me that is so convicting.
It is with that conviction that I “set my heart on things above and not on this world” (Col 3:2). If I make any effort with my body at all, it would be to yield fully to the Spirit of God; to live even common life in this yielded state, to be a more loving faithful husband to my wife, a patient, caring father to my children, a compassionate, caring friend to my neighbors. The list goes on.
Who were the Galatians?
From my brief research on these interesting people, it seems that they were Gallic Celts that migrated through many areas of the Greek and Roman empires until they eventually settled on the Anatolian plateau in what is now modern Turkey. It was a land that was once the home of the ancient Hittite culture. Before they settled, they were a tribal nomadic culture known for being mercenaries.
They carried their warlike tradition on by raiding the surrounding communities from the high grounds of the plateau they called home.
As for their faith, they apparently did not have a historic faith to call their own. They were somewhat superstitious and adopted the mythical religions of the surrounding Greek and Roman cultures. They were heavily influenced by the Greeks. This influence may have been picked up in their wandering since Greek culture was so prevalent at the time.
They became part of the Roman Empire sometime around 64BC. There seems to have been a rather large Jewish population in Galatia. Paul visited the region around 55 AD. Galatia became a stronghold for the church. I believe that this was true until the fall of the Byzantine empire to rise of Muslim Turks.
The Core of my Conviction over this Passage…
This then takes me to this passage I love. Galatians 5:16-26.
To me this passage is a picture of what life might look like if a person were fully yielded to God’s Spirit; which was poured into us, saturating us and sealing us as promised by God (Eph. 1:13). This was the ultimate result of Christ’s great sacrifice on the cross for us. Think of it…Because of Christ and His work on the cross, the Most High God of the universe would poor out his own spirit on the likes of a people like you and me. The Bible has so much to say about this. Take a look at these passages before we walk through the passage itself…
- Acts 1:4-6
4On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5For John baptized with[a] water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
- Acts 1:8
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
- Romans 8:1-3
1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,[a] 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature,[b] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.[c] And so he condemned sin in sinful man,[d]
- Romans 8:9
You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.
- Romans 8:11
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.
- Romans 8:14
because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
- 1 Corinthians 2:10
but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.
- 1 Corinthians 12:7
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
- Ephesians 4:30
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
- Ephesians 6:17
Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
- Luke 12:11-12
11“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”
- John 14:15-17
15“If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17the Spirit of truth.
…and finally…another favorite passage of mine…
- John 16:5-15
5“Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. 7But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt[a] in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
12“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.
I could go on and on…the point is…If God’s Spirit is inside me, if it is a fulfillment of God’s promise. If the fruit of God’s spirit is the very character of God and what God desires for my life, I am crazy not to yield to it. Yet why do I seem to choose what is contrary to the fruit of God’s Spirit? The answer seems easy. I am a backward, forgetful sinner. However, knowing the obvious, I still desire to dig at this passage more deeply. It is that hunger to be more like Christ, to model his love that I dig. Like a spiritual beggar. I claim God’s promise in Matthew 5…my empty cup is before you my God.
Digging into Galatians Chapter 5
16So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
Comments: I am drawn to this word…”live”…The Greek word itself actually tranlates literally to the word walk. As I compared Vines and Strongs Greek Dictionaries, I came to the conclusion that this Greek word…peripateo signifies the activities of my whole life. It could be applied to believers or non believers alike. The Greek concept here is the concept of revolving one’s whole life around something. Therefore, Paul is saying that as believers we need to saturate our life in the Spirit. Revolve the “whole round of activities” of our individual lives around the Spirit of God.
17For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.
Comments: My reaction to this passage is Duh…of this I am an expert…
18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
Comments: I find this passage to be very compelling. In my study here, I cross referenced this passage with Roman 8:1-12.The second part of the verse above…”you are not under the law”…ties, I believe, to Rom 8:1-4 where it is written…
1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,[a] 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature,[b] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.[c] And so he condemned sin in sinful man,[d] 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
That passage is obviously powerful. It was a radical concept when Paul first wrote it and it is radical now. It is the key theological concept to our faith. However, as I go back to verse 18, I can’t just skip to the “not under the law” part without first looking at the “led by the Spirit” part. That phrase “Those who are led by the Spirit” seems so simple. Yet, when people like me apply it to our lives, it seems to get complicated in its implementation. Simply stated…It seems to me that the phrase above could equally be stated as “Those who follow the spirit.” That is to say, if I am led, I follow.
And here we have the challenge. As Paul states in verse 17 above, we have a “sinful nature that desires what is in conflict with the Spirit.” I may be alone in this perspective, but my experience has been that the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit is pretty intense. Too often, when faced with an opportunity to love, I envy…too often, when faced with an opportunity to control my tongue, I speak, etc…
I am left with a partial conclusion that to follow the Spirit that leads me takes intentional will to yield, effort to order my life and practice to order my mind around God and His way of life.
There is another point of view as I look at this word “led”, which is the Greek word “ago.” This word can also be translated “to carry.” Perhaps with this meaning in mind, the passage could read…”Since you are ‘carried’ by the Spirit, you are not under to law.” Now to be carried also has a responding action. This is to yield to the carrier. When my daughters were just learning to walk and they learned that they could choose to walk where they wanted and not yield to me, I would often pick them up and carry them. If they really wanted to do their own thing they would not cooperate with me carrying them. Often this meant that they were simply not very comfortable since I was stronger and could easily make them conform to my will.
How many times does the Holy Spirit carry me kicking and screaming?
19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;
20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions
21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Comments: Every time I read the sentence, “Against such things there is no law.” I can’t help but imagine that Paul writes this statement with a bit of sarcasm. On one hand I believe Paul is saying that no-one is ever going to arrest you for simply sharing Love… On the other hand I imagine Paul was thinking But the fruit of the Spirit is Love… not wickedness… DUH…
24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.
Comments: This is the crossroads passage that bears the weight of Paul’s entire line of thinking. It is simply a phrase that would force the Galations who claimed to follow Christ to think differently from their old way of thinking…it prepared their hearts and minds for what he said next. Those who believed would have heard the reading of these words and said…This is of course true…Paul kind of lowers the boom in the next verse.
25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Comments: Once again we have this word “live” which translates literally into the walk. However, this Greek word for walk is different than the Greek word for walk used in verse 16 above. The Greek word used here is stoicheo. Vines defines this word literally as “a row” signifies “to walk in line.” Vines further states that the context of this word as it is used here is “an exhortation to keep step with, in submission of heart to the Holy Spirit, and therefore keep in step with Christ.
Strongs Greek Dictionary ties this word to its root. steicho. It would be common for this word to be used to discribe soldiers marching in line, “keeping step”
The words that come to my mind when I study this passage in light of the definitions listed above are words like: yield. submit, discipline, conform. Not from a mechanical legalistic mindset, but that I might order my life in such a way as to consistently yield to the Spirit of God in me so that when the trials of life come, God’s fruit of Love is born in me instead of apathy, His Joy instead of a persuit of pleasure, His peace instead of envy, and so on. Perhaps this is a picture of what it means to abide in Christ. If I belong to Christ and my sinful nature has been Crucified with Christ and I am being led by God’s Holy Spirit, then I should keep in step with His Spirit.
This is the strong message that Paul gave to the Galations. I believe that Paul brilliantly and intentionally used the word steicho because many of the people listening to the reading of his letter had a strong military heritage. They would have understood what it meant to keep in step with a key military leader. They would have even seen this as a life and death exercise. What is so brilliant and radical here that that Paul is making a clear and simple distinction for the Galation people. He is saying that you used to “keep in step” with discord, jealousy, dissension, etc. On a very practical level these military minded Galations knew what it meant to raid their community, they knew what it meant to cause discord. Now…in the face of perhaps their entire world view, Paul says… You Galations who “belong to Christ Jesus”, don’t go back to keeping in step with what you once knew, keep in step with God’s Holy Spirit living inside you. God’s march is one of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. This should be just as obvious to you as the march you once knew.
26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
It is with all of this in mind that I conclude that yielding to and following the Spirit of God is a matter of will, A choice that involves effort on our part as we set our hearts, minds and bodies on God. I found it helpful to look at the following passages with this “keep in step” perspective.
Ephesians… 4:22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Corinthians 6:18...18Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.
Thess. 5:8…8But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
Ephesians 4:1-3…1As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Peter 1:13…13Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.
Colossians 3:1-3…1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
John 13:34-35g…34″A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Some scholars describe the Galations as fickle and superstitious people. They were allowing their view of what it meant to follow the Spirit of the most high God to be twisted by legalistic and deceptive points of view. Points of view that would take them away from spiritual freedom back to spiritual slavery.
I really can’t be too hard on our Galation brothers and sister though… I am faced with same choices throughout my days. In every situation, every interaction, in every task I am assigned I am given the opportunity to bear the fruit of God’s Spirit, or I can “keep in step with the likeness of who I used to be as slaves to my desires.
I can choose Love or Apathy, Joy or Cynicism, Peace or Enmity, Patience or Intolerance, Kindess or Coldness, Goodness or Corruption, Gentleness or Ruthlessness, Faith or doubt and Self Control or self-indulgence.
My salvation is sure and sealed in Christ’s work on the cross. Nothing I can do can make God love me any more than He already loves me. There is however, effort involved in yielding to the spirit of my God who loves me.
Part of the spiritual battle that we are all involved in is the battle we all face in choosing God’s way versus our way, God’s will verses our will. So often I need to be right, I need to be smart, I need to feel important. The truth is God is always right, His ways are always best and He is most important.
So what can I do to move in the direction of the Spirit?
Practice the fruit of the Spirit…
The self-rightous and haughty person actually believes that they can achieve something that God has already given them. Therefore, by practicing the fruit of the Spirit I don’t mean do say that I am going to put on some sort of legalistic spiritual exercise routine where I systematicly check off my good deeds for the day. The legalistic exercise is precisely the way of life Paul warns us about the his letter to the Galations.
On the contrary, while actually living a life yielded to the spirit is a true spiritual battle, the concept of practicing the fruit of the Holy Spirit is simple. There is nothing mystical about it. As Jesus came to conquer sin and dealth, he lived as a perfect example of what it looks like to “keep in step with the spirit.” After Jesus ascended into heaven, God sent His Holy Spirit. God has always embodied, Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self Control. Jesus embodied it on earth and His Holy Spirit does the same now.
God’s Spirit is in all of us who follow Christ. We could have no greater chance of seeing any more clearly how God works since his Spirit is in us. Since we believe that to be true…
- When we are driving to work and someone cuts us off. God is already responding with Love…keep in step…
- When we are facing adversity and hardship…God’s Spirit is already facing it with Joy…follow His Lead…
- When we are tempted to cut corners on a business deal…God’s Spirit has already chosen self control…Pick up His Pace…
I could go on…but the pattern is set…all of us can fill in our own blanks with the temptations we all face every day…So many of us cry out to God and say…speak to me…tell me…What should I do? Where should I go? Show me your insights I so long to hear.We yearn for God to reveal so much insight, yet we fail to pursue the simplest concepts of “keeping is step” with the Holy Spirit. Please don’t get me wrong. I think it is important for all who follow Christ to listen closely to the whispers of His Holy Spirit. I just wonder what the world what look like if everyone who followed Christ would simply listen to God’s word in Galations 5. and intentionally pursued “marching” with or “keeping in step” with God’s Holy Spirit.