The Holy Spirit is the key to the Christian life! Throughout Galatians Paul has been arguing against the supremacy of the Torah, and specifically the law. He has demonstrated that superiority of Christ and faith to efforts at keeping the law. In chapter 5:13-6:10 Paul anticipates a response from his Jewish opponents, namely that if we deny the role of the law then we will lead people to licentiousness. Paul’s response is to assert the significant influence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the follower of Christ. The Spirit of God in us changes the ways we live.
While the Galatians have been set free from the Law, they are not free from all law. For, as Paul outlines here, they are bound to the “law of love.” Their freedom was not to be a means of selfish indulgence and personal gratification, rather it was to be a means of “serving one another” (5:13-14; see also 1 Cor. 9:21). The whole is fulfilled, Paul says, in that one familiar command from Jesus: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. So Paul, denies libertinism in this passage by commending again the law of Christ, which aims at our serving one another.
He contrasts it differently in the following verses by comparing the “works of the flesh,” i.e. selfish indulgence, and the “fruit of the Spirit” (5:16-26). Here Paul calls all believers to “walk by the Spirit,” which is his language for living a life of devotion to and dependence upon the Spirit of God. The word “to walk” was a common reference within Judaism, pointing to the manner of a person’s whole life. Paul uses it often to speak of ethical conduct, here pointing out that the primary form of this ethical living is “love.” In contrast we read that those who don’t walk by the Spirit will produce in their lives the works of the flesh, which he spells out in all their ugliness:
9 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
The presence of these sins in our lives is evidence, Paul asserts, of our distance from the Spirit Himself.
For Paul, holiness in the believer is the work of the Holy Spirit. Observance of the law does not produce holiness, only “walking in the Spirit” can produce this fruit. It is said to be the “fruit of the Spirit,” not the fruit of the law, fruit of obedience, or even fruit of the believer. This does not ascribe passivity to the life of the Christian, but it does not put the weight or emphasis of holiness on us, but rather on the Spirit. That is a vitally important point for Paul. We can be defended against both legalism and libertinism by reminding ourselves of the role and power of the Spirit of God in the life of the believer.
The actual fruit described here, of which we will take a closer look later on, is essentially lived out in community. Contrary to the fruit of selfishness, the fruit of the Spirit is evidenced in love of community. Christian ethics are communal in nature. The fruit is also reflective of the character of Christ himself. He is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (v. 22-23). Holiness, then, is the production of the character of Christ in the life of the believer by means of the Spirit. This is evidenced in our love for one another: our bearing one another’s burdens (6:2), our humility and mutuality (v. 3-5), and our persistence in community (v. 9-10).
There’s much more that we could say about these verses but Paul’s point is simple: The Holy Spirit truly changes the way we live. Freedom from the law is not a freedom to self-indulgence, but a commitment to the law of love. If we are in Christ, if we are truly free, it will reveal itself in the fruit of the Spirit manifested in the community of the church. Freedom means freedom to love others! Is that descriptive of you?