“Christ has freed us so that we may enjoy the benefits of freedom. Therefore, be firm in this freedom, and don’t become slaves again” (Galatians 5:1 GW)
Galatians chapter five begins our look at the final section of this important Biblical book. In the first two chapters of this letter, Paul the Apostle discussed his personal experience with God’s grace and his ministerial work from a positive (Galatians 1:21-24) and negative (Galatians 2:11-14) perspective. Galatians chapters three and four then shifted the focus of this epistle to the difference between grace and the Law with support from the Old Testament patriarch Abraham.
Here now in chapters five and six, Paul will close this letter to the Galatian churches with some practical instruction. Much like his New Testament letters to the churches at Rome (chapters 12-16), Ephesus (chapters 4-6), and Colosse (chapters 3-4), the final section of this letter will offer help in implementing the concepts that Paul has developed throughout the previous chapters.
One commentator offers a summary and a preview of what we’ll find in Galatians chapter five…
“Chapter 5 articulates the crucial, practical aspect of Paul’s justification by grace through faith. The Judaizers were concerned that the Gentile Christians would not conform to their conceptions of Mosaic godliness, therefore, they tried to force the OT regulations upon them. However, Paul was equally concerned with godliness, but he affirmed that it is not a result of external rules but of a changed heart (i.e., internal guidance, cf. Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:26,27).” (1)
Finally, the closing portion of this letter to the Galatians reminds us that there are two ways of approaching God: self-focused or God-oriented. A self-focused relationship with God says, “God will accept me if I meet the right performance criteria.” A God-oriented approach says, “Jesus has already met the right criteria and I am made acceptable to God through His sacrifice.”
These two approaches are mutually exclusive. Those who seek to find acceptance with God by following a list of “do’s and don’ts” must abandon salvation by grace through faith in Christ. Those who accept Christ must abandon any attempt to get right with God through their own efforts. As we’ll see, the first approach results in bondage to an external set of regulations. The second approach implements the kind of internal change that leads to genuine freedom.
Of course, its possible to use such freedom in an inappropriate manner. Paul certainly recognized that danger and he will go on to address that concern over the course of this chapter.
(1) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, Galatians 5 Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org
“Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1 HCSB).
While the concept of “freedom” may be expressed in a variety of ways, we can define this word very simply: freedom represents the ability to choose between alternatives and the liberty to act upon such decisions. Of course, some may prefer to associate the idea of freedom with the ability to do whatever we want. Although that may sound like a good definition, there are some issues with that characterization when we consider it more closely.
You see, “freedom” cannot refer to the unlimited ability to do whatever we want, however we like, whenever we wish. Some commentators illustrate this reality with a humorous question: “Can you flap your arms and fly to Jupiter?” While that may sound like a laughable idea, it serves to illustrate our point. While someone may desire to flap his or her arms and fly to Jupiter, he or she is not free to do so.
In like manner, “freedom” refers to the ability to decide between alternatives along with the liberty to act upon those decisions. So how is it that “Christ has freed us so that we may enjoy the benefits of freedom” (GW)? Well, that freedom is expressed in several different ways.
First, Christ liberates us from the demands of a lawful standard we cannot keep. As we read earlier in Galatians 3:10,“…those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law’” (NLT).
Next, we receive freedom to approach God through Christ. Paul the Apostle underscored this idea in his letter to the church at Ephesus when he said, “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12 NIV).
Finally, Jesus offers freedom from condemnation for those who accept Him. A well-known portion of Scripture from the Biblical book of Romans summarizes this concept in the following manner: “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death” (Romans 8:1-2 NLT).
Therefore as 2 Corinthians 3:17 concludes, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom” (NET).
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1 KJV).
“Freedom” is something that virtually everyone seeks to possess. For instance, some march for freedom and some have died for it. Athletes and celebrities buy out their contractual agreements in order to purchase their freedom. We divide the global community into those who are members of the “free world” and the citizens of other nations who are not. But when we stop to examine the idea of freedom on an individual basis, this concept becomes much more personal.
While some may enjoy a great deal of freedom on a societal level, things may be quite different for the individual members of that society. For instance, there are many who are enslaved to various types of addictions. Those addictions may take the form of a dependency upon alcohol or tobacco. Others engage in various forms of substance abuse through legal or illegal drug use.
There are others who are enslaved by different compulsive urges. Those impulses may be expressed through uncontrolled acts of aggression, compulsive gambling, self-harm, or similar types of conduct. Some addictions are linked to things like pornography while others are associated with more innocuous pursuits like gaming or shopping. Then there are those who are seemingly addicted to the approval, attention, and validation offered through various forms of social media.
These observations should be readily apparent to anyone who lives and works in our modern-day world. We can use the word-picture given to us here in Galatians 5:1 to associate these various forms of bondage with something called a “yoke.” A yoke is a type of harness that unites two animals together when pulling a wagon, plow, or other implement. An animal that is harnessed in such a manner is placed in a position of servitude as it is made to pull whatever burden is placed upon it.
Christ offers us the freedom to overcome the yokes that hold us in bondage, no matter what type of enslavement may be involved. As Jesus said in John 8:36, “…if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” Those who seek freedom from such things can also find help, direction, and encouragement from the Biblical book of Philippians…
“for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).
At first glance, Galatians 5:1 may seem to represent little more than an encouragement to pursue liberty in Christ. But those with a knowledge of the New Testament Scriptures may notice something familiar in the phrase, “…do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”
You see, this same imagery appeared earlier in the book of Acts by way of the following question: “…why are you testing God by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to endure?” (Acts 15:10 AMP). The Apostle Peter spoke those words as he addressed a council that met to consider the question of circumcision and its relationship to salvation.
Yet this was the same Peter who had earlier been reprimanded by Paul the Apostle for his hypocritical attitude towards the non-Jewish Christians of Antioch (see Galatians 2:11). Despite this, Paul echoed Peter’s theme from the book of Acts here in Galatians 5:1- and his example offers an important reminder for God’s people today.
You see, Peter was a fisherman while Paul was an educated intellectual. Peter was impetuous; he was prone to speak without thinking and sometimes failed to consider the potential consequences of his actions. On the other hand, Paul was studious, forthright, and encouraged his readers to consider the ramifications of his message.
Peter once misinterpreted his leadership role and was rebuked for it. Paul seemingly had no such issues. Peter was reprimanded for caring too much about what others thought of him. Paul cared very little in that regard. Nevertheless, it seems that both men recognized the others’ calling despite these differences.
This is something that is important to remember as we interact with other members of Jesus’ family. Just because others may differ in character and personality doesn’t necessarily mean they are wrong. Peter and Paul were very different but they were both led by the same Holy Spirit. This allowed Paul to borrow from Peter’s sermon in Acts while Peter said the following in defense of Paul…
“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15-16 NIV).
“Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing” (Galatians 5:2).
Genesis chapter seventeen contains the first Biblical reference to the act of circumcision. In that portion of Scripture, God spoke to Abraham and said, “This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you” (Genesis 17:10-11 NIV).
While God could have chosen any number of signs to reflect His covenant with Abraham, this directive served to communicate some important things. First, we should first consider God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:2: “I will make you into a great nation…” Since God promised to build a nation through Abraham’s descendants, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that the sign of that covenant was associated with his physical capacity to reproduce. Furthermore, the act of circumcision served to remind Abraham and his descendants that God had set them apart and they were different from everyone else.
However, its important to remember that it was faith that made Abraham right with God, for Genesis 15:6 tells us, “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” By this we know that Abraham had “right standing” with God by faith long before he commanded to engage in the external act of circumcision.
We can apply this general idea to other types of observances as well. Much like the act of circumcision, our participation in a ceremony, ritual, or other outward observance does not serve to make us right with God. Paul the Apostle clarified this idea in the New Testament book of Romans where we’re told, “… true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit” (Romans 2:29 NLT).
So true circumcision -the kind that God desires- is not a mere external observance. It is a new attitude towards God generated by a relationship with Christ. This explains why Paul offered the following instruction to the church that met in the city of Corinth…
“Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called” (1 Corinthians 7:18-20).
“I, Paul, can guarantee that if you allow yourselves to be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Again, I insist that everyone who allows himself to be circumcised must realize that he obligates himself to do everything Moses’ Teachings demand” (Galatians 5:2-3 GW).
In one sense, the act of circumcision was little more than a peripheral concern for Paul the Apostle. The larger issue involved this question: how are people made right with God? Was it possible for the Galatians to secure God’s acceptance through some external act or through faith in Christ alone? The answer to that question had far-ranging implications for the members of the Galatian church as well as those who read this passage today.
You see, the false teachers of Galatia had already persuaded the members of the church to follow the ritual observances contained within the Jewish religious calendar. Now they were pressing the Galatians to undergo the rite of circumcision. If they were successful in that regard, then it seems reasonable to ask what else they might require. This serves to illustrate the progressive nature of salvation by works; no matter how much someone does, there is always something left to do.
Beyond that, Paul emphasized the fact that the Mosaic Law was not like a smorgasbord or buffet table where one could pick and choose from among the available offerings. Instead, Paul reminded the Galatians what it really meant to seek favor with God through the works of the Law: “…If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses” (NLT).
This principle is affirmed in the New Testament epistle of James where we read, “For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all” (James 2:10 HCSB). One source offers the following observation on what it meant to selectively follow the works of the Mosaic Law in this manner…
“The legalists appear to have been claiming that circumcision was a necessary step in the process by which people become acceptable to God. These steps, from their viewpoint, were: faith in Christ, reception of the Spirit, and circumcision of the flesh. Paul argued that anyone who submits to circumcision to gain acceptance with God really believes in salvation by law-keeping.
If one believes in law-keeping for salvation, he must keep ‘the whole Law,’ not just the requirement of circumcision. That is impossible for sinners to do. Rather than gaining acceptance with God, circumcision would be the very thing that would separate them from Christ.” (1)
(1) Constable, Thomas. DD. Notes on Galatians 2017 Edition (5:3-4) Copyright © 2017 Thomas L. Constable https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/galatians/galatians.htm
“You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4).
In Matthew 6:24, Jesus made the following observation: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (NIV). For some, the pursuit of monetary gain is the primary goal of life, and those who place the accumulation of wealth above a relationship with God may be inclined to make bad decisions that lead to undesired consequences.
In a similar manner, Galatians 5:4 tells us that we cannot pursue salvation by works and salvation by grace through faith in Christ; it must be one or the other. One commentary offers the following perspective on this idea: “The apostle is telling them that they cannot have two saviors; they must choose either Christ or the law. If they choose the law, then they are severed from Christ as their only possible hope of righteousness; they have fallen from grace.” (1)
Its also important to consider the context of this passage as we examine the term “fallen from grace.” If we divorce this term from its context, we might be tempted to associate this phrase with the loss of salvation. However we should note that is those who attempt to be justified by the law who have fallen from grace, not those who have already found salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone.
Another commentator addresses this concern with the following insight…
“Paul is not discussing the security of one’s salvation here, but rather the two different proposed ways of achieving salvation. If we propose to earn salvation by the works of the law, we thereby reject the free grace of Christ, and He is ‘cut off’ from saving us. In this sense only can we fall from grace. We are both saved by grace and kept saved by grace. We cannot cancel the grace which gives salvation by failing to keep working for it, for works could never earn God’s grace in the first place.” (2)
Finally, Jesus offers the following assurance to those who come to Him for salvation…
“My sheep respond to my voice, and I know who they are. They follow me, and I give them eternal life. They will never be lost, and no one will tear them away from me. My Father, who gave them to me, is greater than everyone else, and no one can tear them away from my Father” (John 10:27-29 GW).
(1) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (p.1920) Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers
(2) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes Galatians 2:11 https://www.icr.org/bible/Gal/5/4
“For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love” (Galatians 5:5-6)
This portion of Scripture identifies three terms that are well worth our attention: righteousness, faith, and love.
In a spiritual sense, we use the word “righteous” to describe those who are in right standing with God. For instance, the Biblical book of Romans tells us that God declares those who accept Jesus’ substitutionary death to be “righteous” (or “without guilt”) in His sight (see Romans 4:5-8). The Scriptures also tell us that Jesus’ righteousness is transferred, credited, or imputed to those who accept Him (see 1 Corinthians 1:30 and Philippians 3:8-9)
Next we have “faith.” We can define faith as “A belief in or confident attitude toward God, involving commitment to His will for one’s life.” (1) The New Testament book of Hebrews tells us that “…faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (11:1) and Romans 10:17 tells us where faith originates: “…faith comes from hearing the message, and the message comes through the word of Christ” (EHV).
Finally, we have the word “love.” This word is translated from the word agape in the original language of this passage. This type of love is not necessarily reflected by a feeling, emotion, or external display of affection. Instead, agape love is characterized by a willing desire to love and a God-honoring commitment to act in the best interest of others, even in the absence of an emotional feeling.
These brief outlines can help define what “faith working through love” entails. We can associate this term with heartfelt assurance of God’s blessing as we seek to act in the best interests of others from a Biblical perspective. Faith is necessary in this respect because others may not understand, recognize, or appreciate it when we express love in this manner.
Therefore, faith working through love requires a commitment to prayer and dependence upon God for the ability to discern what is best in a given situation. Ephesians 4:23 offers some practical insight in this regard: “Be humble and gentle in every way. Be patient with each other and lovingly accept each other. Through the peace that ties you together, do your best to maintain the unity that the Spirit gives” (GW).
Finally, this may also explain why religious observances are often so attractive. It is relatively easy to engage in a ceremonial ritual but faith working through love is sometimes very difficult.
(1) “Faith” Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers
“You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you” (Galatians 5:7-8).
Judging from the number of athletic references that appear within his Biblical letters, it seems that Paul the Apostle had a strong interest in the sporting events of his day. For instance, Paul employed the imagery of a boxer in 1 Corinthians chapter nine to communicate the important qualities of focus, purpose, and determination in pursuing a life that honors Christ.
In that portion of Scripture, Paul wrote, “So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27 NLT).
Later in his second letter to a pastoral leader named Timothy, Paul said this: “…if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5). Perhaps the best known use of this type of illustration is found in some of Paul’s final recorded words: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
In a similar manner, Paul made use of a racing analogy here in Galatians 5:7 when he wrote, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?” (Galatians 5:7 NIV). This illustration recalls an old saying with many applications: “It’s not how you start the race but how you finish that counts.”
With this in mind, we can paraphrase this portion of Paul’s letter to the Galatians in the following manner: “You started off well on the road to Christian maturity- who cut you off and made you stumble? Who interfered with your race to the finish line? Whoever it was, that person was not sent by God.” One commentator provides us with some additional insight on this passage…
“The original meaning of the word translated hinder is to break up a road, as an army before the advance of hostile forces. A paraphrase of this metaphor is ‘Who tore up the race track in front of you?’” (1)
So in keeping with his desire to warn the Galatians regarding the true nature of the false teachers they encountered, Paul made certain to explain that those who were responsible for getting them off-track were not sent from God. We’ll consider some applications of this passage in our 21st century information age next.
(1) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on Galatians 5:7”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament“. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/galatians-5.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
“You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you” (Galatians 5:7-8 NIV).
Since there are many who seek to persuade us in the areas of spirituality, ideology, and philosophy today, we would do well to adapt the message of Galatians 5:8 for use as a question. When others look to influence us with their beliefs in these areas, we might ask if such persuasion comes from Him who calls us. This approach can help us as we consider the various teachings and worldviews we encounter today.
For instance, here are a few questions we can use to evaluate different teachings and belief systems to help determine if they come from the One who calls us or if they originate somewhere else…
- Does the message direct us towards Christ or does it direct us towards a person, an ideology, or an organization?
- Is the teaching focused upon what we should do to help ourselves or does it encourage dependence upon Jesus and His ability to facilitate growth?
- Does the teacher or minister seek to help others understand and apply the Word of God?
- Does the teacher or minister dwell upon a few preferred subjects to the exclusion of others? Do the same themes continually appear within that person’s teachings even when the Biblical context does not support it?
- Do the proponents encourage others to study the Scriptures independently or depend upon a group or individual for guidance?
Although the Galatians started well in their spiritual journey, they eventually came under the influence of others who guided them off course. Their example should prompt us to consider the instruction we receive from various sources and the videos, books, websites, broadcasts, and other types of media that occupy our time.
Remember that false spiritual teachings represent the visible fruit of a tree that is rooted in something other than Christ. To borrow an analogy from Jesus, a bad tree cannot bear good fruit (see Matthew 7:16-20). In a similar manner, the teachings of the legalists of Galatia were not rooted in Christ. Instead, those teachings found their origin somewhere else.
With this in mind, we would be wise to prayerfully evaluate the influences we allow into our lives, for repeated exposure to questionable teachings may grow into something spiritually dangerous if we are not careful to focus upon the Word of God.
“A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough” (Galatians 5:9 NIV).
A good baker knows that the addition of yeast to a batch of dough can help produce light, airy pastries, cakes, breads, and other types of baked goods. But even though this ingredient helps produce the taste and aroma associated with a freshly- baked loaf of bread, it assumes a very different role when used as a Biblical metaphor.
You see, yeast is often used in the Bible as an illustration for sin. Just as a small amount of yeast (or leaven) will cause a piece of dough to rise, a small amount of sin can produce a significant (and detrimental) effect. This metaphor was not lost upon Paul the Apostle, for he used a related example in his letter to the church at Corinth: “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little leaven leavens the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new unleavened batch, as indeed you are…” (CSB).
Jesus also used a similar illustration in speaking with His disciples: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1 NIV). In the New Testament gospel of Mark, Jesus expanded this cautionary message beyond the spiritual leadership of His day to include governmental rulers as well: “…Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod” (Mark 8:15 HCSB).
Much like the effect that yeast exerts upon a lump of dough, an attitude of hypocrisy had spread among the religious leadership of first-century Israel. On the other hand, a lust for power, an attitude of compromise, and an irreligious mindset permeated the Herodian political dynasty of that era. If Jesus’ followers permitted themselves to be influenced by such behaviors, they were sure to be adversely affected by them.
So the idea behind this passage is simple: it only takes a small amount of something harmful to negatively affect something much larger. Today we might adapt this concept beyond the false teachers of first-century Galatia to other areas such as alcohol abuse, pornography, drug use, or gambling to name a few.
No one ever began their involvement in such things with the intent to become an alcoholic, a drug abuser, or a compulsive gambler. But just like the damaging influence exerted by the false teachers of Galatia, a small amount of activity in these areas might eventually lead to something far more destructive.
“I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is” (Galatians 5:10).
Here in Galatians 5:10, Paul the Apostle expressed his confidence that the Galatians would make wise choices regarding the false teachings that had spread among their churches. However, we should note that Paul’s confidence was not rooted in the Galatians’ ability to make good decisions. Instead, his confidence was placed in the Lord’s ability to move upon them to do what was right.
Paul’s example reminds us that a Christ-centered focus should undergird our trust and confidence in others. The well-known author C.S. Lewis once addressed this subject in discussing the challenges we sometimes encounter whenever we seek to depend upon others. In his book Mere Christianity, Lewis spoke about the reality of Christ’s presence in our relationships with fallible human beings…
“We must go on to recognise the real Giver. It is madness not to. If we do not, we shall be relying on human beings. And that is going to let us down. The best of them will make mistakes; all of them will die. We must be thankful to all the people who have helped us, we must honour them and love them. But never, never pin your whole faith on any human being: not if he is the best and wisest in the whole world. There are lots of nice things you can do with sand: but do not try building a house on it.” (1)
Charles Spurgeon, the famous 19th century preacher, made a similar observation as he emphasized the need to maintain a God-honoring attitude in our interpersonal relationships…
“You must have fervent charity towards the saints, but you will find very much about the best of them which will try your patience; for, like yourself, they are imperfect, and they will not always turn their best side towards you, but sometimes sadly exhibit their infirmities. Be prepared, therefore, to contend with ‘all things’ in them.” (2)
This does not mean it is wrong to emotionally invest in others. However, it is important to remember that people and situations may change but God does not. Because of this, we should place our dependence in Christ first and then in others. Its important to prayerfully seek the Lord to provide wisdom and discernment in our relationships so we may say along with the Apostle Paul, “I have confidence in you through the Lord…” (KJV).
(1) C S Lewis, Mere Christianity New York : MacMillan Pub. Co., 1952.
(2) Charles. H. Spurgeon, Love’s Labours (1881) https://www.ccel.org/ccel/spurgeon/sermons27.iv_1.html
“And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased” (Galatians 5:11).
For well over a hundred years, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament has served as a valuable resource for those who are seeking a better understanding of Biblical words and phrases. For instance, the word “offense” (as seen in the passage quoted above) returns a definition that warrants a lengthy excerpt…
Offense: the movable stick or trigger of a trap, a trap stick.
1a) a trap, snare.
1b) any impediment placed in the way and causing one to stumble or fall, (a stumbling block, occasion of stumbling), i.e. a rock which is a cause of stumbling.
1c) fig. applied to Jesus Christ, whose person and career were so contrary to the expectations of the Jews concerning the Messiah, that they rejected him and by their obstinacy made shipwreck of their salvation.
2) any person or thing by which one is (entrapped) drawn into error or sin. (1)
These nuances greatly benefit our understanding of Galatians 5:10. You see, the message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone serves as an impediment, snare, or stumbling block for those who seek to approach God on the basis of their own efforts. Another source offers the following insight in this regard…
“The Cross was offensive to the Jew therefore because it set aside the entire Mosaic economy, and because it offered salvation by grace through faith alone without the added factor of works performed by the sinner in an effort to merit the salvation offered. All of which goes to show that the Jew of the first century had an erroneous conception of the law of Moses, for that system never taught that a sinner was accepted by God on the basis of good works.” (2)
Unfortunately, this passage alerts us to another challenge facing Paul the Apostle. First, Paul had to deal with the false teachings that had been introduced to the churches of Galatia. Next, he had to counter those who were attempting to separate him from the Galatian Christians in order to establish their own following. Now it seems that Paul had another problem: the outright misrepresentation of his message.
As Paul noted in the passage quoted above, “…if I were still advocating circumcision (as some apparently allege!), why am I still suffering persecution?” (Phillips). If Paul truly believed that Christians should continue to follow the Old Testament Law, then those who agreed with that assessment would rush to support him and not seek to persecute him.
(1) G4625 skandalon https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g4625
(2) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (Galatians 5:11) Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
“I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!” (Galatians 5:12).
There are many who hold a romanticized view of the Bible as a kind of “love letter” delivered by the Creator and addressed to the members of the human family. In fact, one online query for the term “The Bible is God’s love letter” returned well over 25,000 results. (1)
While God unquestionably expresses His love for humanity through Christ, it may be unwise to characterize the Bible in such a manner. For instance, how many love letters are likely to contain the following references, all of which are found within the pages of the Scriptures…
“Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks” (Psalm 137:9 NIV).
“She lusted after their genitals—as large as those of donkeys, and their seminal emission was as strong as that of stallions” (Ezekiel 23:20 NET).
“You stupid Galatians! I told you exactly how Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross. Has someone now put an evil spell on you?” (Galatians 3:1 CEV).
Similar examples include the brutally honest depiction of life without God as found in the book of Ecclesiastes and the apocalyptic imagery contained within the book of Revelation. Then there is the Old Testament book of Lamentations, an account that chronicles the anguish of those who were forced to live with the consequences associated with their rejection of God.
Its important to recognize that Biblical critics often seize upon such references to mock and undermine the faith of young or unsuspecting Christians who have been taught to believe that the Bible represents a kind of love letter. (2) Galatians 5:12 presents us with similar example: “I wish that the people who are upsetting you would go all the way; let them go on and castrate themselves!” (GW).
This shockingly graphic depiction reveals the depth of Paul the Apostle’s infuriation with those who were inflicting spiritual injury upon the Galatian congregations. Yet as one source observes, “While some commentators appear reluctant to believe Paul would utter such a condemnation, such would actually be a better fate for these opponents than the one he calls for in 1:8–9…” (3)
But lest we think such graphic imagery is uncharacteristic of Christ, we may wish to consider the following message from Luke 17:1-3…
“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves” (NIV).
(1) Retrieved from https://www.google.com/search?q=%22The+Bible+is+God%27s+love+letter%22
(2) Each of the Scriptural examples given above have been taken out of context, thus making it easy for Biblical critics to use God’s Word to disparage those who place their trust in Him. Those who are surprised to discover the existence of these references within the Scriptures may not be ready to “…give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15). Rest assured that Biblical critics are well aware of these verses and others like them- and we should be ready to explain their meaning in context with humility, wisdom, maturity, and reverence. In the words of 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to show yourself approved by God, a workman who need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (MEV).
(3) McClelland, S. E. (1995). Galatians. In Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (Vol. 3, p. 1017). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).
The remaining verses of Galatians chapter five will focus our attention upon the practical aspects of a life associated with salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone. To mark this emphasis, Paul the Apostle will reintroduce the concept of liberty (or freedom) that he established at the beginning of this chapter.
As mentioned earlier, “freedom” refers to the ability to decide between alternatives and the liberty to act upon those decisions. The New Testament letter of 1 Peter also addresses the concept of freedom when used in this context as well. That portion of Scripture stresses the importance of personal responsibility in the exercise of our spiritual freedom by saying, “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil…” (1 Peter 2:16 NIV).
Perhaps the best-known Biblical statement on the subject of true freedom can be found in Jesus’ message from the Gospel of John…
“…’If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free… Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed’” (John 8:31-32, 34-36).
Finally, one commentary offers several valuable insights on the subject of spiritual freedom that are well worth our consideration…
“The gospel of grace has always been accused of permitting men to live as they like. People say: ‘If salvation is by faith alone, then there is no control over a person’s conduct afterwards.’ But the apostle is quick to point out that Christian liberty does not mean license to sin. The believer’s standard is the life of the Lord Jesus, and love for Christ impels him to hate sin and love holiness.
Perhaps it was especially necessary for Paul to warn his readers against license here. When men have been under the restraints of law for some time and are then granted their freedom, there is always the danger of going from the extreme of bondage to that of carelessness. The proper balance is that liberty which lies between law and license. The Christian is free from the law, but not lawless.” (1)
(1) Believer’s Bible Commentary William MacDonald Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers Nashville pg. 1922
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13 NET).
Virtually everyone is familiar with the word “flesh” as it relates to our physical bodies. But much like the idea of leaven mentioned earlier in Galatians 5:8-9, “the flesh” carries a different connotation when used as a Biblical metaphor.
In a spiritual sense, “the flesh” refers to the weaknesses that are common to human nature. The flesh represents the best or worst anyone can do in their own strength as well as the natural tendency to think and act in ways that are misaligned with God’s intent for His creation. A person who lives “in the flesh” is someone who depends entirely upon his or her natural ability with no guidance, direction, or help from God.
The Scriptures use another term that is closely related to this concept. That word is carnality. When used in this manner, “carnality” involves a preoccupation with the body and the satisfaction of whatever it may desire. Carnality might best be described by the phrase, “If it feels good, do it.” In general, a carnal person is more concerned with looking or feeling good and less concerned with being good.
The seventh chapter of the Biblical book of Romans offers a good illustration of these related ideas in action…
“So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God– through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin” (Romans 7:21-25 NIV).
A person who walks according to the flesh is someone who does not anticipate the reality of eternal life- and that mindset serves to influence the choices and decisions of daily life. But as one scholar cautions us, “The natural man who has never taken God seriously falls into the delusion that this world is all there is.” (1)
(1) Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties [pg. 255]
“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13 GW).
What does it mean to “serve one another in love” as quoted above? Well, the answer may depend on how we define “love.” For instance, lets consider the following statements from Jesus…
“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another” (John 13:34 HCSB).
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13).
“I correct and discipline everyone I love…” (Revelation 3:19 NLT).
With these statements in mind, we can say that love involves more than an emotional feeling or external display of affection. We can find a better indicator of genuine love in the defining standards of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7…
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” ( 1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
If these qualities are reflected in our relationships with others, then we can be assured that we are acting in love. We can also look to a real-life example from the Biblical book of Acts for guidance on serving one another…
“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word’” (Acts 6:1-4 NIV).
In saying, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables,” the Apostles acknowledged their calling to work in a specific area. That calling enabled them to determine how to best serve others. In a similar manner, we can serve one another in love by allowing God’s call on our lives to help determine our primary form of service. That may involve saying “yes” to certain opportunities and “no” to others, just like the Apostles here in Acts chapter six.
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14).
Its often easy to be misunderstood by others despite our best intentions. For instance, people are often influenced by a variety of internal and external factors that may be largely unknown to us. Those variables might include previous life experiences, spiritual or emotional maturity, personal characteristics, stress, or an assortment of other factors.
Then there are those well-intentioned individuals who sometimes fail to consider the potential effects of their decisions, much like we see in the meme shown at left. These unfortunate realities can sometimes lead to misunderstandings with others. It can be challenging to respond graciously in such instances, especially when they occur with other brothers and sisters in Christ.
Therefore it is our responsibility to prayerfully love our neighbors as ourselves as we’re told in the Scripture quoted above and make “…allowance for each other’s faults because of your love” (Ephesians 4:2 TLB). One of the clearest ways to define what it means to “…love your neighbor as yourself’” is to look at an occasion when Jesus answered a similar inquiry in the form of a parable. That parable has come to be known as The Parable Of The Good Samaritan and will occupy the focus of our next few studies…
“And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?’ So he answered and said, ” ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ” And He said to him, ‘You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.’
But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Then Jesus answered and said: ‘A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead’” (Luke 10:25-30).
First-century travelers from Jerusalem to Jericho had to negotiate a number of desolate, mountainous passageways during their journey. Travelers of that era also had to be alert to the threat of thieves and predatory animals along the way. Unfortunately, the man in this parable fell prey to a merciless band of criminals who robbed him so thoroughly that they even stripped him of his clothing.
This powerful image of a bloodied, beaten, naked victim set the stage for what happened next.
See related message here
Image credit: imgur
“For the entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14 Mounce).
We can define what it means to “…love your neighbor as yourself’” by taking the time to examine a Biblical parable that addresses that question. In Jesus’ parable of The Good Samaritan, a traveler on the way from the city of Jerusalem to the town of Jericho “…fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead’” (Luke 10:30).
That unfortunate series of events led to another unfortunate series of events…
“Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:31-32).
In Jesus’ day, a priest served as the minister who represented the people before God and offered the sacrifices necessary to atone for their sins. The “Levites” were the descendants of Levi, one of the original leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel. One of the Levites’ primary responsibilities involved serving as assistants to the priests of Old Testament Israel.
Unfortunately, these spiritual leaders saw the need that existed before them but did nothing in response. Fortunately for the injured traveler in Jesus’ parable, that was about to change…
“But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you’” (Luke 10:33-35).
When Israel was conquered by the nation of Assyria around 722 B.C, the Assyrians forcibly relocated the citizens of that area except for a few of the very poorest inhabitants. Over time, those who had remained in the region of Samaria intermarried with others from that area and lost the ability to document their Jewish heritage. That led many of the people of Jesus’ day to disassociate themselves from the Samaritans. Some even chose to avoid traveling through that area entirely just to evade them.
We’ll see how these cultural realities impacted the wounded traveler and the Good Samaritan in this parable next.
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Galatians 5:14 ASV).
Jesus’ parable of The Good Samaritan helps us understand what it means to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Within that parable, a man from the region of Samaria had compassion upon an injured traveler even though their respective people groups did not get along. The Samaritan didn’t stop to consider the wounded man’s race or nationality- he simply saw the need and addressed it with his own time and resources.
He began by offering first-aid in the form of oil and wine (Luke 10:34). The alcohol content of the wine served as a primitive antiseptic while the oil would act to soothe the man’s wounds. Next, the Samaritan bandaged the man’s injuries and placed the wounded traveler on his own animal. This meant that the Good Samaritan had to walk the rest of the way. He then took the man to an inn, paid his expenses, and left with a promise to make good on any additional charges that might be necessary.
So unlike the others who encountered this beaten and bloodied traveler, the Good Samaritan saw the problem and did something about it. He acted in a spirit of great generosity towards another human being in need- and that led to Jesus’ conclusion…
“(Jesus said) ‘So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?’ And he said, ‘He who showed mercy on him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise’” (Luke 10:36-37).
So who might fit the definition of a neighbor according to this parable? Well, a “neighbor” might include someone in need of help, someone who might have been seen as an enemy, or someone who cannot provide for him or herself. Thus, Jesus expanded the definition of a neighbor beyond those who simply live in close proximity to us.
This parable provides us with an example to follow in considering how we might love our neighbors as ourselves. The Good Samaritan acted in compassion and concern for the need he encountered and addressed it in a manner that preserved the dignity of the injured man and drew no attention to his act of kindness. Since love always seeks another person’s highest good, our love for God should work to produce a similar sense of love and compassion for those whose paths cross our own, just like the Samaritan and the traveler in Jesus’ parable.
“But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” (Galatians 5:15).
Galatians chapter four provided us with the real-life experience of three individuals -Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar- whose actions remind us that bad ideas may result in bad decisions that ultimately lead to serious consequences. In a similar manner, the Galatians’ decision to implement the bad ideas promoted by the false teachers of their era was leading the way toward something very dangerous: “You could end up destroying one another” (NIRV).
Although we are separated from the experience of the Galatian churches by many centuries, this passage carries an important message for every generation. If our lives reflect the same destructive tendencies that characterize those who criticize and attack one other, it may be time to examine the source of those attitudes. In some instances, those responses may be traceable to an idea, teaching, or belief that has little or nothing to do with true Biblical doctrine.
We can also benefit by considering Paul the Apostle’s experience with the first-century Corinthian church. Following his departure from Corinth, Paul was informed that some members of the church had started to enter into civil lawsuits against one another. Those decisions led to Paul’s candid response…
“But now one believer goes to court against another, and you let people who are not believers judge their case! The lawsuits that you have against each other show that you are already defeated. It would be better for you to let someone wrong you. It would be better to let someone cheat you” (1 Corinthians 6:6-7 ERV).
So Paul told the Corinthians that God would be far more honored if they simply accepted the wrong that had been inflicted upon them and move on. For our purposes, this means that we may sometimes have to absorb a personal loss in order to continue to live peaceably with other members of Jesus’ church. This does not mean that we cannot act to protect our interests but it does mean that we must be open to relinquishing our rights in certain instances lest we “…completely destroy one another” (GNB).
It also means we should keep the following counsel in mind…
“Let there be no more resentment, no more anger or temper, no more violent self-assertiveness, no more slander and no more malicious remarks, Be kind to each other, be understanding. Be as ready to forgive others as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32 Phillips).
“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).
How can someone pursue a Christ-oriented life and avoid fulfilling the lusts of the flesh? Well, Galatians 5:16 provides us with the answer: “…walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (NAS).
“Walking in the Spirit” implies that we should make steady progress in our relationship with God just as we do whenever we are walking towards a destination. Although walking is often slow and not very exciting, it is a mode of travel that is available to virtually anyone and helps builds other positive characteristics like strength and endurance. These qualities are important for good spiritual growth and serve us well in our relationships with others.
Nevertheless, its important to recognize that walking also involves an element of risk. You see, there is always a possibility that we may stumble whenever we begin to walk. For instance, we may stumble as a result of our carelessness or we may stumble unexpectedly. Sometimes we stumble because we are in an unfamiliar place or begin to move too quickly. There are other times when we may stumble because we lack the experience or maturity needed to travel a specific path.
Much like a child who is learning to walk or a professional athlete who falls while attempting to make a play, its reasonable to expect that we may occasionally stumble as we walk in the Spirit. Although it is never good to stumble, its important to remember that “getting back up” is more important than falling down. If we should ever stumble as we seek to walk in the Spirit, the New Testament epistle of 1 John tells us how to get back up: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (NIV).
One effective way to avoid stumbling in our relationship with God is to travel the path followed by the first-century Christians of Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer” (CSB). These four qualities – prayer, reading God’s Word, regular church attendance, and communion- are certain to help us advance in the grace and knowledge of Christ and leave the flesh-oriented life behind.
Remember that a person who stands still will never stumble, but that person will not make any progress and may never get to God’s intended destination.
“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16 NIV).
In addition to its use as a spiritual metaphor, the Scriptures also use the word “walk” as a figure of speech to denote a person’s general conduct or behavior. Perhaps the best example of this idea might be found in the first two verses of Psalm 1: “Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night.”
As implied in the Psalm quoted above, we can choose from two options as we travel along the road of life. We can follow the counsel of those who care nothing for the things of God or we can follow the path taken by those who prioritize the teaching of God’s Word. Jesus made use of a similar concept in His famous Sermon on the Mount…
“Go in through the narrow gate; for the gate that leads to destruction is wide and the road broad, and many travel it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14 CJB).
It’s not always easy to travel a road that honors God as we’re reminded here in Matthew 7:13-14. Because of this, many prefer to take the path of least resistance with little or no concern for their final destination. For example, Galatians chapter five will tell us about several different paths along that broad road and we’ll consider a few of their corresponding behaviors when we reach verses nineteen through twenty-one.
But for now, one commentator offers some final insights on the concept of “walking” in this context…
“Walking is a metaphor used from time to time in Scripture to denote spiritual progress. People in the first century could not travel as fast as we do, with our cars, planes, trains and the like, but even so, for them as for us, walking was the slowest way of going places. But even though walking was slow and unspectacular, walking meant progress. If anyone kept walking, she or he would certainly cover the ground and eventually reach the destination. So for the apostle walking was an apt metaphor. If any believer was walking, that believer was going somewhere.” (1)
(1) Leon Morris, Galatians: Paul’s Charter of Christian Freedom, p.167 quoted in Constable, Thomas. DD. Notes on Galatians 2017 Edition [5:16] Copyright © 2017 Thomas L. Constable. https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/galatians/galatians.htm
“For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Galatians 5:17-18).
We associated “the flesh” with the weaknesses that are common to human nature in an earlier message. When used in a spiritual context, the flesh represents the best or worst anyone can do in his or her own strength. It also represents our natural tendency to think and act in ways that are misaligned with God’s design for His creation. If left unrestrained, the flesh will pursue whatever it desires at any particular moment without regard to morality or consequence.
One scholar highlights the animosity between the flesh and the Spirit with the following translation of Galatians 5:17-18: “…the evil nature constantly has a strong desire to suppress the Spirit, and the Spirit constantly has a strong desire to suppress the evil nature. And these are entrenched in an attitude of mutual opposition to one another so that you may not do the things that you desire to do” (Wuest).
But as we seek to to be led by the Spirit, we may wish to reflect upon the following cautionary message…
“…be careful not to confuse your subjective feelings with the Spirit’s leading. Being led by the Holy Spirit involves the desire to hear, the readiness to obey God’s Word, and the sensitivity to discern between your feelings and his promptings.” (1)
For instance, there are some who are often heard to use phrases like, “The Lord spoke to me…” or other, similar expressions. While it is certainly true that God provides direction for His people, its important to exercise caution before we attempt to speak for God in this manner. In such instances, we would do well to remember the advisory given to us in Proverbs 30:5-6: ”Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge In him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke-you and prove you a liar” (NIV).
Instead of a blanket statement like, “The Lord told me,” it would be far more prudent to say, ”I believe the Lord has spoken to me…” or, ”I feel that God is directing me…” or, “I think God is leading me to do such and such.” These qualifiers recognize that we are imperfect people who sometimes make honest mistakes as we seek to be led by the Spirit.
(1) Life Application Study Bible, Galatians 5:16-18 Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved. Life Application® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness” (Galatians 5:19).
It does not take a great deal of spiritual insight to recognize that “…the practices of the sinful nature are clearly evident…” in our world today. (1) While it may have been easier for previous generations to subscribe to the illusory belief that human beings are naturally good, it is now almost impossible for any thinking person to realistically do so. The reason is simple: with the advent of late 20th century internet technology, the depth of human depravity is now displayed for all to see on a near-instantaneous basis.
This reality goes far beyond those news outlets that are desperate to attract audiences with the latest “shocking revelations,” clickbait headlines, and hot takes from those who believe it is more important to be first than right. It also encompasses various forms of social media, cell phone videos from citizen journalists, and online comments from those who take pleasure in provoking, offending, and irritating others.
Unfortunately, this is more than just an isolated opinion. You see, a recent online search for the social media website Twitter and the word “cesspool” returned over a million results where those two words appeared within the same source. (2) So it seems clear that a problem exists, one that is acknowledged by those who spiritual and those who are not.
In Galatians 5:19-21, the Apostle Paul will catalogue a list of negative behaviors that are reflective of unregenerate human nature when it is left unrestrained. While this inventory will prove extensive, it is certainly not exhaustive. Paul will recognize that unfortunate reality by adding the phrase “…other things like these” (GNB) to the end of this list in verse twenty-one.
In fact, Paul was so concerned about the danger associated with a flesh-oriented life that he included two similar lists of identifying behaviors in his letters to the churches at Rome (Romans 1:28-32) and Corinth (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). One source provides us with some additional insight into this concept of “the works of the flesh” with the following observation…
“The apostle here lists seventeen typical sins of the ‘flesh.’ …These include sexual sins, religious sins, moral sins, violent sins, mental sins—everything which violates the laws of God and man. It seems anomalous that teaching that salvation depends on obedience to the works of the law would actually lead to law-breaking, but it often does just that. Our sinful human nature somehow makes that which is prohibited more desirable.” (3)
We’ll take a closer look at these behaviors and see what we can learn from them over the few studies.
(1) Amplified Bible Copyright © 2015 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA 90631. All rights reserved. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians+5%3A19&version=AMP
(2) Retrieved from https://www.google.com/search?&q=twitter+%2B+cesspool 06 April 2019.
(3) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes Galatians 2:11 https://www.icr.org/bible/Gal/5/19
“What human nature does is quite plain. It shows itself in immoral, filthy, and indecent actions” (Galatians 5:19 GNB).
The modern-day world of the 21st century differs greatly from the world that existed at the time of Paul the Apostle’s letter to the churches of Galatia. But despite the incredible advancements in technology, architecture, travel, and communication that have taken place over the past twenty centuries, it seems that people haven’t changed much, at least in certain areas.
Consider the observations of one source in commenting on the list of characteristics given to us here in Galatian 5:19…
“These are all sensual sins, relating to sex. We are often appalled at the sexual immorality of our day, but we should remember that the times Paul wrote in were as bad if not worse. ‘There is ample evidence to show that the sexual life of the Greco-Roman world at the time of the New Testament was sheer chaos. Such evidence has come not from Christian writers but from pagans who were disgusted with the unspeakable sexual immorality.’” (1)
Therefore, we should not be surprised to find that sexual immorality (ESV) represents the first item on this list of works of the flesh. This phrase is translated from the Greek word porneia, the word from which we derive our modern-day concept of “pornography.” This word serves to identify various forms of Biblically inappropriate sexual behaviors including adulterous relationships, sexual relationships between singles, and homosexual relationships, among others. Jesus also expanded this definition to include internal expressions of sexual immorality as well (see Matthew 5:27-28).
The next item is impurity (ESV) or uncleaness (ASV). In a Biblical sense, these terms serve to identify those who act with immoral motives. While “uncleaness” is primarily associated with our internal thought life, this concept might also be applied to the inappropriate words or acts that proceed from those thoughts as well.
Its interesting to note that extra-biblical references to this idea involved tenants who were responsible for keeping a home in good condition. (2) So just as the external evidence of a dirty home reflects poorly on the internal priorities of a tenant or owner, the external actions associated with an impure thought life reflect poorly upon the individual. This brings to mind something Jesus once said as recorded in the gospel of Luke…
“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45 NIV).
(1) Fung, Ronald Y. K. The Epistle to the Galatians quoted in Guzik, David Galatians 5 – Standing Fast In the Liberty of Jesus © Copyright – Enduring Word https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/galatians-5/
(2) akatharsia (G167) Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for ‘Unclean’. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ved/u/unclean.html. 1940.
“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity” (Galatians 5:19 NET).
The next item on this list of “works of the flesh” is depravity. Biblical translators have used several different English words and phrases to help communicate the idea behind this word. Some of those renderings include…
- indecency (CJB).
- promiscuity (GW, HCSB).
- unbridled lust (Voice).
- shameful deeds (CEV).
- debauchery (Mounce, NIV).
- lasciviousness (ASV, KJV).
- eagerness for lustful pleasure (TLB).
- sensuality (total irresponsibility, lack of self-control) (AMP).
However, there is another Biblical translation of this word that may be more accessible to contemporary audiences. That word is licentiousness (RSV). Although “licentiousness” is a not a word that is widely used today, the basic idea behind this term should be quite familiar to 21st century readers. For instance, many of us are acquainted with the modern-day concept of a license. A license is a type of permit that provides the authorization to lawfully engage in an act or activity.
With this in mind, let’s consider a situation where an unlicensed person engages in a licensed activity. In this example, we can say that such a person is acting licentiously. In other words, he or she is unlawfully acting without a valid license. While an unlicensed person may be able to engage in a licensed activity without getting caught (at least for a while), no one gets away with such behavior forever. As we’re reminded in Romans 2:6, “God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done’” (NIV).
Of course, someone might respond by saying, “I do whatever comes naturally to me. No one requires a license to do what comes naturally.” While this may seem to be a valid argument, its important to remember that “natural” doesn’t always mean lawful or right. For example, we might be naturally inclined to strike out at those who verbally offend us. However, most jurisdictions recognize that kind of response as an illegal assault and a violation of the law. In that scenario, our natural inclinations are unlicensed, so to speak.
The Scriptures associate these natural inclinations with the idea of “the flesh” (as seen in the passage quoted above), the “sinful nature” (NLT), or unregenerate “human nature” (GNT). If left unrestrained by cultural pressures, societal norms, human government, or spiritual regeneration, human beings will naturally gravitate towards such expressions for “what we are” largely determines what we do.
“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are… idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies” (Galatians 5:19-20).
Idolatry is the next item that appears on the list of behaviors associated with the works of the flesh here in Galatians 5:19-20. Although we often identify idolatry with the worship of false gods, an idol can be anything that takes the place of God in someone’s life. For instance, an idol can take the form of a person, a cause, a material object, or anything we love, fear, or depend on more than God. Once something becomes more important than God, that thing (whatever it is) effectively becomes our “god.”
Next comes sorcery. While sorcery is typically associated with witchcraft or the magical arts, this word can also refer to the use or administering of drugs. You see, the word “sorcery” is derived from the word pharmakeia in the original language of this passage. If this word seems familiar, it may be due to the fact that pharmakeia serves as the basis of modern-day words like “pharmacy” or “pharmaceutical.”
Unlike a modern-day pharmacy where medicinal compounds are prescribed by doctors and dispensed to heal the sick and injured, the context of this passage involves the use of drugs to serve an occultic purpose or achieve an altered state of consciousness. If we drill further into the meaning of this word, we come upon the following definition…
“In ‘sorcery,’ the use of drugs, whether simple or potent, was generally accompanied by incantations and appeals to occult powers, with the provision of various charms, amulets, etc., professedly designed to keep the applicant or patient from the attention and power of demons, but actually to impress the applicant with the mysterious resources and powers of the sorcerer” (1)
Its also significant to note that there are only two other New Testament appearances of this word; both are found within the book of book of Revelation…
“And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts” (Revelation 9:21).
“The light of a lamp shall not shine in you anymore, and the voice of bridegroom and bride shall not be heard in you anymore. For your merchants were the great men of the earth, for by your sorcery all the nations were deceived” (Revelation 18:23).
So this passage tells us that any religion, philosophy, or spiritual teaching that features occultic practices or the use of drugs to achieve an altered state of consciousness has its origin in the flesh and therefore cannot be of God.
(1) pharmakia (or —eia) (G5331) Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for ‘Sorcery’. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ved/s/sorcery.html. 1940.
“Now the works of the flesh are obvious… idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions” (Galatians 5:19-20 HCSB).
The “works of the flesh” that emerge from Galatians 5:19-21 approach us one after the other, much like the continuous stream of parts that flow down the conveyor belt of an assembly line. The next item in this list of behaviors is hatred (NIV), a word that is also translated as quarrels (Mounce), enmity (ESV), and hostilities (NET).
This word expresses more than just a simple disagreement or difference of opinion. When used in this context, it communicates the idea of contentious hostility towards someone or something else. It also conveys a sense of antagonism, dislike, and mutual opposition between two or more people. “Hatred” represents the kind of resentment and opposition that builds towards an aggressive conflict.
One commentator offers the following insight into this idea…
“(H)atred is the inner motivation for the ill treatment of others. Just as love is the inner motivation for the kind and good treatment of others, hatred is an inner motivation. Laws can be passed to punish the evil that men do against each other; but no law can answer the problem of hatred, which motivates those acts.” (1)
Next comes strife (ASV) and jealousy (CSB). Strife refers to the contention, rivalry, and discord we sometimes experience with others. The New Testament letter of 1 Timothy tells us that it is possible to identify the presence of strife in some relationships and trace it back to the existence of pride and ignorance (see 1 Timothy 6:3-5). Jealousy is a characteristic of those who possess an intense desire to possess something (or someone) that belongs to someone else. It can also refer to a feeling of disapproval when others are blessed or successful.
“Outbursts of anger” speaks of a sudden, uncontrolled expression of rage. Then there are “selfish ambitions,” a phrase that refers to the “…self-seeking that engenders antagonism and factionalism. The Gr. word came to describe anyone who entered politics for selfish reasons and sought to achieve his agenda at any cost (i.e., even if that meant trampling on others).” (2)
Galatians 5:20 then closes with dissensions followed by factions. The first term refers to “a standing apart” (3) while the second identifies those who splinter into opposing groups. These represented the kinds of attitudes that prompted the warning of Romans 16:7: “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.”
However, there is another way to define the idea of “factions” and we’ll examine that concept in greater detail next.
(1) Guzik, David Galatians 5 – Standing Fast In the Liberty of Jesus © Copyright – Enduring Word https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/galatians-5/
(2) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Jas 3:14). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
(3) dichostasía (G1370) Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for ‘Sedition’. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ved/s/sedition.html. 1940.
“Now the works of the flesh are evident… idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions” (Galatians 5:19-20 ESV).
In addition to factions (CSB), sects (YLT), and group rivalry (CEB), the final characteristic given to us here in Galatians 5:20 can also be translated as divisions or heresies (KJV). These terms refer to the act of substituting a choice or opinion for the truth, thus leading to the creation of factions among others as a result. A person who refuses to change his or her opinion to gain (or maintain) an advantage is someone who might be covered by this general definition.
In a larger context, a “heresy” is a belief or teaching that does not correspond with genuine Biblical truth. Heresies are destructive in the sense that they misrepresent the truth about God and subsequently prevent others from establishing a genuine relationship with Him, But how does a heretical teaching fit in with these other, more obvious works of the flesh like adultery, fornication, and idolatry?
Well, this idea becomes easier to understand if we bring the concept of motive into our discussion. For instance, lets consider the example of a person who claims to possess a new spiritual revelation or someone who advocates for a novel interpretation of God’s Word. Unlike those who seek to bring a fresh application of Biblical truth to meet the needs of a changing culture, the person in our illustration is someone who claims to have an exclusive insight into spiritual truth that others do not possess.
If the individual in our example begins to attract a following, he or she will inevitably become a focus of interest for a growing number of others. For the person who is motivated by a flesh-oriented desire for attention, the opportunity to gain recognition as the exclusive channel of spiritual truth may be too great to resist. Thus, a heretical teaching not only becomes something wrong but a self serving work of the flesh as well.
Finally, one commentator summarizes each of the flesh-oriented characteristics given to us in Galatians 5:19-20 with the following observation…
“These are each ‘people’ sins. They are sins that primarily express themselves in how we treat others. God cares about our sexual and moral purity, and He cares about the purity of our religion and worship. But He also passionately cares about how we treat one another. The fact that Paul uses more words to describe these interpersonal sins shows how important our treatment of each other is to God.” (1)
(1) Guzik, David Galatians 5 – Standing Fast In the Liberty of Jesus © Copyright – Enduring Word https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/galatians-5/
“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are… envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19, 21).
The final set of characteristics listed in Galatians 5:19-21 begins with envy. We can associate envy with a feeling of discontent and/or resentment that occurs when someone else is blessed or successful. If an envious person cannot have something others enjoy, he or she may belittle or disparage the talents, qualities, assets, or accomplishments they possess.
One commentator recites an ancient Stoic proverb that serves to illustrate an envious mindset: “Envy is to grieve at another’s good.” (1) Another source offers the following observation: “(Envy) doesn’t so much want what someone else has (as in jealousies), but it is bitter just because someone else has something and we don’t.” (2)
We can often identify the presence of envy by taking an honest and objective look at our attitude towards others. For instance, are we offended by those who possess more than we do? Do we grudgingly resent their success? If we are engaged in a competition, do we seek to win or do we secretly desire to see others lose? These characteristics (and others like them) are inconsistent with a God-honoring attitude according to the New Testament book of James…
“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:14-16).
Envy is then followed by “murders” here in Galatians 5:21. We can define murder as “the unlawful killing of one human being by another.” (3) This definition covers several types of different homicidal acts. For example, a premeditated murder describes a homicide that begins with an intent to kill another human being. A non-premeditated murder is also known as manslaughter. Unlike a premeditated murder, manslaughter may be voluntary (as in the intent to injure but not kill someone) or involuntary (as in a criminally negligent homicide).
Regardless of its form, murder is a crime that demonstrates a callous disregard for human life and contempt for those who are created in God’s image. Therefore, one cannot be an unrepentant murderer and expect to spend eternity with the Author of life.
(1) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, Galatians 5 [5:21] Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL07/VOL07A_02.html
(2) David Guzik, Galatians 5 – Standing Fast In the Liberty of Jesus https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/galatians-5/
(3) The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
“Now the works of the flesh are evident… 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” (Galatians 5:19, 21 ESV).
The next to last item on the list of negative characteristics given to us above is drunkenness.
In his New Testament letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul the Apostle offered the following guidance regarding alcohol abuse: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). Debauchery is a word that expresses the general idea of moral corruption- and alcohol’s contribution in that regard is well-known among those who have seen or experienced it’s effects.
Modern medical professionals classify alcohol as a depressant, and alcohol abuse serves to depress one’s capacity for self-control, good judgment, and wise decision-making. The Scriptures offer a glimpse into this harsh reality with the record of an incident in the life of Noah. Noah was an otherwise God-honoring man who once got so drunk that he passed out naked (see Genesis 9:18-22). We can find another example in the shockingly immoral account of Lot and his daughters (Genesis 19:30-38).
Although the Scriptures do not mandate complete abstinence from alcohol (see John 2:1-11 and 1 Timothy 5:23), a decision to voluntarily limit one’s freedom in this area will often prove to be the wisest course of action. While two Christians of good conscience may differ regarding the propriety of alcoholic beverages, each should be able to agree that the Bible alerts us to the dangers of alcohol abuse in the passage quoted above and the cautionary message of Proverbs 23:29-35…
“Who has anguish? Who has sorrow? Who is always fighting? Who is always complaining? Who has unnecessary bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? It is the one who spends long hours in the taverns, trying out new drinks. Don’t gaze at the wine, seeing how red it is, how it sparkles in the cup, how smoothly it goes down. For in the end it bites like a poisonous snake; it stings like a viper.
You will see hallucinations, and you will say crazy things. You will stagger like a sailor tossed at sea, clinging to a swaying mast. And you will say, ‘They hit me, but I didn’t feel it. I didn’t even know it when they beat me up. When will I wake up so I can look for another drink?’” (NLT).
“Now the works of the flesh are obvious… envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance–as I told you before–that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19, 21 HCSB).
The final characteristic associated with the “works of the flesh” quoted above is revelrings (ASV), orgies (NIV), or wild parties (CEV), While the term “orgy” is often associated with the kind of unrestrained sexual activity that might take place within a group, (1) this word carried a different connotation in the New Testament era.
In the days of the first century, the concept of wild partying (GW) described a boisterous feast or riotous drinking party that went on until late into the evening. Today we might associate this idea with a group celebration that has gotten out of control or the disorderly conduct of a crowd at a sporting event. This meant more than simply having a good time with a group of friends. Instead, this term served to identify a band of miscreants who were engaged in rowdy and offensive behaviors.
Its also important to note that the list of characteristics given to us in Galatians 5:19-21 are not the only types of behaviors that comprise the works of the “sinful nature” (AMP). You see, the phrase “…and other sins like these” (NLT) serves to identify similar violations of God’s moral will for humanity. (2) As mentioned earlier, this implies that the list given to us here in Galatians 5:19-21 is representative, not exhaustive.
These characteristics (and others like them) are all associated with a mindset that ignores or rejects God. While we have the option to pursue the kind of life that reflects these qualities, there is a payoff involved: “…I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21). One Biblical scholar offers a final observation in commentating on these behaviors…
“One’s lifestyle choices reveal the heart. Those who are truly redeemed still struggle with sin, but their lives are not characterized by sin (cf. 1 John 3:6,9). It is not that these sins cannot be forgiven or that true Christians do not commit these sins, but that in a true believer the process of Christlikeness has begun. The Spirit, who drew believers to Christ, is now forming Christ in them (cf. Gal. 4:19; John 16:8-13). Jesus was very clear about the lifestyle of believers in Matthew 7, ‘by their fruits you shall know them.’” (3)
(1) That type of behavior was covered earlier in Galatians 5:19
(2) See Constable, Thomas. DD. Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable Galatians 5 (5:21). https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/galatians-5.html
(3) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, Galatians 5 [5:21] Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL07/VOL07A_02.html
“…I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!” (Galatians 5:21 NET).
Advertisers, marketing executives, small business owners, public service organizations, and multi-national corporations all have one thing in common: each of these entities seeks to identify and communicate with the members of a target audience.
A “target audience” represents a specific group of people that an organization wants to reach with a message, advertisement, or information campaign. Individual consumers within a target audience can be further separated by age, demographic, income, geographic location, and other relevant factors. Taken together, the individual segments within a target audience comprise the target market for a product or service.
For instance, have you ever had an advertisement seem to “follow” you as you visited various websites on the internet? This can occur when advertisers collect information from the previous websites you’ve viewed and use that data to establish you as a member of a target audience based on your browsing history. Once someone has been identified as a member of a target audience, he or she is more likely to see advertisements that are tailored to a specific marketing campaign.
With this in mind, we can say that the message of of Galatians 5:21 is also directed towards a target audience as well. That audience is “those who practice such things…” (CSB), or those individuals who habitually engage in the behaviors given to us in Galatians 5:19-21. A secondary audience for this message might also include those who are tempted to engage in one or more of these actions.
Its important to note that the term “practice” implies a lifestyle, mindset, attitude, or customary behavior that excludes someone from inheriting the kingdom of God. A person who struggles to overcome sinful behaviors is someone who falls outside the target audience for this message. The same is true of someone who falls in a moment of weakness and later repents. This does not excuse such behaviors but it does remind us that an isolated lapse in judgment is not the same as a habitual practice.
One source concludes with this sobering reminder…
“The passage does not teach that a drunkard cannot be saved, but it does say that those whose lives are characterized by the above catalog of fleshly works are not saved. Why should Paul write in this manner to churches of Christians? The reason is that not all who profess to be saved are true children of God. Thus throughout the NT the Holy Spirit often follows the presentation of wonderful spiritual truths with the most solemn warnings to all who profess the name of Christ.” (1)
(1) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers p.1924
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“…I’ve told you in the past and I’m telling you again that people who do these kinds of things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21 GW).
We can associate the “kingdom of God” with something that reflects a present and future reality. For example, we can define a “kingdom” as a realm that is ruled by a sovereign authority. With this in mind, we can view the “kingdom of God” as a place where God reigns and people follow Him.
In this sense, the kingdom of God is present wherever people are living and growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ, for those practices are characteristic of God’s rulership. As Paul the Apostle reminded the church at Corinth, “…the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power” (NLT). Because of this, the kingdom of God can exist within in a church, a prison, a private home, a hospital, a school, or even within our lives.
Jesus expanded on this idea in a conversation with the religious leadership of His day…
“Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you’” (Luke 17:20-21 NIV).
In a broader sense, the kingdom of God will find it’s complete fulfillment at a future date as revealed within the final book of the Bible…
“Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:1, 3-4 NIV).
We can apply each of these concepts in the context of Galatians 5:21. First, we can say that a person who habitually engages in one or more of the behaviors given to us in Galatians 5:19-21 offers evidence to confirm that he or she has rejected God’s sovereign authority to set the moral parameters for human conduct. Finally, those who reject God’s rulership in this temporal domain will also be excluded from citizenship in His eternal kingdom as well.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Just as we can identify a tree by the fruit it produces, we can often learn a lot about a person by examining the “fruit” (or results) that his or her actions produce. For instance, we wouldn’t expect to harvest peaches off an orange tree nor should we expect to find apples on a pear tree. In a similar way, we can tell if someone is living a Christ-oriented life by looking for what the Apostle Paul describes as the “fruit of the Spirit” in the passage quoted above.
These qualities represent the identifying marks of a life that is directed by the Holy Spirit. In contrast to the self-oriented qualities listed within the previous verses, the characteristics within Galatians 5:22-23 represent the external evidence of the internal working of the Holy Spirit to produce Christ-like character. Nevertheless, this passage presents us with an interpretive challenge regarding the use of the word “fruit”
You see, this passage uses the word “fruit” in a singular form, thus indicating that these characteristics represent a compound unity. In other words, the nine characteristics given to us here in Galatians 5:22-23 represent a single fruit. Here is how various commentators explain this concept…
“The word fruit is singular, which fact serves to show that all of the elements of character spoken of in these verses are a unity, making for a well-rounded and complete Christian life.” (1)
“Since fruit is singular, it apparently sees the following characteristics (love … self-control) as a harmonious unity. It is a multifaceted prism that displays its beauty in diverse but integrated ways.” (2)
“(Fruit is) (s)ingular in number; not nine fruits, but one fruit composed of nine elements. The first three are in relation to God; the next three are in relation to man; and the last three are in relation to one’s own inner life.” (3)
“It is also interesting to note that fruit is SINGULAR in this verse. The use of the SINGULAR can be understood in two ways: 1. love is the fruit of the Spirit, described by the varying terms that follow 2. it is a collective singular like ‘seed.’” (4)
So Galatians 5:22-23 tells us what we should look for as we seek to evaluate God’s work in our lives and the lives of others.
(1) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (Galatians 5:22-23) Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
(2) Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1528). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
(3) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2399). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
(4) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, Galatians 5 Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL07/VOL07A_05.html
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV).
It is fitting that love represents the first element identified with the fruit of the Spirit here in Galatians 5:22-23 for love represents a foundational characteristic of God. For instance, 1 John 4:8 tells us, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Perhaps the greatest Biblical expression of this idea is found in the well-known passage from John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
As mentioned earlier, love can be defined by the characteristics given to us in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Joy is the next quality that is associated with the fruit of the Spirit. In this context, “joy” expresses the idea of cheerfulness or calm delight. (1) While a feeling of happiness may often accompany joy, joy is not necessarily synonymous with happiness. For example, people are generally happy when good things happen and sad when negative things occur. But unlike the transient feeling of happiness that often accompanies a favorable situation or event, joy is not dependent upon external circumstances.
You see, happiness is a variable quality that hinges on our emotions and may change from day to day or moment to moment. In contrast, joy is a spiritual quality that continues even in the absence of happiness. And while happiness is often tied to the people, places, or things we experience in life, joy is tethered to our relationship with God.
This is important because human beings may fall away, move away, or pass away. The neighborhoods and landscapes that once produced happy memories may cease to exist one day. The things we own will eventually break down, wear out, or be replaced with something newer or better. The people, places, and things that bring us happiness may pass from the scene but joy is a lasting quality that is anchored to the immutable (or unchanging) God.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV).
The word “peace” is synonymous with a state of contentment and/or well being. This would also include the absence of external hostilities as well as internal conflicts like worry, anxiety, or insecurity. A person who is free from these contentions is someone who is “at peace.”
Galatians 5:22 tells us that peace is quality that is associated with the Spirit of God. It’s only through living a Christ-centered life that we can we find lasting peace in a constantly changing world. This peace is available to us through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross for as Jesus told His disciples, “I am leaving you with a gift– peace of mind and heart! And the peace I give isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27 TLB).
The next characteristic associated with the fruit of the Spirit is patience. Patience involves the ability to bear with one another’s faults. A look at the original language of this passage also tells us that this word encompasses the following qualities: “to persevere patiently and bravely… in enduring misfortunes and troubles and to be patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others, to be longsuffering, slow to anger, slow to punish.” (1)
Patience is a quality that enables us to maintain a God-honoring demeanor when interacting with those who are insulting, aggravating, slow, childish, or incompetent. In these situations, its helpful to remember that patience is a quality exhibited by God Himself who “…is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
This attribute was also modeled by Jesus: “Christ never verbally abused those who verbally abused him. When he suffered, he didn’t make any threats but left everything to the one who judges fairly” (1 Peter 2:23 GW). Although patience is a quality that may not come easily for many of us, it is an attribute that can be developed by those who prayerfully seek God’s empowerment.
Finally, these elements of peace and patience are tied together in the following quote from the New Testament book of Ephesians: “Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Try always to be led along together by the Holy Spirit and so be at peace with one another” (Ephesians 4:2-3 TLB).
(1) G3114 makrothymeo Thayer’s Greek Definitions https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3114&t=NKJV
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23 NET).
The next identifying quality associated with the fruit of the Spirit is kindness. Kindness is a characteristic that is often identified with compassion, benevolence, and good will. In addition, we can add the qualities of integrity and “moral excellence in character or demeanor” (1) to these commonly accepted attributes.
This virtue is followed by goodness, a word that benefits from a closer examination. For instance, some define goodness as “anything that works for me.” In other words, something is good only if it works to achieve a desired result. Then there are others who are good simply because they want to avoid the negative consequences that might result from doing otherwise. If we removed those consequences, the incentive to be good would vanish as well.
However, Galatians 5:22 tells us that true goodness results from the internal work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. While some are motivated by self-interest or an external set of rules, there is a difference between doing good and being good. A person who displays this fruit of the Spirit is someone who acts in an upright manner even when he or she is not incentivized to do so.
Faithfulness is the next characteristic given to us in this passage. Faithfulness is an attribute that reflects the qualities of loyalty, reliability, trustworthiness, and fidelity. Jesus once discussed the importance of faithfulness in a message to His disciples…
“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?” (Luke 10-12 NLT).
The next element associated with the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness. Gentleness is an quality that can diffuse a confrontational situation by demonstrating a willingness to listen and consider another persons point of view. Gentleness is also displayed through a willingness to modify our opinion when it is appropriate to do so.
Finally, this passage references the quality of self-control. Self-control involves the ability to take control of our emotions instead of having them take control of us. A person who possesses the God-given quality of self-control is someone who is least likely to suffer the detrimental consequences that are often associated with a loss of composure.
(1) G5544 chrestotes https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g5544
“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT).
We opened our look at Galatians chapter five by considering the two paths by which one may approach God: self-focused or God-oriented. A self-focused approach says, “God will accept me if I meet the right performance criteria.” A God-oriented approach says, “Jesus has already met the right criteria and I am made acceptable to God through His sacrifice.”
As mentioned earlier, these approaches are mutually exclusive. Those who seek to find acceptance with God by following a list of “do’s and don’ts” must turn from the path of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. Those who accept Christ must abandon any attempt to get right with God by their own efforts. A decision to ignore or reject God entirely carries its own consequence as well.
With these things in mind, lets take a moment to contrast the self-focused life that’s described for us in Galatians 5:19-21 and the Christ-oriented life that’s outlined in Galatians 5:22-23…
Self-Focused Life (works of the flesh)
Christ-Oriented Life (fruit of the Spirit)
|Outbursts Of Wrath||Self-Control|
A decision to pursue the works of the flesh (or reject God entirely) always carries negative consequences. These are the ramifications we encounter in Galatians 5:19-21: “…sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar” (CSB). The ultimate repercussion that accompanies that choice is eternal: “I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!” (NET).
On the other hand, those who approach God through faith in Christ can expect to see a number of positive results that flow from that decision. Those positive results include the qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. While struggles and difficulties may continue on the road to Christian maturity, these positive consequences should be increasingly evident as we encounter and overcome such challenges.
Therefore as Galatians 5:23 concludes, “You won’t find any law opposed to fruit like this” (Voice). In the words of one commentary, “A person who exhibits the fruit of the Spirit fulfills the law far better than a person who observes the rituals but has little love in his or her heart.” (1)
(1) Life Application New Testament Commentary, pg,791 Copyright © 2001 by The Livingstone Corporation., all rights reserved.
“And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).
It might be easy to speed past this reference to crucifixion in the passage above and miss an important point: crucifixion represented a horrific form of death. In the words of one source, “(Crucifixion) was designed to produce a slow death with maximum pain and suffering. It was one of the most disgraceful and cruel methods of execution and usually was reserved only for slaves, foreigners, revolutionaries, and the vilest of criminals.” (1)
This graphic imagery illustrates the type of death sentence warranted by the “works of the flesh.” The Biblical book of Romans builds on this idea in a similar manner…
“We know that the person we used to be was crucified with him to put an end to sin in our bodies. Because of this we are no longer slaves to sin. The person who has died has been freed from sin” (Romans 6:6-7 GW).
“…if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13 NIV).
So the path to overcoming the works of the flesh leads through the cross of Christ for “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there” (NLT). However, its important to note that death by crucifixion was seldom quick and never easy. The same is likely to be true of the flesh as well.
Therefore, in the words of Romans 12:1,“…I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God—which is your reasonable service” (NET). We can associate the idea of a living sacrifice with a person who strives to identify the characteristics of the flesh and seeks God’s empowerment to crucify those traits on a daily basis.
Much like a victorious army in a captured territory, there may be pockets of enemy resistance that must be defeated before further progress can be made. However, the process of rooting out those enemy positions may be slow and difficult. This analogy is not unlike the process of crucifying the “…old nature with all that it loved and lusted for” (Phillips). Nevertheless, success is achievable through the power of the Holy Spirit for “…God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13 NLT).
(1) William D. Edwards, “Christ Died Quickly On The Cross” quoted in “The Book Of Jesus” edited by Calvin Miller pg. 388
“If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:25-26).
Conceit is something that is both easily recognizable and almost imperceptible. You see, characteristics like conceit and envy are often glaringly obvious in others but may be virtually undetectable within ourselves. For instance, consider the following characterization offered by the author C.S. Lewis.
In his book, The Screwtape Letters, Lewis recounts the efforts of a fictional demon as he counsels a young apprentice in the art of turning the virtue of humility into something else…
“Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, ‘By jove! I’m being humble’, and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear.
If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt—and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don’t try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humour and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed.” (1)
This humorous narrative carries an important message, as do the insights of the following commentators…
“Everyone needs a certain amount of approval from others. But those who go out of their way to secure honors or to win popularity become conceited and show they are not following the Holy Spirit’s leading. Those who look to God for approval won’t need to envy others. Because we are God’s sons and daughters, we have his Holy Spirit as the loving guarantee of his approval. Seek to please God, and the approval of others won’t seem so important.” (2)
“This whole chapter lends itself to a searching examination of ourselves. We often think that our problems and difficulties are all outside of ourselves. We think that we would be fine if everyone just treated us right and if circumstances just got better. But that ignores the tenor of this chapter: the problems are in us, and need to be dealt with by the Spirit of God. Augustine used to often pray, ‘Lord, deliver me from that evil man, myself.’ With that kind of reality check, we can see a new world, and a new life – and not one other person or one other circumstance has to change. All we must do is yield to the Spirit of God, and begin to truly walk in the Spirit.” (3)
(1) C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters pg. 69
(2) Life Application Study Bible NKJV (Galatians 5:26). Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.
(3) David Guzik, Galatians 5 – Standing Fast In the Liberty of Jesus © Copyright – Enduring Word https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/galatians-5/