Galatians 5

Live by the Spirit

In Galatians 5, we see Paul continue his spirited opposition to requiring ritual practices to the message of the Gospel. Paul continues to preach that circumcision is not required as entry into the new covenant that is offered through the sacrifice of Jesus. And yet, even more so, Paul is not just advocating against something. Paul is for something. Specifically, Paul is for a life wholly measured and determined by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. 

Read Galatians 5:13-26. You can click this link to read this passage.

Paul makes yet another bold claim here (something Paul does quite often). Paul says that there are basically two ways to live in the world: your own way or the way guided by the Spirit of God. And trust me, this is a bold claim. Because I’m not sure that we always believe this–even as followers of Jesus I think we can easily ignore, forget, or just plain disagree with this. 

Of course, we do believe it to some extent, but Paul really believes this. Paul says in verse 17 that a person’s selfish desires and the way of the Spirit “are opposed to each other.” And so, even more than simply offering two ways of living in the world, Paul says that these two ways are diametrically opposed to each other. Each way bears fruit; each way shows the results of our choices. The way of the self leads to behaviors where you alone are considered, where you alone are valued, where you alone matter. The way of the Spirit leads to the virtues of Christ: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

And while these sound like wonderful attributes, and the list of negative behaviors doesn’t always sound good, I am still left with a question. Why choose the way of the Spirit over the way of the self?

Paul gives us (at least) two answers in this passage (one which I like, and one which I like less). 

The one which I like less goes like this: “I warn you as I have already warned you, that those who do these kinds of things (the way of the self) won’t inherit God’s kingdom” (Galatians 5:21). 

There are eternal consequences for the choices that we make. God’s kingdom, both now and for all eternity, is at stake in our lives. Will we join with Jesus in bringing the kingdom of heaven on earth or will we miss out? 

And the one which I like goes like this: “Christ has set us free for freedom. Therefore stand firm and don’t submit to the bondage of slavery again” (Galatians 5:1). 

To live according to the way of the self is bondage. It is enslavement to our own will, to our own desires, and it ultimately leads us to the pain of failed relationships, the sting of a life lived poorly, and to the weight of sin and death in our lives. But, the way of the Spirit is the way of freedom. We are freed from the need to do whatever feels good to us in the moment but ultimately fails to bring us lasting joy and happiness. We are freed from the pain of breaking the confidence and trust of our friends and family. We are freed, instead, to live selflessly. To consider the needs of others as greater than our own. To live with grace and peace. To have our passions and desires submitted to the Spirit of God, cleansed, and offered a life lived well. 

So, why choose the way of the Spirit over the way of the self? To do so is not only Christ-like (which it certainly is), but it is also the only truly fulfilling way to live. To live according to the way of the self is a vacuum that continues to drain us of life as we continue to seek what will bring us shalom: completeness, wholeness.To release the need to control, the need to choose, the need to always find what will bring us fulfillment, we find that we find our fulfillment in God. 

This week, may we reflect on the way of the Spirit. May we practice these fruits of the Spirit in our lives. And may our restless hearts find the rest they need in Christ alone.