Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Galatians 5:16-26 Notes

As is often the case in his letters, having established key doctrinal positions, Paul now turns to the practical implications of those doctrines for his readers. Gal. 5:16-6:18 contain the imperatives for how those who are free in Christ should live.

The key phrase in 5:16-26 is “walk by the Spirit,” which serves as an inclusio in 5:16 and 5:25. Often we minimize the mention of the Holy Spirit due the extreme positions taken by others. This robs us of valuable insight into God’s word. Just as the Old Testament promised the coming of a Messiah and a new covenant, it also promised the coming of the Holy Spirit (notice a few examples: Isa. 44:3; Ezek. 36:26-27; 39:29; Joel 2:28-29).Living by the Spirit is part of the total package of blessings the OT promised in the Messianic age. 

The promise of the Spirit is in conjunction with the OT promise that some day God would cleanse His people “from the inside out.” Ideally, those who entered the Mosaic covenant reflected an inner circumcision of the heart corresponding to the outer, fleshly circumcision - from the outside in (Lev. 26:41; Deut. 10:16). However, the people failed to do this. God promised that He would do it for them (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 32:39; Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26). Indeed, this is what will make God’s new covenant special - it will be written on the heart (Jer. 31:33). This is why the promise of the Spirit is so important - the Spirit will provide an inner, spiritual renewal (Ezek. 37:14). Paul specifically refers to this concept in Gal. 4:6. It is through this inner renewal that we can enjoy the true circumcision of the heart (Rom. 2:29).  

We must not say less or more than the Bible says about the Spirit. Nothing Paul says in this text should be used as an excuse to sin. We have a responsibility to “walk by the Spirit,” to be “led by the Spirit” (5:18), to crucify the flesh (5:24). Whatever help God providentially gives to us by the Spirit, the only objectively way we can know we are walking by the Spirit is if we are living according to what Christ says (6:1-2).

In context, Paul is dealing with how to resist the desires of the flesh.The Judaizers were arguing that the Gentiles must accept the Law as their basis for right standing and right living.Paul is arguing that the Law only condemns, but that those who live in the freedom of Christ (5:1, 13), by the Spirit, paradoxically fulfill the ultimate goal of the Law to begin with, namely, love (5:14). On the other hand, those who insist on keeping the Law will paradoxically lead to its breaking, since their factious behavior has caused enmity and strife, the opposite of love (see Eph. 2:1-3 for instance).

Paul begins by setting forth competing ways of life: flesh and Spirit.

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, 

“‘Walking by the Spirit’ is the antithesis of ‘completing the desire of the flesh’, the opposite, that is, of all selfish grasping and self-promoting display” (Dunn 296). Compare this language to the contrasting births of Ishmael and Isaac in 4:29, one by the flesh (human orientation and provision) and one by the Spirit (divine orientation and provision).

and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 

It may be that one of the arguments of the Judaizers was that if Gentiles did not accept the Law they would hopelessly lapse back into the sinful behavior of their pagan past. But Paul’s response is that putting on the “yoke of slavery” is not the answer. In fact, as he argued in 3:10-23, it made the problem of sin much worse! Rather, the Galatians need to know that what they have in Jesus, in the era of the new covenant, the era of the Holy Spirit, is sufficient to mold their lives in Christ-likeness rather than in gratification of the flesh.

17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, 

To live according to the flesh is to be driven by carnal impulses from within. To live according to the Spirit is to be controlled by God’s holy purposes instead. 

to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 

I assume Paul means that the desires of the Spirit keep us from doing the things we want to do (the desires of the flesh) by being in opposition to them. Another option is reflected in the NLT: “These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.”

18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 

This is the key verse to understand how this section fits into the overall argument of Galatians. All along in the book Paul has emphasized that the Galatians are not “under the law.” The nuance Paul adds here is that in the era of fulfillment, the age of the Messiah, we are to be led by the Spirit, and no longer by the Law. 

“To put oneself thus ‘under the law’, was to look once again for an answer to ‘the desire of the flesh’ in a written code, an outward constraint; whereas in the age of fulfillment introduced by Christ, it was the circumcision of the heart, an effective inner force which was now available. To put oneself ‘under the law’, in other words, was to look in the wrong direction for salvation.” (Dunn 301).

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: 

“And to put oneself on the level of the flesh is to put oneself on the same level as so many of the very things which the Jews…despised” (Dunn 301). 

These sorts of lists of vices were very common in the ancient world. Paul is dealing specifically with two kinds of sin here: sins relating to their pagan past, and sins relating to the current state of conflict among brethren.

sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, 

These first five terms all have clear connections to the lifestyle pagans often practiced, especially in connection with idol worship at pagan feasts. For other references see Acts 15:20, 29; 1 Cor. 10:6-10.

enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy,

The next set of sins involve internal relationships. Given what Paul says before (5:15) and after (5:26) this list, it seems clear that these works of the flesh were listed because they were specific problems facing the brethren in Galatia, turmoil sparked by the Judaizers. 

drunkenness, orgies, 

Paul concludes this list with two more common sins of idol worshippers: “drunkenness, orgies” (see also 1 Peter 4:3). Again, if the Judaizers were arguing that adherence to the Law was the way to deny the flesh, Paul’s point is even more pertinent. It is by the Spirit that these deeds are put to death.

and things like these. 

Many other behaviors could be listed that are generated by the flesh (the Jewish writer Philo composed one with 140 items!).

I warn you, as I warned you before,

Paul’s original teaching must have included lots of moral instruction (cf. Phil. 4:9; 1 Thess. 4:1).

that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 

The kingdom (or rule) of God is something that we experience now, but also something we await to enjoy in its fullest sense in glory (cf. Matt. 25:34; 1 Cor. 6:9-11). It is an inheritance for us like the promised land was for Israel.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is 

“Christ-like character…is the principle product of the Spirit” (Dunn 308).

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; 

These virtues are in contrast to the sins of conflict in 5:20b-21a. It is no surprise that “love” leads the list (1 Cor. 13:13; Rom. 5:5). Pagan lists of virtues did not mention love, but the last three virtues (“faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”) were common Greek virtues.

against such things there is no law. 

Paul’s point is that those walking by the Spirit are no longer under the Law, but their behavior is so controlled by the Spirit that they do not violate the Law.

24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 

Those who belong to Christ have made a conscious decision to crucify the flesh (2:2), and therefore want to live for Him. This is probably an allusion to baptism (cf. Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:3-7; cf. Dunn 315). 

25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 

Since life came by the Spirit (3:3), we should walk by the Spirit .

26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. 

And walking by the Spirit will restrain fleshly impulses to conflict. 

No comments:

Post a Comment