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Galatians 5:22-23 are some of the most well-known scripture verses in the entirety of the Bible, and for very good reason: in them, Paul lists the ‘fruits of the spirit’—those things that are evidence of a Spirit-led life. It is a wonderful thing to study, and an even more wonderful thing to bare testimony to in our lives. However, there is so much more to Galatians chapter 5 than this list of virtues—Paul concludes his arguments against legalism in the first 10 verses, summarizes the Law and urges Christians to move past it away from it and into liberty in verses 11-15, instructs us on how we should use our Christian liberty in verses 16-21 and what we should abstain from, and then in his concluding remarks tells us what we should be displaying instead in our lives.
In short, this chapter bridges the gap between legalism and a true Christian walk. There is a lot here, and we could spend weeks studying it and still never do it justice. But, with the limited time that we have, I’ll do my best to hit the high points of this profound chapter.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9 “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty.
Paul reiterates himself a lot when there is a point he wants to make, and in verse 2 we see him once again addressing the issue of circumcision, this time point-blank telling the Galatians that if they submit to circumcision “Christ will be of no value,” to them! Verse 3 states that every man who allows himself to be circumcised must obey the entirety of the law. Verse 4 gets even more to the point—those who are trying to be justified by law are alienated, or separated from Christ and have fallen from grace.
What a contrast from the ‘fallen from grace’ taught in the message of William Branham! In the message, if you don’t dress or live your life in accordance with message standards you are ‘fallen from grace’ (for those interested in a reference, see paragraph 223 in ‘The Way of a True Prophet’ preached in January, 1963 or paragraph 163 in ‘The Choosing of a Bride’ in April, 1965). Paul, in contrast, states that it is by submitting ourselves to these rules that we have fallen from grace! We could very easily substitute ‘message standards’ for ‘circumcision’ or ‘law’ and come to a better understanding of what it means to ‘fall from grace’—it means to give something besides Jesus Christ and His grace extended to us any power to save. The Jewadizers during Paul’s time and message pastors have that in common—one gives the power to save to an individual’s ability to keep the law of Moses, and one gives the power to save to an individual’s obedience to what William Branham’s teachings—but both minimize the power of Christ’s sacrifice, and both reject Paul’s command to refrain from legalist mentalities—from bondage.
Continuing in verses 11-15:
11 Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
Pretty strong words from Paul! Clearly Paul wanted to rid the church of the Galatians of these agitators and to provoke the Galatians to uphold the truth of the law by keeping the simple command, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Verse 12 is something worthy of a deeper study, for depending on the Bible translation you’re reading either Paul wants the agitators to castrate themselves or simply remove themselves from the fellowship. It is a very interesting study for those interested.
In verse 15, Paul changes directions, and begins to describe those things that Christians shouldn’t do. He begins by urging them to stop the arguments, insults, and offenses between each other, but this continues in verses 16-21:
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
He starts out with a summary—walk in the Spirit and not for the flesh, for the flesh (what we desire in our selfishness in order to gratify ourselves) is contrary to the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are contrary to the flesh. This isn’t to say that we are never to experience pleasure in our lives, but simply that we shouldn’t conduct ourselves for the purpose of self-gratification, and if we come to a point in our lives where we have to choose between walking in the Spirit and feeding the flesh we should deny our bodies and live to bring honor and glory to Christ and good to our fellow man.
But from experience (and I’m sure you can attest to this as well) living in order to please our Heavenly Father, further the Gospel of Christ, and serve our fellow man with love and compassion though difficult at times is ultimately the most rewarding thing we can do, and it is through good works and Spirit-led living that we can attain true fulfillment and enjoyment in our lives.
Verses 19-21 list a number of very specific things that Christians, who are yielded to the Spirit of God and led by God on a daily basis will not participate in or be guilty of doing at any time. Sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery are without question refrained from by all those professing Christianity and those led of the Spirit of God—sexual immorality is an affront to the covenant of marriage, which is build on the mutual respect of husband and wife to provide for one another stability, permanence, safety, and intimacy that we all crave in romantic relationships. No matter which way you slice it, sexual immorality rejects one or more of these things.
Debauchery, or uncleaness in behavior and speech can be offensive to others—certainly not something we would purposefully do if we love the person and want to treat them with respect and dignity. Idolatry is willful disregard for the sovereignty of God—it is unloving to our Heavenly Father. Sorcery or witchcraft says that by a power outside of the will and purposes of God we can have power ourselves to manipulate our world. Not only is this an affront to God but depending upon the sorcery engaged in, it can be unloving towards others.
Hatred, discord, jealousy, and fits of rage go without saying—all of these things are by definition unloving towards our fellow man. There is no such thing as a ‘Godly hatred’ for another human being, for God say fit to die for the whole world—He loved the World so much that He gave His life to save it.
Selfish ambitions are going to cause us to disregard the feelings and needs of others in favor of the single-minded pursuit of what we want to do regardless of the effects on those around us.
Dissentions and factions are simultaneously unloving towards God and His Word, and represent unloving attitudes towards our fellow man. We should always strive to remain in harmony with one another and to maintain fellowship, for boundary lines and exclusions do nothing but hurt one another.
Envies, drunkenness, and orgies are expansions of already-established principles—envy evolves from jealousy, drunkenness is an excess caused by a selfish ambition to forget responsibilities, and orgies are without questions sexually immoral. Paul adds ‘and the like’ to the end of this list, implying of course that there are many more things similar to those that he already mentioned that are likewise evident of a person living for the flesh.
And lastly, after outlining what NOT to do, we come to this famous section of scripture:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Love, joy, peace: When these things come from the Lord, it can never be anything but perfectly glorifying to God and uplifting to our fellow man. There is nothing more restorative than true love—patience, kind, and gentle love that bares with one another and don’t begrudge each other anything. True joy—Joy in the Lord and in the good things of God is intoxicating and rejuvenating. Being around someone that is genuinely joyful is the best feeling in the world. Peace: peace without ourselves and with our conscience. Peace in our relationships, peace in our nations, and peace at a global scale—peace that comes from God is like fresh water for the thirsty. We as fallen creatures, when left to our own devices generally create chaos and war between each other and without our own flesh—but those led of the Spirit of God are full of peace instead!
Forbearance, or longsuffering, or patience is a beautiful thing that without we are completely ineffectual in our attempts to reach people for Jesus and our day to day interactions with others cannot be positive ones without patience. Parents need patience with their children, children with their parents, bosses with employees, and employees with bosses. We need patience to keep good attitudes in the grocery store line and we need patience to receive from the Lord in His timing.
Kindness and goodness are needed on a daily basis in order to carry our callings in Christ—regardless of what they are.
Faithfulness—in many ways, there in nothing more loving and Christlike than true faithfulness. Being there through the highs and the lows, sticking to something through adversity, and being trustworthy in our relationships and to our callings is so important!
Gentleness is a wonderful quality to have, allow us to reach the broken and tender in our world with the Gospel Truth and with Love.
And lastly—self-control. I find it interesting Paul chose to place self-control at the end of the list. Though it is without questions a fruit of the Spirit of God, self-control is not the ONLY thing. It is separate from the others—we don’t exercise our ‘self-control’ to ensure we love others, or have joy, or have patience. Self control, though possibly correlated, is not encompassing of these other virtues. In addition to TRUE love, we exercise our self-control in order to do loving things. In addition to TRUE patience, we exercise our self-control to continue being patient and refrain from selfishness and impatience.
The last 2 verses of Galatians chapter 5 are worthy of repeating before we conclude:
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Something that we as Christians all too often do is use these ‘fruits’ listed in Galatians 5 as a measuring stick to determine if we are in right standing before God. Paul seemed to know that this would inevitably happen, and so he addresses it at the conclusion of his list by telling us not to become conceited because of the Spirit of God. We should never use our Holy Spirit leadership as source of pride in our lives, and we should not use it in order to judge our fellow man. We should not be jealous of others for their perceived level of spirituality, and we should not provoke each other (tease, guilt, or anger someone) by using spirituality and the Spirit of God like a weapon or ruler by which we gauge each other.
For those leaving the message, abandoning the ‘rule book’ in favor of something as simplistic as this may feel like a daunting task. For me, going from a systematic and regimented way of life where decisions about right and wrong, good and bad are made for me to the freedom in Christ and the thousands of daily judgments and decisions I have to make with the Spirit’s guidance was a scary shift. There are days I feel like it would be easier if we could just have a list of rules to follow—but that is not what Jesus died on a cross to do for us. He doesn’t want us to be serving a list of rules, but actively engaged in life, being led by the Spirit every single step of every single day, so that He can work and move in our lives in powerful ways.
Like a bird set free from a cage after being inside it for years on end, God wants us to fly and desires to help us do it. He has said that He will never leave or forsake us, and that if we simply believe upon Him, He will guide us where He wants us to go. But, at least for me, though the cage door is wide open and God is beckoning me away from it, I have a hard time abandoning the security I have come to know inside of the legalistic system. I have a difficult time wrapping my mind around freedom in Christ—but I know that it is His desire for my life.
So with faith I stand before Him and I surrender my insecurities. When I don’t know the answer I remind myself that I don’t have to have all the answers—that God will not smite me for not knowing, but like a Good Shepherd will continue to care and nurture me until I do know—until I’m more mature and more capable. I have learned through the trials that have come in my life that God is ever faithful, and that I truly can trust the Holy Spirit to lead and guide me—that I can trust God to work all things to his glory and for my good.
I do have fear; but I also know that my fears are unfounded—that in Christ there is perfect love, and perfect love casts out all fear. When the cage door first opened, I stood in the doorway. For a while, I perched on the top of the cage, looking down on what I came out of and knew that it was bondage, but was still unable to truly step away. Now, though I feel myself frequently looking back at the bondage, I am getting further and further away. Old habits die hard—and it’s going to be a process, but I am learning, just as Paul explained in Philippians 4, that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. We all can—He is the power, strength, confidence, and guidance we need.