Walking in the Spirit


Galatians 5:16-18

The Galatian church was being infiltrated by Christian Judaizers who were trying to influence them in returning to a works-based system of salvation.  “Paul warns that to accept circumcision mean one ‘is obligated to keep the entire law,’”[1] (Galatians 5:3).  In this section he exhorts the church of Galatia concerning those “who are trying to be justified by the law, have been alienated from Christ,” (Galatians 5:4a, NIV).  In continuing, Paul reiterates that the entire law is fulfilled in one commandment when they “love their neighbors as themselves,” (Galatians 5:14, NIV; cf. Matt. 22:39; Matt. 5:43; 19:19).  Leading up to this point in the text, Paul had already “described in this letter that living under the law leads to being “under a curse” (3:10), “under sin’s power” (3:22), “under a guardian” (3:25), “in slavery under the elemental forces of the world” (4:3), and in need of redemption (4:5).”[2]  By walking in the Spirit, they will fulfill every aspect of the law and they will not “gratify the desires of the flesh,” (Galatians 5:16b, NIV).   He contrasts walking in the Spirit and living under the law to accentuate the reality that the latter will never find fulfillment, and instead they will “have fallen away from grace,” (Galatians 5:4b, NIV), while the former reveals “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law,” (Galatians 5:18, NIV), therefore they would not be acting on the desires of the flesh, (Galatians 5:19-21).

The difference between the church of Galatia with Christians today is that although political and religious persecution is currently localized in countries where Christianity is a minority, in the first century it was commonplace.  Some Jewish Christians relied on several key systems practiced under the Old Covenant.  Not only did some of these principles, like circumcision, make their way into various churches throughout the empire as in the Galatian church, but also caused converted Gentiles to reconsider their state of grace without it.  Paul establishes that the “Judaizer’s fear of persecution as what motivated them to insist in circumcising Gentile Christians.”[3]  Today there is no general fear of persecution from Jews onto Jewish Christians[4], who in turn would seek to influence Gentile Christians to follow the Old Covenant.

Paul continued to reiterate Jesus’ command,[5] and synthesizing the Spirit, foundation to the law, into the New Covenant of grace.  “They did not seek out the true spiritual sense of the Old Testament; and hence they rested on the mere literal observance of the rites and ceremonies.”[6]  Paul sought to establish among the congregation that “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love,” (Galatians 5:6).  He says, “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 5:23-24, NIV).  Even though today the fear of persecution from Jews or Judaizing Christians is non-existent, there continues to be a plethora of dogmatic principles which tend to find their way into Christian churches, some mirroring aspects found in the Old Covenant system, and most notably, those that lack any love and kindness.

For Christians today, we need to be careful we don’t get caught up in doctrinal dogmatisms or schismatic behaviors that will hinder our ability to love one another.  Focusing too much on the ceremonial aspects of our faith and missing out on Biblical love for people, will inevitably render our faith moot because of our sinful behaviors, or even worse, cause someone else to stumble in theirs.  Regardless, Christians both then and today are called to love without exception, thus fulfilling the law in its entirety by walking in the Spirit.  “The whole weight of the Law and its myriad commandments are not so much eradicated by evangelical grace as they are subsumed under the single heading of love, that we love our neighbor as ourselves.”[7]  With love, we can be victorious, because “those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires,” (Galatians 5:24, NIV), and “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation,” (Galatians 6:15, NIV).

[1] Towns & Gutierrez, The Essence of the New Testament: A Survey, (Nashville, B&H Publishing, 2012), 177.

[2]Tony Merida, Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary: Exalting Jesus in Galatians, (Nashville, TN, B&H Publishing Group, 2014), 111, ProQuest ebrary. Web. 11 December 2015.

[3] The Judaizer’s True Motives, Ligonier Ministries, The Teaching Fellowship of R.C. Sproul, accessed December 10, 2015, http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/judaizers-true-motives/

[4] There is some persecution of Messianic Jews living in Israel.  See: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3558795,00.html and http://maozblog.com/israel/ongoing-persecution-of-messianic-jews/#.VmqREcpJ-W4

[5] Deut. 5:6; Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:39.

[6] Albert Barnes, J. Cumming, and Samuel Green, Notes, explanatory and practical, on the second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians and the epistle to the Galatians, (London, Oxford University, 1851), 55.

[7] St. Jerome, Commentary on Galatians, (Baltimore, MD, USA: Catholic University of America Press, 2011), 226, Accessed December 10, 2015. ProQuest ebrary.

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