16-17 My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are contrary to each other, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day.
These verses are vitally important. Paul previously argues that we are not freed in order to serve the flesh. However, in verse 15, Paul describes the Galatians as doing precisely this. They were serving themselves, serving the flesh. They were not serving one another. Thus, Paul capsulizes the solution to their selfishness. He asserts that fleshly desires are combatted by walking in the Spirit, which results in serving one another through love.
Verse 17 explains the crux of the conflict by describing the nature of the war within. Within us rages a battle between the flesh and the Spirit. The ancient Greeks believed that the real problem was a battle between the mind and the body. Thus some have incorrectly identified “the flesh” with the body. It is not entirely true and is an error still propagated today. The flesh is our fallen humanity, our fallen humanness. It is what we are apart from Christ. We received the Spirit as a result of faith in Christ, and the Spirit is opposed to the flesh (Galatians 3:1-2).
A distinct relationship is revealed between faith and the Spirit, the Law and the flesh. Faith is related to the Spirit. Faith receives the Spirit of God, the agent of both salvation and sanctification. Law-keeping relies upon the flesh.
“What exactly does Paul mean when he says, ‘… you may not do the things that you please’?” It is those things which the Law requires, the standard of righteousness. Thus we are unable to do righteousness because flesh and Spirit are opposed to one an-other. The Galatians had opted to resist sin by submitting to the Law. However, Paul has demonstrated that submitting to the Law and adopting works results in surrendering faith. When the Law is not only the standard but the source of righteousness, there is only one means through which to keep it; that is, through the flesh.
Since the flesh and the Spirit are opposed to one another, the Spirit doesn’t empower men who are under Law. The Spirit empowers men who are in faith. Thus Paul reasons, you cannot do the things which the Law requires. We cannot keep the standards of the Law in the power of the flesh because the flesh is opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit is opposed to the flesh. Consequently, if we are under Law our only power is the flesh, yet walking in the Spirit is the only means to serve one another in love. Men are defeated in their good intentions by submitting to the Law. To place oneself under the Law is to place oneself in a position where only the power of the flesh and the desires of the flesh are operative. Trying to overcome sin with Law is something like trying to put out a grease fire with water. All it does is multiply the problem. It makes sin grow rather than reducing it.
18 Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence? 19-21 It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on. This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom. 22-23 But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. 23-24 Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified. 25-26 Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.
Paul characterizes the individual who walks in the Spirit as one who is not under the Law (verse 18). The elaborate description of the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit are given to demonstrate that if we are led by the Spirit, we are not under the Law. Please note that the list of deeds of the flesh (verses 19-21) and the works of the Spirit (verses 22, 23) are not all-inclusive; they are mere examples.
The fruit of the Spirit and the works of the flesh that Paul lists were chosen because of the particular problem of the Galatians. The Church was beset with strife, described as biting and devouring one another. He wants to impress upon the Galatians that they are acting in the flesh. Similarly, the listed characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit are samples relating to this strife. Spiritual gifts are a manifestation of God’s grace in the life of a believer, but without the fruit of the Spirit such gifts accomplish nothing.
Service, not spirituality, is our goal. This is why Jesus said to His disciples, “Abide in Me (John 15:7).” The goal is abiding in Christ, and the results are fruit-bearing. Whenever we shift our focus from Christ, even to such a pious-sounding commodity as spirituality, we begin to emphasize outward, external standards. This is legalism.
Paul teaches that servanthood is the goal, not spirituality. Spiritual-ity is God’s business. Abiding and serving are our responsibility.
*Too many have made fruit-bearing the goal because we think it’s spiritual. When spirituality becomes our goal one implication is that we become self-centered. We ask ourselves, “How am I doing?” This is why we are so preoccupied with self-image. Self-image problems are the result of improper orientation—self-centered instead of service-centered.