Epistle of Paul to the Galatians 5: 13-26 (NIV)
Living by the Spirit
13 You, my brothers (and sisters), were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” 15 If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
19 The acts of the sinful nature 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.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, 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 sinful nature 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.
Some editions of the New International Version (NIV) translation of the Bible may indicate that the Apostle Paul has written of “the sinful nature”, others of “the flesh”. The Greek sarx does mean “flesh” or “body” – in the context of “that which is natural to human nature”. Paul knew only too well of the fallen-ness of human nature. The translation “the sinful nature” is helpful in that it takes our focus from outwardly-committed sins which may be suggested by the word “flesh” and reminds us that the acts of the sinful nature listed by Paul include those which we only too readily commit inwardly: “hatred, discord, jealousy … selfish ambition”.
Paul has reminded the churches of Galatia that those responding positively to the Gospel message have been “called to be free” (verse 13) and this has a purpose: so that people “serve one another in love”.
This echoes Paul’s urging in verse 1 of chapter 5, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free”. He had been emphasising the implied bondage of trying to be justified by obeying every part of the (Mosaic) law. We could imagine his saying, “It is not for you to be slaves under the impossible-to-keep law that Christ has set you free; rather it is for freedom from that law that Christ has set you free”.
This is not a libertine freedom the likes of which some in the churches of Galatia desired to pursue. We know what Paul advocated because of what he presented so clearly in verse 24: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires”. Those who belong to Christ Jesus are to “live by the Spirit” and this means keeping “in step with the Spirit” (verse 25). So long as those who belong to Christ Jesus do that, the fruit of the Spirit, so famously listed by Paul as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (verses 22, 23), will be manifest in their lives.
This will be a natural consequence of serving one another in love or, as Paul has said in in verse 14, quoting Leviticus 19: 18, “Love your neighbour as yourself”. This same verse was often taught by our Lord. He referred to it as the second of the Two Great Commandments. It is central to how we are to live our lives as children of God, as those who belong to Christ Jesus.
Lord, teach me and enable me to love my neighbour as myself …