Summary: We live in opposition to the world, and we're engaged in an internal struggle between the old and new natures, a clash of opposites described as the fruit of 2 trees--the works of the flesh & the fruit of the Spirit.
Introduction: How’s your walk with the Lord? God doesn’t demand perfection, but He does expect some progress. If we’re walking in step with the Spirit, our lives will demonstrate an on-going devotion to God, His word, His church, and His people.
Liberty or License, 16-18: Paul’s aim in Galatians is to show how we’re free to live for Christ. Those who are most free are empowered and guided by the Spirit. We’re engaged in a holy struggle in an unholy world. We live in an “irreconcilable antagonism” in opposition to this fallen, defiled world (Erskine).
Many people mistake freedom for lawlessness, an “anything goes” attitude. There are limits to liberty. We’re not free to ignore God’s moral law. People misuse their freedom by self-abuse and immorality that pollutes their souls. In the name of freedom a lot of deadly things go on, and freedom can be lost--by the slavery of sin.
Our broken world is under bondage. Our sinful human nature produces an unchaste, unholy, uncharitable, and undisciplined life. When we rebel against God we’re “doing what comes naturally.” The sinful nature encourages sinful behavior because it is corrupt and “desperately wicked” (Jer 17:9). Paul describes sin as slavery, never as freedom. We do what we do because of who we are. G.K. Chesterton noted, “Many people sin, not because they do not think it wrong, but precisely because they do think it wrong.”
Just as Isaac and Ishmael were unable to get along, so the Spirit and flesh (the old and new nature) are at war with each other. Paul illustrates the clash of these opposites by contrasting the fruit of 2 trees…
The Works of the Flesh, 19-21: Lists of vices were common in the ancient world. Paul’s list includes social sins, superstitious sins, vices of impurity, excess, disunity, and self-interest. Paul is describing people dominated by sin. These transgressions stem from a need to feel good about ourselves, but a need met in harmful, self-destructive ways. We need a clean break from these deadly “works of darkness.” They do not fit our true identity as followers of Christ. The flesh can produce sin, but never righteousness.
God alone created all the pleasures of life—the devil hasn’t made a single one…yet he encourages people to abuse gifts intended for good and turn them into vice. If the love God has shown to us doesn’t move us to want to respond in obedience, no checklist of do’s and don’ts will make any difference.
The Fruit of the Spirit, 22-26: Paul issues a 7-fold description of the normal Christian life. We are freed to live these virtues; you could call them “Freedom Fruit.” Take note--the fruit of the Spirit is singular. You either have all or none of it. Jesus said we’ll know if people have genuine faith “by their fruit.” I’d like to comment briefly on each of these character qualities…
• Love—is the fountain from which all other virtues flow. There are 2 kinds of love, God’s and ours, and God makes them both. Real love isn’t an act; it is a whole, compassionate life. If the Spirit is working in us, how can we not love?
• Joy—is more than being happy; joy is delight and contentment that does not depend on circumstances. It is a calm acceptance of life. Joy is a holy optimism, an echo of God’s life in us.
• Peace—is a profound sense of wholeness, harmony, completeness and tranquility. You can buy sleep in a drugstore, but only God can give you peace.
• Patience—is unhurried endurance in spite of adversity. We wait for what is worth waiting for, letting whatever takes place bring us one step closer to the God of life.
• Kindness—is focusing on others above self, with mercy, tolerance and sensitivity to their needs.
• Goodness—is benevolence and generosity, a readiness to help others through acts of caring. We care enough to do something.
• Faithfulness—is remaining true, committed, trustworthy, reliable, no matter what the situation, no matter what the cost.
• Gentleness—is strength under control. Gentle people are calm and respectful; they show tenderness in all situations.
• Self-Control—is a disciplined life, marked by restraint and moderation in all things. We are blessed…we don’t need anything more than what we already have.
Quite a list! It covers both attitudes and actions. God produces fruit, we cultivate it. N.T. Wright insists: “To get the fruit, we have to learn to be gardeners, making conscious decisions to cultivate this way of life and these habits of heart and mind…however healthy the tree, it has to be looked after.”
The works of the flesh and the fruit of the spirit--two natures. We have within us an old nature and a new nature, at war with each other, like two fierce animals. Which one wins? The one we feed the most.