13 For you were called to freedom brothers; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you harm and devour one another, take care that you are not destroyed by one another. 16 But I say, walk by the spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the desire of the flesh is against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, in order to keep you from doing whatever you desire. 18 But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: sexual immorality, impurity, indecent behavior, 20 idolatry, witchcraft, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I forewarn you before and I will warn you again that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have extinguished the flesh with its passions and desires. [Gal5:13-24]
Spirit or spirit?
Firstly, a point about translation. This is the first occasion in the New Testament where I have not followed the casing of Spirit/spirit (Πνεύμα/ πνεῦμα) as it is set out in the Textus Receptus (Nestle 1904 version) utilized by Bible Hub. As previously explained, there was neither casing nor punctuation in the original Greek text of the New Testament. So whether Paul intended “spirit” or “Spirit” was at the discretion of the early monk-scribes who copied the texts for posterity. Their selection of Πνεύμα rather than πνεῦμα throughout Gal5 is surprising given how Rom8 had earlier been translated. That rightly affirmed that when Paul referred to the spirit he was generally referring to the human spirit as in the crucial verse Rom8:4 which the Textus Receptus rightly relays as “ἵνα τὸ δικαίωμα τοῦ νόμου πληρωθῇ ἐν ἡμῖν τοῖς μὴ κατὰ σάρκα περιπατοῦσιν ἀλλὰ κατὰ πνεῦμα” = “the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in those who do not walk after the flesh but after the spirit”.
In terms of Gal5, the strongest evidence that Paul intends “spirit” (i.e. human spirit) rather than “Spirit” (Holy Spirit) is verse 17: “For the desire of the flesh is against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, in order to keep you from doing whatever you desire”. This is similar to what he writes in Rom7:18-23 where he refers to the spirit as the inner-man that delights in God’s law versus the “flesh” which opposes it. He is comparing the fleshly part of man with the spiritual component (inner man), the former being that which was procreated from our human parents, the latter being that which was planted by God at birth and returns to Him when body and brain are buried or incinerated (Eccles12:7; cf. 1Thes5:23). Through the goodness of God and as a form of common grace, man has been provided with such spiritual faculties in order, as Paul writes in the same verse, to keep him from fulfilling everything the flesh might desire, none of which is likely to be good. “For I recognize that there is no good whatsoever within me, that is in my flesh, for the willingness to do good is indeed present but the ability to fully accomplish it is lacking” (Rom7:18). That verse should be kept in mind when considering what Paul is about to write concerning the respective fruit of flesh and spirit.
Freedom to love
Before that, Paul concludes his teaching on freedom, cautioning against it giving opportunity to the flesh; rather the Galatians should serve one another in love, being the purpose and summary of the law (v14). In so doing Paul is indicating that the Christian is not to ignore, still less oppose God’s law, he is to fulfil its ultimate purpose and intention. To avoid confusion with the Law (Torah) one might refer to it as Christ’s law as indeed Paul does next chapter (6:2) or in James’ language, the royal law of love for neighbour (2:8). Either way, the Christian must fulfil it as both verses state and Paul is about to re-affirm. Failure to do so could lead to the Galatian Christians he is addressing destroying one another (v15) as would their fulfilling the desires of the flesh (v16). If they walk after the spirit, God’s law will hold nothing against them (v23) – not so if they continue to be under the domination of the flesh (v18).
Fruit of the spirit and flesh
But then examine the fruits of the spirit and flesh that Paul outlines (vv19-23). Note every fruit of the flesh is degenerate, rotten, destructive, hateful, impure or evil. Yet I for one believed for the first 28 years of my Christian life that such was man by nature – devoid of spirit and therefore the ability to produce any of the sublime qualities Paul defines as fruit of the spirit. Augustine and some of his 4th/5th century contemporaries, more especially Jerome upended the earlier Church’s consistent teaching by asserting that man did not possess a spirit, merely a body and soul – rotten from birth. Hence Augustine’s dire assertion that human beings can do “absolutely no good thing, whether in thought or will, affection or in action” except they “had fled to the grace of Christ” [“On Rebuke and Grace”]. Such a denigration of human morality, apart from delighting man’s satanic Adversary, was the catalyst to what would one day result in “the theology of sovereign grace” that I am determinedly deconstructing. And I am more than happy to do so utilizing the teaching of the apostle who was supposed to have been its authenticator.
The “fruit of the spirit or Spirit” must refer to what the spirit or Spirit directly produces, which for the reasons I am indicating pertains to man when he is at his best: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness ,gentleness, self-control (vv22-23). If one cannot discern that a non-Christian is perfectly capable of all these qualities and exercises them to a degree in his or her personal relationships, one is either profoundly deluded or as in my former case, doctrinally soul-poisoned. Whilst I was aware that many of my fellow Evangelicals held more congenial assessments of their unconverted fellows, I claimed then as I claim now that such were not being faithful to the Augustinian derived Reformed theology that was foundational to our movement. Still more to the point, a more nuanced perspective watered down Scripture as we had been taught to interpret it. For if it were indeed the case that man had no God-planted spirit but was in his totality what I have elsewhere described as a procreated intellectual vessel (cf. 1Thes4:4) provided with a soul rotten from birth, such depravity would indeed have been the reality. So would the end-times cosmic horror show that I perplexedly had understood to be its logical outcome: the bulk of humanity to be doomed to eternal misery at Christ’s behest (cf. Col1:16; Jn5:22). Thankfully, what I believed for so long was no Gospel at all but a travesty. Truly, the theology of sovereign grace is brilliantly conceived because it is capable of being couched in such pious terms. But by Whom had we actually been deceived? (2Thes2:11-12).
The twice dead
Paradoxically, the point I am making concerning the reality of the human spirit is strengthened by the fact that there are some who are indeed devoid of any good fruit. They are like their archetype Cain: “ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ”, derived from the Evil One, category three, children of the devil (1Jn3 vv10+12). How else does Scripture describe them? – “trees without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots” (Jude1:12). “Twice dead” for they are dead in flesh and spirit whereas man by nature is not. He is dead “in trespasses and sins” due to the body of this death. But that is his flesh (vessel) not his spirit (Paul’s “inner man”). As quoted above, the latter delights in God’s law and its outworking: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. but is unable consistently to live up to these qualities. Why? “For I see another law in my bodily members warring against the law of my psyche bringing me into captivity to the sinful law that is in my body” (Rom7:23)
Disempowering the body of sin
But that is not to be the case for the Christian. For completing Rom7: “Wretched man that I am – who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God it is through Jesus Christ”. In what sense, Paul? “Don’t you realize that we who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? “Our old self was crucified with Him in order that our body of sin might be disempowered such that we would no longer be under its sinful dominion” (Rom6:6). But as the apostle indicates in this Galatian passage it is by no means a fait accompli. If it were “all of the Spirit” that would be the case, but it is because our own spirit and will are involved that Paul must issue a warning. “I forewarned you (Galatian Christians) before and I will warn you again that those who practice such (works of the flesh) will not inherit the kingdom of God”(v21).
It should be becoming increasingly evident that “sola fide” and “sola gratia” don’t cut the mustard with Paul’s teaching anymore than they do with Christ’s. For sure, faith and grace are indispensable, but final salvation concerns what we do, our lives and legacy; punishment and rewards likewise (Rom2:6-11; Mt25:31-46; Rev20:12). Paul likens the Christian journey to a race in which only a few shall win a prize (1Cor9:24-27) whilst Jesus refers eight times in Revelation to the rewards that await those “who overcome”. And what do they overcome? It is surely the passions and desires of the flesh. Concluding the passage: Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have extinguished the flesh with its passions and desires (v24). The “flesh” has been extinguished. That cannot be a forensic act; an imputation of Another’s righteousness – for the overriding passions and desires themselves need to be extinguished by the believer (v24). By “passions and desires”, Paul does not exclusively have sexual misdemeanours in mind but the full range of “flesh-fruits” he has mentioned. The fact that Christians have been given wondrous incentives and the SPIRITUAL RESOURCES to overcome the sinful tendencies of the body is absolutely a work of grace; a result of divine teaching, the Holy Spirit’s enabling and above all the faithfulness of Christ even unto death. But self-control and personal discipline have always been central to Paul’s message as Governor Felix discovered and trembled at its hearing (Acts24:25). Paul is insistent that not only faith but a devotion to Christ and His teaching along with self-discipline are required for so great a salvation which the believer himself is very much involved in accomplishing (Phi2:12).
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