The earliest Christians followed a Jewish tradition of pausing to pray, preferably together, first thing in the morning, about mid morning, at noon, about mid afternoon, and in the evening. “Just a Note” posts are brief observations made from Scripture readings not related to a lectionary. If I have one to post, it normally appears about 9:00 in the morning, at “the hour of prayer.”
The last portion of Galatians 5 is a passage of Scripture which has a long history of being torn to pieces so the pieces can be used with no context. Let’s try to fight that urge and remember that these eleven verses are part of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
We begin by defining some terms. Paul tells his readers to “walk in the Spirit” (v. 16, NKJV). This is compared to fulfilling “the lust of the flesh” (v. 16, NKJV) In the prior discussion of the letter, the Spirit is compared to the reception of the free forgiveness of Christ without the works of the Law. The Law, however, is treated as something fleshly, a work of man’s ability.
With this context, then, we find that Paul is speaking of the very same conflict he has discussed earlier. The Galatians have been tempted to pursue salvation by their own efforts. These efforts, Paul says, lead to “the works of the flesh” (v. 19, NKJV).
At this point we should have a fairly strong negative reaction. At least most of us should. Those works are bad! Paul’s point exactly. Left to ourselves, even with very noble motives, Paul suggests we will ultimately fall into the negative works he describes. At the very least, we will pursue idolatry, as it consists of elevating something other than God to divine status. We do that every time we try to work out or sustain forgiveness in our own power.
On the contrary, Paul speaks of “the fruit of the Spirit” (v. 22, NKJV). This is nothing that we can do. We may try, but we will finally fail if we are trying to create spiritual fruit in our own ability. It is something God and God alone can grow in us. Verse 24 states that it grows from Christ’s death on our behalf.
In the end, then, the letter to the Galatians speaks of just one contrast. Either we live by the Spirit, recognizing that forgiveness and life come through Jesus, or we live by the flesh, trying to work out salvation on our own. Paul’s desire, and my desire for myself and my readers, is that we should continue in the free grace and forgiveness provided by Jesus. It is not of works, only by grace.
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