Author: Ron Graham

Galatians

God Requires Good Works
—Galatians, fourth main section

In this lesson we study the fourth main section of Paul’s letter, Galatians 5:13 to 6:10.

Although the Christian is free from the law, the Christian must do the good works commanded by Christ. Paul shows that salvation depends upon this, and Paul never taught that the works commanded by Jesus are non-essentials. Paul makes good works a part of faith.

We should not think of this as a limitation upon our freedom, but rather as the way to maintain our freedom. Gardening is not about pulling weeds. It’s about sowing and reaping good things abundantly. Then few weeds ever grow.

Being a Christian is not about fighting the desires of the flesh. It’s about walking in the good things of the Spirit. While you are doing that, there is little opportunity for evil. You are happy and free.

You don't have to worry much about things which are against the law, because you are diligently doing things against which no law exists! That what’s it means to be "not under law".

1 The Danger in Being Free (Galatians 5:13-15)

¶“13You were called to freedom, brethren. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. Instead, serve one another through love. 14For the whole law is fulfilled in one command: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 15If you bite and devour one another, watch out that you don't eat one another up” (Galatians 5:13-15).

The danger in being free in Christ is that we might abuse our freedom. You can easily "turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh" and use it for indulging fleshly desires in ways that are not right.

What kind of a church results where people abuse their freedom? The people "bite and devour one another" until the church is consumed. Where, on the other hand, people use their freedom responsibly, they become "enslaved to one another through love".

True freedom is enslavement in love. You are truly free when enslaved to someone you love more than yourself, and who loves you more than he loves himself. This mystery is the essence of Christian fellowship.

2 The Danger in Being Flesh (Galatians 5:16-26)

¶“16I urge you to walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the lusts of the flesh. 17For the lusts of the flesh are against the desires of the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the lusts of the flesh. They are opposed to each other. This conflict means that you can't just do what you please. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.”

¶“19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like that. I warn you now, as I warned you before, that people who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking one another or envying one another” (Galatians 5:16-26).

There is a problem about being creatures of the flesh. This is not that man is a "fallen creature" or that his flesh has inherited a depraved nature. It is simply that the flesh produces desires in us which, if allowed to run wild, would bring us into conflict with the desires of Christ’s Spirit.

The fleshly desires are not evil as such (see footnote), but they must be controlled. For example sexual desire is not evil, but if let loose the desire will lead to sexual immorality. So we "may not do the things that we please" and let the desire of the flesh lead us where it will.

The flesh does not know evil from good. Rather, we must direct the flesh and "walk by the Spirit", leading our bodies to proper fulfillment of their desires. If we let the desires of the flesh run free, we will become enslaved by them.

These natural desires are not wrong in themselves, but their uncontrolled indulgence leads to "the works of the flesh" which are all kinds of sin. The desires of the flesh must be kept under Christ’s authority.

We do not have to be helpless slaves to the flesh. We are able to bring our flesh into subjection to Christ’s will. We do not need a whole lot of rules (like the law of Moses) to control the flesh. Rather, we need to be crucified with Christ and to be led by the Spirit.

Of course the Spirit has a law. Things such as fornication, sorcery, hatred, and drunkeness, are against the law of the Spirit. Things such as love, kindness, and self control, are according to his law and do not violate it.

What kind of a church results where people break the law of the Spirit and practise immorality? Paul tells us that such a church will be characterized by arrogance, self righteousness, envy, and provocation to anger.

3 Responsibility in Liberty (Galatians 6:1-6)

¶“1Brethren, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Each of you keep watch over yourself, lest you also be tempted. 2Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3If any of you thinks you are something, when your are nothing, you deceive yourself. 4Instead, let each of you test your own work, and then your reason to boast will be in your own self and not in your neighbor. 5For each of you will have to bear your own load. 6Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.” (Galatians 6:1-6).

In spite of these fundamental and simple facts, the works of the flesh still appear among Christians. One might even say they are to be expected among Christians. It should not take us by surprise if we find such evil in the church. We should try to restore the guilty to a right standing with God.

Whilst there is no reason why we must let our bodies master us, and whilst we are perfectly free and empowered by the Spirit to master them if we want to, none of us is immune to being overtaken by sin.

Even the more spiritual among us should watch ourselves carefully, "lest you too be tempted", knowing that we are in danger. If we think otherwise, we deceive ourselves.

Paul lays down our responsibilities as free persons subject to the law of Christ alone, yet always in danger because we are in the flesh. Those responsibilities are:

4 Sowing and Reaping (Galatians 6:7-10)

¶“7Do not be deceived. God is not mocked. Whatever you sow, you will also reap. 8For people who sow to their own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but those who sow to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:7-10).

Now there are always those who think they are above the wisdom we have been thinking about, and that they know better. So Paul says, "Do not be deceived. God is not mocked." How can God be mocked? By thinking one can sow to the flesh, and yet reap from the Spirit —by imagining that one can arrange one’s affairs to benefit from doing evil, yet still inherit eternal life.

God can also be mocked if we think that, since Christ has set us free from law, we don't have to keep the law of Christ. So Paul tells us about one law that everyone must acknowledge. It is a childishly simple, yet also profound and immutable. It’s the law of sowing and reaping: "Whatever you sow, you will also reap".

We are certainly under that law, free or not. And there is no loophole in that law! If we sow to the flesh, we shall reap ruin from the flesh. If we sow to the Spirit, we shall reap everlasting life.

Sowing is work, and sowing to the Spirit is not always easy. Doing good works is something you can grow weary of, because the harvest is not immediate. But Paul encourages us not to grow weary in doing good, because we will reap in due season if we don't give up. He encourages us to do good to everyone, especially to those of the household of faith (the church).

Paul has been saying to us, "Be free!" but at the same time he has been saying to us, "Do good!" He has been saying, "Reap eternal life" but at the same time he has been saying to us, "Sow to the Spirit".

note re the translation "sinful nature" in Galatians 5

Some translations do not use the word "flesh" in Galatians 5. Instead they use the term "sinflul nature". The Greek words for "sinful nature" do not appear in the Greek text. The Greek word for "flesh" does. The term "sinful nature" is not a dynamic equivalent for the word "flesh". The term "sinful nature" might seem to imply something inherently evil about our physical bodies and their desires. But God created them and saw that they were good (Genesis 1:31). In John 1:14 we read that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us". The translators have noticeably avoided the term "sinful nature" there and have put simply "flesh". It might be more confusing than helpful not to have done the same straight translation in Galatians 5.  | RETURN |

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