As we have journeyed through Paul’s letter to the Galatians over the past 4 weeks, we have heard that the source of Christian freedom is the good news of Jesus (1:6,7). Like Paul, the gospel has the power to change us through the freedom it brings (1:23,24). We don’t have to spend our lives trying to please people or win their approval because, through faith in Jesus, we already have God’s approval (1:10; 2:20). Instead, the purpose of God’s law and commands is to lead us to Christ where we can find grace and freedom (2:24,25).
As Paul continues through chapter 4, he talks about how we can now live as mature, adult members of God’s family in the freedom faith brings, and not as slaves to commands or rules (4:3-7). Paul aches for the Galatian Christians because he wants Jesus to be ‘fully developed’ in their lives (4:19). He uses the examples of Abraham’s two wives from Genesis to show that they are born to be children of the free woman, not the slave (4:31).
That brings us to chapter 5 where Paul really begins to explain what freedom in Christ looks like in our lives. Paul explains that we can live in either one of two ways: either we live by ‘the flesh’ or by the Spirit. When Paul talks about ‘the flesh’ as some translations put it, he is talking about our original nature with which we were born that is essentially sinful. Paul says that when we live according to this sinful nature, it will show through
sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarrelling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these (5:19b-21a NLT).
Paul is very clear what the consequence is when we live by the sinful nature when he writes,
Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God (v21b).
Living according to our human natures results in the breakdown of human relationships and alienation from God because they devalue other people and are centred on doing what is best for me, even if it is at the expense of others. Paul points to Jesus’ command to love as the fulfilment of all of God’s commands because love results in healthy, constructive, life-giving relationships with others which is what God planned for us from the beginning. However, when we live according to our sinful nature, we place ourselves at the centre of our own personal universe and fail to love like God wants us to. We effectively remove God, the author and sustainer of all life, from his rightful place and the result is death in our relationships, our hearts, and for eternity.
God frees us from living as slaves to our selfish, sinful nature and gives us new hearts through the power of his Spirit working through the gospel of Jesus. When we are led by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit God gives us a new nature. This new nature will be evident as we produce what are often called the ‘fruits of the Spirit’:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (vv22b,23a NLT).
The big question becomes how do we move from being slaves to our sinful nature to keeping in step with the Spirit to produce these fruit? We need to go back to what we learned in chapter 1 of Galatians – God’s Spirit changes us through the gospel of Jesus. This is not about trying harder or doing things to try to produce these fruit. You can’t grow oranges by telling an orange tree to try harder. Instead, we need to cultivate and care for the tree if it is to produce the fruit we are looking for. That’s why Jesus talks about fruit and vines in John 15. He is the vine – the source of life and everything good in us. When we remain in him and he in us, when we are connected with him through faith, then he will grow the fruit in us by the power of his Spirit. We remain in Jesus through the gospel. When we see that we are still slaves to our old nature, or when we are not producing the fruit he wants, Jesus’ death and resurrection is good news for us because it frees us from what prevents us from keeping in step with God’s Holy Spirit. That’s why Paul says, ‘Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there’ (v24 NLT). Our sinful natures have been crucified with Christ and we are raised again as new people through faith to produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
God’s grace actually provides for us what he wants to see in us. When we are failing to love people around us, God gives us his love through Jesus’ death and resurrection to grow love in us. When we are lacking joy, God continues to rejoice over us because he sees his Son in us. When we are not finding peace within ourselves or in our relationships with others, God establishes peace between us through the cross of Christ so we can live in peace. When we fail to show the fruit of God’s Spirit in our lives, the good news of Jesus is that because of his death and resurrection for us, God is always loving, joyful, at peace, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled with us. The Holy Spirit uses this good news, when we receive it in faith, to grow us to produce the fruit in our lives. It’s not about trying harder; it’s all about returning to the cross of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit producing fruit in us through faith in that good news.
Imagine what it would be like to be living in relationships that are overflowing with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. What would it be like to be part of a community of believers that was defined by and constantly growing in these fruit? This becomes one of the main goals of Christian community – a group of people where we can encounter and grow in the goodness of God through the fruit of the Spirit in our relationships, and where people can encounter God’s grace through us as we grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The key is not to try harder, but to find grace and freedom in the life-changing good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us.