GALATIANS - A Verse-by-Verse Commentary

by Thomas W. Finley

Chapter Five - Living in Freedom by the Spirit

Seeking righteousness through law contrasted with grace living – 5:1-6

Gal. 5:1 opens with a statement of spiritual fact: Christ has set us free. We have been placed in freedom through Him. This fact is the summation of the argument of bondage versus freedom in chapter four. This is a positional truth, stating what we have by virtue of our union with Him. However, as is ever the case in the NT, our actual condition in our experience must be brought into line with the reality of our position in Christ. That is what Paul deals with next when he writes, “therefore keep standing firm [in your freedom] and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”

It is evident that the Judaizers had been putting pressure upon these Gentile believers to be circumcised. After all, circumcision was a pillar of the Jewish religion, being a “sign of the covenant” that the nation had with God (Gen. 17:10-11). It may well be that the Judaizers were pressuring the believers in Galatia to be circumcised as a major step to show their commitment to follow the Jewish law. But, as far as the truth was concerned, circumcision was a part of the “yoke of slavery” – the law. To practice it in order to be righteous under the law was absolutely contrary to the believers’ position of freedom in Christ.

So now Paul boldly addresses the effort to get the Galatians circumcised: “Behold, I Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you” (v. 2). The phrase “no benefit” is translated by a number of other versions as “no profit.” We not only have gain from Christ through initial belief (such as forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life) but we also can experience present blessing, as well as future reward, from Christ through our living in spiritual fellowship with Him.

Living in true fellowship with Christ allows us to enjoy the spiritual riches of His life in our daily affairs. His grace enriches us in the small things of life and in the big challenges of life, as we draw upon Him for strength, comfort, counsel, hope and godly living in the midst of a fallen world. Living unto Him in grace also prepares us to receive a good reward from Christ at His Judgment Seat. Paul is telling these believers that their “obedience to the law” does not bring gain at all. Living to the regulations and rites of law eliminates any benefit from Christ, and thus is valueless in the eyes of God.

Further, the apostle states: “to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole law” (v. 3). This thought was already covered in Gal. 3:10. What we see here is the real “bondage” of the law. The bondage of the law may be seen in its never ending demands and threatened consequences. Rom. 8:15 speaks of this bondage in this way: “For you have not received the spirit of slavery leading to fear again.” The OT law stands over the person like a cruel taskmaster seeking to force their obedience at every turn in life, with the threat of being under a curse for lack of obedience to every point of the law. Paul reminds them in verse three that if indeed they receive circumcision, then they must comply with every point of the law. This bondage only produces fear in the person. In contrast, Rom. 8:15 says this about the spirit of adoption: “but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” Our obedience to Christ does not flow out of fearful coercion, but out of a willing heart in response to God our Father.

Now we come to Gal. 5:4, which is likely one of the most misunderstood verses in the epistle. To understand every aspect of this verse, the interpreter must draw upon the context, the exact meaning of certain words, the grammar, logic, and sound theological understanding. Let’s think about the immediate context first. Verses one through six constitute a distinct context for verse four due to a common theme and argument that begins with verse one and ends with verse six. Verse one sets up Paul’s flow of assertions in verses two through six by stating that all believers in Christ have been freed from the law and are in this freedom. Then verse one continues by the apostle charging the believers to not be subject again to a yoke of slavery, to the bondage of law.

It is clear from 4:31 and 5:1 that Paul is certain that his readers are already saved, already “justified,” or declared righteous, by God through faith (Gal. 2:16; 3:24). Yet, Paul is admonishing these believers not to go back to law in the latter part of verse one (cf. 4:9-10). Based upon the points raised in verse one, Paul now gets specific, and I paraphrase roughly here - “Don’t get circumcised! If you do, Christ will be of no profit to you and you will have to keep the whole law.” So, Paul is telling them from verse one through three not to pick up the law as a way of trying to live your Christian life.

Verses four and five speak of two different ways of trying to live before God, and we should see that these two ways are just a summation of all that has been argued in chapter four and even part of chapter three (a larger context). The right way to live the Christian life is “through the Spirit by faith” (v. 5; compare Gal. 3:3). This is actually living by grace because the previous verse says: “you have fallen from grace,” or it could be translated as “fallen out of grace.” That means that at one point these believers were in grace (living in grace), but now had fallen away from grace.

The next phrase is showing the difference of “we through the Spirit, by faith.” In other words, those who practice living as shown in verse five have not fallen away from (or “out of”) grace. Those described in verse five are practicing an ongoing way of living, while “waiting for the hope of righteousness.” Therefore this grace spoken of is the experience of grace (living through the Spirit by faith), not a position of grace. Those interpreters who teach that “fallen from grace” means losing one’s salvation are not on clear and solid theological ground as eternal salvation cannot be lost (Jn. 3:16; 5:24; 6:37-39; 10:27-30; Rom. 8:29-30)[1].

Now we must look at the first two phrases of verse four: The first phrase is: “You have been severed from Christ.” This cannot mean that they never were saved. Against such an interpretation is the clear indication that Paul believed these Galatians were indeed saved, but were being misled. Further, if they have “fallen from [or, “out of”] grace” that means that at one point they were in grace. Only a believer could be “in grace.” What does “severed” mean here? This Greek verb has a range of meanings, including to be separated from, to be loosed from, to be alienated from, to be deprived of force or influence or power, and more. To be “severed from Christ” means we have lost our vital fellowship with Christ and are not being led by Him or supplied or strengthened by Him. Whenever we pick up the law as the way of living the Christian life we immediately are severed from the experience of a living fellowship with Christ. When we are living by the effort of the flesh, we are no longer living by the supply of the Spirit, and have left the experience of grace (cf. Gal. 2:21).

The second phrase in verse four is commonly translated as: “you who are seeking to be justified by law” (NASB), or “you who would be justified by the law” (ESV). To get technical here, the verb translated “justify” is dikaioō (Strong’s Concordance #1344). Although most English translations use the word “justify” here, not all do. There is a real problem though, with translating the verb as “justify.” Most Bible teachers in the western world have “imported” a specific theological meaning into this word. They take “to justify” as meaning to “declare righteous” and strictly apply it to “initial justification,” the act of God declaring a person righteous upon his belief in Christ due solely to the efficacy of His redemptive work. This declaration of righteousness performed by God towards us is eternal in effect and is not affected by any actions of ours later. It is positional righteousness, due to our union with Christ. However, Greek words are normal words of the Greek language and do not carry a specific theological meaning.

The point is this: when translators use the English word “justified” in Gal. 5:4 almost all Bible students and readers jump to the conclusion that this means “initial justification.” But does it? Were the Galatian believers seeking initial justification by the law? Logically, this understanding of the phrase does not make sense. If they were doing this, then this means that either they were not saved or very confused about their already existing salvation (justification) before God. We know that they were already saved as discussed.

But if, on the other hand, they now were confused, and did not know that their initial justification was already a settled issue, then it would be logical to expect Paul to give much more emphasis to this matter in his letter so that they could be settled in this knowledge and not constantly be seeking initial justification. Such an emphasis by Paul would also be expected immediately after he states “you who are seeking to be justified by law.” He would use the next few verses to say something like, “Do you not remember what I told you when I was with you, that all of your sins are forgiven forever and that you are justified from all things? Do you not know that whoever simply has faith in Jesus is a child of God and cannot be lost; that he has passed from death to life forever?” And, in the case of verse five, he would have reworded it something along this line: “For we have believed in Christ for our justification and have full assurance that we belong to Him forever. Now we are simply waiting for the blessed hope we have in Jesus to be realized when He returns.” Instead, in verse five Paul describes how “we” are living – “through the Spirit, by faith.” That reflects a contrast with how “you,” the Galatians, were living the Christian life, not how they were trying to become a Christian.

A much better understanding of the phrase would firstly change the English word commonly translated “justified.” In this verse, since we believe that the Galatian believers were using the law as a means to live righteously, we could translate the verse as follows: “You were put away from Christ – you whoever are making yourselves righteous by law; you fell out of grace.” This translation is by Norman Young, an expert in NT Greek. (See the footnote for additional technical considerations of the Greek construction of this verb.) [2]

Now we return to verse five. What does Paul indicate when he switches to “we” in verse five as a contrast to “you” in verse four? The introductory word “for” in verse five tells us that what is presented in verse five helps us better understand verse four through pointing out the contrast between the two ways of living. The “we” seems likely to be speaking of the class of people who have not fallen from grace – this is the class of people who “through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.” This fits perfectly with the distinction that Paul has been making throughout much of the letter – the distinction between the way of law and the way of grace. This chapter is on sanctification and this distinction applies to two ways of approaching sanctification – through living by law or living by grace.

It is important to also note that in verse five Paul directly introduces a topic that perhaps has only been indirectly hinted at before. This is the topic of the coming of the Lord and the coming age of righteousness, the millennium where Christ reigns. Throughout the NT in many passages believers are instructed to live righteously in this life as we await the coming Kingdom where Christ reigns (see Titus 2:11-13 for example). The next age will be marked by righteousness as Jesus will reign from His throne in Jerusalem with a “righteous scepter” and rule with “a rod of iron” (Is. 24:23; 32:1; Ps. 2:7-9; Mic. 4:7-8; Matt, 19:28; 25:31; Heb. 2:8; Rev. 19:15). We believers long for the day when there will be righteousness in the earth, as we mourn over the unrighteousness that characterizes the world today.

The NT reveals that Christ will reward His faithful believers with some participation in His Kingdom and His reign, so we must live righteously today, by the Spirit through faith, in order to share in His Kingdom rule then (Matt. 19:28; 25:14-30; Lk. 19:12-26; 2 Tim. 2:12). To those who are faithful in life and service, loving His appearing, the Lord will grant them Kingdom rule, awarding them a crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:7-8). Paul has now directly introduced the topic of rewards for the next age. We will see this important topic again in chapters five and six. May we take the way of grace in order to be ready for His coming and His Kingdom!

The apostle finishes this section of chapter five with a conclusion to the matter of circumcision. Verse six states: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” Paul is so blunt! The whole matter of circumcision means absolutely nothing! This is surely a strong word that destroys the Judaizers and shocks all who have revered the ancient custom. Outward rites mean nothing in the NT economy. Only living unto God by faith, which finds its outworking in love, not rituals, is the reality of the Christian life.

Living in freedom means living by the Spirit to love one another - 5:7-15

Verse seven is straightforward. Paul states that there was a time when the Galatian believers “were running well.” This points to an earlier time when they were living their Christian lives by grace. But, someone hindered them from obeying the truth – the truth that the Christian life is to be lived unto God by the power of God’s Spirit, not unto rules by the effort of the flesh.

Verse eight points out that this false way does not come from God. Next Paul issues a serious warning: “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.” The leaven is legalism - living by rules and religious ceremonies and traditions. Leaven in the Bible frequently symbolizes something evil. The first mention of leaven in the Bible is in Ex. 12:15. The first mention of a topic in the Bible can be significant and present some pattern or principle. In Exodus 12 the children of Israel were preparing to leave Egypt right after God “passed over” them in the death judgment of the firstborn in the land. On the very first day of the Passover feast, the Israelites were to remove all leaven from their houses. Many Bible teachers indicate that the history here presents a picture of the Christian experience, showing that after we are saved by the blood of the Lamb, we are immediately to get rid of sin and evil in our lives. Such an application of this particular OT history to our experience is supported by 1 Cor. 5:6-8.

Did you realize that legalism is evil in the eyes of God? This is because it is against God’s way of grace. The warning here is that even if a little leaven of legalism is allowed to remain in the midst of the church it will permeate and affect the whole assembly! Its evil influence will damage grace living in the assembly.

In verse ten Paul expresses confidence toward these believers that they will correct their course and see the view that legalism is evil and the way of grace is right. Note, however, that Paul’s confidence is “in the Lord.” He is praying for them, no doubt, and trusting God to bring repentance over the legalism that has been permitted to invade the assembly through the Judaizers. Whoever the Judaizer might be, Paul is sure that he will indeed bear a judgment from God at some point. The evil of legalism is serious business in the mind of God, the Judge.

Gal. 5:11 reads, “But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished.” It may be that Paul has brought up his own preaching on the subject of circumcision in answer to a claim made by the Judaizers in Galatia that Paul also promoted the practice. At one time Paul did preach circumcision. That was when he was an unbelieving Jew and zealous for the law. But, once he saw the Savior and God’s way of salvation apart from the law, he abandoned the promotion of circumcision, especially for any Gentile (Gal. 2:3-4).

Later Paul would write the letter to the Romans and tell us that “circumcision” is not something outward, but “circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit,” meaning the cutting off of the flesh, the old nature (Rom. 2:29). In Philippians, he warns the believers about “evil workers” (Judaizers) who promote a false circumcision of the flesh (Phil 3:2). And he goes on to say that believers “are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory [boast] in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3). The practice of outward religious rites causes the religious person to boast of his accomplishments and place his confidence in what he can do (the efforts of his flesh). We will see this in Gal. 6:12-13 where the Judaizers want the Gentile Galatian believers to be circumcised so that they can boast in their religious “success.”

Paul says if he is still preaching circumcision, then why is he receiving persecution from the Jews and the Jewish legalists? The cross is a stumbling block, an offense, to the religious person because it marks an end to the value of anything he can “do for God” by his efforts. The cross denies the value of man’s works in eternal salvation and it also denies the value of the fleshly efforts of a believer to “achieve” something for God or to advance spiritually (Gal. 3:3). All works of the flesh “for God” will be rejected for a good reward at Christ’s Judgment Seat (1 Cor. 3:3-4; 10-15; 4:1-5; Phil. 3:3-7). Verse 12 is quite graphic. Paul is so upset by the work of the Judaizers he wishes that they would even mutilate (literally, “castrate”) themselves. Of course, this desire of Paul’s is dramatically figurative – he wants their evil work to be utterly cut off.

Life Application

We see from this portion in 5:7-12 how serious legalism is in the eyes of God. It keeps us from running the Christian race. Legalism injects a growing and corrupting influence into the local church that ruins its vitality and its testimony for Christ. Promoting principles of legalism brings judgment upon the one who promotes or teaches them. Living by rules blocks the working of the cross against the believer’s flesh. Therefore, it is the responsibility of each believer to deal with legalism whenever it raises its ugly head. We cannot afford to overlook it in our lives or the life of the assembly where we fellowship.

If we sense legalism is present in our assembly, we should not “look the other way.” Rather, we should pray to God for His wisdom for how best to deal with it. Although all of us carry this responsibility, this admonition should be particularly heeded by the overseers of the flock. They are responsible before God for the welfare of the flock and will give an account to Christ for their watchfulness and care before the Judgment Seat of Christ. If you are an elder or pastor please consider this: are you teaching the saints to live by rules, regulations, traditions and religious habits in their personal lives and in Christian meetings? Or, are you helping the believers, by word and example, to live to God in the Holy Spirit, looking to Him for direction and fellowship? Elders themselves must first learn to live increasingly by the Spirit by faith, not by conformity to outward practices and rules. Then they can more successfully help the saints live in this victorious way. I encourage every one of you, especially those called to be elders, to humble yourselves before the Lord and pray in a definite way over this matter. Let the Lord speak to you.

We now return to the text with Gal. 5:13, which is a wonderful and important verse. “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” This verse gives us an important warning and also positive counsel on how to live. The warning comes because there is always the possibility that we believers may misunderstand freedom and grace. The Greek word translated “opportunity” in this verse means a “starting point,” or a “base of operations.” In other words, no one should misunderstand and misuse the idea of Christian liberty in order to launch out into fleshly living. The idea that we could do so is a lie from the devil.

We have been called to freedom from the bondage of law. But, does being “free” mean that we now have some license to do whatever we desire, including indulging the flesh with its fallen and self-centered desires? No! There are two aspects of man’s fallen flesh. One aspect involves man living without restrictions, indulging all of the base lusts of his fallen nature. The other aspect involves fallen man’s efforts to be righteous by trying to live up to regulations for goodness and holiness. True spiritual freedom in Christ not only frees us from law, but also frees us to be holy. So, instead of misusing freedom for a chance to fulfill our fallen lusts, we should, through love, serve one another.

To serve one another is the opposite of living for one’s self, which is the way of the flesh. Legalists will always insist that we need law with its rules and regulations in order to keep us from sinning. However, under grace we live directly under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who is steering and empowering us unto holiness, not sin. Under law we were held in bondage; under grace we are free to serve God and one another.

The Jewish Torah (the first five books of the OT) contained 613 distinct commandments for the Jew. Yet, here in Gal. 5:14 Paul states that the whole law stands fulfilled in just one word,”You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is a quote from Lev. 19:18. This commandment expresses the entire true spirit of the OT law. We may say that this word also expresses “the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). This is surely the way Christ lived on this earth, for the sake of others. We must not fix our attention upon a huge list of commandments, but we need to pay attention to the living Christ, and He is living to love others. Let us yield to Him each day, yielding our new lives in Christ to serve Him and love others. As we “look to Jesus” in faith He will gently guide us in loving and serving others.

Unfortunately, it is just at this point in his writing that Paul must point out an opposite behavior that can occur even among saints, and it seems likely that the problem of “biting and devouring one another” is mentioned by him due to some report he has received about the saints in Galatia. This kind of behavior is often the fruit of legalism, which results in self-righteousness with its disdain of others, accusations against others, and the mistreatment of others – too often justified by one’s strict allegiance to his religious code! Paul is warning them that such behavior will result in self-destruction of the churches in Galatia.

The flesh and the Spirit – 5:16-26

Paul has left his long arguments about law and grace. Instead of large theological ideas, in this section he is now touching the practical lives of the believers. In verse 15 he uncovered a real problem of sinful living that apparently was evident among the Galatians. Now he must go on to deal with the sinful flesh exposed in that verse. The apostle’s counsel to overcome the fallen flesh is amazingly simple: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (v. 16). The idea of our conduct in daily living is often pictured by the term “walk” in the NT. If we have our conduct “by the Spirit” then we will not carry out the desires of the flesh. Some translations show the phrase to be “in the Spirit” instead of “by the Spirit,” but the meaning of both is the same. The meaning is that our conduct, our living, is under the influence, control and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. As long as we yield to the Holy Spirit in faith, then we will not carry out the wrong desires of the fallen flesh.

Note what the verse does not say. It does not say that if we walk by the Spirit we will not have the desires of the flesh. The desires of our fallen flesh will be ever present with us as long as we are in this body. The most mature saint still has sinful desires in his life daily. It is not sinful to have a sinful or wrong desire, but it is sinful when we yield to the desire after it arises (see Jas. 1:13-15). Some sins that we commit are outward, such as outbursts of anger (Gal. 5:20). Others are inward, of the heart, like jealousy, and morally impure imaginations of the heart (5:19, 20).

Although none of us likes to have sinful thoughts or desires arise within us, we should never come under condemnation just because they arise. But, we should immediately turn to the Lord in dependent faith for His power in order not to yield to the sinful desire, and to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5). If we yield to the temptation by acting outwardly, then we have sinned. Or, if we respond to a thought by inwardly dwelling on it for some time, allowing it to become a sinful imagination or emotion, then we have sinned. If we are experiencing a normal fellowship with God, we will recognize that we have indeed sinned through the Holy Spirit’s conviction of sin.

It is possible, if a Christian repeatedly resists responding to conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit, that his conscience will become seared and his heart hardened, and he will become insensitive to the Holy Spirit’s work of conviction in his life (1 Tim. 1:19; 4:2; Heb. 3:7-8). When we are convicted of sin, we must confess before God that we have sinned and trust that God has forgiven us and cleansed us (Prov. 28:13; 1 Jn. 1:9).

Gal. 5:16-18 contains a series of connected thoughts that fit together into one picture. The first verse gives the key of victory – live by the Spirit and the believer will not carry out the desire of the flesh. Then verse 17 explains that there is a conflict within the believer, wherein the flesh, our old fallen nature, has strong desires that oppose the desires of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit lives within the believer and the believer’s re-born human spirit corresponds to the nature and desires of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 3:6; Rom. 8:16; 1 Cor. 6:17). Because there is a strong conflict within us of our old nature (the fallen flesh) and the indwelling Holy Spirit, the believer cannot simply choose to do the good and accomplish it in his own power. The meaning of the last half of verse 17 can be understood to mean, “’The result of this conflict is that you cannot do the things that you wish.’”[3] In other words, you cannot carry out the things that you desire to do. Raw willpower against the flesh will lose every time. You may choose to do the right thing, the thing the Holy Spirit desires, but your own best resolve and effort will not win the battle.

The next verse (v. 18), gives again the secret of victory – it is reliance upon the Holy Spirit. This is what we saw in verse 16 at the beginning of this small section. Being led by the Spirit in verse 18 means that we are submitting ourselves to be willingly led by Him and we are fully depending upon Him in faith. When that happens, “you are not under law.” This phrase may seem out of place, but when we realize that self-effort to do right (in the previous verse) equals being put “under law,” then we see the connection. And, whenever we are “under law” failure will come in. Being led by the Spirit takes us out from under law, and the Spirit wins the victory over the flesh! “Being led by the Spirit” equals being “under grace” in our experience.

In Rom. 7:14-24 Paul describes his efforts to overcome the power of the sinful flesh. Again and again in that passage he uses the word “I,” speaking of his agreement with the will of God and his efforts to carry out that will. But, it all ended in failure. It was Paul trying to accomplish righteousness, living up to the law’s demands. It is only in Rom. 8 do we see the word “Spirit,” and it is the Spirit who wins the battle over sin in the believer. Similarly, in Gal. 5:17 there is a struggle within the believer, but the believer himself cannot win the victory.

Here is an illustration. Suppose you are a 110 pound school boy and you are being bullied day after day by an older, stronger boy with 140 pounds of muscle. He comes from a bad family with ugly habits and wants to beat you up. You, however, come from a very nice family with good habits. If you try to fight him, guess who will win probably every time? However, suppose one day you bring your big brother with you to the school yard. He is a good boy and also weighs 175 pounds and has been taking boxing lessons from an expert. He has already won several junior age boxing competitions. Now when the bully approaches you and taunts you, wanting you to fight, what will you do? Will you try to box with him and see if you can win? That would be foolish and destined to failure. Instead you will realize that your older brother is there, ready to fight this bad bully. So, you will step aside and tell him, “Go, ahead, brother, you fight the bully. I believe you can win. In fact you have already proven that you are a champion.” Jesus has already won the victory over sin, death and Satan. We can let Him fight the battle by putting our faith fully in Him and following His leadership.

The apostle next lays out a list of “the deeds of the flesh,” which are some of the more prominent and ugly sins of the fallen flesh of man. Verse 19 firstly lists three sexual sins: “immorality, impurity and sensuality.” The first term, “immorality,” is a broad term that includes any type of illicit sexual conduct. “Impurity” refers to impure sexual thoughts, words and deeds, including deviant sexual behavior. Viewing pornography would be included. “Sensuality” is sometimes translated as “wantonness,” which involves a throwing off of all sexual restraint, even openly exhibiting shameful sexual behavior publically without any sense of shame.

Verse 20 firstly lists two sins in the spiritual category. “Idolatry” was very common in the ancient world with many images receiving worship. This is highly offensive to God (Ex. 20:4) and the worshipper of an idol is actually involved in demon worship (1 Cor. 10:19-20). Sex with prostitutes was often involved with the religious rites of pagan gods and idols. “Sorcery” involved contact with the evil spirits and was often accompanied by the use of mind altering drugs. The Greek word for sorcery is pharmakeia, from which our modern English word pharmacy is derived. During the great tribulation period sorcery will be prominent (Rev. 9:21).

Verse 20 and 21 list several sins which involve our relationships with others. First there is “enmities,” or hostilities towards others. This could be outwardly expressed hostility or an inward simmering attitude of hostility. “Strife” would be open conflict or quarrels with others. “Jealousy” is the sinful desire for the success or the recognition of others to belong to us. “Outbursts of anger” are next, and such outbursts come from a sinful heart. The Greek word for “disputes” is shown as “rivalries” in the English Standard Version (ESV). This same Greek word is translated in other places as “selfish ambition,” which certainly manifests itself in rivalries and disputes. “Dissensions” lead to people “taking sides,” and causing division. “Factions” connote divisions that become actual parties. “Envying” involves wanting what others have. “Drunkenness” is a sin and should be recognized as such. “Carousing” speaks of partying, especially with alcoholic drinks. Paul closes the list with “things like these,” which we can only surmise means other obvious sins, “deeds of the flesh.”

Paul now forewarns his readers, believers, just as he had before, that those who practice such sins “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” There are two parallel passages in Paul’s epistles: 1 Cor. 6:9-10 and Eph. 5:3-5. The idea of practice here refers to an ongoing practice, not just a brief slip into sin. We must understand this warning clearly as it pertains to the important doctrine of rewards, and this matter of “inheriting the kingdom” is an extremely significant one in the NT. Unfortunately, there is much confusion and misinformation surrounding this idea. Therefore, it will require several pages to explain this very important concept.

In greater Christendom there are three basic views about the meaning of this warning here. The first two views take the warning of “will not inherit the kingdom of God” to mean that the sinning person will not be in God’s kingdom in eternity. Instead, they will be lost forever in hell. The first view thinks that this passage is talking about believers who sin and thus lose their salvation. This is the view of the Arminians (those who follow the basic tenants of a theology begun with Jacobus Arminius [1560-1609]). The second view is one that is espoused by most Calvinists. It takes the position that a genuine believer can never live in a continuing lifestyle of sin and thus claims this warning is not addressed to genuine believers. The third view is that this warning of non-inheritance is speaking of potential loss of reward for believers, not eternal salvation, and applies to the coming 1,000 year kingdom of Christ (Rev.20:4-6), not to the eternal phase of God’s kingdom (Rev. 21, 22).

Let us briefly evaluate these three views. As we have stated previously, a genuine believer is not in danger of losing his salvation according to plain statements in the word of God (see comments on “fallen from grace” in Gal. 5:4). The view that a genuine believer cannot persist in sin is against the plain testimony of Scripture. Those addressed in the Corinthian church were considered as “sanctified in Christ Jesus,” were addressed as “brethren,” and had been justified (1 Cor.1:2, 10; 6:11). Yet, they were plagued with divisive ways, jealousy and strife and were “fleshly” (1 Cor. 1:10; 3:3-4). Paul warned them that they must build with precious materials because their work would one day be judged (at Christ’s Judgment Seat).

All fleshly work, like divisiveness, of a believer will be burned up by Christ’s burning judgment, and the believer will “suffer loss, but he himself will be saved” (1 Cor. 3:15). So there in the church in Corinth genuine believers were persisting in sin and, although their fleshly works will be burned up at Christ’s Judgment Seat, they themselves will be saved. In 1 Cor. 5 we have the case of a brother who was involved in ongoing sexual immorality. Yet, Paul does not say he is not a believer. Instead Paul delivers him to Satan for chastisement, “so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5). At the point in time Paul delivered him over, Paul did not know if the man would repent of his sin. He did know, however, that the man’s spirit would be eventually saved “in the day of the Lord Jesus,” a reference to the coming time of Christ’s judgment.

In 2 Cor. 2:7-8, after Paul learned that the man had repented, he wrote to the church in Corinth and urged them to receive him back, forgive him and comfort him. This was a badly sinning believer who was restored. If Paul had not prayed for his chastisement he may never have had a real turn back to the path of sanctification. Also take note that in 1 Cor. 11 genuine believers were taking the elements of the Lord’s Supper without judging the sins in their lives. Their sins were so bad, apparently ongoing, that God judged some of them with sickness and death. This discipline was explained thus: “But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world” (1 Cor. 11:32). These sinning people were obviously believers who were not under eternal condemnation like those in the world.

The view that perseverance in holiness is assured of all true believers is distorted and not in accordance with the record of the NT or our experience. Instead of persevering, some fail miserably (1 Tim. 1:19; 2 Tim. 4:10; Rev. 2:4-5, 20-23; 3:2-3; 3:15-19). Although every believer is equipped with God’s life and the Holy Spirit within, nothing could be clearer from the New Testament than the fact that believers do vary in their degree of cooperation with God and their consequent maturity and actions. We are in a battle with the flesh within and the devil and the world without. There is no guarantee of victory for every believer. Regrettably, we all know genuine Christians who have given themselves over to the world or the flesh.

This warning passage in Gal. 5:21 (as well its parallels in I Cor. 6 and Eph. 5) is not a “sham” passage, written to warn people about the consequences of behavior they were incapable of doing. That is, it is not written to genuine believers who actually cannot practice such sins. Nor is it a “sham” passage written to warn fake believers about the consequences of their sins, when the context of the passage and letter shows that those warned are believers. The letter is addressed to “the churches of Galatia,” and in this verse Paul is forewarning these believers concerning the very serious consequence of sinful living. Those who take the view that the sinful living noted in verse 21 cannot speak of true believers must account for the glaring lack of logical interpretation here. [4]

To arrive at the correct interpretation of the warning in verse 21 we need to understand some terms. What is the “kingdom of God” here? What significance does the term “inherit” have? It is clear that in verse 21 Paul is speaking in the future tense, about a kingdom of God that is yet future. In thinking about the future kingdom of God, we should realize that there are varying phases of God’s kingdom throughout the ages. “Thy kingdom is a kingdom of all ages, and thy dominion is throughout all generations.” (Ps. 145:13, Darby). There are two future phases of God’s Kingdom yet to come. The next phase will be the millennial (1,000 year) Kingdom of Christ, which He will establish upon His return (Lk. 19:11-12, 15; Acts 1:6-11; Rev. 11:15). During this 1,000 year kingdom Christ will openly reign on the earth from His throne in Jerusalem (Matt. 19:28; 25:31; Is. 2:1-3; 24:23; Mic. 4:6-8: Rev. 20:4-6). At the end of Christ’s reign He will deliver the Kingdom to God the Father, bringing in the final, eternal phase of God’s Kingdom, which is realized in the new heavens, the new earth, and the New Jerusalem (1 Cor. 15:24-26; Rev. 21:1-2).

There are many Bible teachers who do not believe in a literal future reign of Christ for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:4-6). So, a number of Bible teachers see no millennial kingdom, but only an eternal kingdom. Other teachers may agree with a millennial reign of Christ, but still think the reference to “the kingdom of God” in Gal. 5:21 refers to eternity.

We must see that the Bible reveals that the next age - where Christ rules openly upon the earth - is extremely significant in God’s plan.[5] The background to its significance was laid in the OT. The prophets foresaw a time when the earth would be gloriously renewed from the curse and the promised Messiah (meaning “the anointed one”) from God would rule over the restored earth (Is. 2:1-4; 11:1-10; 24:23). The Jews understood that participation in that blessed era was determined by God’s judgment upon one’s works after the resurrection, and life in that age was designated “eternal life” (literally, age-lasting life, or life for the age) (Dan. 12:2). There is no word in either Hebrew or Greek that explicitly means endless or eternal. A literal translation of the term would be “age-lasting life” or “life belonging to the age.” [6]

The term “eternal life” appears in the New Testament 42 times. In most of those occurrences it refers to the eternal life that the believer receives inwardly as a gift upon belief, which is the life of the Son of God (Jn. 3:16; 5:24; 1 Jn. 5:11-12). However, there are other occurrences of this term that refer to a future experience of life (shown by some verses to be “in the age to come”), the possession of which is dependent upon obedience to God (for example: Matt. 19:16, 29; Mk. 10:17, 29-30; Lk. 10:25; 18:18, 29-30; Jn. 12:25-26). The possible outcome of “eternal life” in Dan. 12:2 follows a future judgment of works after the resurrection, so it refers to life in “the age to come.” The result of that judgment is shown to be kingdom inheritance in Dan. 7:9-10, 13-14; 18, 22, 27.

It was the great longing of every Jew that they could be approved to participate in the Messiah’s kingdom, the blessed age to come. But, they understood that such participation was based upon God’s judgment of their lives – how they had lived (Dan. 12:2) [7]. With this background, we can see that the question which the rich young ruler (a Jew) asked the Lord Jesus did not refer to being born again, but referred to being qualified to participate in the future kingdom of the Messiah. The young man asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk. 10:17) The correct literal translation is, “What must I do to inherit life for the age (or age-abiding life)?” He was clearly asking, “What must I do to inherit life in the Messiah’s kingdom of the coming age?” See the same thought in Jesus’ conversation with the lawyer (an expert in the Jewish law) in Luke 10:25-28. Jesus’ answer to the lawyer, “Do this and you will live,” means that the lawyer would have life in the coming age if he actually did love God with all of his heart. [8]

Thus we see something of the great desire for the Jews to participate with the Messiah in His coming earthly kingdom. In addition, we see that this participation was dependent upon the living of the Jew in this life. The Lord told the rich young ruler that keeping the commandments was not enough – not what Christ really required of him – for inheriting life for the age. He told the young man that he must sell what he loved, his possessions, and “come, follow Me” (Matt. 19:21). This was simply an application of Christ’s basic principles of discipleship to this man. Christ’s basic discipleship principles are: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Immediately after the encounter with the rich young ruler, Jesus applied these lessons of discipleship (following Christ in obedience) to his own disciples:

Then Peter said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?" And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration [the age of the restored earth, Messiah’s kingdom] when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.” (Matt. 19:27-29)

The parallel accounts (of Matt. 19:29) in Mark and Luke specify when this life will be inherited: “and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mk.10:30; Lk. 18:30). These requirements of following the Lord at a cost are not requirements to be saved from God’s wrath and to have life with God throughout eternity! The only requirement to be saved from God’s wrath and to never perish is to believe (place one’s trust) in Jesus (Jn. 3:16; 5:24). To be saved in the sense of eternal salvation is simply a gift, received at the moment of simple faith, not of works (Acts 13:38-39; 16:31; Jn. 5:24; Eph. 2:8-9). But, to be approved by Christ in order to reign with Him in His 1,000 year kingdom is a matter of works, our doings. It involves our following Christ in discipleship after we are saved. Our works will be judged at the Judgment Seat of Christ with the determination of kingdom inheritance at stake.

This brings us to the point that there are two great principles in the Bible, especially clear in the NT. One principle we may term as the “Gift Principle.” It has to do with the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life as an inward possession. It has nothing to do with our works, but is connected to our initial faith in Jesus. Once we believe, we possess this gift. This gift includes our place in glory with God in eternity. It is based upon Jesus’ work for us, not our cooperation with Jesus in works. The other great principle is the “Reward Principle.” [9] This principle is “according to works,” and the Bible clearly teaches that a reward (better rendered “recompense”) awaits every person following God’s future judgment of the person (Matt. 16:27; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:12; 22:12). The believer will be judged prior to the millennium at the Judgment Seat of Christ, and that judgment will determine whether or not the believer will reign with Christ and participate in His kingdom (2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 2:12). The dead unbelievers will be judged at the great white throne judgment at the close of the millennium (Rev. 20:11-12).

Now we are ready to put the final piece in place for this phrase, “will not inherit the kingdom.” We have seen that the kingdom referred to is not the eternal kingdom, but the kingdom of Christ’s reign on the earth for 1.000 years (the next age, “the age to come”). We have seen that the Bible consistently points to our works, our following of Christ in discipleship, as essential to being approved to reign with Christ in this marvelous kingdom of a restored earth. There is another key in the word “inherit” which confirms all of the points already made. This word has its basic meaning of “be an heir.”

Remember how in chapter three we learned that we who belong to Christ simply through faith become “heirs” according to promise (3:29)? And in Gal. 4:7 that Scripture states, “Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” That means simply by being placed in God’s family as a son we have an inheritance, we are already an heir. However, that inheritance is comprised simply of those things that belong to every child of God, such as forgiveness of sins, the gift of eternal life within and a place with God in eternity.

Yet, the Bible reveals that there is another inheritance available to the believer beyond this basic inheritance. We can see this clearly in Rom. 8:17. The translation below of this verse, very accurate according to the Greek construction, is by Zane Hodges, who was a professor of Greek and exegesis for many years at Dallas Theological Seminary. Hodges goes on to comment about the meaning of the verse after the translation.

8:17. And if we are children, we are also heirs – heirs, on the one hand, of God, and on the other hand, co-heirs with Christ if we suffer together with Him so that we may also be glorified together with Him.

Precisely because of our status before God as His children, we have also the status of heirs. To begin with, we are heirs . . . of God. This fact indicates that we have an inheritance by virtue of our fundamental relationship to God the Father as children. . . . But in the text before us, Paul has two forms of heirship in mind. This double heirship is clearly signaled by the men . . . de [Greek] construction that we have rendered

on the one hand . . . on the other hand. Not only are God’s children heirs of God, but they may also become co-heirs with Christ on the condition that they ‘co-suffer’ with Him. . . . According to OT inheritance law, the firstborn son in a family normally received twice as much as the other sons (Deut. 21:17). It should not be assumed that Paul is working outside of this OT conception of heirship. In fact, a few verses further on he actually describes the Lord Jesus Christ as ‘the Firstborn among many brethren’ (v. 29). [10]

The additional inheritance is the extra portion given to the firstborn. All believers have this inheritance potentially, but it may be forfeited by them through their lack of cooperation with the Lord in their living. This is what happened to Esau, who is cited as an example for us by the writer of Hebrews (Heb. 12:16-17). Please see Appendix C for a short paper on “The Birthright (The Rights of the Firstborn).” That paper explains that this inheritance, which can be lost, is the reward of participating with Christ in His kingdom reign during the coming kingdom of 1,000 years.

At last, then, we should be able to accurately see what Paul was talking about when he issued a warning “that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Most commentators think this is a reference to the future eternal kingdom, and that it pertains to eternal salvation. However, when we understand that “the kingdom of God” here speaks of the millennial kingdom, and that the verse belongs to the “Reward Principle,” not the gift of eternal salvation, we are on the right track.

Paul is giving a genuine warning to genuine believers: living in sins like these will cause you to miss the inheritance of the millennial kingdom. We should not think, however, that if we only don’t practice these gross sins then we will qualify for the kingdom reward. These sinful lifestyles are certainly “disqualifiers,” but that does not mean that the absence of them is all that is needed to qualify for the kingdom reward. Basically, we should live in true discipleship to qualify for this inheritance. We must die to self, take up the cross (God’s will), and follow the Lord Jesus fully. If we do that, then we will qualify.

But, what if we have had terrific failures, or periods of being out of fellowship with the Lord for some time? Be assured, the Lord is merciful and is always ready to give us a new start with Him. Sins that have been repented of and confessed will be forgiven by God. Yet, after confession, He is requiring us to go forward and be diligent to grow into Christ-like maturity and to be faithful in genuine spiritual service in order to be approved by Him at the Judgment Seat of Christ for a good reward (Matt. 25:14-30; Lk. 19:11-26; 1 Cor. 3:10-15; 2 Pet. 1:5-11). We should never be tempted to take an “exit” for a while off the “highway” of consecration to follow Christ. We may think that we can just dabble in sin or worldliness for a season, but the testimony of Scripture and experience shows that it is very difficult to get back onto the highway.

A simple chart showing some differences between the millennial age and the eternal age follows. “Overcomers” is a term for victorious Christians. Probably only a minority of believers are overcomers.

THE 1,000 YEAR KINGDOM THE ETERNAL KINGDOM
Reward according to works (Matt. 16:24-27; 19:27-29; 25:14-30; 2 Tim. 2:12; Col. 3:23-24; Rev. 2:26-27; 3:21; 20:4-6) Gift (Jn. 3:16; 5:24; 10:25-26; Eph. 2:4-9)
The regeneration (Matt. 19:28) The times of restoration (Acts 3:21) A new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1)
The age to come – the next age (Mk. 10:30; Lk. 18:30; Heb. 6:5) The eternal phase of “the ages to come” (Eph. 2:7)
Fellow heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17; Heb. 3:14) Heirs of God (Rom. 8:17; Gal. 4:7)
Overcomers reign with Christ (Rev. 2:26-27; 3:21; 20:4-6) All believers reign (Rev. 22:3-5)
Overcomers rewarded with a magnified enjoyment of eternal life (Lk. 18:30; Rev. 2:7, 17; 3:4, 12) All believers enjoy fullness of eternal life (Rev. 22:1-3)


Life Application

Perhaps you are like many believers who have not clearly seen the whole of God’s future plan for you, which includes a possible good reward or a possible significant loss. Many believers only see the matter of salvation in terms of being saved from their sins, with the single goal of “going to heaven,” or being with God in eternity. After reviewing these matters of the coming kingdom reward, it is hoped that all of our eyes would be open to see that the future for the believer after this life is much more than just “going to heaven.”

Whether or not we will share in the additional inheritance available in Christ’s coming kingdom all depends upon how we live our lives now. If we seek earnestly to learn to live by the Spirit, then there is much hope for us to gain the kingdom reward. If, on the other hand, this kingdom matter is not that significant to us then we will likely not be so diligent to put to death the deeds of the flesh and live by the Spirit. God has designed the kingdom reward as a great incentive for us to diligently run the Christian race. Paul urges us to “Run in such a way that you may win” (1 Cor. 9:24). I encourage you to pray over this matter and ask God to make this more real and more significant to you.

Now we return to the text in Galatians. In great contrast to the deeds of the flesh, is the fruit of the Spirit. The “fruit” here is expressed in the singular, not plural as “fruits.” This shows us that these qualities are all in a unity, reflecting the life of God. Of course, these virtues are not produced by the Christian, but are expressed through the believer as he lives the life of Christ by faith (Gal. 2:20). Note that there are nine qualities listed in verses 22 and 23. A number of Bible commentators have noted that these nine qualities of the fruit of the Spirit are grouped in threes, with each cluster of three showing the Christian’s attitude in three differing orientations. The first three qualities – love, joy and peace – are firstly directed towards God. The second cluster – patience, kindness and goodness – are directed towards others. The third cluster – faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – are related to one’s self.

The first expression of this life is shown as love, which is a supreme and pure expression of God since “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:16). The believer’s primary object of his love is God Himself. This truth is revealed in the gospels when one of the Jewish scribes asked Jesus which commandment was the foremost of all. Jesus answered, "The foremost is, 'HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH'” (Mk. 12:29-30). As we allow the Holy Spirit to control our lives, our love for God will grow.

Love is also the overarching virtue of the Christian life (5:14), and it will certainly find its expression towards believers and unbelievers. The Greek word here for love is agape. This word in the Greek language did not specifically mean “God’s love,” or “God’s kind of love.” The Greek word agape did not have the qualities of affection and emotion connected to it as did other Greek words for love. This word fits best with Christian love, as God’s love is not based upon emotion, but comes from an act of the will and an attitude of the mind.

In God’s love, there is selfless care for the welfare of another. Its action in loving or giving is not based upon the other’s worthiness or the other’s qualities. Unfortunately, human love usually operates based upon an evaluation of the other party’s qualities. Human love has “conditions” on its being exercised. But God’s love is unconditional. A line from a gospel song by Dottie Rambo puts this well, “He looked beyond my fault and saw my need.” When men were living a sinful lifestyle, offending God’s holiness, He demonstrated His own love (agape) towards us by sending Christ to die for us (Rom. 5:8). So we also see that God’s love is willing to sacrifice self to an unimaginable extent for the sake of others. In 1 Cor. 13 we see an expanded Biblical definition of how God’s love operates in its care towards others.

The next quality in the list of the Spirit’s fruit is joy. Normal human joy is dependent upon very good circumstances. When things are going well for people, they may feel joyful about life. The joy we experience in Christ, however, is different. It is not dependent upon circumstances and, in fact, God’s joy comes often in the midst of adverse circumstances. How would one normally feel after being whipped and told to stop doing what he desires to do? However, after the apostles were whipped and told to speak no more in the name of Jesus, they “went on their way . . . rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). Joy is an inner satisfaction and happiness that comes from being in close fellowship with the Savior, finding our joy in Him and in the great and encouraging truths in God’s word.

David wrote of “the joy of Your salvation” (Ps. 51:12). Jeremiah wrote of the joy that comes from the truths of God’s word: “Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jer. 15:16). There is a deep inner satisfaction and joy that we can know when we serve the Lord while abiding in Him and doing His will. Jesus testified of this to His disciples after He served the woman at the well: “But He said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about’” (Jn. 4:32). So it is a normal Christian experience for us to “serve the Lord with gladness,” even when the toil is demanding (Ps. 100:2).

Paul wrote of “exulting in our tribulations,” knowing how they are preparing us for coming glory (Rom. 5:3). Thus, we “exult in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2). We can “consider it all joy” when undergoing all kinds of trials when we recognize their value in forming Christ’s character in us (Jas. 1:2-4). In Rom. 12:12 Paul also instructed believers to be “rejoicing in hope.” The circumstances of this world, being under the curse of the fall, can tend to depress us. Sometimes we see the severe difficulties of people or the cruelty of others towards men, and sometimes even we ourselves are directly affected by them. This is the time we should lift up our eyes to see our hope – the blessed hope of Jesus’ return. We rejoice in the hope that He is going to come and set all things right, reversing the curse and the damage of sin. In that coming day those who suffer sickness will be healed (Is. 35:5-6). Under Christ’s reign, righteousness will prevail and evil will be judged (Is. 11:4). He is going to come and relieve His people from all the cruelty and mistreatment they have suffered (2 Thess. 1:5-10).

Jesus also tells us: “‘Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you’” (Matt. 5:11-12). A wonderful summary verse for the joy realized in believing is found in Romans: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13).

Notice that the next realization of the Spirit’s fruit is peace, and it is connected to joy in the verse cited just above. Peace and joy often go together in the Scriptures. Peace is contentment and a sense of wellbeing. Between parties, it comes when harmony is there and discord is gone. How does peace come to us from the Holy Spirit? We gain “peace with God” when we first believe in Christ (Rom. 5:1). We can have peace with other believers as we respond to the arbitration of the Holy Spirit in our hearts (Col. 3:15). The Bible instructs us to seek peace with all men as far as it depends upon us (Rom. 12:18).

There is also peace in our hearts that comes when the “peace of God” guards our hearts from anxieties and disturbing thoughts. This is given when we pray to Him in the midst of an emotional or mental “storm,” bringing our requests to Him with thanksgiving (Phil. 4:6-7). Praying “with thanksgiving” means thanking Him for His answer to our prayers, fully trusting Him for His will and His timing in the answer. This famous verse in Isaiah puts it well: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Is. 26:3, ESV). The expression “stayed on you,” means to be focused upon the Lord, while trusting fully in Him.

Now we come to the second cluster of qualities, which portray the believer’s life as directed towards men. “Patience” is produced in us as we depend upon the Lord. This word means longsuffering under some kind of provocation, or we could simply say it means “slow to anger.” People can tend to irritate us, often those whom we know well. Others may step on “our rights,” do something really offensive towards us, or actually persecute us in some way. Not letting their actions or attitudes trigger in us a fit of frustration or anger is the virtue of patience. This kind of virtue can only be produced in us as we agree to let the Spirit put to death our feelings of frustration and anger and forgive the other person their faults and offenses. It is well to remember that we probably also aggravate or hurt others in some way by our habits, our faults or our insensitivities. Let us forgive others and hope that they forgive us.

“Kindness” (Gal. 5:22) consists of an attitude of care, consideration and graciousness towards others. God’s kindness is extended towards all men. “For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends His rain on the righteous and unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45b). Luke 6:35 tells us: “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High: for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.”

“Goodness” is one of the virtues of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. When we think of “goodness” we may think of good deeds done by people. But, the word here goes deeper. Dr. David Anderson gives us some excellent insights on divine goodness in this verse, produced only by the Holy Spirit:

The Bible uses two words for “good”: agathos and kalos. The latter word refers to an externally observable excellence. It would be used to describe a fine horse or an expensive car. The former word refers to an intrinsic, internal good – not necessarily something that can be observed with the naked eye or at first glance. . . Agathos is the adjective we translate “good”; the noun is agathōsunē, which is the fruit of the Spirit listed here in Galatians 5:22 and translated “goodness.” So we are talking about a goodness that is not necessarily observable to people on the outside. In fact, I would define this kind of goodness as “any virtuous act or attitude, seen or unseen by men, which makes a positive contribution to the kingdom of God.” We could call this “divine good” versus “human good.” Our sin nature can produce human good that will not contribute to God’s kingdom or open the gates of heaven. If this virtue of agathōsunē is a fruit of the Spirit, then it is a divine good that will last forever. . . But we must distinguish between human good and divine good. Human good/goodness is sourced in our flesh (meaning our sinful nature); divine good is sourced in God himself through His Holy Spirit. Human good cannot gain right standing with God for the unbeliever (Isa. 64:6), and the human good of the believer will be burned up as wood, hay, and stubble at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:12-15; 13:1-3). But when we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us, empower us, and even to fill us, then divine goodness can be experienced and displayed in our lives. [11]

The final cluster of three Spirit-produced qualities describes virtues that are oriented towards the believer himself. These are “faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” These qualities reveal the character of the believer’s inner life under the Holy Spirit’s control. The first virtue listed is “faithfulness.” [12] The Bible tells us: “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2, ESV). Jesus is our supreme example in faithfulness in carrying out the Father’s will (Jn. 6:38; Heb. 2:17; 3:2). A great verse for inspiration for our faithfulness is John 17:4: "’I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.’”

In the Lord’s work, faith and faithfulness are not unrelated. As we live in fellowship with Christ, the Holy Spirit will inspire us to carry out certain works which God has prepared beforehand for us to do (Eph. 2:10). To us, each such work becomes a “work of faith,” where we have the faith that this task is an assignment from God for us (2 Thess. 1:11). As we move forward to carry out the task God has given us, we should employ dependent faith in God. In conjunction with this activity, the Holy Spirit will produce faithfulness in us and empower us for carrying out the task unto completion (2 Thess. 1:11).

This is a good reminder for us as we seek to serve the Lord. God has not asked us to “do things for God.” He has only asked us to do things according to His will and His guidance. All “good things” we might initiate by ourselves to “do for God” will be burned up as wood, hay and stubble at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:10-15). So, “each man must be careful how he builds” (1 Cor. 3:10). Saul was anointed as king, but this did not make him independent of God. God told him what to do through Samuel, but Saul decided to do something else. Instead of killing all the animals captured in battle with the Amalekites, he thought it would be a good idea to save the best of them to sacrifice unto the Lord (1 Sam. 15:3, 9, 13-15). For this presumption and disobedience, Samuel told Saul that he was being rejected from being king (1 Sam. 15:23). Samuel told Saul, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).

The next word in this triad is “meekness” or “gentleness.” Meekness is certainly a virtue that Christ exhibited. It is an inner quality of the heart. A significant meaning of the word is that a man accepts God’s dealings with him without resistance or complaint. For example, in Matt. 11:20-30 Jesus described the future judgment that would come upon those cities which rejected Him and His message. Yet, He thanked the Father that He allowed this rejection of Jesus, noting that it was well-pleasing in the Father’s sight. Jesus acknowledged that all things that happened to Him were indeed handed over to Him by His Father. Then, He invited His disciples to “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest to your souls” (Matt. 11:29, Darby). Here we see Christ’s meekness in accepting what God allowed in His life without resistance or complaint.

Jesus invites His disciples to co-labor with Him (be yoked together with Him for work), learning from Him both the virtue of meekness, and of lowliness (taking a low place, humility). God will sovereignly allow certain difficulties, set-backs or trials in our lives. We must learn to see His hand and not resist Him during such trials. (There may, however, be attacks from Satan which we are to resist in prayer. We need discernment.) Towards God, then, meekness means being submissive to God. An ancient usage of the Greek word here (prautēs) is for a wild horse after it has been broken. Through discipline, the horse has learned to put away its stubbornness and be under his master’s control. Any such horse will not be hard to handle and resistant, but will be gentle. The horse is still quite powerful, not weak, but his power is under restraint.

God is training us, wanting us to be broken from our self-will and our resistance to His will and His sovereignty over our lives. He wants us to live under His restraint. The opposite of a meek or gentle person is one who is proud, self-assertive and contentious, unwilling to give up his rights or suffer any perceived injustice. Those who are not meek before God are also not meek or gentle in their dealings with men.

The third virtue in this final group of the Spirit’s fruit is “self-control.” The idea is that a person has a power within himself by which he can exercise control over his own passions and desires. Of course, that is impossible for mere humans. The sin nature makes it so. However, as born again believers we have the Holy Spirit who can give us a supernatural internal power that can overcome the strong passions and desires of the flesh.

Some Bible interpreters believe that this self-control refers mainly to appetites of the body, such as sex, food, and intoxicating drink. Similar word forms are used in 1 Cor. 7:9 and 9:26 which point in the direction of curbing bodily appetites. However, in view of the many deeds of the flesh already described beforehand, it is probably not limited to just the bodily appetites. This word is also used in Acts 24:25 and 2 Pet. 1:6, which portray a broader application – mastery over all the various passions and impulses of the fallen flesh. It is good to remind ourselves again that self-imposed rules and regimens will never enable men to overcome sinful desires (Col. 2:20-23). This is the great mistake of asceticism, which has taken on various shapes throughout Christian history.

Verse 23 closes with an unexpected statement: “against such things there is no law.” The law was in existence, in one regard at least, to show what doings of man were prohibited in God’s eyes. But no prohibitions are needed on a life lived by the Spirit. This is a purposeful understatement to show the marvelous goodness of a Spirit-led life, and to remind us again of the superiority of grace over law.

Gal. 5:24 reads: “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Here Paul encourages the readers with truth, giving them the way to victory over the flesh. As is usual in the NT, it is positional truth that lays the foundation for victory in our condition (our experience). When we believed, we entered into our union with Christ, including our co-crucifixion with Him (Rom. 6:2-7; Col. 2:11). It was in this way that we crucified the flesh - through our belief in Christ. Our crucifixion with Christ is a “spiritual fact,” or a positional truth. Now, we must “walk by faith” in the spiritual fact.

Our co-crucifixion with Christ also ushers in our new life in resurrection (Rom. 6:4-5, 11). This fact of new life is stated in the first part of verse 25: “If we live by the Spirit.” The second part of the verse then gives a command: “let us also walk by the Spirit.” The Greek verb here translated “walk” is different than the earlier word used in verse 16 to “walk by the Spirit.” The idea of this “walk” (in v. 25) is to walk in a line, in a very orderly manner. The verb was used of soldiers marching in a row, but not exclusively used in this way. Some Bible teachers believe that the use of this verb points to following the Spirit in the setting of the local church (like soldiers marching together orderly), so that the disintegration of the church as pictured in verse 26 does not happen. The ESV translates it, “let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” It means a close following of the Spirit’s guidance.

Verse 26 is surely linked to verse 25. Paul is concerned that if the Galatians do not follow the command to keep in step with the Spirit, then they will disintegrate into a group of boastful, self-seeking people who care nothing for one another. This would be the opposite of what the goal is for them: “through love serve one another” (v. 13). It seems Paul carries a genuine inward concern that these saints are on the verge of possibly “biting and devouring one another” (see v.15). Unfortunately, this is often the fruit of legalism. It makes one proud, self-seeking, critical and combative. Such behavior is utterly opposed to the fruit of the Spirit. So, we must pay close attention to the Spirit’s guidance, dying to self and letting Christ live through us.



Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)

[1] Many believers have been taught that one can lose his salvation. However, this is not Biblical. There are a number of passages that unequivocally show that salvation cannot be lost. Yet, there are also other passages that seem to be severe threats to the believer. These other passages do not refer to the loss of salvation but involve the doctrine of rewards. Please see Appendix D, where the booklet Eternal Security explores this topic in much detail, balancing eternal security with the theme of rewards.

[2] Here the verb is in the present tense and the indicative mood. The present tense means, of course, the action is taking place in the present time and here it seems likely that it is an ongoing action describing the ongoing efforts of the Galatians. The use of the indicative mood shows here that the action of the verb describes a fact. Then we must take into account the “voice” of the verb. If the voice is “active” it means that the subject of the verb is performing the action (example: “I see the people”). If the voice is “passive” that means that the subject of the verb is receiving the action (example: “I am seen by the people”). If the voice is termed “middle” that means that the subject of the verb performs in some way that concerns himself. The tricky part in this case is that when a verb is present indicative, the Greek construction of the verb is exactly the same for both the passive and the middle voice. That means the translator must decide which voice is probable, given the context. Then, he must translate the verb, if possible, to reflect the voice in some way. By translating the verb “to be justified,” we can see that the translator has made an interpretive decision that the voice is passive, and his translation reflects the idea that the subject is the object of an action by another – the subject is “justified,” or “declared righteous” by God. On the other hand, if the translator (or interpreter) sees the middle voice as the correct option, then a translation of “you who are seeking to be righteous by law” is perfectly valid. In this case, due to the context and other reasons given, the middle voice seems correct.

[3] Bruce, Galatians, p. 244.

[4] Here is a lesson in sound Biblical interpretation. Interpretation must be logical. John R. W. Stott was a good believer and a respected minister of God (Stott’s lifespan: 1921-2011). However, he reveals his lack of logic and his theological bias in interpreting this verse. He did this because he held to a theology that no true believer could persist in sinful living (the second view above). So, when he writes on this verse, he states: “To this list of works of the flesh in the realms of sex, religion, society and drink, Paul now adds as solemn warning: I warn you, he writes, as I warned you before (when he was with them in Galatia), that those who do such things (the verb prassontes referring to habitual practice rather than an isolated lapse) shall not inherit the kingdom of God (verse 21). Since God’s kingdom is a kingdom of godliness, righteousness and self-control, those who indulge in the works of the flesh will be excluded from it. For such works give evidence that they are not in Christ. And if they are not in Christ, then they are not Abraham’s seed, nor ‘heirs according to promise’ (3:29).” Stott, p. 148. Paul had already written to the Galatians recognizing that they had received the Spirit by faith and that, “you are all sons of God” (3:5, 26). So, contrary to Stott’s conclusion, the epistle plainly teaches that those warned here are “in Christ.” Regrettably, Stott let his theology override what the actual text stated (a warning to true believers), according to a grammatical and logical understanding. Instead of saying that he did not understand the verse, he gives an interpretation against logic and leads the reader into confusion and error.

[5] Appendix B of this book contains much more detail on the 1,000 year kingdom of Christ and its significance.

[6] Much of this paragraph (as well as the rest of this note) is taken directly from the booklet, Eternal Security, in Appendix D. “Both the Hebrew word (olam) and the Greek word (aionios), which are sometimes translated as ‘eternal’ or ‘everlasting,’ mean a long period of time (perhaps indefinite) or an age. The context of the term must determine the exact meaning. When the Greek word aionios is used in conjunction with God’s life, it clearly means eternal, because God is eternal and His life is eternal (Gen. 21:33; John 1:1-4; Rom. 16:26; 1 Tim. 6:15-16, Heb.1:10-12; 7:3, 15-17; 1 John 1:1-2)."

[7] If the reader desires more detail and academic sources on these Jewish beliefs then he should consult Chapter Two of the book titled, Worthy of the Kingdom, by Thomas W. Finley (the author of this book). In that chapter the following scholarly works are cited to prove the ideas presented here: The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Alfred Edersheim); An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (W. E. Vine); The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Colin Brown, ed.); Palestinian Judaism in the Time of Jesus Christ (Joseph Bonsirven); Encyclopedia Judaica; The Jewish Encyclopedia. The book, Worthy of the Kingdom, can be viewed on-line or downloaded at www.seekersofchrist.org.

[8] Some of this paragraph is taken directly from Eternal Security (Appendix D).

[9] Understanding these two great principles is essential if we are to correctly understand the Scriptures and if we desire to be “approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). A good introduction to these principles can be found in the latter part of the booklet titled Eternal Security, located in Appendix D. Further studies can be found at the website www.seekersofchrist.org, under the section labeled, “The Judgment Seat of Christ, Rewards and The Kingdom.”

[10] Zane C. Hodges, Romans: Deliverance from Wrath (Corinth, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2013), pp. 224-225.

[11] Anderson, pp. 331, 334.

[12] The Greek word here translated as “faithfulness” is pistis, which is most commonly translated as faith. Greek dictionaries do allow for a meaning of faithfulness in some cases for the word (note Rom. 3:3 and Titus 2:10). There are a few translations which prefer “faith” as the meaning in this verse but the great majority of modern translations use “faithfulness.” Here, in the context of a list of character traits, it would seem to be “faithfulness.” As explained above, in our experience faith and faithfulness work together closely.