Read Galatians 5:13-26
13You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 15If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (NIV)
Paul makes a turn in his letter at this point. Up until now, his arguments have been theological arguments. But Paul always takes the theology and puts it into a practical application. And we need to do the same. Our beliefs must direct our actions.
Paul has been going over and over that Christ has freed us from the law. And if one stops there, some might say great, I can now do whatever I please. And for Paul, this is not the case. Faith calls us to act a certain way, not out of obligation or duty, but simply a response from the love we have and are receiving from Christ.
Paul believes that each of us has a sinful nature. We are born with two calls on our life. One to Christ and one to the world. We live our lives dealing with this struggle. Paul begins by reminding us that if we use our freedom to indulge the sinful nature, we will end up devouring our very life as well as the life of others. We are called to love others, not destroy them.
In verse 19, Paul lists those things that feed the sinful nature. Paul starts his list with sexual immortality. The concept of chastity and staying with one partner was a very foreign idea to the Greek and Roman world. All kinds of sexual acts with many partners was considered almost normal. What Christianity brought to the gentile world was a new way of looking at this relationship. Another interesting point in the list is for factions. The Greek word is “hairesis” which is the word we get heresies from. When Paul used the term, it was used by philosopher’s schools of followers to simply mean to choose who to follow. Basically, is was identifying with a particular school of philosophy. But what we see is what is happening in our politics today. People shift from disliking one’s philosophy to disliking one another. The Christian should be able to disagree with points of philosophy and politics without hating one another. We do not see that today.
In verse 22, Paul shifts to what the spiritual nature looks like. Here, he lists what has become known as the fruit of the Spirit. Paul begins with love. Now, the word he uses is “agape” which was actually not used that often in classical Greek literature. It means a self-giving sacrificial love. A love that loves without expecting love in return. The two main Greek words for love were “eros,” a passionate love and “philia,” a brotherly-sisterly love. While the Christian will experience these loves, the love we are called to is agape love. It is the love that we show to the world. Jesus said, “by your love (apage), people will know you are my disciples.”
Paul also uses the word “fruit” to describe these things. A fruit is a natural byproduct of a plant or tree. A particular fruit can only come from a particular tree. The image is powerful.
Paul leaves us with a question. Basically in us are two trees – sinful nature and spiritual nature. Which tree are we going to nourish and give attention to and which tree are we going to crucify and thus utterly destroy? It would be great if we could kill the one instantly, but it seems that in reality, we tend to feed the one while we desire the other, thus, the sinful nature dies slowly as we grow in God’s grace. This is what Wesley would call the process of Sanctification, and can take a lifetime to complete. So the question as we reflect on our lives, is the sinful nature less alive in me than it was a year ago, 5 years ago and so on? Am I seeing more Fruit of the Spirit each year? If the answer is yes, then that is what it means to grown in grace.
Blessings and Peace