16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.
Paul spent this letter teaching the Galatians once again faith in Jesus Christ was what gave them salvation and eternal life. Other teachers had been in Galatia teaching them they had to obey the laws of God including the law that all men must undergo circumcision. These Judaizers added a works element to the salvation of the Gospel. Paul told them nothing of the flesh could give them salvation, but only by God’s grace through faith could they receive salvation.
In chapter five, Paul continued his comparison of living by the Law and living in the Spirit. He taught that living according to the Law was living in the flesh. It was based on what the person did or could do. Because it relied upon a person’s actions, which were often sinful – self-centered, arrogant, self-seeking, etc – living by the flesh could not save them nor give them right relationships with God and other people. Paul taught that living according to the Spirit of Christ, whom God puts in each new believer, was living with the love of Christ in them – love for other people and love for God. Paul said what is of the Spirit is contrary to what is of the flesh. What a person wants often goes against what God wants and what is best for every person affected.
In verse fourteen, Paul reminded the Galatians the Law is summed up in one word, “love.” Since people are sinful, they do not keep the laws God gave. The love of the laws is warped often because a person wants what he or she wants more than what God wants. Because of this, Paul gave the Galatians a list of actions and attitudes that are contrary to God and the intent of His Law. These actions are self-focused and break relationships between people and between the person and God. These acts of the flesh he identified in verses nineteen to twenty-one.
The love God seeks to implant into people, which the Law could not instill because of the sinfulness of humankind, comes through the Spirit of Jesus Christ who dwells within each believer. This love is not twisted by the machinations of a human mind or greed, but is pure and from God. Paul listed some of the attributes of a person in whom the Holy Spirit lives in verses twenty-two and twenty-three.
If you compare these two lists, you will find the second list builds relationship among people and with God, and develops a person’s sense of worth based on the value God places on the person. The latter listing of attributes and characteristics are in line with the purpose and intent of God throughout the whole Bible and align directly with the two greatest commandments Christ taught His disciples and followers. The intent of the Bible is for people to be in a love relationship with God. This love relationship then affects the relationship of people with each other. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-38 [NASB]).
Paul’s point to the Galatians, once again, was they were not to be tied to the Law for salvation because it could not give it. It provided bondage because the flesh is sinful. Instead, live by the Spirit, the freedom Christ put into each believer. By living in the Spirit, the person lives in the manner of Jesus Christ – with love for the Father and love for other people. By doing this, people will not become enslaved to their sinful, human selves. By becoming enslaved to their own desires people become self-focused, envious, and provoke envy. These do not lead to harmony and love, but to chaos and self-seeking.
Paul taught the Galatians they received salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by following the Law. By seeking to follow the laws, they tried to earn salvation, which no one can earn because of human sinfulness. Besides this, striving to earn salvation puts self-seeking ahead of the needs and care of other people. Jesus summed the Scripture when He said we are to love the LORD God and our neighbor. Self-seeking does not put other people first, but second or last. By allowing the Spirit to lead us instead of trying to earn salvation, we allow the love of God to show in us, care for others, and develop a deeper relationship between God and us in our hearts.
Today we each need to stop and consider if we are trying in our strength to be what God wants us to be – to love people, to do for them, to make sure we are walking in the right direction, etc. We need to stop and see if our focus has shifted from God and developing relationship with Him to a focus on ourselves and how we can do more for God. If we are focused on God and our relationship with Him, He will lead us in our daily steps. We will not have to wonder if we are doing what He wants us to do. We can get so caught up in working for God that we lose sight of our relationship with Him and then no longer hear Him as vividly.
Today, take a moment and stop to focus on God. Ask Him to guide you to know if you have walked away from your close relationship with Him. Return to your quiet time with Him reading His Word, praying for closeness and guidance, and walking from that quiet time with His Spirit guiding you. Focus more on being in relationship with God and less on doing. Your relationship with God and with other people will be renewed so that you follow the two greatest commandments as Jesus said in Matthew 22:36-38.
Be led by the Spirit.