Previously: Galatians 5:1-6, fallen from grace
You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is. And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased. I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off! Gal 5:7-12
So Paul is saying, someone came in to the church and began teaching a teaching that does not come from truth or from Him who calls us, saying that we cannot be justified unless we become circumcised and become Jews – for circumcision is the sign of the covenant between God and the Jew. God shows us even in the Torah that the circumcision of the flesh is just an outward symbol of what He really wants, which is hearts which are circumcised to Him (Deu 10:16). Beingonly circumcised in the flesh does not change a person’s heart. Paul is so upset about this person which has come in, that he wishes that they would emasculate themselves.
Verse 11 is key: Paul says that the cross gives offense, and it does so by providing a way (the only way) to justification which requires men to humble themselves and not receive any credit for themselves, because of their own works. So it offends the circumcision party, because they have misunderstood Moses and believe that righteous works were meant to count toward justification.
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the Law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! Gal 5:13-15
Now we can put to rest the misunderstanding people have with what Paul is teaching. He says, Do not use your liberty as an opportunity for the flesh. Do not think, because what I do does not justify me or unjustify me, that I can now ignore the commands of God. I am no longer condemned by idolatry, therefore I can worship idols. I am no longer condemned by adultery, therefore I can enter into an affair; I am no longer condemned by theft, therefore I can cheat my customers.
Then Paul quotes a Law of the Torah: Love your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18). This Law summarizes the last five of the Ten Commandments (Love God with all your heart, soul, and strength, Deu 6:5, summarizes the first five of the Ten). So he is encouraging obedience to the Torah, but he is vehemently denyingjustification by our obedience to the Torah.
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Gal 5:16-26
Paul is contrasting the Spirit with the flesh again. He is saying that the Spirit and Law which is written on the tablets of our hearts (which expresses the will of God) is on one side, while the flesh and sin (rebellion against the will of God) is on the other side. The Law merely defines what behavior is righteousness and sin. It is a dictionary, a reference.
So why does he say, if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law?
The Spirit inside of us, causes us to walk in the manner which is pleasing to God. His Spirit aligns our hearts with God’s heart and our wills with God’s will. God has revealed His will to us. He has shown us what behavior pleases Him. His Law is the written expression of His will. So the one who is walking in the Spirit will be loving of others, in obedience to His will, they will be peacemakers in obedience to His will and His Law, they will put others first in obedience to His will and His Law. They will fulfill the Law without even thinking about it at times, because the fruit of the Spirit comes out of their lives naturally.
But if we live by the flesh, then we are opposed to the Spirit and the Law, and the fruit that comes out of our lives will be sin and it will be that which offends God. Paul affirms in verse 21 that he is not saying that the Law is now to be ignored and obedience is no longer required – because he says that those who make a practice, a lifestyle of living by their flesh, doing that which offends God, in transgression of the Law, will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Not because we are now justified by the Law, but because the lack of concern or love for the heart of the Lord God shows that they never received Christ and the Spirit in the first place. The one who loves Messiah, will keep His commandments (Joh 14:15).