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Life by the Spirit March 25, 2013

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Galatians 5:16-26.

Summary: Paul begins by commanding the Galatians to obey the Holy Spirit in them – thereby resisting the sinful nature. He notes that the sinful nature rebels against the Holy Spirit, while the Holy Spirit attempts to subdue the sinful nature; thus, believers are unable to keep God’s commandments. Yet if believers take comfort through their faith in Christ, they are free from the law.

Now Paul notes that the works of the sinful nature are known even to the ungodly; these include:

  • various kinds of lusts
  • worshiping God without His Word and commandment – thereby rejecting Christ the Mediator
  • making covenants with the devil
  • heresies
  • getting drunk and engaging in overindulgence.

He pronounces a terrible sentence against false Christians and careless hypocrites who perform these works.

In contrast, Paul honors the following Christian virtues:

  • loving one another
  • rejoicing through faith in Christ and expressing that joy outwardly
  • not being contentious
  • bearing adversity
  • being gentle and docile
  • willingly helping others by giving and lending
  • giving credit to others in matters pertaining to this present life
  • not being easily provoked to anger
  • being sober and modest.

Those who practice these virtues cannot be accused and condemned by the law – preventing the sinful nature from compelling them to obey its desires. Now true believers must shun the vice of vainglory and refrain from seeking their own profit. Paul concludes by exhorting the Galatians to not glory in the high opinion of others; he cites the example of the false teachers, who engage in this vice and clash with others over their false doctrines.

Thoughts: In verse 17, we see that believers are caught in a struggle between the Holy Spirit who dwells in them and their sinful nature. Luther offers some interesting thoughts on this point:

I remember that Staupitz used to say, “I have vowed to God a thousand times and more that I would become a better man; but I never did what I promised. From now on I will make no such vow, for I have now learned by experience that I am unable to fulfill it. Unless, therefore, God is favorable and merciful to this miserable life, I shall not be able, with all my vows and good deeds, to stand before him.” This was not only a true but also a godly and holy despair, and all who want to be saved must confess it both with their lips and in their hearts.

I found this quote by Staupitz to be quite challenging. On one hand, I must empathize with Staupitz and acknowledge his grasp of reality; as Christians, we are simply unable to obey the maxim, “what would Jesus do?” How many times have we promised to God, especially when taking Communion, that we will strive to honor Him in response to His sacrificial love for us? How many times have we sinned after making these promises? On the other hand, I sense that our sinful nature will leverage our refusal to make the vow that Staupitz references – thereby leading us deeper into sin. If we do not strive to honor God in this life, will we emerge victorious in the battle that is referenced in this passage? Perhaps we should replace “vows” with “prayers” in Staupitz’s quote; “vow” implies at least some reliance on one’s strength, while “prayer” acknowledges the necessity of God’s role in our sanctification.

In verses 25 and 26, Paul exhorts the Galatians to avoid the sin of pride. Luther offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 25:

The vainglory of the false apostles was the reason the churches of Galatia were troubled and abandoned Paul. His purpose in this chapter was therefore especially to suppress that dreadful vice that gave him the occasion for the whole letter. If he had not done so, all his labor in preaching the Gospel to the Galatians would have been spent in vain. In his absence the false apostles, who appeared to have great authority, reigned in Galatia.

This strengthens the interesting link that I have discovered – while strolling through this letter – between the churches of Galatia and the Corinthian church. Paul must have been quite exasperated and frustrated at the prospect of debating false teachers wherever he preached the Gospel. His ministry was further hampered by these false teachers’ Satanic gift of presenting well-constructed arguments to support their false doctrines. Of course, the Holy Spirit prepared Paul to face these heresies. Moreover, he cared so deeply about his converts that he would not shrink – regardless of his myriad troubles – from defending the Gospel for their benefit and God’s glory. I do wonder, though, if the false teachers read Paul’s letters and attempted to refute each of his arguments.

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