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Practicing Freedom In Christ

The letter to the Galatians is filled with contrasting ideas: Law and freedom, Hagar and

Sarah, true and false gospels, Spirit and flesh, and many more. Contrasting these thoughts serves

to express the disparity between what it means to be led by the Spirit or to be bound by the Law

of Moses. Nowhere are these contrasts seen more vividly seen than in the final chapters of

Galatians. Paul, after having proven the superiority of Christ to the Law (Gal 1:1-4:31), now

turns his attention to illustrating in bold terms the fruit of a carnal life or one that is lead by the

Spirit (Gal 5:1-6:18). He begins by telling the Galatians they are left with a choice: walk with the

Spirit or not (Gal 5:16-18). To choose the negative act of walking against the Spirit had eternal

consequences concerning their inheritance of the kingdom (Gal 5:21). Then Paul turns to the

positive “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22) where he lists nine characteristics that flow from a life

submitted to the leadership of the Spirit.

The list of positive, Spirit led, character traits begin with a “love.” Love is a small word

with huge impact for both the Christian and those in his or her circle of influence. God

demonstrated His love toward all humankind by sending His Son into the world as the

substitutionary sacrifice for sin (John 3:16). On the other hand, love is not a one-way street and

neither is it selfish. Not only does God love humankind but humankind is called to love God with

their whole being (Mark 12:30). God’s love was demonstrated by willing sacrifice. Humankind’s

love is demonstrated in willing service to others (Gal 5:14). This serving and sacrificing love

stands in stark contrast to the sinful acts Hansen (1994) categorizes as “social conflict” (p. 174).

A person cannot love others while at the same time hating, sowing discord, being jealous, raging,

thinking only of self, envying, and causing dissension (Gal 5:20b-21a). Neither can one live by

the other acts of the sinful nature and still possess a God kind of love. Consequently, the Spirit
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led individual seeks what is best for others abandoning his or her egotistical agenda.

All nine spiritual fruits can only be developed in community, that is, the fruit will never

reach its potential without interaction with the broader world. It would be easy to practice these

character traits of a Spirit lead life if we lived in a cave on the top of a mountain but most of us

do not. Monasticism might be a noble endeavor but it fails to put us into the position whereby the

fruit of Spirit can be cultivated. How can one learn to have peace if there is no opportunity for

conflict? Or how can one be patient if he or she is not confronted with the need of it? The

examples are endless but in the end Paul’s fruit of the Spirit is not so much about ideals lived out

in a Christian cloister but in the real world with all of its challenges. For that reason, those who

are to be lead of the Spirit must also be willing to engage the world in order to demonstrate the

superiority of a submitted spiritual life.

In a world filled with debauchery, sexual immorality, impurity and more, the spiritual

fruit bearing life stands as a visible revelation of another way. It shows a way that does not

include the manipulation or extortion of my fellow humankind. The fruit of the Spirit has no hint

of exploitation but speaks boldly of an opposite lifestyle. To live in joy and peace; or to be gentle

and faithful, is the anti-venom to a world bitten by the poison of sin. To grant others, who are not

Christians, the benefit of kindness and patience speaks of a quiet satisfaction with one’s own life

in Jesus Christ. Again, there is no need to take advantage of others because Christians, who are

lead by the Spirit, carry a sense of sufficiency only found through the indwelling Spirit. To

cloister away the opportunity to impact the world around us would be a waste On the other hand

to not allow the world to test our metal would only be cause for a stunted crop. We gain strength

to grow in our walk with Christ from the Christian community but we only demonstrate that

strength as lights that shine from a hill into a dark world under the influence of the evil one.
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References

Hansen, W. (1994). Galatians. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press.