No law?

No law?

Galatians part 9

This must be the the most read bit of the book of Galatians:

 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:16-25.

It is hard to say anything new about such a well known passage. It is easy to look at the gifts of the Spirit in isolation, but the line against such things there is no law shows that the passage is still on the same subject, that of law, specifically the Jewish law. It would be easy to take the works of the flesh, as Paul refers to them above as being the works of human nature, and I am not going to say that it is wrong to do so, it may very well be right. But that is not what Paul is getting at in the context of the letter.

Flesh, in this context, is about the physical flesh. Paul is talking about cutting off the foreskins of the males, which is the defining act to show that people are keeping the Jewish law. For a male to keep these laws they must be circumcised. Paul dwelt on this a t length earlier in the letter, and the context has not changed. The whole letter is about whether a religion of rules is compatible with being a Christian. Again he says no, it isn’t compatible.

The two lists look like this.

Works of the flesh

Fruit of the Spirit

sexual immorality, love,
impurity, joy,
sensuality, peace,
idolatry, patience,
sorcery, kindness,
enmity, goodness,
strife, faithfulness,
jealousy, gentleness,
fits of anger, self-control;
things like these.

I don’t believe that either list is exhaustive, I think the fruit of the spirit includes, but can’t be limited to these 9 things. But looking at the lists in isolation:

There are laws against he list in the first column. Not only in the Jewish law, but in the laws of modern countries. But it is more than that, religion based on rules produces the things in the first list. If keeping to the rules becomes more important to a church than love, or kindness or gentleness then you get the bizarre spectacle of people claiming to be Christians demonstrating with banners saying ‘God hates…’ whatever. This is odd, and should not happen. Rule based religion produces the effects that the rules are actually against.

But the spirit produces… We don’t know here whether Paul is talking about the human spirit or God’s Holy Spirit… The spirit produces at least the things in the second list, possible more good things. Against these there is no law. There is no need.

People do not get hurt if we have self control or are faithful or patient. There is no need to legislate against people being joyful or peaceful or good.

And it can even be used as a personal checklist, even thought personal is not the context – how is your church doing would be closer to what Paul meant. Provoking each other and envying each other are things that can be done in groups, it is really hard to form a faction on your own.


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