December 23, 2013

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians

Tom Lowe


Chapter IV.B.1: The Fruit of License (5:13-21)

Galatians 5:13-21 (KJV)


13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

15 But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.

16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,

20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before , as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.




13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.


For brethren, ye have been called unto liberty.

The apostle calls them "brethren," perhaps to signal his affection for them, and to remind them of the bond they have with one another, which required mutual love, a thing he is about to urge them to express to other Christians. He declares that they were "called" not only externally, but internally, by the effectual grace of God; out of bondage to sin, Satan, and the law, unto the liberty of the Gospel and of the grace of God; that liberty with which Christ had made them free—“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1)—he said this out of love, and for their sakes.

The liberty Paul his in view is freedom from Jewish rites and ceremonies—“But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?” (Galatians 4:9). The meaning here is that Paul wished the false teachers could be removed because true Christians had been called unto liberty, and they were curtailing and destroying that liberty. They were not in subjection to the Law of Moses, or to anything else that savored of bondage. Christians were free; free from the servitude of sin, and free from subjection to expensive and burdensome rites and customs. They were to remember this as a great and established principle; and it was such a vital truth, and it was so important for it to be maintained, and forgetting it was such a great evil, that Paul says he earnestly wishes that all who would reduce them to that state of servitude were cut off from the Christian church—“As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (Gal. 5:12).

There was a strong tendency in all converts from paganism to lapse back into their former habits. Immorality abounded, and where they had been addicted to it before their conversion, and where they were surrounded by it on every hand, they were in constant danger of falling into it again. A bare and naked declaration, therefore, that they had been called to liberty, to freedom from restraint, might have been misunderstood, and some might have supposed that they were free from all restraints.

It is necessary to guard the doctrine from abuse at all times. There has been a strong tendency, as the history of the church has shown, to abuse the doctrine of grace. The doctrine that Christians are "free;" that they have liberty from restraint, has always been perverted by Antinomians [Those who believe that under the gospel dispensation of grace the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation.], and been made the occasion of their indulging freely in sin. And the result has shown that nothing was more important than to guard the doctrine of Christian liberty, and to show exactly what Christians are freed from, and what laws are still binding on them. Paul, therefore, is taking great pains to show that the doctrines which he had maintained did not lead to shameless immorality, and did not allow the indulgence of sinful and corrupt desires.

Only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh.

The word “flesh” is suggestive. For some people it implies sexuality. For others the word seems to indicate the seat of sin (corrupt and gross passions and affections) in human nature, in contrast to the seat of good in the spiritual aspect of our makeup. For our purposes the latter and broader meaning applies.

I have heard it said that the most pitiful and tragic words ever spoken are “Without Christ.” Why? You may ask.  It is because they have a corrupt nature and will never be admitted into the heavenly realm; but while they are in the world they take encouragement from, and make an evil use of the best of things, such as the mercy and patience of God; and they do it under the influence and at the instigation of Satan. They use the things of God for vile purposes by perverting the Law, the Gospel, and the doctrines of the Christian faith, such as that of election and freewill. They are prone to sin, and Satan is watching for an opportunity to take advantage of them; consequently, there is the need for a cautionsuch as this; that they do not misuse their Christian liberty by indulging the flesh and the lusts of it. Followers of Christ, though free men, should not do such a thing, sinceindulging the flesh is to disgrace the doctrine of Christian liberty. There are many ways in which the doctrine of Christian liberty may be abused, but I will list only a few of them:

                                 1.            A person may think he is exempt from obeying civil laws. For example, I rode with a pastor who exceeded the speed limit and refused to use his seat belt. A Christian is not free to disobey man’s law any more than he is free to disobey God’s laws, since that would give the enemy an occasion to criticize the character of professing Christians.


                                2.            Likewise, a person is not free from obedience to the law of God. We are not at liberty to decide which commands we will follow and which we can ignore, since this could become a stumblingblock to weak Christians.



                                3.            Also, we are not free to abuse God’s creatures, or to use the gifts of God without expressing thankfulness, or to say hurtful things, or to listen to vile jokes, or to pass along a rumor, and so forth.

Friend, do not give the flesh an excuse (occasion) for its indulgence in sin, which it eagerly seeks for—“But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire . . .” (Rom. 7:8); do not let the flesh make Christian "liberty" its excuse for indulging in sin (see Gal. 5:16, 17; 1 Pe 2:16; 2 Pe 2:19; Jude 4).

But by love serve one another.

Love is expressed by service to others; Gospel liberty and the service of the saints are not at all inconsistent. Christians should show their love by their service: by praying with and for each other; by bearing each other's burdens; by sympathizing and interacting with each other in both nonspiritual and spiritual things; by being patient with and forgiving one another; by admonishing each other when there is an occasion for it, but doing it in a meek, tender, and brotherly way; by instructing and building up one another, principally in the holy faith; and by encouraging one another to perform all the duties of religion, both private and public. 

The viewpoint expressed here is that through love we are to be in bondage to one another; that is, let love make you bondservants to one another. Serving others becomes easier, when we do it like we were serving the Lord—“With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men” (Ephesians 6:7). It was our Lord who set the pattern for service that we are to follow. Jesus told His disciples, “For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). He had just finished washing their feet, when he sat down with them and spoke of humility and service, and challenged them to follow His example. His entire earthly life was devoted to serving man, which is what led Paul to write, “But [He] made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). Can you even imagine the great love that our Lord has for us, that He would leave heaven’s glory to come here as a servant, and then suffer and die for our sins. The mere thought of it overwhelms me. Jesus’ example was grandly imitated by the apostle himself—“For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:19-22)—who in outward things habitually sacrificed the pride of self-reliance, self-esteem, and the pride of apparent self-sufficiency, in his devotion to the spiritual welfare of men. They were not to feel that they were so free that they might lawfully indulge the desires of the flesh, but they were to regard themselves as under the law to love one another; and thus they would fulfil the law of Christian freedom. He here preaches just what he himself practiced. 


14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Here is another wonderful verse!

The Gospel is a doctrine consistent with godliness is the message of 1 Timothy 6:3—“If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness”, and it is so far from giving the least countenance to sin, that it places us under the strongest obligation to avoid and conquer it. The apostle insists that all the law is fulfilled in one word (expression)—“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” If Christians, who should help one another, and rejoice with one another, quarrel, what can be expected except that the God of love would deny them His grace, that the Spirit of love would depart, and the evil spirit, who seeks their destruction, would fill that void, and prevail? How gloriously happy would they be, if Christians, instead of biting and devouring one another on account of different opinions, would stand firm against allowing sin in themselves, and in the places where they live.

The apostle has very briefly stated here what he more fully developed in the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 13:8-10), a short time later—“Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness," "You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” This passage in Romans may be regarded as an extended paraphrase of the one we are studying. From comparing the two, we see what is meant by the phrase "hath been fulfilled." We see from the context that the sentence in Romans, "He that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the Law," means "the whole Law," which makes it clear that, by the words before us, "the whole Law hath been fulfilled in one word," is meant that the whole Law has been fulfilled in the fulfilling of the one word (expression), "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." The whole Law is regarded as entrenched in that "one word." In the Romans’ passage the Law is represented as regulating our behavior toward our neighbors, since the apostle cites only those commandments of the "second table." In other words, if I love you I will NOT steal from you, murder you, commit adultery with your spouse, slander you, or want what you have.

It is said that "six hundred and thirteen commandments were given to Moses—

  • David came and reduced them to eleven—“A Psalm of David. Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? He who walks uprightly, And works righteousness, And speaks the truth in his heart; He who does not backbite with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor does he take up a reproach against his friend; In whose eyes a vile person is despised, But he honors those who fear the Lord; He who swears to his own hurt and does not change; He who does not put out his money at usury, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved” (Psalm 15).
  • Isaiah came and reduced them to six—“He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, He who despises the gain of oppressions, Who gestures with his hands, refusing bribes, Who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed, And shuts his eyes from seeing evil” (Isaiah 33:15).
  • Micah came and reduced them to three—“He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
  •  Isaiah came and reduced them to two—“Thus says the Lord: "Keep justice, and do righteousness, For My salvation is about to come, And My righteousness to be revealed” (Isaiah 56:1).
  • Amos came and reduced them to one—“For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel: "Seek Me and live” (Amos 5:4).
  • Habakkuk came, and he also reduced them to one—“. . . But the just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4)
  • Here the apostle reduces them to “love:'”

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

These words were taken from the book of Leviticus: “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18). But the question arises, “Who is my neighbor?” The Jews would answer, “Only other Jews and proselytes to their religion.” But Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan to show us that all sorts of men are my neighbor, whether in a natural, civil, or spiritual connection; and it doesn’t matter whether they do us good or do us ill, whether they are friends or enemies. The rule of love is, "as thyself" which has nothing to do with equality of affection; it’s all about what we do, that is, We are to do the same caring acts of love to others, which we would choose to have done to ourselves: and this is the fulfilling of the law. But this doesn’t mean that a man has to do it perfectly, that is, love perfectly or act perfectly, because man in his fallen state is unable to do that. But the law is exceedingly broad, and reaches to thoughts, desires, and inclinations, as well as to words and deeds. We know that we cannot be justified by works of charity, nor by any services done for men, because our love is imperfect, and there can be no justification in that which is imperfect; nor can there be any justification in things done in their own strength, and without the grace of God; nor is there any that can be said to have fulfilled the law perfectly but Christ, and it is to him alone that we must look for a justifying righteousness. These words, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” contain a reason to love one another, and to do all kinds of good things for each other; since it is a principal contained in the law, and the principal to which the law may be reduced.

So far, we have shown that the “second table” of the Law (The Ten Commandments) is fulfilled in the words, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”, but now I would add that the whole Law, including the “first table”, which comprises man’s responsibilities to God is fulfilled by those very same words, because nobody can love their neighbor without loving God—“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us” (1 John 4:7-12).

15 But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.

But if ye bite and devour one another

“Bite and devour one another” sounds like a pack of wild animals!  That’s how the church can act when it is using its “liberty” as a platform to promote their own selfishness.  If you want to see some fireworks, put two selfish people together.  Selfish people will eventually be consumed by one another. Morris made this observation: “The loveless life is a life lived on the level of animals, with a concern only for oneself, no matter what the cost to other people.”

These Galatian Churches seem to have been in a state of great turmoil; there were continual altercations between members. They had fallen from the grace of the Gospel; and, since Christ did not live in their hearts by faith, pride, anger, ill-will, and all sorts of unkind and mean-spirited temperaments took possession of their souls, and that led them to destroy each other. Nothing is so destructive to the peace of man, and to the peace of the soul, as religious disputes; where they prevail, religion in general has little to say.

Paul is probably addressing the strife which had developed between the two parties in the churches—the Jewish and the Gentile converts were contending and striving against each other—a metaphor not improbably taken from dogs and wild beasts. The gist of it is, "if you contend with each other;" take care that you are not consumed—like wild beasts contend sometimes until both are killed. Thus, the idea is, in their contentions they would destroy the spirituality and happiness of each other; their characters would be ruined; and the church be placed in a bad light, or even overthrown. The quickest way to destroy the spirituality of a church, and to annihilate the influence of religion, is to excite a spirit of contention.

Take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.

Paul had made numerous references to the particular controversy threatening these churches, which centered on the law and circumcision, and the contention of the Judaizers that they were necessary for justification and salvation. Those on both sides of the argument were passionate advocates for their opinion, and bitter adversaries of those who disagreed with them. All this hostility and unpleasantness threatened to create divisions within the churches. There was nolove” in these churches, but there was plenty of envy and malice, with accusing words, biting sarcasm, scandalous tirades, and injurious actions, which must engender bad consequences.

Paul cautions them to take precautions, because they are in danger of being consumed by the controversy raging within the Christian community. The peace and comfort of believers is at stake, which is often the situation, even though a person’s relationship with God is safe. But strife within a church can eventually destroy it, since love is the cement that holds it together; remove the cement and the church will undergo the same fate as that house that was built upon sand; it will be destroyed. No civil community, either public or private, divided against itself, can stand for very long, and neither can a religious one; and where love is lacking, the Lord threatens to remove, and sometimes does remove, the candlestick out of its place.


16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

This I say then, walk in the Spirit.

The Christian life is often represented as a journey, and the word “walk,” in the scripture, is often equivalent to live; for example: “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?" (Mark 7:5).

This is the advice the apostle thinks would be best for the Galatians, and which he would have observed if he was in their situation, that is, to "walk in the Spirit." By this is meant either: (1) after the Spirit of God; making that which is the standard of faith the rule of behavior, thus putting the principle into practice, and is the lamp unto our feet, and the light unto our path; taking the Spirit himself for a guide, who not only guides into all truth, but in the way of holiness and righteousness; and in the end to take us to the land of uprightness; and looking back we discover that we have been depending upon his grace and strength for assistance throughout the entirety of our Christian walk. Or it may mean (2) the exercise of the graces of the Spirit of God; as in the exercise of faith in the person of Christ; and in love of God, Christ, and one another, which is a fruit of the Spirit; and in humility, lowliness of mind, and meekness; all which is to walk in the Spirit, or spiritually, and strengthens the argument for love which the apostle is currently making.

It is likely that Paul’s instructions to the Galatians was meant to express both of the above meanings. His advice will never be out of date for Christians of any age. Today, as then, we are to live under the influences of the Holy Spirit, and admit those influences fully into our hearts. Do not resist Him, but yield to all his suggestions—“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8.1).  According to this statement by the apostle, if a man has the fruits of the Spirit, he is a Christian; if not, he is a stranger to religion, regardless of whatever else he may possess. Paul has listed the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23—“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” If a man would yield his heart to those influences, he would be able to overcome all his carnal tendencies; and it is because he resists that Spirit, that he is never able to overcome the corrupt urges of his nature. Never was a better rule given for overcoming our corrupt and sensual desires than what Paul has given us here. Actually, it’s the only way to overcome the corrupt desires and tendencies of our nature; philosophy can’t do it, mere resolutions can’t do it, and education and laws can’t do it. It is only by admitting into our souls the influence of religion, and yielding ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit of God. If we live under the influences of the Spirit, we need not fear the power of the sensual and corrupt inclinations of our nature.

Paul’s instruction, simply stated is, if we walk in the Spirit (instead of trying to live by the law), we naturally shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.  The fear of the legalist—that walking in the Spirit gives license to sin, and that only legalism can keep us holy—is just plain wrong.

How does the Holy Spirit influence our life?  First, He reveals His will to us through the message of the Bible.  Second, He influences us through others who walk in the Spirit.  Third, He influences us through an inner direction that we become more sensitive to, and respond to better, as we mature in Jesus.

How can you tell if someone walks in the Spirit?  They look a lot like Jesus!  Jesus told us that the mission of the Holy Spirit would be to promote and speak of Him (John 14:16-17, 14:26, 15:26, 16:13-15).  When someone walks in the Spirit, they listen to what the Holy Spirit says as He guides them in the path and nature of Jesus.

 Fulfil the lust of the flesh.

What is the lust of the flesh? Luther answered this way: “I do not deny that the lust of the flesh includes carnal lust.  But it takes in more.  It takes in all the corrupt desires with which believers are more or less infected, as pride, hatred, covetousness, impatience.”


Notice that he does not say there will be no flesh, nor any lust of the flesh in them if they walk spiritually; or that the flesh would not act and operate in them; or that they would not do anything sinful; all which is only true of Christ; and the opposite is to be found and observed in all true Christians, though they may be ever so spiritual. He acknowledges the great weakness of the godly; that they are only partially regenerated: but he exhorts them to remember that they are endued with the Spirit of God, who has delivered them from the slavery of sin, so that they would not give themselves to lusts of the flesh. The flesh, the old nature is always with us, but when we die it remains in the grave, while our spirit goes to be with the Lord. While we live, we should not fulfil or perfect the lust of the flesh; should not give up ourselves entirely to the power and dictates of the flesh, so that we are under its control, and obedient servants and slaves to it. True Christians do sin, but they do not make a trade of it, and when they confess their sin to God, He is faithful to forgive them.

If the Spirit of God dwells in you and rules your heart, the whole carnal mind will lose its power; and then, not only carnal dictates will be abandoned, but also the works and inclinations of the flesh—the natural man, out of which flow the evils specified in verses 19-21. The spirit and the flesh mutually exclude one another. It is not promised that we would have no evil lusts, but that we should "not fulfil" them. If the spirit that is in us can be at ease under sin, it is not a spirit that comes from the Holy Spirit. The gentle dove trembles at the sight even of a hawk's feather. There is no way anyone can fulfill the lust of the flesh as they walk in the Spirit.  The two simply don’t go together.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t move in us to gratify our fallen desires and passions, but to teach us about Jesus and to guide us in the path of Jesus.  This is the key to righteous living—walking in the Spirit, not living under the domination of the law.


17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit.

What is the flesh in the way Paul uses it here? He doesn’t mean our flesh and blood bodies. Precisely speaking, our flesh isn’t even that fallen nature, the “old man” that we inherited from Adam, because the old man was crucified with Jesus, and is now dead and gone—“Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Romans 6:6). Instead, as Paul uses it here, the flesh is our inner man that exists apart from the “old man” or the “new man,” and which is trained in rebellion by the old nature, the world, and the devil. Even though the old man was crucified with Christ, and is dead and gone, his influence lives on through the flesh—and he will battle against us until we experience God’s final antidote to the flesh: a resurrection body. By "flesh," then, is meant the corrupt nature, which is still in saved persons. It is called flesh because it thrives and intensifies by feeding on carnal (fleshly, bodily, sensual) desires; its lusts and works are fleshly; and though it has its seat in the heart, it shows itself in the flesh or members of the body, which are yielded as instruments of unrighteousness. The flesh can make men carnal and dominate carnal men, even believers themselves, if it is allowed to succeed.

By "the Spirit" is meant the internal principle of grace in a saved man, and it gets its name from the author of it, the Spirit of God, because it is His workmanship. Its nature is spiritual, its objects are spiritual, and it delights in spiritual things.

By “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit” is meant that the inclinations and desires of the flesh are contrary to those of the Spirit. They draw us away in an opposite direction, and while the Spirit of God would lead us one way, our carnal nature would lead us another, and that produces the painful upheaval which exists in our minds. The word "Spirit,” as it is used here refers to the Spirit of God, and to His influences on the heart. It is through His Spirit that God still continues to struggle with you, in spite of your apostasy, showing you where you have fallen, and inciting you to return to Him; but your own stubbornness renders the Spirit ineffective; and through the influence of these different principles (flesh vs. Spirit), you are kept in a state of self-opposition and self-distraction, so that you cannot do the things that you know you should. You know what is right, and you want to do it; but, since you have abandoned the Gospel and the grace of Christ, and, in their place you have chosen to live by following the law and its ordinances which, unlike the Holy Spirit, can afford you no power to conquer your evil tendencies. It was on this ground that the apostle exhorted them, in Galatians 5:16, to walk in the Spirit, that they might not fulfill the lust of the flesh; since without the grace of God they could do nothing.

And the Spirit against the flesh.

The reason is given here for why those who walk spiritually shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh—because they have a powerful governing principle within them, the Spirit, or grace; which though the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and opposes it, the Spirit rises up against the flesh, and often hinders it from doing the works and lusts of the flesh. There is in saved men a propensity and inclination to sin, a spirit that wills and desires sin, and wishes for an opportunity to do it, which when an opportunity is present, the flesh strongly solicits the man to take advantage of the opportunity; but the Spirit, or the internal principle of grace, opposes the motion; and like another Joseph says, “How can I commit this great wickedness and sin against a God of so much love and grace?” It is a voice behind and even in a believer, which, when he is tempted to turn to the right hand or the left, says, this is the way, walk in it, and will not allow him to go into crooked paths with the workers of iniquity; and so sin cannot have the dominion over him, because he is under grace as a reigning principle; and the old man cannot do the evil things he would, since he is under the restraints of mighty grace. This is the apostle's principal opinion, and best suits his reasoning within the context of the passage; but inasmuch as the two are contrary to one another the other sense should also be considered; that sometimes, by reason of the dominance of the corrupt nature, and power of indwelling sin, a saved man does the evil he would not normally do, and he cannot do the good he wants to do (he always desires to do good), because of this opposite principle, the flesh.

And these are contrary the one to the other.

They are as different as light and darkness, fire and water, or as different as any two opposites can be thought to be. They are contrary in their nature, actions, and results.  They are not only repugnant to each other, but are constantly at war. The flesh is the internal force of sin, which wars against the Spirit—the law in the mind, or the force and power of the principle of grace. These are the two armies fighting against each other. The Jews say that one is the good imagination, and the other the evil one, by which they mean the same as here. They also say that they are like Abraham and Lot; and that "though they are brethren, joined in one body, they are enemies to one another."

There is no suggestion that it is impossible to do what is pleasing to God, but the activity of the flesh tends toward not doing what we want to do. It is only God, by His Holy Spirit, who can gain the victory in this battle. My struggling does not help at all, for this would be only the flesh trying to subdue the flesh. The Spirit of God within me accomplishes what I cannot do because He draws my heart to the Lord Jesus to depend totally on Him and have no confidence in the flesh.

“And these are contrary”—because they are opposite in their nature. They never can harmonize—“For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Romans 8:6-7; also, compare  Galatians 5:19-23). Paul illustrated their contrariety by showing what each produces; and they are as opposite as adultery, wrath, strife, murders, drunkenness, etc., are to love, joy, goodness, gentleness, and temperance.

For those who are familiar with computers, I would offer this illustration: it’s as if we are a computer, and we have two hard drives in us. One is programmed according to the Spirit, and the other is programmed according to the flesh. In any given situation, it’s up to us to decide which “drive” we will access. The resources of the Spirit are there. The resources of the flesh are there—but which will you access? Some want to take the “drive” of their flesh and make it as efficient as possible. God never meant your system to run that way. He wants you to run off the “drive” of the Spirit of God. In this illustration, the law is like an error message that keeps popping up on your flesh “drive.” It doesn’t fix the drive, and it sometimes makes the system crash—but it does tell you something is wrong, and it points you in the right direction. Instead, the Spirit “drive” has programming on it that will make your flesh drive better—and one day, when we get to heaven, God will replace that “flesh” drive with a resurrection upgrade.

So that ye cannot do the good that ye would.

Walking in the Spirit is the key, but it doesn’t always come easily. Often, it is a battle. There is a battle going on inside the Christian, and the battle is between the flesh and the Spirit. As Paul writes, these are contrary to one another—they don’t get along at all! When the flesh is winning the inside battle, you do not do the things that you wish. You don’t live the way you want to; you live under the flesh instead of under the Spirit.

The fact that there is a battle going on should wake us up. If you don’t know you are in a battle, you will always lose. Also, the fact of the battle teaches us that effort is required to walk in the Spirit. God doesn’t just knock us over the head with it; we have to seek it, and block out the things that hinder walking in the Spirit.

How do we fight against the flesh? First, we have to be able to say “No” to the flesh and its sinful desires. Second, we have to be able to starve the flesh from bad influences. Third, we have to strengthen ourselves in the Spirit of God, and follow His influence. “When the flesh begins to cut up the only remedy is to take the sword of the Spirit, the word of salvation, and fight against the flesh. If you set the Word out of sight, you are helpless against the flesh. I know this to be a fact. I have been assailed by many violent passions, but as soon as I took hold of some Scripture passage, my temptations left me. Without the Word I could not have helped myself against the flesh.” (Luther)


18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

But if ye be led of the Spirit

That is, if you submit to the teachings and guidance of the Holy Spirit—who has power to draw men to Christ.

Ye are not under the law

 You are under a different dispensation—the dispensation of the Spirit. You are free from the restraints and control of the Mosaic Law, delivered from its condemning power, and now under the control of the Spirit of God. But no one is delivered from the condemning power of the law, or overcomes the corruptions of his own heart, except under the influence of the Holy Spirit. This doesn’t mean one is free of the obligations of the moral law, but that your heart agrees with the Spirit, so that you no longer feel the presence of the law, only the influences of the Spirit.

Judaism was concerned almost entirely with external, religious ceremonies, and spectacular, material and physical things; and filling people's minds with that type of observances would add nothing at all, and even detract from the energies needed in the true spiritual warfare. Paul did not hate Judaism, as such; but it simply could not do any good in the kind of warfare that must be won if people are to please God. The moral commandments of the Mosaic Law are to be fulfilled by Christians, no less than the law of Christ (see Galatians 5:14); and here Paul doesn’t stress the relaxation of such obligations, but only the manner of their fulfillment.

 So, the force of the apostle's argument seems to be this: "You are by the spiritual dispensation of the gospel, free from the curse and terror of the moral law; how unreasonable then is it to suppose, that you should still be subject to the ceremonial law? No; if you be led by the Spirit, neither the moral law shall condemn you, nor the ceremonial law gratify and bind you."

Here someone may object: "Paul, how can you say we are not under the law? You yourself said that we have the flesh which wars against the Spirit, and brings us into subjection." But Paul says, “Don’t let that bother you, because as long as we are led by the Spirit, and are willing to obey the Spirit who resists the flesh, we are not under the Law.” True believers are not under the Law. The Law cannot condemn them although they feel sin and confess it.

The Spirit, then, has awesome power. The Law cannot condemn the believer who is led by the Spirit though he commits real sin. For Christ in whom we believe is our righteousness. He is without sin, and the Law cannot accuse Him. As long as we cling to Him we are led by the Spirit and are free from the Law. Even as he teaches good works, the Apostle does not lose sight of the doctrine of justification, but shows at every turn that it is impossible for us to be justified by works.


The words, "If ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law," are chockfull of comfort. It happens, sometimes, that anger, hatred, impatience, carnal desire, fear, sorrow, or some other lust of the flesh so overwhelms a man that he cannot shake them off, though he should try so very hard. What should he do? Should he suffer from depression? God forbid. Let him say to himself: "My flesh seems to be on a warpath against the Spirit again. Go to it, flesh, and rage all you want to. But you are not going to have your way. I follow the leading of the Spirit."


When the flesh begins to cut up the only remedy is to take the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, and fight against the flesh. If you set the Word out of sight, you are helpless against the flesh. I know this to be a fact. I have been assailed by many violent passions, but as soon as I took hold of some Scripture passage, my temptations left me. Without the Word I could not have helped myself against the flesh.


19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,

20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,

21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul does not enumerate all the works of the flesh, but only certain ones. First, he mentions various kinds of carnal lusts, such as adultery, fornication, wantonness, etc. But carnal lust is not the only work of the flesh, and so he counts among the works of the flesh also idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, and the like. These terms are so familiar that they do not require explanations.



The best religion, the most fervent devotion without Christ is plain idolatry. It has been considered a holy act when the monks in their cells meditate upon God and His works, and in a religious frenzy kneel down to pray and to weep for joy. Yet Paul calls it simply idolatry. Every religion which worships God in ignorance or neglect of His Word and will is idolatry.

They may think about God, Christ, and heavenly things, but they do it after their own fashion and not after the Word of God. They have an idea that their clothing, their mode of living, and their conduct are holy and pleasing to Christ. They not only expect to pacify Christ by the strictness of their life, but also expect to be rewarded by Him for their good deeds. Hence their best "spiritual" thoughts are wicked thoughts. Any worship of God, any religion without Christ is idolatry. In Christ alone is God well pleased.

I have said before that the works of the flesh are apparent. But idolatry puts on such a good front and acts so spiritual that the sham of it is recognized only by true believers.



This sin was very common before the light of the Gospel appeared. I have read that there were many witches and sorcerers around who "bewitched" cattle, and people, particularly children, and did a lot of harm. But now that the Gospel is here you do not hear so much about it because the Gospel drives the devil away. Now he bewitches people in a worse way with spiritual sorcery.

Witchcraft is a brand of idolatry. In the same way as witches used to bewitch cattle and men, idolaters, that is, all the self-righteous, go around to bewitch God and to make Him out as one who justifies men not by grace through faith in Christ but by the works of men's own choosing. They bewitch and deceive themselves. If they continue in their wicked thoughts of God they will die in their idolatry.


Under sects Paul write down “heresies.” Heresies have always been found in the church. What unity of faith can exist among all the different monks and the different orders? None whatever. There is no unity of spirit, no agreement of minds, but great dissension is present in the papacy. There is no conformity in doctrine, faith, and life. On the other hand, among evangelical Christians the Word, faith, religion, sacraments, service, Christ, God, heart, and mind are common to all. This unity is not disturbed by outward differences of station or of occupation.

This afternoon I had an encounter with the sect (or “cult”) of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I refused their literature and, I am sorry to say, I dismissed them rather rudely. What struck me is that they were not interested in my spiritual condition, only in getting me to accept their literature and listen to them expound upon certain Old Testament Scriptures. My confession of faith in Jesus as my Lord and savior was not enough for them, because they seemed to want something more from me; but I am not sure what it was.



Paul does not say that eating and drinking are works of the flesh, but overindulgence in eating and drinking are, which is a common vice nowadays, and it is a work of the flesh. Those who are given to excess need to know that they are not spiritual but carnal. Sentence is pronounced upon them that they shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven. Paul desires that Christians avoid drunkenness and gluttony, that they live moderate and sober lives, in order that the body does not grow soft and sensual.



Adultery, or defiling our neighbor’s bed.

Fornication, or the unlawful mixture of single persons one with another.

Uncleanness, under which is comprehended all sorts of filthiness, and filthy lusts, whether natural or unnatural.

Lasciviousness, by which is meant all wanton behavior, either in speech or action, tending to excite filthy desires, either in themselves or others.

Idolatry, whereby God is represented to human eyes by pictures and images, and so brought down to the level of human senses; idolatry, as such, is properly called here a work of the flesh.

Again, witchcraft, a devilish art, whereby some men and women, having made a compact with the devil, either expressly or implicitly, are enabled, with God's permission, and by the assistance of Satan, to produce effects out of the ordinary course and order of nature, and these for the most part are more harmful to others, than beneficial to themselves.

Hatred, or a secret animosity in our hearts against our neighbor, either for real or concocted injuries.

Variance, or outward conflict by words or action, arising from the aforementioned hatred in the heart.

Emulations, or an inward grief and displeasure at some good in others, or done by others, which eclipses and dominates us.

Wrath, or violent anger, and extreme rage, depriving a man for the time of his reason, and transforming him into a beast.

Strife, or a controversial spirit, a continual proneness to quarrelling and resisting.

Seditions, or splitting societies into factions, and dividing communities into parties; which, when it occurs in the state, is called sedition; when in the church, it goes by the name of split.

Heresies, or dangerous errors in the fundamental points of religion; not arising purely from mistakes of judgment, but from the espousing of false doctrines out of disgust or pride, or from worldly principles, to avoid persecution or trouble; these may well be considered carnal lusts, and called works of the flesh, although they may be mental errors.

Envyings, a irksome lust, which makes another's good our grief; our eyes smart at the sight of what another enjoys, though we never have less, because another has more.

Murders, that is, the executing of private revenge, by shedding of blood, and taking away our neighbor’s life unjustly.

Drunkenness, revellings, the one is overindulgence in drinking, the other an excess in eating; both are sinful abuse by the creatures of God, and is included here as a work of the flesh.


Of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

This is a hard saying, but very necessary for those false Christians and hypocrites who talk a lot about the Gospel, about faith, and the Spirit, yet live after the flesh. But this hard sentence is directed chiefly at the heretics who are large with their own self-importance, so that they may be frightened into taking up the fight of the Spirit against the flesh.

The strength and certainty of Paul in this verse is striking. Paul may sound rigid or even harsh here, but he is consistent with the Biblical idea of conversion. When we come to Jesus to have our sins forgiven and our soul saved, He also changes our life. It doesn’t happen all at once, and the work will never be perfected on this side of eternity, but there will be a real change none the less (1 John 3:5-9). As Charles Spurgeon is said to have put it, “The grace that does not change my life will not save my soul.” The idea isn’t that a Christian could never commit these sins, but that they could never stay in them.

“Christians also fall and perform the lusts of the flesh. David fell horribly into adultery. Peter also fell grievously when he denied Christ. However great these sins were, they were not committed to spite God, but from weakness. When their sins were brought to their attention these men did not obstinately continue in their sin, but repented. Those who sin through weakness are not denied pardon as long as they rise again and cease to sin. There is nothing worse than to continue in sin. If they do not repent, but obstinately continue to fulfill the desires of the flesh, it is a sure sign that they are not sincere.” (Luther)


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