"For the flesh desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; For these are oppose to one another, in order that you not do the things which you might want" (Gal 5:17).
Flesh and Spirit are not the two parts of the believer. Flesh is the fallen creation age under condemnation in Adam. Spirit is the Kingdom of Heaven in the Lord Jesus Christ. They are not anthropological descriptors, but eschatological realities. In this closing section of the epistle, Paul calls for the Galatians to live as recipients of the eschatological life in Christ by the Spirit. He begins and ends by calling them to the freedom of the Spirit in the new creation (A and A'). Rather than this being some kind of over-realized success eschatology, it rather means that they bear burdens of the broken of this fallen age (B and B'). It calls them to do good works in expectation of the great harvest to come in which they will reap eternal life (C). The blessing that is theirs in the future is already at work in them and through them. Paul organizes the section with climatic focus on the coming harvest day:
I' The Eschatological Life 5:13-6:18
A New Creation Kingdom 5:13-26
B Bearing Burdens 6:1-5
C Sowing 6:6-
1 Doing Good 6:6
2 The Harvest 6:7
3 Sow to the Flesh or Spirit 6:8
2' The Harvest 6:9
1' Doing Good 6:10
B' Bearing Burdens 6:11-14
A' New Creation Kingdom 6:15-18
Paul begins by describing the eschatological life in Christ as freedom (A). The believer is no longer in bondage to the flesh, but lives in love and service. He writes,
"For you were called to freedom, brothers; Only not the freedom unto an occasion to the flesh. But through the love, serve one another. 14 For the entire law has been fulfilled in one word in this: 'You will love your neighbor as yourself.' 15 And if you bite and devour one another, watch out, lest you be consumed by one another. 16 And I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; For these are oppose to one another, in order that you not do the things which you might want. 18 And since you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 And the works of the flesh are evident, which are sexual immorality, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, rivalry, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, which things I forewarn you, just as I warned before, that those who practice these things, will not in inherit the kingdom of God. 22 And the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And the ones of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit also let us walk. 26 Let us not become boastful, provoking one another, envying one another" (Gal 5:13-26).
The freedom is not autonomous license, but rather life in Christ's Spirit. The believer who walks by the Spirit of Christ is not enslaved to sin in the passing age of the flesh in Adam. The conflict between the flesh and the Spirit is not a Jekyll and Hyde conflict between some old nature and new nature in the believer. The believer has one nature, one new nature in Christ. Though he struggles to remember and live in the freedom and fullness of Christ, he no longer lives in bondage in the age of the flesh. He is not able to. The two ages are in conflict: those under death's condemnation in the flesh in Adam and the eschatological kingdom come in the Spirit of the Lord Jesus. But the Spirit does not allow the believe to do things he might want to do. The redemptive transforming power of Christ's Spirit has claimed ownership of the believer. As Paul writes the Romans,
"... having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness" (Rom 6:18).
Now Christ Jesus must be formed in the believer (see Gal 4:19). The Spirit of the Lord is alive in the believer bringing to fulness the new nature as the redeemed. It is the power of Christ's Spirit that transforms by grace, not the Mosaic Law. The believer lives in the Spirit and is not under the law. The unexpected irony of grace is that the works of the flesh, the law, only produced sin, but grace always produces the fruit of righteousness! Whether the self-righteous law keeping Jew or the self-righteous murderer on death row, the flesh and its works only bring death. But the Spirit of Christ forms the Lord Jesus' image in believers. Jesus is love! Jesus is joy and peace! Jesus is patient and kind. Jesus is good! Jesus is faithful and gentle. If ever a man had self-control, even to put himself under the wrath of God, it is Jesus! And the believer who is of Christ died to the flesh, and now Christ lives by His Spirit in the believer! This is the believer's legal standing and realized life; so Paul calls the Galatians to walk in it. Rather than boasting and provocation, Paul calls them to bear each other's burdens in love.
Paul specifically addresses their response to a brother ensnared in sin. The following verses through the end of the epistle are not unrelated exhortations. Rather Paul is the eschatological life in the Spirit means bearing one another's burdens (B). He writes,
"Brothers, even if a man is overcome in some trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in spirit of gentleness, considering yourself, lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks to be something, he is deceiving himself. 4 And each one test his own work, and then unto himself alone he will have a boast, and not unto another. 5 For each one will bear his own burden" (Gal 6:1-5).
Rather than being filled with self-righteous pride when they see someone ensnared in sin, they having life in the Spirit should gently restore the sinner while being careful themselves. They want to fulfill the law? Here is the greater law, the law of Christ to love one another. If anyone has pride in himself, he is lying to himself! Examine your own life on its own basis, not in comparison to another. The mass murderer who only killed a thousand has no basis for claiming righteous when he looks down his nose at the mass murderer who killed two thousand. Paul is not proposing some new basis for them to have pride in themselves. Rather, if they want to have a boast in themselves, they would have to examine their own life without comparison to someone else. But truth is, if they examine their own lives, there is no boast except in the work done in them by the Spirit of the Lord Jesus! It is so easy to have a comparative righteousness, but this takes no account that everyone has their own unique burdens! Some are orphans. Some are widows. Some have ill health. Some serve unreasonable employers. Paul calls for a life of humility and love that restores others. That is Jesus formed in the believer. That is what those who have His Spirit do.
Paul then exhorts the Galatians to the good work of supporting those who have taught them (C1). He writes,
"And let the one who is being taught the word share in all good things to the one who is teaching" (Gal 6:6).
Paul reminds the Galatians that the heart of the redeemed gives thankfully to support the ministry of the word. What is interesting is that Paul doesn't tell the Galatians to give some of their money to the teacher! It's not theirs! They have been blessed by their Lord and they share that blessing, the good things the Lord has provided. It's like when the middle son gets to the mailbox and finds a package from Grandpa filled with toys and gifts. He takes it home and calls his brothers and sisters to enjoy! The blessings the believer enjoys and shares are gifts from above (James 1:17) and expressions of the coming eschatological blessing (Mark 10:29-30).
Paul then points directly to that coming eschatological harvest day (C2). He writes,
"Do not be deceived, God is not mocked. For that which a man might sow, that also he will reap" (Gal 6:7)
There is a harvest day coming. Paul assures them that on that day it will be revealed what was planted. It is not the day of judgment for the believer, but it is the day when believers are revealed "in the twinkling of an eye" as the "sons of God" (Rom 8:19-20).
More specifically Paul lays the only to paths before the Galatians (C3),
"For the one who is sowing unto his own flesh, he will reap out of the flesh destruction. And the one who is sowing unto the Spirit, out of the Spirit he will reap eternal life" (Gal 6:8).
First, Paul is not saying that a person who sows more flesh is destroyed, while the person who has more in the spirit column gets life. It is not a sin/obedience balance sheet. Believers sin. This is binary. Either one sows to the flesh or one sows to the Spirit. Those who sow to the flesh reap destruction, but those who sow to the Spirit reap eternal life. As Paul says in Romans, those in Adam are flesh, and those in Christ are of the Spirit. Second, Paul is not saying that those who work for the flesh get destruction, and those who work for the things of the Lord are recompensed with eternal life. He has spent the whole epistle vehemently arguing that the flesh is the works of the law and it's just condemnation, while the Spirit is the Gospel of righteousness through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone. The works of the law are sub-eschatological flesh! The law only produces destruction. But the believer died to the law and lives to Christ. And Christ's Spirit is in him to form the image of the Lord Jesus in him. He lives, sows, to this Gospel, to the Lord Jesus and reaps eternal life.
Paul continues (C2'),
"And let us not grow weary doing the good; for in its own time, we will reap a harvest not giving up" (Gal 6:9).
True faith is a persevering faith (Mark 4:3-8). Paul encourages the Galatians to push on in the true Gospel in anticipation of the great day to come. There is persecution, worries of life, and temptations, but nothing of the flesh of this world has claim on the citizen of heaven, and that is what the believer is.
Now is the opportunity for the believer to participate in the kingdom work of the Lord (C1'). He writes,
"Therefore then, as we have occasion, let us work the good toward all, most of all towards the household of the faith" Gal 6:10).
The law doesn't produce this kind of life! But the Spirit of the Lord Jesus does produce this fruit in the believer who is justified through faith alone! The free grace of the Lord Jesus produces without exception good works in the believer. The faith alone that justifies is never without resulting works of faith.
Christ in Paul is seen by how Paul labors for the Galatians (B'). He continues,
"See how large letters I have written to you with my hand. 12 As many as wish to look good in the flesh, these are compelling you to be circumcised only in order they might not be persecuted for the cross of Christ Jesus. 13 For note even those being circumcised themselves are keeping the law, but they desire you to be circumcised so that they may boast about you in your flesh. 14 And for me, may it never be to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world" (Gal 6:11-14).
The false teachers try to look good according to the way the world sees things. Paul says they are only motivated to avoid persecution that the Gospel brings and to boast in the flesh over the Galatians. They don't even obey the law to which they try to enslave the Galatians. They can't. But Paul as Christ bears their burdens. He suffers for them and works in his great infirmity to write with his on hand to them. His boast is not in how well he is doing. He is the chief of sinners. His boast is only in the cross Jesus Christ! He has died to this world, and lives to the Lord Jesus.
Paul closes by clearly focusing on what the bottom line of the epistle is (A'). He writes.
"For neither circumcision is anything nor uncircumcision; But a new creation. 16 And as many as to the ones who are follow this measure, peace be upon them, and mercy; even upon the Israel of God. 17 Henceforth let no one cause me troubles, for I bear in my body the marks of Jesus. 18 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen" (Gal 6:15-18).
On the one hand are the false teachers with their call to the law and observance of circumcision. That is nothing! On the other hand is the new creation in Christ Jesus through the Spirit! Everyone who follows this "measure" has the eschatological "shalom", "peace" upon them. They are the true Israel of God! Jew and Gentile believers are the citizens of the Jerusalem above. Paul rebukes them. "You want to have marks on your flesh in circumcision? I have marks, the marks and scars of suffering for Jesus! THE GRACE OF THE LORD JESUS be with your spirit, brothers." There it is.
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Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are from NASB. Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org
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