In Galatians 5 Paul reasons with believers that they have been given a “new” freedom that allows them to live out a principled liberty that is not the result of rules but rather that of a new heart, a new life force. This principle alone can produce the deep spirituality that we desperately need in our highly technological age. This is actually how we discover our real identity and then live out an interior spirituality that is rooted in Christ alone. Here is how Paul expresses this freedom:
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law
Our inner lives are veritable battlefields. The “flesh” is our fallen human nature, not our mortal bodies. This nature remains with us until our last day yet we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another as we grow in our inner being. To “walk by the Spirit” is to resist the flesh and its desires. But the “conflict” rages on. We are free, free at last, but not free to do anything our flesh desires or we begin to surrender our freedom. We are prone to think that freedom means we are free to do what comes to us naturally but if we are “led by the Spirit” we are not under the law, either the law written on tablets of stone or the law of our human desires. We are truly free!
The acts of the flesh are enumerated very clearly. Paul even says that they are “obvious.”
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
The “acts of the flesh” listed here in Galatians 5 number fifteen in all. I am quite sure this is not an exhaustive list given the other places where Scripture speaks about these sins. Note that in verse 21 Paul adds, “and the like,” indicating my point. (There are similar lists in 1 Cor. 6:9-10 and Ephesians 5:5.) This is a representative list.
In contrast to the “acts of the flesh” consider the corresponding and opposite “fruit (singular) of the Spirit.” Perhaps we should say these are the attributes of the one dominant fruit (singular), which is love. There are nine listed here.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
There are other “fruit” lists such as those in 2 Corinthians 6:6; Ephesians 4:2 and 5:9; Colossians 3:12-15. Again these are not meant to be exhaustive if we pay careful attention to how Paul writes about love and the inner working of the Spirit. I see three discernible sets here:
- Love, joy and peace –– the resultant attitude of one endowed by the Spirit.
- Patience, kindness and goodness –– the result of being Spirit-led in our interpersonal relationships.
- Faithfulness, gentleness and self-control –– the result of God’s work in the interior life, or true spirituality.
The problem that I think so many American Christians have at this point is that they mistake passivity with spiritual maturity. If we learn the Bible and remain fairly passive then we think that we will come to maturity. But note that Paul says we must “live by the Spirit.” And he adds this additional note saying that we must “keep in step with the Spirit.” There is no passivity here. We are called to actively participate in what God is doing inside of us. I see nothing in the biblical record to warrant our remaining passive about anything related to our life in Christ.
The word “since” is a conditional particle of a fulfilled condition. To “walk” or “keep in step” comes from a word that means to “walk a straight line.” We are to conduct ourselves rightly because we have the divine life in us. The impulse and energy of this life comes entirely from God.
What I have seen in my six-plus decades of life, and four-plus decades of Christian teaching, is that many Christians develop personal discipleship plans that focus on getting information (knowing) and acquiring skills (doing), rather than on developing their interior life (spirituality). When this happens they fail to understand that the Christian life is pneumatia (Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:15). Living by the Spirit is the very opposite of living by technique or technology. Let me elaborate.
The word technology comes from the Greek words technología or téchnē. It refers to an “art, skill or craft” and when the word logia is added to it then it means the “study of an art, skill or craft, etc.” Technology refers to making and using knowledge as tools and techniques. It includes the systems or methods of human organizing with a clear emphasis upon solving a problem or achieving a specific goal. The term can either be applied generally or to very specific areas. A good example would be medical technology.
I write about technology and discipleship because I believe we have turned Christian living into a form of Christian technology. When we do this we create discipleship programs that teach people a lot of content and assure them that they are spiritually developed and mature if they learn and master the technology we provide and use. Evangelicals are particularly prone to this problem since most of them rejected the great contributions of Catholic and Orthodox spirituality.
By definition evangelical Christianity is activistic. But evangelical activism is very often misplaced activity and energy. The results lead us to see discipleship as a program that we can master and a goal that we can reach. The truth is very different, as we shall see in my next blog.
Next: Form vs. Freedom or Spirit vs. Structure