Barnabas and Saul (Paul), having been called and sent forth by the Holy Spirit, were commended to the grace of God by the Antioch assembly in Syria. They sailed from Seleucia to Cyprus, preaching the Word in Salimis and Paphos. Then, they moved on to Perga and Antioch in Pisidia. Later, they preached in Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. Through these intensive labors lasting a “long time” (Acts 14), assemblies known as the Galatian assemblies came into existence.
At the conclusion of his first missionary journey, Paul retraced his steps, “confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith” (v 22), by means of timely counsel, teaching, and encouragement.
Following this work of God, the believers soon came under the influence of teaching that was calculated to bring them into religious bondage. A bold caption could be written over Galatians 1, urging them to shun every kind of bondage: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”
Liberty and Bondage (v2)
Here Paul warns them that by accepting the law as an added means of salvation, the Lord Jesus will be of no advantage to them. He therefore urges them to reject such bondage.
Liberty and License (v13)
He then reminds them that while they were called to freedom, they should not use it as an opportunity for the flesh. He makes it perfectly clear that the believer has liberty from sin, not liberty to sin.
Liberty and Life (v25)
The believer lives by the Spirit and should walk by the Spirit. He (the Spirit) is mentioned no less than seven times, four of which are worth considering.
Walking by the Spirit (v 16)
“This I say then, walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Newberry). “But I say (this is what I mean) walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” “Walking by the Spirit” is the rule and the power by which behavior is to be regulated. It could equally be read “in the Spirit.” In this case, the Holy Spirit is regarded as the sphere within which, and the path along which, the life of freedom is to be lived.
Led by the Spirit (v18)
“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” In this verse, Paul is not referring to the Spirit’s leading in assembly meetings. He is, however, referring to personal living. References to the leading of the Spirit in collective testimony are found in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Here in Galatians 5, the Spirit of God is seen working in the believer, rather than through the believer. This has to do with the development of one’s character. Subjection to the directives of the Holy Spirit will produce fruitfulness, which is the fragrance redolent of the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. To enjoy life by the Spirit, we must repudiate the law, and law-keeping, as a means of justification and as a way of life. Both the law and the flesh are incapable of producing such a spiritual condition, being opposed to the Spirit of God and to the spiritual progress of the believer. In contrast, “to walk by the Spirit” and to “be led by the Spirit,” indicate a purpose of heart and a determination to be under His control in every sphere and phase of life.
In verse 17, the Spirit and the flesh are opposed to each other. If a full life “in the Spirit” is to be enjoyed, it is imperative that both the flesh and the law be rejected. “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: for these are contrary (opposed) to each other.” Some believers seem to overlook the fact of the Christian’s conflict with the flesh. They look upon regeneration as a total change or renewal of the old sinful nature. If this were true, then the believer would have nothing with which to struggle. The world also would hold no charms for those whose sinful flesh had been changed; and Satan would have nothing upon which to act.
The place that Amalek occupied in the history of the nation of Israel provides typical and vital lessons. C. H. Macintosh observes, “Had Israel conceived the idea that, when Pharaoh’s hosts were gone, their conflict was at an end, they would have been sadly put about when Amalek came upon them. The fact is, their conflict had only then begun. Thus it is with the believer, for ‘all these things happened unto Israel for ensamples, and they are written for our admonition’” (1Cor 10:11).
From the moment of conversion, a perpetual conflict begins in the life of the believer, and remains to the end of his/her days. This does not necessarily mean spiritual defeat. Is it our deepest longing to exclude fulfilling the desires of the flesh – the fallen nature or the sin principle? Then, this verse provides the answer. To deal with this conflict, we need a greater power than ourselves. “It is not a matter of hearing mysterious inner voices or irrational promptings; rather, it is a diligent desire to live according to the Word of God. After all, the Holy Spirit will not lead contrary to the Scriptures which He inspired” (David Newell).
It is extremely important to understand what is meant in the closing statement of verse 17, “… so that you cannot do the things that you would … to keep (prevent) you from doing the things you want to do.” This refers to the things toward which fallen nature naturally turns. These are enumerated in verse 19 as “the works of the flesh.” The believer has come into liberty from such bondage. Since the believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, it is no longer inevitable that she/he must yield to the evil desires of the flesh. If the conditions of verses 16 and 18 – walking by the Spirit, and led by the Spirit – are fulfilled, the believer can enjoy happy liberty from such bondage. By yielding to the guidance and strengthening of the Spirit, the believer is empowered to refuse such promptings, and to yield the “fruit of the Spirit” (v22). “Walking by the Spirit” will prevent us from fulfilling the desires of the flesh.
To be continued