In the two closing chapters, Paul expounds on what avails for spiritual liberty and life. Chapter 5 reveals that the Spirit’s leading and power produce love and true liberty, fulfilling the law and overcoming the flesh. In chapter 6, he appeals for spiritual attitudes and activities in harmony with the new life in Christ.
Chapter 5: True Freedom in Christ by the Spirit
5:1-15 Freedom in Christ; Futility of Circumcision
Christ has set us at liberty: firmly resist any ensnarement (v 1). To embrace circumcision now is, by extension, to embrace law-keeping for justification; this would be a repudiation of Christ’s work, and a removal from grace relationship with God. What futility! In contrast, the Christian, through the Spirit, waits for the hope of final righteousness while his faith responds to divine love: this is what had been working so well in their lives. Paul now appeals to them to repudiate and cut off the subversive influence hindering their progress, while expressing confidence in the true work of divine grace within them in harmony with the divine call to them. We have been “called unto liberty”(v 13): from sin’s judgment and the law’s jurisdiction by His death, in order that we might experience the beauty and freedom of His life. Love is the true antidote for the destructive idolatry of sin in the flesh, now unmasked as being the real enemy. Love fulfils the justice and goodness required in the law, as it instinctively cares for others. This is true freedom, and produces respectful and healthy relationships. Which will define our lives: serving others, or serving ourselves?
5:16-26 Fruit Of The Spirit; Folly Of The Flesh
Under new management! The work of the Spirit is twofold: to suppress the desires of the flesh, and to produce the life of Christ in us. “Walk in the Spirit…”(v 16) is a command, a promise, and a responsibility. “Walk… ” refers to our daily behavior and attitudes in harmony with the Spirit, under His leadership. As we cooperate with Him, we experience the promise, “Ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (v 16). This does not envision a hopeless struggle, but rather the recognition of two contrary forces within us, each seeking to suppress the other in order that “ye may not do the things you desire to do.” “Led of the Spirit” (v 18) leads to the display of true sonship (Rom 8:14), rather than the depraved and discordant “works of the flesh” (vv 19-21) which mark those outside of God’s kingdom. The nine-fold fruit of the Spirit (vv 22-23) expresses a beautiful harmony of life in wholesome balance: the law is ineffective to conquer the flesh, and unnecessary against the Spirit. At conversion, we “crucified the flesh” (v 24), as we turned in repentance to God, acknowledging our sin, and aligning ourselves with Him against sin. We thus entered into life union with Christ in the Spirit (v 25); now our responsibility is to “guide our steps” in harmony with the Spirit. We are to recognize and repudiate every impulse of evil, honoring our relationship with Him, and with one another. Humility and love should be our characteristics, not empty self-glory which manifests itself in competitiveness and envy (v 26).
Chapter 6: Fruitful Living in the Precepts & Power of the Spirit
6:1-5 Bearing Burdens: Responsibility Of The Spiritual
“Ye which are spiritual” (v 1) suggests a healthy condition with the Spirit in control, so that His fruit is developing. As a true shepherd, Paul desires to refute error, but also to restore as many as possible, and to restore a healthy spiritual atmosphere among brethren. When another believer is tripped up, we have a responsibility to seek to gently and carefully restore him, avoiding a condescending or harsh attitude, and remembering our own susceptibility to temptation. Legalism imposes wearying burdens upon others (Matt 23:4); in contrast, His royal law is, “Love one another, as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34). We are to share His loving will to alleviate the heavy burdens of others, while being willing to shoulder our own responsibilities. This will give us an inner joy and confidence in His approval of our lives and service (vv 2-5).
6:6 -10 Bearing Seeds: Reward Of The Spiritual
Verse 6 encourages another aspect of mutual care: those who receive spiritual help are also to minister to those teaching, supplying their temporal needs. This may be related to the following sober warning of sowing and reaping (v 7). Whatever we devote our minds and lives to will produce a harvest of corresponding effects in ourselves and to others. Ultimately, we become what we ourselves have sown throughout life. We “sow to the flesh” as we give our minds to envy, anger, resentment, or immoral pleasures; only corruption can result. We “sow to the Spirit” as we meditate in His Word, enjoy His presence, confess and forsake evil, and fulfil useful service. These dispel and displace evil in our lives, as a harvest of goodness is experienced both personally, and among the saints. With perseverance and diligence, our lives become increasingly noble and fruitful as we mature in Christ.
6:11-18 Bearing Brands: Reproach Of The Spiritual
In summary, Paul contrasts his own genuine devotion to Christ and the saints, and the hypocritical demands of the Judaizers. They desire to avoid the reproach of a crucified Christ, and retain religious respectability; thus, they preach circumcision (vv 12-13). In contrast, Paul will glory only in the crucified Christ, by Whom he is now cut off from the world and its ways (v 14)! All self-glorying must end at the cross: how can we pretend to be worthy of anything but death? All blessing experienced is the result of His sacrifice, and the consequential new creation work of the Spirit in our lives (v 15). This is the new rule: those who follow this principle are blessed of God: indeed they are the “Israel of God,” the true seed of Abraham, and His people (v 16). Continuing the irony, he points to the “brand-marks” upon his body that so eloquently testify to his enduring faithfulness to Christ (v 17). The power of such grace is also our need, and is there for us.