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Devouring Ourselves: Galatians 5

In Summary: Galatians is a thoroughly-packed letter from the Apostle Paul. As with Ephesians and Philippians, I would love to see Galatians redivided into twice as many chapters, or presented straight through and you can divide it where you will.

After all, the chapter divisions are not original to the text anyway. That’s why you should always be cautious hanging too much emphasis on “this was in a different chapter!”

Galatians 5 carries on Paul’s overall theme of liberty in Christ based on the sufficiency of Jesus for salvation. This is the overall point of Galatians: that we are set free (Galatians 5:1) by Jesus. We are to walk in the Spirit, not by the Law—but also not by the flesh. This is where so many conflicts arise.

We find it far easier to walk by the Law or run to the flesh rather than live in the Spirit. The Law makes plain what we cannot do, and the flesh is generally happy doing whatever it wants as long as it goes unlimited. The Christian life, though, does not chase the pleasures of the flesh, though the Christian is set free from the Law. (Note that “the pleasures of the flesh” is a generic concept that encompasses sinful activity, not pleasing and godly behavior.)

In Focus: The focus of this passage, even with the importance of the Fruit of the Spirit passage, should drift down to Galatians 5:26. Take a look at the concept, then at any extended discussion of behavior in Christian life.

It’s easy. Search for something: modesty, homeschooling, keeping Lent, not writing all of “God,” sustainable foods, environmentalism, and politics. You can find them anywhere—or check a subgroup of “how” to do any of those. Or the latest discussion in denominational politics/theology (because as a Baptist, I’ve noticed this: we can’t separate those two things).

And what do we have?

People who become boastful and challenge or envy one another. We get angry, we get bitter. We blast those those who are successful, or those who live by the Spirit but reach differing conclusions. Someone will advocate a viewpoint, give their reasons, and the response?

Anything but gentle. Much more like a challenge to the individual expressing our discontent. Yet the command to the Galatians remains the same to us: live and walk by the Spirit.

In Practice: How, then, do we do?

First we find our own identity in Christ. You know why it does not bother me that you are bothered that I am a Baptist, homeschooling, pastor, father, husband, and sci-fi fan? Because my identity and worth is in Jesus, not your opinion. If you will find who you are in Jesus, and Galatians 5 is a great place to start, then you will be less disturbed that I chose a different education option for my children. Or that I let my wife wear pants to church. Or that I actually don’t “let” my wife do anything, because she’s a human being and we are partners in life, not boss-worker.

Second we allow others to find their identity in Christ. Guess what? I will gladly tell you why I am a Baptist, homeschooling, pastor, father, husband, and sci-fi fan. And I am fine if you are none of the above—in fact, biologically, you may not be able to do a couple of those. If we are claiming the freedom to find our identity in Christ, we cannot demand others find their identity in us. That’s nonsense. We can share our reasons, but if God is big enough to guide you through His Word, He’s big enough to guide me.

Third we admit there are limits to that, bound by the clear revelation of God. This is where we get dicey, because I know fellow Baptist, homeschooling, pastor, father, husband, and sci-fi fans who can expound exactly why Scripture requires those attributes. (Well, maybe not the sci-fi.) I think that only one of these is clearly Scriptural, but only a portion of being “Baptist” at that. There are clear things that should not be our identity if we are walking in the Spirit. The Spirit does not lead us to abuse, harm, or destroy lives. That’s the work of the the thief, not the servants of the One (John 10:10) You see more in Galatians 5:19-21 that are deeds contrary to the Spirit. Beyond the clarity of Scripture, though, we should be cautious to make demands of fellow believers.

This must be part of our life considerations, lest we run afoul of Galatians 5:15 and continue to devour each other.

In Nerdiness: Notice a few things: Galatians 5:14 has Paul echo Jesus in Matthew 22:39. That’s valuable.

Also note the harshness in Paul’s tone regarding going back to the Law through circumcision. I think there’s a deeper insinuation to “castrate yourselves.” That action would eliminate reproduction. Paul wants no more generations of slaves.


Then there is this: the works of the flesh are plural and listed. The Fruit of the Spirit is singular and listed. The Christian following the Spirit grows in all areas, not just one or two. This is not a “I’m good with joy but not with patience” life. We grow in it all.

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