Christ has set us free! This is the grand declaration of the apostle Paul. Christ has set believers free from the slavery of seeking salvation through the laws of the Old covenant. This is a point of contention for many people and the subject of many debates. If God instituted the Old covenant and its laws and required Israel to obey them, doesn’t that mean New Testament believers are commanded to obey them too? This is how the question often goes. There are so many things to consider here because it is not a simple yes or no. However, I can tell you that obedience to the moral law is yet binding. God did not set believers free from obedience to morality. According to the Bible, God commands his people to live lives that are consistent with their testimony. And that essentially is boiled down to loving God and loving other people. Our love for God and others is not based on religiously looking for redemption through rituals and commands. Our redemption is all grace. We are saved by grace, not by working. Works are the natural result of being with God by His grace. Paul says, “For you were called to freedom. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh” (v. 13). He continues: “…through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (vv. 13-14).
Now Paul comes to the practical stuff: Walking by the Spirit. I love this passage. I am constantly learning to walk in the Spirit and teach others to walk by the Spirit as well. That is essentially what God wants from us. Instead of trying to obey a list of do’s and dont’s; gain acceptance and salvation with God through rule-keeping, walk in the power of the Spirit. Be led by the Spirit. Walking means is a pattern of conduct. Your conduct and how you live your life is guided by the Holy Spirit. Just imagine how better life could be if you stopped and listened to the voice of the Spirit guide you into paths of truth and righteousness. There are two basic ways of living life: By the works of the flesh or by walking in the Spirit.
Works of the Flesh
The works of the flesh are behaviors and actions that flow from the fallen nature of humanity. This fallen nature is the sin nature. Desires that are born out of selfishness and self-centeredness. It is the default human condition. They are the behaviors and actions we instinctively gravitate towards. Paul gives what is called a vice list to show what these behaviors are. However, this list is not exhaustive. Tony Evans categorizes the works of the flesh in this way: sexual sins (sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality), Superstitous sins (idolary, sorcery), and social sins (enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, orgies). The person that practice these behaviors do not inherit the kingdom of God (vv. 19-21).
The Fruit or Works of the Holy Spirit
The very opposite way of living by the flesh is a life producing fruit by trust and reliance upon the Spirit. The life of the Spirit is embodied by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Tony Evans writes, “Fruit always bears the character of the tree that produces it.” To love is to seek another’s good even when they can’t pay you back. Joy goes beyond happiness. It surpasses circumstances. It is the settledness of the soul. Peace is seeking harmony instead of entertaining strife. Patience is to be longsuffering instead of short tempered. Kindess is helping rather than hurting. Goodness summarizes virtuous attitudes. Faithfulness is being reliable and dependable. Gentleness is submission to God. Self control is saying yes to God and no to selfish desires (vv. 22-23).
- You are free in Jesus Christ. But your freedom is not an opportunity to live however you want (vv. 1-15)
- Your human desires that are opposed to the Spirit fight within you constantly (vv. 16-18)
- Humans naturally gravitate toward the Works of the flesh apart from grace (vv. 19-21)
- Living life by the Holy Spirit is what God wants for all of us (vv. 22-26)