Commentary on Galatians, 5:22-26 (Fruit of the Spirit)

Galatians 5:22-26

“22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

The way we know that we’re walking by the Spirit, the way we know that we have a close relationship with the Lord, is by presence of His fruit in our lives. If our lives are marked by all of these character qualities, then we know that we are walking with God. None of these character qualities come naturally, so if these things are becoming more and more “natural,” and observable, then we know that the Holy Spirit is truly at work in our lives, conforming us into the image of Christ.

The Holy Spirit is always willing, but we must allow Him to do His work of grace within us. That comes through self-denial:

“And He said to all, If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)

The cross is a symbol of death. That means we are to die to ourselves, and completely yield ourselves to the will of God. We must die to sin and to the things of this world in order to accomplish the holy and righteous things of the Kingdom of Christ. That includes the character of Christ.

When Jesus took His own cross, it was a one way trip. There was no going back. That’s the way it is with us as Christians. When we choose to follow Jesus, it’s a one way trip. Going back is not an option. We must turn our eyes away from the things of this world, and focus on the Kingdom of Christ. Our eyes must be looking straight ahead, with only one purpose in life, and that’s to bring glory and honor to the name of Jesus Christ. If we’re fully and sincerely committed to pleasing our Lord and King, then we will seek to do His will in both character and in service. Character and obedience go hand in hand. If one is being accomplished in our lives, then the other is too. 

Self-denial is what releases the power of God in our lives. Self-denial is another way of describing humility. Both Peter and James said:

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Pet 5:5; James 4:6)

Pride is the complete opposite of humility. Pride is all about self, and what we want. Humility is all about God, and what He wants. We must begin each day of our lives by presenting ourselves to God and to His purposes. We must be totally committed to being in His Word and prayer every single day. Those two things must be the absolute top priorities in our lives. We must learn to sit in God’s presence, unhurried and relaxed. We must value our time with God more than anything else in life. We must read, study, and meditate on the Word of God. We must sincerely evaluate every aspect of our lives in light of what the Holy Spirit reveals to us. We must be truly honest about what we read, and about where we are in relation to the clear commands and teachings of Scripture. This is no time to justify and rationalize the activities in our lives. This is not the time to make excuses for our character flaws. It’s a time to seek, and to cry out for His character to be formed in us. As we humble ourselves in such sincerity, the Holy Spirit will gradually perform a miracle in our lives, conforming us to the likeness of Christ.

“love”

What are we like in our dealings with our family? What are we like when we are around strangers? Do they see the love and kindness and grace of Christ, or do they see someone who is unkind, unfriendly, unpleasant, and critical? Those who have a close walk with God will display an uncommon graciousness toward others, with a sincere concern for their welfare.

Here is how Paul describes love:

“1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant
5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” ESV (1 Cor 13:1-7)

This is a passage that is good to meditate on often.

“joy”

Do we have a genuine joy in our heart? Do we allow difficulties to rob us of joy to where we become glum and sour? Those who walk closely with Jesus will have the joy of the Lord in their hearts, because our joy does not depend on our circumstances, but on an intimate relationship with Him. We can enjoy our walk with Jesus no matter what is going on in our lives. To live in His presence is to live in His joy.

“peace”

Do we allow the difficulties in life to take away our peace? Are we weighed down by worry and despair? Do we respond to hard situations with an anxious heart? If we are allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts, then we will be able to walk in the peace that only He can give. Peace does not occur naturally. What comes naturally is to respond and be shaken by the unpleasant things that come our way. It’s natural to worry about situations that seem impossible or unlikely. It’s natural to be anxious about things that cause pain and suffering. However, if we’re living in the presence and power of God, He will grant us a peace in our souls that “passes all understanding” (Phil 4:7). 

Peace is the evidence of faith. The presence of worry and fear, is the evidence of a lack of faith. It means we’re not fully trusting and resting in God in the midst of the circumstances of our lives.

“patience”

Do we rest in God and wait upon Him? Or do we try to rush and force things? Those who have been Christians for awhile, know that God is never in a hurry. We must allow God to set everything in it’s proper place, and according to His own timing. We get ourselves into trouble when we get ahead of God. A lack of patience is one of the main reasons we so often find ourselves out of the will of God.

“kindness”

Those who have a close walk with Jesus, will exhibit an unusual kindness toward others . There is nothing more Christ-like than kindness. It’s a grace that stands out in a person’s character. The world is full of mean-spirited and hateful people, so when you run across someone who is genuinely kind and gracious, it always makes an impression. I don’t think there is anything that will draw a person to Christ quicker than the kindness they see in us.

“goodness”

This refers to moral character or moral excellence. Someone who is marked by goodness is someone who always seeks to do good in every situation, and for everyone around them. Those who are truly good do not compromise, but always does the right thing. I used to tell my kids as they were growing up, “do right, no matter how bad it hurts.”

“faithfulness”

Those who walk with God are faithful in all things. Faithfulness to God is clear evidence of salvation. True saving faith is characterized by faithfulness. Oftentimes it’s not easy to be faithful, but we have to make up our minds early on who we’re going to live for and what we’re going to live for. We have to have a clear view of what our purpose is in this life as followers of Christ.

“gentleness”

Gentleness is similar to kindness. One of the clearest evidences of not having a close relationship with Jesus, is the rough and harsh treatment of others. There is a sweetness and gentleness about someone who walks with God. There is a gentle manner about someone who has a sincere love for the Lord, and for others.

“self-control”

Who has control of our lives? We are either living under our own control, or we are living under the control of the Holy Spirit. It can’t be both. Those who walk with God will exhibit unusual self-control and restraint in their lives. This pertains to the things we do, the things we think, and the things we speak. Someone who reacts out of control, speaks out of control, and gives in to sin, is someone who is not yielding to the control of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit leads us and empowers us to live in control of ourselves.

“Against such things there is no law”

None of these character qualities conflict with the law. Nor is there a need for a law when a person is walking by the Spirit, and this type of fruit is being produced. Paul said in verse 18 that “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” If we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us and empower us, we will fulfill the will of God. It’s not a matter of walking according to the letter of the law, but according to the spirit of the law. 

“24 Now they who belong Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

“they who belong to Christ”

When we place our faith in Christ as Lord and Savior, we become His (1 Cor 6:19,20). We are no longer our own. Jesus purchased us with His own blood. Therefore, we no longer have a right to live for ourselves, to go our own way. God is our Father, and we are His children. As children of God, we’re to walk in obedience to Him. Furthermore, we are citizens of the Kingdom of Christ, and we serve Christ the King. We are to submit to His authority.

“have crucified”

have put to death

“the flesh with its passions and desires”

Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:20). When He was crucified, it was as though we were crucified with Him. When He was raised to new life, it was as though we were raised with Him. Spiritually, that’s exactly what happened.

However, I believe Paul actually has something further in mind here. He indicates that this crucifiction is something that we do ourselves. When we place our faith in Christ as Lord and Savior, we recognize His authority, and willing submit to that authority. This recognition and willing submission involves a dying to sin, to self, and to this world. We do this in order to live the type of life that God wants us to live. That means a deliberate turning away from “the passions and desires” of the flesh. That deliberate turning away is what it means to “crucify the flesh.” 

At conversion, we don’t have much of an understanding of these things, but one should know, and must know, that we are turning away from our old master of self, in order to serve a new Master. As we gain a greater understanding of the Word of God and the Christian life, and growing spiritually, our understanding of the crucified life becomes more clear. The normal outworking of true faith is a life of self-denial, where we take up our cross daily, and follow Christ (Luke 9:23). Again, that begins at conversion, in recognition of His authority as Lord, God, and King.

“25 If we live by the Spirit”

Just as we received new life in Christ by the Spirit, we are to continue this new relationship in our daily walk. 

We experience regeneration, the new birth, as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit working within us. He convicts us of our sins, opens our eyes to the truth, shows us our need for Christ, and frees our will so that we can freely believe. At the point of faith, we are born again, born into the family of God. This new birth is caused by the Spirit of God (John 3:3-8; John 1:12,13), activated by our faith.

“by the Spirit let us also walk.”

The ESV renders this phrase more precisely:

“let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”

With every step we take throughout our day, and throughout our life, we are to be in harmony with the Holy Spirit. 

At the moment of conversion, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us (Ro 8:9; 1 Cor 3:162 Tim 1:14). Thus we’re to walk in the power that is now available to us. As we yield our will to the will of God in dependence on the Holy Spirit, Christ will live His live in us, keeping our steps in unison with His own.

“26 Let us not become egotistical, provoking one another, envying one another.”

“egotistical”

Proud, arrogant, conceited, boastful.

The only way to walk in the power of the Spirit, is with a spirit of humility. Pride and a self-centered focus cuts off God’s power in our lives (1 Pet 5:5; James 4:6). Humility is power. Pride is weakness. 

Paul began this discussion with a focus on our dealings with each other (Gal 5:13), and ends it the same way. This whole discussion from verse 13 thru 26 is with interpersonal relationships in mind. The only way for believers to get along is by exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. This was particularly important for the Galatian Christians at this time, for there was probably a lot of conflict and intense debate going on about what the Judaizers were teaching. There would have been a group who were faithful to the teachings of Paul, and a group who were being drawn away by the false teaching of the Judaizers. 

They needed to come together according to truth, while allowing the Holy Spirit to lead and empower. False teaching divides. Carnal, self-centered Christians also divide. We as followers of Christ, must seek to learn the Word of God with a passion. And with a passion we must seek an intimate relationship God. Christ-likeness must be our primary goal in life. If that is what we think about most, if that is what drives us, then that passion will override everything else in our life. Those who exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, exhibit Christ-like character.