The Spirit in Galatians
Paul writes the letter to the Galatians because the Christians there had started to believe a different gospel. They had begun to think that Gentile (anyone who was not Jewish) Christians must follow Jewish customs in order to be truly Christian. Paul wrote to remind them that faith alone in Jesus Christ, not works of the law, saved them.
Paul introduces the Spirit in chapter 3 by asking if the Galatians received the Spirit by obeying the laws of Moses or by believing what they heard about Jesus.
He reminds them that Jesus redeemed them so they might be blessed by receiving the Spirit. God adopted them and sent the Spirit into their hearts as a sign of that adoption. As sons and daughters, they are free, not slaves. And since they are free, they shouldn’t turn around and make themselves slaves again.
But, Paul warns, this new freedom that comes from our adoption by God and the coming of the Spirit should not to be used to indulge our own selfish desires. Instead, the newfound freedom should be used to serve each other in love. Walking by the Spirit would help the Galatians not to gratify the desires of the flesh. The works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit are both obvious. It is easy to tell if actions are selfish or motivated by the Spirit. Since the flesh no longer controls them, they should live by the Spirit.
This brief synopsis of Galatians shows how the Spirit fits into Paul’s explanation of the Christian life, and therefore how we should think about the fruit of the Spirit. The Spirit is the sign of adoption into God’s family—He is the sign of freedom. Living by the Spirit is the answer to the problem that Paul set out to address. Do Gentile Christians need to live by Jewish customs? No! Followers of Jesus should live according to the Spirit.
Galatians in the Bible
What Galatians says about God and life for those who follow Christ intersects with some of the biggest themes of the Bible. The promises to Abraham (see genesis 12:1–3) are fulfilled in Christ, since people of all nations are blessed through faith in Him. The justice demanded by the law of Moses is satisfied in Christ’s crucifixion. In the book of Galatians, life under the law is contrasted to the new life under the Spirit. This new life is the result of a promise given long ago. The promise that the Spirit of God would dwell within His people is first given by the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel.
The promise in Ezekiel 36:27 is especially interesting for understanding the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. In that passage the Lord says, “I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” We’ve already seen from Galatians that the presence of the Spirit is the sign of new life. Because of Christ’s death on the cross that paid the penalty for sin and our redemption through faith in Him, the presence of the Spirit in Christians’ hearts fulfills the first half of Ezekiel 36:27. But it’s the second half of the verse that connects most directly to the fruit of the Spirit. The Lord says He will put His Spirit within you and move you to follow His decrees and laws. In other words, the Spirit of God will enable the people of God to live His way.
The second half of Ezekiel 36:27 is fulfilled in the fruit of the Spirit. The Spirit brings forth love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in the lives of believers. And notice what Paul adds at the end of Galatians 5:23, “Against such things there is no law.” The point here is that if the Spirit is growing His fruit in your life, you will be living in line with the law of God. Christians are not bound by the law of Moses, but their lives will nonetheless live up to the moral standards set in the law. But this doesn’t happen through “law-keeping” or being good; rather, it will happen by keeping in step with the Spirit.
The fruit of the Spirit is part of the grand plan of God to enable His people to live in a way that pleases Him—living by the power of the Spirit. As members of God’s family—adopted sons and daughters—God shapes us to be like Him, and to bear the characteristics that flow from His own character. The fruit of the Spirit is nothing less than the culmination of centuries of promise and expectation that finds fulfillment as the result of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. What a privilege to be Spirit-filled people!