Galatians 5:16
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
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(16-26) To follow the guidance of the Spirit is to obtain a double release: on the one hand, from the evil appetites and passions of the flesh or of sense—which is the direct antithesis to the Spirit—and on the other hand, from the dominion of the Law. It is easy to tell which has the upper hand—the flesh or the Spirit. The flesh is known by a long catalogue of sins, the Spirit by a like catalogue of Christian graces, the mere mention of which is enough to show that the Law has no power over them. Those who belong to Christ have got rid of the flesh, with all its impulses, by their union with a crucified Saviour. All the Christian has to do is to act really by the rule of the Spirit, without self-parade or quarrelling.

(16) Walk.—Conduct yourselves: a metaphor very common in the writings of St. Paul, but not peculiar to them. It occurs three times in the Gospels, once in the Acts, thirty-three times in St. Paul’s Epistles, once in the Hebrews, ten times in the Epistles of St. John, and once in the Apocalypse.

In the Spirit.—Rather, by the Spiriti.e. by the rule of the Spirit, as the Spirit directs. “The Spirit” is here undoubtedly the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of God, not the spirit in man.



Galatians 5:16We are not to suppose that the Apostle here uses the familiar contrast of spirit and flesh to express simply different elements of human nature. Without entering here on questions for which a sermon is scarcely a suitable vehicle of discussion, it may be sufficient for our present purpose to say that, as usually, when employing this antithesis the Apostle means by Spirit the divine, the Spirit of God, which he triumphed in proclaiming to be the gift of every believing soul. The other member of the contrast, ‘flesh,’ is similarly not to be taken as equivalent to body, but rather as meaning the whole human nature considered as apart from God and kindred with earth and earthly things. The flesh, in its narrower sense, is no doubt a predominant part of this whole, but there is much in it besides the material organisation. The ethics of Christianity suffered much harm and were degraded into a false and slavish asceticism for long centuries, by monastic misunderstandings of what Paul meant by the flesh, but he himself was too clear-sighted and too high-toned to give his adhesion to the superficial notion that the body is the seat and source of sin. We need look no further than the catalogue of the ‘works of the flesh’ which immediately follows our text, for, although it begins with gross sins of a purely fleshly kind, it passes on to such as hatred, emulations, wrath, envyings and suchlike. Many of these works of the flesh are such as an angel with an evil heart could do, whether he had a body or not. It seems therefore right to say that the one member of the contrast is the divine Spirit of holiness, and the other is man as he is, without the life-giving influence of the Spirit of God. In Paul’s thought the idea of the flesh always included the idea of sin, and the desires of the flesh were to him not merely rebellious, sensuous passion, but the sinful desires of godless human nature, however refined, and as some would say, ‘spiritual’ these might be. We do not need to inquire more minutely as to the meaning of the Apostle’s terms, but may safely take them as, on the one hand, referring to the divine Spirit which imparts life and holiness, and on the other hand, to human nature severed from God, and distracted by evil desires because wrenched away from Him.

The text is Paul’s battle-cry, which he opposed to the Judaising disturbers in Galatia. They said ‘Do this and that; labour at a round of observances; live by rule.’ Paul said, ‘No! That is of no use; you will make nothing of such an attempt nor will ever conquer evil so. Live by the spirit and you will not need a hard outward law, nor will you be in bondage to the works of the flesh.’ That feud in the Galatian churches was the earliest battle which Christianity had to fight between two eternal tendencies of thought--the conception of religion as consisting in outward obedience to a law, and consequently as made up of a series of painful efforts to keep it, and the conception of religion as being first the implanting of a new, divine life, and needing only to be nourished and cared for in order to drive forth evils from the heart, and so to show itself living. The difference goes very far and very deep, and these two views of what religion is have each their adherents to-day. The Apostle throws the whole weight of his authority into the one scale, and emphatically declares this as the one secret of victory, ‘Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.’

I. What it is to walk in the Spirit.

The thought which is but touched upon here is set forth more largely, and if we may so say, profoundly, in the Epistle to the Romans {chap. viii.}. There, to walk after the flesh, is substantially the same as to be carnally minded, and that ‘mind of the flesh’ is regarded as being by fatal necessity not ‘subject to the law of God,’ and consequently as in itself, with regard to future consequences, to be death. The fleshly mind which is thus in rebellion against the law of God is sure to issue in ‘desires of the flesh,’ just as when the pressure is taken off, some ebullient liquid will bubble. They that are after the flesh of course will ‘mind the things of the flesh.’ The vehement desires which we cherish when we are separated from God and which we call sins, are graver as a symptom than even they are in themselves, for they show which way the wind blows, and are tell-tales that betray the true direction of our nature. If we were not after the flesh we should not mind the things of the flesh. The one expression points to the deep-seated nature, the other to the superficial actions to which it gives rise.

And the same duality belongs to the life of those who are ‘after the Spirit.’ ‘To walk,’ of course, means to carry on the practical life, and the Spirit is here thought of not so much perhaps as the path on which we are to travel, but rather as the norm and direction by which we are to travel on life’s common way. Just as the desires of the flesh were certain to be done by those who in their deepest selves belonged to the flesh, so every soul which has received the unspeakable gift of newness of life through the Spirit of God will have the impulses to mind and do the things of the Spirit. If we live in the Spirit we shall also--and let us also--walk in the Spirit.

But let us make no mistakes, or think that our text in its great commandment and radiant hope has any word of cheer to those who have not received into their hearts, in however feeble a manner and minute a measure, the Spirit of the Son. The first question for us all is, have we received the Holy Ghost?--and the answer to that question is the answer to the other, have we accepted Christ? It is through Him and through faith in Him that that supreme gift of a living spirit is bestowed. And only when our spirits bear witness with that Spirit that we are the children of God, have we a right to look upon the text as pointing our duty and stimulating our hope. If our practical life is to be directed by the Spirit of God, He must enter into our spirits, and we shall not be in Him but in the measure that He is in us. Nor will our spirits be life because of righteousness unless He dwells in us and casts forth the works of the flesh. There will be no practical direction of our lives by the Spirit of God unless we make conscience of cultivating the reception of His life-giving and cleansing influences, and unless we have inward communion with our inward guide, intimate and frank, prolonged and submissive. If we are for ever allowing the light of our inward godliness to be blown about by gusts, or to show in our inmost hearts but a faint and flickering spark, how can we expect that it will shine safe direction on our outward path?

II. Such walking in the Spirit conquers the flesh.

We all know it as a familiar experience that the surest way to conquer any strong desire or emotion is to bring some other into operation. To concentrate attention on any overmastering thought or purpose, even if our object is to destroy it, is but too apt to strengthen it. And so to fix our minds on our own desires of the flesh, even though we may be honestly wishing to suppress them, is a sure way to invest them with new force; therefore the wise counsels of sages and moralists are, for the most part, destined to lead those who listen to them astray. Many a man has, in good faith, set himself to conquer his own evil lusts and has found that the nett result of his struggles has been to make the lusts more conspicuous and correspondingly more powerful. The Apostle knows a better way, which he has proved to his own experience, and now, with full confidence and triumph, presses upon his hearers. He would have them give up the monotonous and hopeless fight against the flesh and bring another ally into the field. His chief exhortation is a positive, not a negative one. It is vain to try to tie up men with restrictions and prohibitions, which when their desires are stirred will be burst like Samson’s bonds. But if once the positive exhortation here is obeyed, then it will surely make short work of the desires and passions which otherwise men, for the most part, do not wish to get rid of, and never do throw off by any other method.

We have pointed out that in our text to walk in the Spirit means to regulate the practical life by the Spirit of God, and that the ‘desires of the flesh’ mean the desires of the whole human nature apart from God. But even if we take the contrasted terms in their lower and commonly adopted sense, the text is true and useful. A cultivated mind habituated to lofty ideas, and quick to feel the nobility of ‘spiritual’ pursuits and possessions, will have no taste for the gross delights of sense, and will recoil with disgust from the indulgences in which more animal natures wallow. But while this is true, it by no means exhausts the great principle laid down here. We must take the contrasted terms in their fullest meaning if we would arrive at it. The spiritual life derived from Jesus Christ and lodged in the human spirit has to be guarded, cherished and made dominant, and then it will drive out the old. If the Spirit which is life because of righteousness is allowed free course in a human spirit, it will send forth its powers into the body which is ‘dead because of sin,’ will regulate its desires, and if needful will suppress them. And it is wiser and more blessed to rely on this overflowing influence than to attempt the hopeless task of coercing these desires by our own efforts.

If we walk in the Spirit, we shall thereby acquire new tastes and desires of a higher kind which will destroy the lower. They to whom manna is sweet as angel’s food find that they have lost their relish for the strong-smelling and rank-flavoured Egyptian leeks and garlic. A guest at a king’s table will not care to enter a smoky hovel and will not be hungry for the food to be found there. If we are still dependent on the desires of the flesh we are still but children, and if we are walking in the Spirit we have outgrown our childish toys. The enjoyment of the gifts which the Spirit gives deadens temptation and robs many things that were very precious of their lustre.

We may also illustrate the great principle of our text by considering that when we have found our supreme object there is no inducement to wander further in the search after delights. Desires are confessions of discontent, and though the absolute satisfaction of all our nature is not granted to us here, there is so much of blessedness given and so many of our most clamant desires fully met in the gift of life in Christ, that we may well be free from the prickings of desires which sting men into earnest seeking after often unreal good. ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,’ and surely if we have these we may well leave the world its troubled delights and felicities. Christ’s joy remains in us and our joy is full. The world desires because it does not possess. When a deeper well is sunk, a shallower one is pretty sure to give out. If we walk in the Spirit we go down to the deepest water-holding stratum, and all the surface wells will run dry.

Further, we may note, that this walking in the Spirit brings into our lives the mightiest motives of holy living and so puts a bridle on the necks and a bit in the mouths of our untamed desires. Holding fellowship with the divine Indweller and giving the reins into His strong hand, we receive from Him the spirit of adoption and learn that if we are children then are we heirs. Is there any motive that will so surely still the desires of the flesh and of the mind as the blessed thought that God is ours and we His? Surely their feet should never stumble or stray, who are aware of the Spirit of the Son bearing witness with their spirit that they are the children of God. Surely the measure in which we realise this will be the measure in which the desires of the flesh will be whipped back to their kennels, and cease to disturb us with their barks.

The whole question here as between Paul and his opponents just comes to this; if a field is covered with filth, whether is it better to set to work on it with wheel-barrows and shovels, or to turn a river on it which will bear away all the foulness? The true way to change the fauna and flora of a country is to change the level, and as the height increases they change themselves. If we desire to have the noxious creatures expelled from ourselves, we must not so much labour at their expulsion as see to the elevation of our own personal being and then we shall succeed. That is what Paul says, ‘Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.’

III. Such a life is not freed from the necessity of struggle.

The highest condition, of course, would be that we had only to grow, not to fight. It will come some day that all evil shall drop away, and that to walk in the Spirit will need no effort, but that time has not come yet. So in addition to all that we have been saying in this sermon, we must further say that Paul’s exhortation has always to be coupled with the other to fight the good fight. The highest word for our earthly lives is not ‘victory’ but ‘contest.’ We shall not walk in the Spirit without many a struggle to keep ourselves within that charmed atmosphere. The promise of our text is not that we shall not feel, but that we shall not fulfil, the desires of the flesh.

Now this is very commonplace and threadbare teaching, but it is none the less important, and is especially needful to be strongly emphasised when we have been speaking as we have just been doing. It is a historical fact, illustrated over and over again since Paul wrote, and not without illustration to-day, that there is constant danger of lax morality infecting Christian life under pretence of lofty spirituality. So it must ever be insisted upon that the test of a true walking in the Spirit is that we are thereby fitted to fight against the desires of the flesh. When we have the life of the Spirit within us, it will show itself as Paul has said in another place by the righteousness of the law being fulfilled in us, and by our ‘mortifying the deeds of the body.’ The gift of the Spirit does not take us out of the ranks of the combatants, but teaches us to fight, and arms us with its own sword for the conflict. There will be abundant opportunities of courage in attacking the sin that doth so easily beset us, and in resisting temptations which come to us by reason of our own imperfect sanctification. But there is all the difference between fighting at our own hand and fighting with the help of God’s Spirit, and there is all the difference between fighting with the help of an unseen ally in heaven and fighting with a Spirit within us who helpeth our infirmities and Himself makes us able to contend, and sure, if we keep true to Him, to be more than conquerers through Him that loveth us.

Such a conflict is a gift and a joy. It is hard but it is blessed, because it is an expression of our truest love; it comes from our deepest will; it is full of hope and of assured victory. How different is the painful, often defeated and monotonous attempt to suppress our nature by main force, and to tread a mill-horse round! The joyous freedom and buoyant hope taught us in the gospel way of salvation have been cramped and confined and all their glories veiled as by a mass of cobwebs spun beneath a golden roof, but our text sweeps away the foul obstruction. Let us learn the one condition of victorious conflict, the one means of subduing our natural humanity and its distracting desires, and let nothing rob us of the conviction that this is God’s way of making men like angels. ‘Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.’

Galatians 5:16-18. I say then — He now explains what he proposed Galatians 5:13; Walk in, or by, the Spirit — Namely, the Spirit of God: follow his guidance, exercise his graces, and bring forth his fruits: at all times endeavour to conduct yourselves as under his influence, and in a way agreeable to the new nature he hath given you. We walk by the Spirit, when we are led, that is, directed and governed by him as a Spirit of truth and grace, of wisdom and holiness. And we walk in the Spirit when, being united to him, or, rather, inhabited by him, we walk in faith, hope, and love, and in the other graces, mentioned Galatians 5:22. And ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh — Ye will not gratify any sinful appetite or passion, any corrupt principle of your nature or disposition, which may yet have place in you; such as envy, malice, anger, or revenge. For the flesh lustethΕπιθυμει, desireth; against the Spirit — Your corrupt nature, as far as it remains corrupt, and is unrenewed, has inclinations and affections which are contrary to, and oppose the operations and graces of the Spirit of God: and the Spirit against the flesh — The Holy Spirit, on his part, opposes your evil nature, and all your corrupt inclinations and passions. These — The flesh and the Spirit; are contrary to each other — There can be no agreement between them: so that ye cannot do, &c. — Greek, ινα μη, α αν θηλητε, ταυτα ποιητε, that what things you would, or may desire, or incline to, these you may not do, that is, connecting it with the clause immediately preceding, “though the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, yet the Spirit desireth against and opposes the flesh; that, being thus strengthened by the Spirit, ye may not do the things ye would do if the Spirit did not thus assist you.” This seems to be the genuine sense of the passage. But if ye be led by the Spirit — Of liberty and love, into all holiness; ye are not under the curse or bondage of the law — Not under the guilt or power of sin.

5:16-26 If it be our care to act under the guidance and power of the blessed Spirit, though we may not be freed from the stirrings and oppositions of the corrupt nature which remains in us, it shall not have dominion over us. Believers are engaged in a conflict, in which they earnestly desire that grace may obtain full and speedy victory. And those who desire thus to give themselves up to be led by the Holy Spirit, are not under the law as a covenant of works, nor exposed to its awful curse. Their hatred of sin, and desires after holiness, show that they have a part in the salvation of the gospel. The works of the flesh are many and manifest. And these sins will shut men out of heaven. Yet what numbers, calling themselves Christians, live in these, and say they hope for heaven! The fruits of the Spirit, or of the renewed nature, which we are to do, are named. And as the apostle had chiefly named works of the flesh, not only hurtful to men themselves, but tending to make them so to one another, so here he chiefly notices the fruits of the Spirit, which tend to make Christians agreeable one to another, as well as to make them happy. The fruits of the Spirit plainly show, that such are led by the Spirit. By describing the works of the flesh and fruits of the Spirit, we are told what to avoid and oppose, and what we are to cherish and cultivate; and this is the sincere care and endeavour of all real Christians. Sin does not now reign in their mortal bodies, so that they obey it, Ro 6:12, for they seek to destroy it. Christ never will own those who yield themselves up to be the servants of sin. And it is not enough that we cease to do evil, but we must learn to do well. Our conversation will always be answerable to the principle which guides and governs us, Ro 8:5. We must set ourselves in earnest to mortify the deeds of the body, and to walk in newness of life. Not being desirous of vain-glory, or unduly wishing for the esteem and applause of men, not provoking or envying one another, but seeking to bring forth more abundantly those good fruits, which are, through Jesus Christ, to the praise and glory of God.This I say then - This is the true rule about overcoming the propensities of your carnal natures, and of avoiding the evils of strife and contention.

Walk - The Christian life is often represented as a journey, and the word walk, in the scripture, is often equivalent to live; Mark 7:5. See the notes at Romans 4:12; Romans 6:4, note; Romans 8:1, note.

In the Spirit - Live under the influences of the Holy Spirit; admit those influences fully into your hearts. Do not resist him, but yield to all his suggestions; see the note at Romans 8:1. What the Holy Spirit would produce, Paul states in Galatians 5:22-23. If a man would yield his heart to those influences, he would be able to overcome all his carnal propensities; and it is because he resists that Spirit, that he is ever overcome by the corrupt passions of his nature. Never was a better, a safer, or a more easy rule given to overcome our corrupt and sensual desires than that here furnished; compare notes, Romans 8:1-13.

And ye shall not fulfil ... - Margin, "Fulfil not" - as if it were a command. So Tyndale renders it. But the more common interpretation, as it is the more significant, is that adopted by our translators. Thus, it is not merely a command, it is the statement of an important and deeply interesting truth - that the only way to overcome the corrupt desires and propensities of our nature, is by submitting to the influences of the Holy Spirit. It is not by philosophy; it is not by mere resolutions to resist them; it is not by the force of education and laws; it is only by admitting into our souls the influence of religion, and yielding ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit of God. If we live under the influences of that Spirit, we need not fear the power of the sensual and corrupt propensities of our nature.

16. This I say then—Repeating in other words, and explaining the sentiment in Ga 5:13, What I mean is this."

Walk in the Spirit—Greek, "By (the rule of) the (Holy) Spirit." Compare Ga 5:16-18, 22, 25; Ga 6:1-8, with Ro 7:22; 8:11. The best way to keep tares out of a bushel is to fill it with wheat.

the flesh—the natural man, out of which flow the evils specified (Ga 5:19-21). The spirit and the flesh mutually exclude one another. It is promised, not that we should have no evil lusts, but that we should "not fulfil" them. If the spirit that is in us can be at ease under sin, it is not a spirit that comes from the Holy Spirit. The gentle dove trembles at the sight even of a hawk's feather.

Walk in the Spirit; the apostle having, Galatians 5:13, cautioned them against turning the grace of God into wantonness, by using their liberty as an occasion to the flesh; here he directeth them to the best means for the avoiding thereof, viz.

walking in the Spirit. Where by Spirit he doth not mean our own spirits, or the guide and conduct of our own reason; for the term Spirit, set (as here) in opposition to the flesh, is in no place of Scripture understood of any other than the Holy Spirit of God, which dwelleth in and influenceth believers, guiding them both by a rule from without, (which is the word of God, given by its inspiration), and by its inward motions and operations. Walking, signifieth the directing of their whole conversations. The phrases

in the Spirit, and after the Spirit, Romans 8:1, seem to be of the same import, uuless the alteration of the preposition signifieth, that Christians are not only to look to the word of God dictated by the Holy Spirit as their rule, and to listen to its dictates, but also to look up to the Holy Spirit for its strength and assistance; and implieth a promise of such assistance. The sense is: Let your whole conversation be according to the external rule of the gospel, and the more inward motions, directions, and inclinations of the Spirit of Christ, dwelling and working in you, and moving you to the obedience of that word.

And ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh; this doing, though the flesh be yet in you, and you will find the lustings and warrings of it, yet you shall not fulfil the sinful desires and lustings of it; that is, sin, though it be in you, shall not be in dominion in you; it shall not reign in your mortal bodies: Romans 6:12: Let not sin reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.

This I say then, walk in the Spirit,.... The advice the apostle thinks fit to give, and which he would have observed, is, to "walk in the Spirit", that is, either after the Spirit of God; making the word inspired by him the rule of behaviour, which as it is the standard of faith, so of practice, and is the lamp unto our feet, and the light unto our path; taking him himself for a guide, who not only guides into all truth, but in the way of holiness and righteousness unto the land of uprightness; and depending upon his grace and strength for assistance throughout the whole of our walk and conversation: or in the exercise of the graces of the Spirit of God; as in the exercise of faith upon the person and grace of Christ, of which the Spirit is the author; and in love to God, Christ, and one another, which is a fruit of the Spirit; and in humility, lowliness of mind, meekness and condescension; all which is to walk in the Spirit, or spiritually, and strengthens the argument for love the apostle is upon: and this he encourages to by observing,

and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh; he does not say there shall be no flesh, nor any lust of the flesh in them if they walk spiritually; or that the flesh should not act and operate in them; or that they should do no sinful action; all which is only true of Christ; and the contrary is to be found and observed in all true Christians, though ever so spiritual; but that they should not fulfil or perfect the lust of the flesh; should not give up themselves entirely to the power and dictates of the flesh, so as to be under it and at its command, and be obedient servants and slaves unto it; for, in this sense only, such that are spiritual do not, commit sin, they do not make a trade of it, it is not their constant employ or course of conversation.

{15} This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

(15) He acknowledges the great weakness of the godly, because they are but in part regenerated: but he exhorts them to remember that they are endued with the Spirit of God, who has delivered them from the slavery of sin, and so from the Law, inasmuch as it is the power of sin, so that they should not give themselves to lusts.

Galatians 5:16. With the words “But I mean” (Galatians 3:17, Galatians 4:1) the apostle introduces, not something new, but a deeper and more comprehensive exhibition and discussion of that which, in Galatians 5:13-15, he had brought home to his readers by way of admonition and of warning—down to Galatians 5:26. Hofmann is wrong in restricting the illustration merely to what follows after ἀλλά,—a view which is in itself arbitrary, and is opposed to the manifest correlation existing between the contrast of flesh and spirit and the ἀφορμή, which the free Christian is not to afford to the flesh (Galatians 5:13).

πνεύματι περιπατεῖτε] dative of the norma (κατὰ πνεῦμα, Romans 8:4). Comp. Galatians 6:16; Php 3:16; Romans 4:12; Hom. Il. xv. 194: οὔτι Διὸς βέομαι φρέσιν. The subsequent πνεύματι ἄγεσθε in Galatians 5:18 is more favourable to this view than to that of Fritzsche, ad Rom. I. p. 225, who makes it the dative commodi (spiritui divino vitam consecrare), or to that of Wieseler, who makes it instrumental, so that the Spirit is conceived as path (the idea is different in the case of διά in 2 Corinthians 5:7), or of Hofmann, who renders: “by virtue of the Spirit.” Calovius well remarks: “juxta instinctum et impulsum.” The spirit is not, however, the moral nature of man (that is, ὁ ἔσω ἄνθρωπος, ὁ νοῦς, Romans 7:22-23), which is sanctified by the Divine Spirit (Beza, Gomarus, Rückert, de Wette, and others; comp. Michaelis, Morus, Flatt, Schott, Olshausen, Windischmann, Delitzsch, Psychol, p. 389), in behalf of which appeal is erroneously (see also Romans 8:9) made to the contrast of σάρξ, since the divine πνεῦμα is in fact the power which overcomes the σάρξ (Romans 7:23 ff., Romans 8:1 ff.); but it is the Holy Spirit. This Spirit is given to believers as the divine principle of the Christian life (Galatians 3:2; Galatians 3:5, Galatians 4:6), and they are to obey it, and not the ungodly desires of their σάρξ. Comp. Neander, and Müller, v. d. Sünde, I. p. 453, ed. 5. The absence of the article is not (in opposition to Harless on Eph. p. 268) at variance with this view, but it is not to be explained in a qualitative sense (Hofmann), any more than in the case of θεός, κύριος, and the like; on the contrary, πνεῦμα has the nature of a proper noun, and, even when dwelling and ruling in the human spirit, remains always objective, as the Divine Spirit, specifically different from the human (Romans 8:16). Comp. on Galatians 5:3; Galatians 5:5, and on Romans 8:4; also Buttmann, neut. Gr. p. 78.

καὶ ἐπιθυμίαν σαρκὸς οὐ μὴ τελέσητε] is taken as consequence by the Vulgate, Jerome, Theodoret, Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, Grotius, Estius, Bengel, and most expositors, including Winer, Paulus, Rückert, Matthies, Schott, de Wette, Hilgenfeld, Wieseler, Hofmann, Reithmayr; but by others, as Castalio, Beza, Koppe, Usteri, Baumgarten-Crusius, Ewald, in the sense of the imperative. Either view is well adapted to the context, since afterwards, for the illustration of what is said in Galatians 5:16, the relation between σάρξ and πνεῦμα is set forth. But the view which takes it as consequence is the only one which corresponds with the usage in other passages of the N.T., in which οὐ μή. with the aorist subjunctive is always used in the sense of confident assurance, and not imperatively, like οὐ with the future, although in classical authors οὐ μή is so employed. “Ye will certainly not fulfil the lust of the flesh,—this is the moral blessed consequence, which is promised to them, if they walk according to the Spirit.” On τελεῖν, used of the actual carrying out of a desire, passion, or the like, comp. Soph. O. R. 1330, El. 769; Hesiod, Scut. 36.


16–26. The spiritual life of liberty inconsistent with the indulgence of the works of the flesh

16. This I say then] After affirming the great law of Christian perfection in Galatians 5:14 and pointing out the effects of its violation, St Paul proceeds to shew how alone the former may be obeyed and the latter escaped. The controversies and heartburnings from which the Galatian Chruch was suffering were due to the lusts of the flesh (comp. James 4:1-2). There was only one means by which the tyranny of these lusts could be resisted and broken—by the guidance and power of Him Who is the Spirit both of love and of liberty.

Walk in the Spirit] R.V. ‘Walk by the Spirit.’ This is differently explained, (1) by, or according to the rule of the Spirit, comp. Galatians 5:18; Galatians 5:25; Galatians 6:16; (2) by the guidance of the Spirit; (3) by the help of the Spirit; (4) spiritually. For each view something is to be said grammatically. All together do not exhaust the fulness of the expression. The points to be noted are (a) The antagonism between the Spirit—the Holy Ghost in all that He is, and works and produces, and the flesh with its appetites and works. (b) The absolute certainty of victory over the flesh to all those who walk in or by the Spirit. Unspeakably great as is the blessing of pardon and justification by faith, it would be an incomplete blessing but for the assurance of this verse. Freedom from condemnation cannot satisfy the conscience which God’s Spirit has touched without the assured hope of victory over the lust of the flesh. Walking denotes activity. The metaphor is very common in St Paul and in St John. To walk in truth, in darkness, according to the flesh, &c., are familiar instances. The word in the original is not the same as in Galatians 5:25, where not mere activity, but deliberate movement is intended.

ye shall not fulfil] The strongest negation possible. ‘Ye shall in no wise fulfil.’ Blessed assurance!

Galatians 5:16. Λέγω δὲ, but I say) He goes on to explain what he proposed at Galatians 5:13.—πνεὑματι, in the Spirit) See [Galatians 5:18; Galatians 5:22; Galatians 5:25, ch. Galatians 6:1-8] Romans 8:4, note.—οὐ μὴ τελέσητε) ye shall not fulfil.

Verse 16. - This I say then (λέγω δέ). Like τοῦτο δὲ λέγω in Galatians 3:17, and λέγω δὲ in Galatians 4:1, the phrase, λέγω δέ, here introduces a further illustration of a point already referred to. It points back to the line of remark commenced in ver. 13 in the words, "No freedom to be an occasion to the flesh! but through love be in bondage one to another." The voluntary bondage of love is one most important part of the spiritual life; as indulgence in malignant passions is also a leading branch of the working of the flesh. The mention, therefore, of these two points in vers. 14, 15 naturally leads up to the more general exhortation of the present passage. Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil (or, fulfil not) the lust of the flesh (Πνεύματι περιπατεῖτε καὶ ἐπιθυμίαν σαρκὸς οὐ μὴ τελέσητε); walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust (or, desire) of the flesh. The precise meaning of the several words and statements in this verse, as also in the two which follow it, have been much disputed. It must suffice here briefly to explain and justify what appears to the present writer the true view. The word "spirit," it seems most natural to understand in all three in the same sense. To take it in the first two verses as meaning that part of our composite being which has the nearest affinity to the higher moral and spiritual life (whether as in a state of nature or as informed by the Spirit of God), whilst in ver. 18 its import is determined by comparison with other passages to be the Divine Spirit, appears to be an arbitrary variation of its sense, which there is no necessity for adopting. The "Spirit" is mentioned alongside with "the flesh," not because it belongs to the like category of being a part of our nature, but because he has been graciously sent forth by God to contravene in us that evil principle which else we should be unable to overcome. This evil principle is termed "the flesh;" not as being merely sensual corruption, though vices of that class are mentioned in vers. 19 and 21 as leading instances of its working; for we see in vers. 20 and 21 vicious works of the flesh specified, which are to be referred to malignity (comp. 1 Corinthians 3:3), or to a perversion of the religious element, rather than to sensuality. It appears, therefore, to denote the principle of corruption which taints our moral nature in general - that which in the ninth of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England is deflated under the heading of "Original or Birth-Sin.' The word "flesh" may be supposed to have been selected to denote this, because the depravation of our sensuous beings into sensuality constituted the most prominent and noticeable form in which the general degradation of our state from its proper nobler life in God manifests itself. The dative case of Πνεύματι, marks - either the sphere, element, path, in which we are to walk, which is intended by the rendering in our Authorized Version, "in the Spirit," as the dative is used with πορεύεσθαι (Authorized Version, "walk" ) in Acts 9:31; Acts 14:16, and with περιπατεῖν, walk, in Acts 21:21; 2 Corinthians 12:18; or the rule according to which, together with the enabling power by which, our daily behaviour is to be regulated, so as to be synonymous with the phrase, "walking after (κατὰ) the Spirit," in Romans 8:4. The meaning at all events seems to be, Let the prompting of the Spirit be your guide, and the grace of the Spirit your strength, in the course of your life continually. This is afterwards expressed as being "led by the Spirit" (ver. 18), and as an "orderly walking by the Spirit' (ver. 25). The exhortation implies two things: first, that the Christians addressed, had had the gift of the Holy Spirit imparted to them (comp. Galatians 3:2; Galatians 4:6, where" our hearts" includes the persons addressed; 1 Corinthians 12:13); and next, that this gift would not avail for the actual sanctification of their life without diligent endeavours after self-improvement on their own part. Comp. Philippians 2:12, 13, "Work out your own salvation [i.e. by your own endeavours work out your salvation] with fear and trembling; for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure." The generality of the form in which the exhortation is couched intimates that they were to endeavour to live in compliance with the Spirit's promptings in all the branches of spiritual activity proper to their Christian calling; not only in that of "love" already adverted to, but in those others also which the apostle presently after counts up in vers. 22, 23. It inculcates, therefore, the cultivation of a joyous spirit of filial love towards God, as well as a high strain of virtuous conduct towards their fellow-men and in relation to their own selves. In the next clause, the words, οὐ μὴ τελέσητε, "ye shall not fulfil." are by many (see margin of our Authorized Version)taken in an imperative sense; as if it were, walk by the Spirit, and by no means fulfil the desire of the flesh. It is, however, with much force objected to this view that, although the future with οὐ is often used for an imperative, as οὐ κλοψεις οὐκ ἐπιορκήσεις, etc., there is no instance adduced of οὐ μὴ being used in the New Testament in this sense. We are led, therefore, to adopt the other view, that the passage belongs to that form of sentence in which an imperative clause is followed by a clause denoting the result which will ensue in case the direction before given has been complied with; as e.g. "Come unto me... and I will give you rest." In place of the simple οὐ τελέσετε, we have the more emphatic form, οὐ μὴ τελέσητε, "Of a surety ye will not," etc. By writing thus the apostle strongly accentuates the statement that walking by the Spirit is absolutely incompatible with an indulgence in the inclinations prompted by the flesh. There is probably a twofold doctrinal inference couched under this emphatic statement; namely, Ye will of a surety not fall under the Law's condemnation (comp. Romans 8:1-4); and, Ye will not need the Law's restraints (1 Timothy 1:9). But it is pregnant also with a hint of rebuke and of practical direction, not unneeded by the Galatians (ver. 15). The article is wanting before ἐπιθυμίαν, probably because it is wanting before σαρκός, as in καταβολῆς κόσμου, Luke 11:50; ἀρχῆς κτίσεως, Mark 10:6; ἔργων νόμου, Romans 3:20, etc.; so that ἐπιθυμίαν σαρκὸς is put for τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν τῆς σαρκός. The verb τελέσητε is selected in preference to ποιήσητε (cf. Ephesians 2:2, ποιοῦντες) to express the idea that it is impossible for one walking by the Spirit to carry into full effect any desire of the flesh. For this is the proper force of the verb τελεῖν, of which the ever-memorable Τετέλεσται, "It is finished" (John 19:30), is a typical illustration. This meaning obtains even in Romans 2:28 and James 2:8. The apostle seems to concede that the desire of the flesh may be felt by one who is walking by the Spirit; nay, even in at least an inchoate degree, given way to; but this much he affirms, that it will be impossible for such a one to ear,' y it out into full accomplishment. This qualified representation of the Christian's holiness is intimated in the next verse more explicitly. Galatians 5:16Walk (περιπατεῖτε)

Frequent in a metaphorical sense for habitual conduct. See Mark 7:5; John 8:12; Acts 21:21; Romans 6:4; Romans 8:4; 1 Corinthians 3:3; Philippians 3:18. Never by Paul in the literal sense.

In the Spirit (πνεύματι)

Rather, by the Spirit, as the rule of action. Comp. Galatians 6:16; Philippians 3:16; Romans 4:12.

Fulfill (τελέσητε)

Bring to fulfillment in action. See on do the law, Galatians 5:3.

The lust (ἐπιθυμίαν)

Frequent in Paul, and usually in a bad sense; but see Philippians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:17, and comp. Luke 22:15. The phrase lust or lusts of the flesh occurs also Ephesians 2:3; 2 Peter 2:18; 1 John 2:16. It means, not the mere sensual desire of the physical nature, but the desire which is peculiar to human nature without the divine Spirit.

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