As we come to the two concluding chapters of Galatians, it might be helpful to look at the issues the Apostle Paul sought to clarify and crystallise in the preceding chapters.
The Apostle Paul first emphasised that the Gospel he preached among the Gentiles was received by direct revelation from God. Both the commission from God and the content of the Gospel he proclaims were affirmed by the leaders of the Jerusalem church.
Paul’s Gospel is one of salvation by faith alone, with no contribution at all made by observing the Law. The Gospel establishes a union between Jesus Christ and the believer, so that the Christian participates in Christ’s crucifixion and also shares in Christ’s new life, so that Christ lives in him or her. This Christ-life is lived by faith, and because it has nothing to do with observing the Law serves to display the wondrous grace and mercy of our great God.
Paul’s Gospel is a Gospel of faith, with no room for reliance on observing the Law. Salvation is by faith, and the goal of the new life imparted by the Holy Spirit is as much a matter of faith as receiving the Spirit in the first place. The Law requires human effort to be achieved. But no one can be justified by observing the Law. All the Law brings is slavery and a curse.
On the other hand, faith relies solely on the promise of God. One who exercises simple faith in God’s promise is given life, and with life the Holy Spirit. Through faith in God’s promise we become not only Abraham’s sons (and daughters), but are also adopted into God’s family, with the full rights of children to both intimacy with the Father and all the access to the abundant blessings that are part of our inheritance.
Moreover, our formal recognition as God’s children brings with it a freedom from the Law, which before Christ served as a guardian and tutor, in charge of our every action, granting us no more freedom than was enjoyed by a slave.
This freedom is important, for the person who steps back under Law obligates himself or herself to obey the whole Law, and in taking on this obligation rejects grace, and cuts himself or herself off from Christ as a source of daily enablement.
In ruling out Law, Paul has not opened the door to license. The reason is that the principle of love underlies all the Law’s righteous requirements. And the Spirit of God produces love in the hearts of the believers.
The antithesis that comes is the one that exists not between Law and faith, but between the flesh and the Spirit. For as soon as a person seeks to relate to God through Law, he must necessarily turn to his own resources, and this will activate the flesh. In contrast, a person who seeks to relate to God by faith turns to the Spirit, and the Spirit creates love in his heart, which spills over into every attitude and action which is right and good.
What we cannot do God can and will do, in us as well as for us. We will never become the truly good person we yearn to be by trying to obey God’s Law. But we will become progressively more and more righteous as we trust God’s Spirit to guide and enable us.
So the concluding chapters 5 and 6 of Galatians elaborate on Life in the Spirit and keeping in step with the Spirit as contrasted with acts of the flesh. God did not free us from Law that we might behave lawlessly, but so that by relying completely on the Spirit He might be unleashed to transform us from within. This is especially clear when we compare the list of the acts of the flesh and the list of the fruit of the Spirit. The list on the fruit of the Spirit includes no specific acts or behaviour, but everything on this list is internal, a trait of character.
The Law, which the Judaizers praised, deals only with externals in its approach to righteousness. It relates to what a person does, not what a person is. On the other hand, God approaches righteousness in a totally different way. At best what we do is only a reflection of what we are. The way to produce righteousness is to make a change within, so that a person is a truly loving and good person. When this kind of transformation is effected, one’s actions will be truly good and loving in the eyes of God.