I gotta have my orange juice.

Jesu, Juva

Keep in step with the Spirit

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Paul makes an interesting sustained argument throughout Galatians 5 and 6. He pits circumcision against Christ, law against faith, flesh against Spirit, and flesh against cross.

By abandoning the way of the Spirit, the Judaizers gave way to the works of the flesh (5:16ff). In fact, they boasted in the flesh (6:12–13), which is a subtle sin that is not so shocking as Paul’s earlier list. We see from this that even what is good or appears to be good can become a source of pride and destroy us. We are to repent not only of our sins but also of our merits, of every seemingly commendable way that we try to find life apart from Jesus. “Seemingly” is of course the operative word. Ironically, circumcision signified the cutting off of the flesh, a confession of its impotence; the Judaizers turned it into its opposite. There is no more need for circumcision because the Seed signified by circumcision has come. His once and for all circumcision at the cross (Col. 2:11–12) has inaugurated the new creation (Gal. 6:15). We enter into this circumcision, this new creation, through our baptism into Jesus (Col. 2:11–12).

The Judaizers were offended by the cross (Gal. 5:11) and ashamed of it (6:12). Paul boasted in the cross instead (6:14). Paul’s opposition of flesh to both Spirit (5:16ff) and cross (6:12ff) leads us to look for links between Spirit and cross. Paul himself directly links the fruit of the Spirit to the cross worked out in the life of the Christian: “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (5:24 ESV). Part of our boasting in the cross should be to see and delight in how Jesus exhibits the fruit of the Spirit. Such love and kindness (John 15:13), joy (Heb. 12:2), peace and patience (1 Pet. 2:23), etc.! Beyond this, the cross is not only our great example, but also the very foundation of our own walking in the fruit of the Spirit.

Boasting in law–keeping is of course not the only possible kind of fleshly boasting. Just as circumcision was turned on its head, we can be tempted to turn the fruit of the Spirit to fleshly purposes. Consider how we do this by exaggerating the virtues of love, of winsomeness, and humility. It has become easy to wield these as fleshly weapons and thereby to mistake other virtues, such as godly confidence and courage, for fleshly boasting. Rene Girard has insight into how this humility competition is its own form of fleshly vaunting, and how it undermines the faith.

This is one reason why it is important to cultivate the fruits of the Spirit in totality rather than in isolation. We guard best against the flesh when we use all of our weapons; we need both a faithful love and a loving faithfulness; both a joyful self–control and a self–controlled joy.

Written by Scott Moonen

February 20, 2020 at 1:52 pm

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