A few thoughts on Galatians 5:16-25 in the light of some of our recent discussions.
As in Romans 8:5-8, Paul warns us of the war we know in our own heart, where our fallen nature inclines us towards the bad, and the Grace of God which is in us strives to do what is good. If we follow the ‘devices and desires of our own hearts’ we shall fall away from repentance and thus from salvation: the fruits of this, as listed by Paul, are visible to us all. Friendship with the world is ‘enmity with God’. St. John warns us of the fruits of this disordered love of this world: ‘If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.’ Does this entail a separation from the world and a retreat into a ‘remnant’ church? Such was not the practice of the early Church. But how, if we are in the world, do we avoid being lured into accepting its ways and its standards? I am assuming here that is what St John was driving at when he spoke about friendship and enmity.
The only answer can be that with the Spirit of God in us can we hope to prevail against the forces of this world and win the imperishable crown; but is it not easy, and self-discipline is of the essence. The ‘pride of life’ and the sins to which it leads will separate us from the Father. Amongst those sins which sever us from attachment to God are not simply the obvious ones Paul names, but also the one which is the main object of his anger in Galatians: ‘You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace’. We can so easily forget this as we concentrate on the graphic list of more obvious sins. We cannot be saved by ‘the Law’, but rather by Him who fulfilled it and told us its summation was ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’.
We can see whether the Holy Spirit in us by the fruits it draws forth. Just as the vine cannot bear fruit by itself, neither can we unless we are in Christ. We have to die to our former selves, the old Adam has to be buried. But unless we abide in the Spirit, we cannot hope to prevail. In his great letter to the Romans, St. Paul cries out: O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?’ and provides the answer: ‘I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!’
When we attack each other, when we loudly proclaim that it is through this or that part of the Law of our Church which salvation comes, we need to recall these words from Galatians: ‘ If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.’ In love did He save us, and through that love we can live in the Grace of the Spirit.