Have you ever gotten one of those colored envelopes in the mail indicating urgent correspondence or immediate response needed? This Galatians letter could have been in such an envelope. The beginning of this letter does not have the usual greeting or salutations as other letters from Paul. He gets right to the point with a pressing message. Galatians’s theme is we are saved by faith and not by the works of the law, yet still, those works were being advocated by nearly converted Christian Jews as the way to God. Galatians is the first book written by Paul (if placed in chronological order of NT writings, it was the second one written by James). It is easy to see signs of Paul’s previous zeal (previously used against Christians) now turned in the right direction.
God appoints Paul to write his letter to the Galatians during his first missionary journey to Asia Minor. He writes it to reestablish the truth when people (known as Judaizers) sought to evoke Mosaic Law requirements onto the Christian faith. Paul urgently began this missive to the Galatians defending justification through faith (2:16) and not by works or law. It doesn’t begin with his usual salutations.
At the end of the letter, Paul closes on the same topic of justification, an act of grace through faith, not something to be lived out in a sinful lifestyle. Christians are freed from the bondage to our sinful nature; we now have the path of holiness open to us through Christ. There are six hundred plus oral by-laws added to the Ten Commandments. Later it is increased further with the Pharisees adding even more specific mandates on how to live a Holy life. Most of these additions were added after the destruction of the first temple in 587 BC. It was the culmination of correct conduct, both ethical and liturgical, as opposed to faith or grace of orthopraxy that began to permeate Judaism. A strain of this orthopraxy was inherited onto Christianity.
Many of these became null and void when Jesus enters the scene (an example is keeping the Sabbath holy along as a day of rest with thirty-nine separate categories of what is considered “work” being added by the Pharisees, going so far as regulating the distance one could walk referred to as the Sabbath day journey). The pendulum seemed to swing between getting lost in the extremes of either legalism to earn our salvation or a devil-may-care attitude about our sin.
Galatians 6:2 is a reminder when it comes to sharing burdens with others. I often forget or am hesitant to share my problems with others excusing myself for not wanting to bring people down when I am low-spirited or afraid. This verse says to carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, we are following Christ’s teachings. There is a Swedish proverb: shared joy is double the joy; shared sorrow is half sorrow.
I had a Pharisee-like moment following a Sunday morning in church when the stink eye gaze didn’t work on my older three children who were being more unruly than usual during worship service. When we got home, and before lunch, I went over my displeasure to include them ignoring my cues from the pew to behave. I required they write a contract of sorts on appropriate behavior in worship services. Basically, the three contracts said the exact thing (the boys were in cahoots in copying their sister’s response except for the spelling). Each signed their contract promising to behave. Here is a sample of that contract composed by the youngest on the antics of my three stooges:
Lay out my close and try them on
Not watch tv before church
Find something quit to do before church
Go to bathroom before church
Get program and look at order of worship
Mark the hims
Sing or mouth songs
Close eyes or read prayers
Sit up right
Cover my mouth when you yawn
Don’t touch or play with each other
Keep close on, keep shoes on”
The contract (or was it the idea of not getting lunch) worked for a while, proving legalism does not always work to keep behavior in check unless heartfelt.
Paul lists the Fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) to encourage us. Not coincidental these are not listed as “Thou shalt nots” like the Ten Commandments. The Beatitudes and the Fruit of the Spirit are both simple statements of truth.
The Fruit of the Spirit is found in love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This describes the growth a Christian cultivates over the course of their life. The list is a contrast to the one previously mentioned “deeds of the flesh” found just before these verses. Paul’s words in Galatians are to pursue a life of holiness, not in your strength but in the knowledge of God’s empowering grace in your life.
The steps toward holiness are unattainable apart from the Spirit. We are not at that level of self-evolution. We do not naturally embody that kind of good. Our nature is we are damned and determined on getting what we desire with the best of intentions getting twisted by this inner drive. God wants us to behave differently and since we can’t, the Spirit grows, cleanses us from within resulting in good coming out from us. The Fruit of the Spirit, unlike the Spiritual gifts, manifests over time, not in any consecutive order and differently per each person’s temperament as their Christian walk goes deeper.
When I proposed a graduate thesis topic on spiritual gifts and an implementation program for the church, I got some push back from the academic advisers. They tried to point my thesis more toward the Fruit of the Spirit which everyone can attain instead of the spiritual gifts where only a few gifts are bequeathed to each person. I could not conceive of a program to implement the Fruit of the Spirit into an organization where I could use the gifts. The Fruit of the Spirit is more of a personal organic thing. No one has all the spiritual gifts except for Jesus. Spiritual gifts are always a part of us, often dormant lest we do not use them. They are not personality traits, which are dynamic in life, changing either willingly or forcibly depending on the impact life’s circumstances have presented. Personality and temperament do, though, impact how our spiritual gifts play out. For example, an introverted or extroverted disposition responds differently yet has the same gift of service. To further compound the dynamic, trauma changes our personality. The biggest challenge with spiritual gifts is people start to covet one gift over the other, seeing one as holier or better than the other. Now I see what the profs were trying to encourage if only in this age of a desire for experiential conversions or feelings by believers, there was more emphasis put on the Fruit of the Spirit instead of spiritual gifts?
I think through the help of the Holy Spirit and its fruit (like self-control), and not gut instinct as psychologist’s advocate, we intuitively know when something is wrong even if we may not adhere to the guidance. C. S. Lewis adds to this with “Moral law tells us what tune to play. Our instincts are merely the keys.”
Once, my mind exploded with a crazy thought when reading Galatians. If laws are imprinted on our hearts and minds (cf. Rom. 2:14-15, Heb. 10:16), then intuitively we would know the correct way according to any given moment. Would not it be something then if the same general laws evoked on humanity were imprinted? I quickly thought about speed limits on our highways. I have driven on Colorado back roads where there was no traffic, where I could see as far as the eye could see. There was no oncoming, incoming, or traffic behind me. Could not I just make the judgment call to go a little faster than the posted speed limit? Of course, I was not taking into consideration what would happen while doing a higher speed if I had a tire blow out. Or, for that matter on one occasion when a flying turkey came out of nowhere, hit my windshield, cracking it plus taking the passenger side-view mirror out when he slid off the car (fortunately I was going the post speed limit when that flying basketball met my windshield). Sharing this story breaks up some of the more gravitas entries yet validates that without law there would be chaos.
What surfaces in my intellectual web is whether a person is morally good without God? Yes, people can choose to act morally correct, live decent lives, but it ends up being wholly subjective and non-binding. It risks being done momentarily and inconsistently. Tomorrow they can act completely. There is no moral foundation or commitment to it other than feeling good about oneself (maybe even superior), patting yourself on the back when making ultimate sacrifices in behavior by self-effort. Why else do people boast when they give a twenty-dollar handout to a homeless person panhandling at the highway intersection? Why do something good? Is it because it is the right thing to do or because it feels true to you? Who says it is right? Is that twenty dollar handout enabling someone to score more illegal drugs or is it going toward food? Plato argues God is the source of moral value. Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky concludes: “If there is no immortality, then all things are permitted.”