The Spirit and the Law

The Spirit and the LawAAG

By Rev. Rousas John Rushdoony

(Galatians 5:16-26)

 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.

  1. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against theflesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot dothe things that ye would.
  2. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
  3. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
  4. Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife,seditions, heresies,
  5. Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
  6. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
  7. Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
  8. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
  9. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
  10. Let us not be desirous of vain-glory, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:16-26)

Pentecost3I recall some years ago reading an account by a very successful writer of his early years as a writer. Since he was paid by the word, he wrote as copiously as possible! He sought to increase the wordage in his stories while retaining interest and suspense. For Paul, a reverse process was at work: he wrote as briefly as possible, saying only what was necessary, and seeking to say it with as much impact as possible. He spoke to specific problems, not in generalities as too many modern preachers do. Thus, what Paul writes tells us what the problems were.

In this passage, Paul contrasts the life lived gratifying the flesh, i.e., our human nature, versus the life lived in the Holy Spirit. The reason for his concern appears in v. 25: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” These verses are specific because in Galatia some were sanctimoniously claiming, as against Paul, to live in the Spirit who were probably guilty of a variety of sins. Paul’s information is not too specific, and, as a result, he does not name specific persons but does specify sins. These sinners apparently claimed to live in the Spirit while accusing Paul of abandoning the law. Paul rejects the reduction of the law to circumcision, and he accuses the Pharisees of being the law-breakers (6:13). He gives a catalog of the sins of antinomianism, and also the fruits or works of the Spirit. The sins are violations of God’s law; the works of the Spirit are in conformity to God’s law.

It is an error to equate the sins of human nature to things material or physical, an equation which echoes Manichaeanism. As Calvin said, “It deserves notice, that heresies are enumerated among the works of the flesh; for it shows clearly that the word flesh is not confined, as the sophists imagine, to sensuality.”1 Luther made the same point also. Findlay was only half right when he stated of Paul here, “He opposes the law of Pharisaic externalism in the interests of the law of Christian love.”2

Rather, as against Pharisaic externalism and human nature he opposes the Holy Spirit and the law-word of God. It is justification by the law, not sanctification by the law, which Paul opposes (5:4). The issue is inheriting the Kingdom of God (v. 21); the sins enumerated are contrary to the Kingdom, and the virtues are the life of the Kingdom. The catalogues are as follows. In v. 19, adultery (moicheia) heads the list. It is an offense against God’s basic institution, the family and is treason against God’s Kingdom. Uncleanness is akatharsia, form katharos, clean or pure. It refers to the whole range of uncleanness, physical, moral, and religious. Fornication (porneia) can refer to any kind of lawless sexuality, both physical and mental; it can refer also to prostitution. Here the reference is to lawless physical sexuality, because lasciviousness (aselgeia) is inclusive of mental lawlessness as well as to a general absence of restraint and decency.

In v. 20, we find idolatry (eidololatreia, from eidolon, a likeness or a phantom, and latreia, service), something Paul also warns against in 1Corinthians 5:10-11; and 10:7, 14. In the 1 Corinthians verses as well as here, Paul cites it as a very serious offense, comparable to adultery and consorting with prostitutes. To serve a phantom or an idol we make, is to worship our own works.

Next is witchcraft (pharmakeia), and its meaning here as in the Old Testament is very different from its now common connotation. Witchcraft in the Bible refers to dealing in drugs and poisons. Some scholars now like to think of such a business as one of harmless love potions; the fact is that even love potions were often dangerous drugs. Poisoning was especially popular in eras when death by poisoning was less detectable or probable, and hence the popularity of a dangerous class of professional poisoners.

Hatred or enmities is next (ehthrai). Man is at enmity with God, Paul tells us in Romans 5:10 and Colossians 1:21. As a sinner, he is governed by the spirit of enmity against God and man alike; being his own god (Gen. 3:5), he is at war against all others as threats to his autonomy. Ereis or strife, variance, is the expression of enmity in our relationship with others. Emulations (zelei) is today better translated as jealousy. Men as would-be gods manifest their insecurity in being jealous one of another. God identifies Himself as a jealous God, one “whose name is Jealous” (Ex. 34:14); the Hebrew word comes from a root meaning, to be zealous, which tells us that God is zealous to protect and further His law against man’s sin. The Greek word zelos also has both good and bad meanings, and here the reference is to the evil sense.

Wrath is thumoi, literally wraths, and means smoking with rage, hot passion and anger. We see what Paul means by wrath readily in our day, in the many people who are constantly in a rage over what goes on in some other country, over the environment, nuclear power, and so on. For constructive action, the people of wrath substitute protest and passion and are very self-righteous because of their wrath.

Strife is eritheiai, factions, selfish ambitions, contentiousness, and it is mentioned together with bitterness (pikria) in Ephesians 4:31. Seditions (dichostasiai) or divisions, sunderings, means dicha, asunder or apart, and staais, a standing, and it means standing apart from the community either in hostility, indifference, or in an unwillingness to get involved. Such an attitude is sedition against God’s Kingdom. Heresies (haireseis) comes from a word meaning to choose. We are in heresy when we pick and choose what to believe in Scripture rather than receiving it all as the word of God. Instead of being received, the faith is chosen selectively by the heretic.

In v. 21, Paul lists envyings (phthonoi), displeasure at hearing of the success of others; it means resentment that someone else has something we do not have. In Mark 15:10 we are told that because of envy (phthonon) Christ was delivered over to Pilate for crucifixion. The secret wish of envyings is murders (phonoi), a refusal to allow anyone to be better than we are. Drunkenness (methai) refers to the excess of too much wine. Revellings (komoi) is sometimes translated as rioting in drunkenness. Sins of this sort Paul had warned them about previously, and now warns them again, that “they which do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.” Thus, Paul makes clear that he is not being academic; he is dealing with the realities in Galatia. Theological and moral errors and sins commonly go together.

As against these sins are the workings of the Holy Spirit in our lives (v. 22). At the head of the list is love (agape), not man’s love but the gracious, unmerited love of God to us which then is to be manifested to others. Together with love is joy (chara), delight; it is a benefit of grace; it is a consequence of our freedom in Christ. Next is peace (eirene), meaning harmony, freedom from molestation, order, and quietness. Longsuffering (makrothumia) means patience and forbearance. Gentleness (chrestotes) is kindness, serviceableness, and graciousness; it means a readiness to be useful. Goodness (agathosune) refers to a beneficial moral power, and faith (pistis) is trustfulness, faithfulness. We are faithful to God in Christ, and, in Him, to our responsibilities to the Kingdom, its peoples, and its duties.

In v. 23, meekness (prautes) is a particularly interesting word. Used of animals, it meant tamed, broken to harness, and hence useful and friendly. Used of men, it has a like meaning; the blessed meek of the Beatitude (Matt. 5:5) are those who are under God’s control and harness, and who are friendly rather than hostile to other men. Temperance (eukrteia) is related to this; it comes from kratos, strength, and it describes the ability in every area of our lives to exercise strength and self-control. Modern usage has reference to drinking and thus limits the meaning. “Against such there is no law,” Paul says. “The works of the flesh” he describes mark the lawless man, whereas “the fruit of the Spirit” marks the godly man in whose being God’s law is written and obeyed.

All who are Christ’s have crucified their human nature with its “affections and lusts.” That crucifixion is not a personal asceticism but our resting on Christ’s work. By doing so, we have a new life to rely on. Our affections (pathemasin) refers to our human experiences and sufferings, i.e., the things which affect us. Romanticism has given a favorable meaning to “affections” which does not exist here. Even as late as Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, the meaning of “affection” was still partially bad, and, among doctors, it meant a disease, as a gouty affection, and the like. Shakespeare used it to mean what we now call an affectation. Paul means that, while we may now in Christ suffer for justice’ sake, we are no longer suffering because of the stupidities of human nature, or at least are being weaned from such sufferings. Lusts (epithumiais) for Paul could mean strong desires of any kind, good or bad; here it refers to those of our human nature.

In v. 25, Paul concludes, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” Paul in v. 14 appeals to the law; now he has shown that the work of the Spirit in man’s life is the work of the law. The law of God is not alien to God, Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is harmony with the law. The lordship of the Spirit is manifested in the happy rule of God’s law in our lives. By recognizing that our fallen human nature has been crucified, sentenced to death, in Christ, we daily grow in grace by assigning it to death and by heeding the Spirit and His law. Instead of seeking our own futile glory, warring one against the other as would-be gods, envying one another (v. 26), we now seek God’s glory. This letter is addressed by Paul to “the churches of Galatia” (1:2), but it is not concerned with their institutional but rather their personal faith and life. In the modern era and earlier, society has been institutionally oriented, primarily in terms of the state, secondarily in terms of the church. Scripture, however, assigns a secondary place to church and state. It addresses itself throughout to man; it is personal but not individualistic.

“…it is not the code of laws and its rewards or threats — clear and good — that secures true obedience. It is the personal, living influence, awakening love and enthusiasm for the One who issues the instruction.” (Andrew Murray)

God’s law-word requires man to live in community, the family being the basic one, and to govern himself, his family, and his vocation in terms of that law. The modern attitude is that the institutions remain but the generations pass, and so men work to build up the state, and some to build up the church, as though this is primary. There is no resurrection for churches and states: there is for men. The world will continue to flounder in its self-created evils as long as men seek to erect their institutional Towers of Babel, their world-centers for their gospels according to man. Until men cease their institutionalization of faith and life, church and state, will both continue to be obstacles to the Kingdom of God — Towers of Babel to be confounded.


  1. John Calvin: Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians,
  2. 166. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1948.
  3. G.G. Findlay: The Epistle to the Galatians, p. 340. London, England: Hodder and Stoughton, n.d



This entry was posted in All-Encompassing Gospel, Holy Spirit, Law of Christ, Theology/Philosophy, Z-Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Thank you for your interest and comment.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s