“But If Ye Be Led of the Spirit”
"But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 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." (Galatians 5:18-21)
What a horrid warfare rages in our souls, a warfare between the flesh and the Spirit! "But,” how good it is to read that word here, “But.” That means the Apostle has more instruction to give us about this matter. — “But if ye be led of the Spirit” — That is to say, if we are led by God the Holy Spirit, as children are led by the hand, and taught to live by faith in Christ, we “are not under the law.”
The fact that we are led by the Spirit of God implies that he has given us life in Christ, that we are born of God. A dead person cannot be led. “It also supposes some strength,” John Gill wrote, “though a good deal of weakness. Were there no spiritual strength derived from Christ, they could not be led. And if there was no weakness, there would be no need of leading.”
All who are led of the Spirit are led by him out of the paths of bondage and sin and ruin and destruction to Christ. They are led away from Sinai’s fiery mount to Christ. They are led away from all creature trust in legal works and personal righteousness to Christ. We are led to him for shelter, safety, and salvation. The Spirit of God leads us to Christ’s sin-atoning blood for pardon and cleansing, to his righteousness for justification and sanctification, and to his fulness for every supply of grace. He guides us into all truth and causes believing sinners to walk in the ways of faith and truth, in the paths of righteousness and holiness, looking to Christ alone as our hope before God. He leads through all the days of our pilgrimage in grace and leads at last to glory.
“Not Under Law”
Being led by the Spirit, living by faith in Christ, we have nothing to fear from the law. It is written, “Ye are not under the law.” This is not an obscure statement, but one that is repeated numerous times in the New Testament (Rom. , 15; 7:4; 10:4). God’s saints in this world are not under the law. Those who are born of God, those who live by faith in Christ are not under the law.
Read it again — “Ye are not under the law.” Being led by the Spirit of God to Christ alone for righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, we are completely delivered from and free from the law, both in fact and in our own consciences. Trusting Christ, we possess the comfortable knowledge and experience of freedom from the law, freedom from all possibility of condemnation, because we are assured of our indestructible acceptance with God by the merits of our Redeemer.
Believers do not need the law (as religious hypocrites do) to force them to the performance of legal duties and religious activity. Believers delight in the law of God after the inward man and cheerfully serve God their Savior and one another, being constrained by the love of Christ. God’s saints are not mercenaries, but volunteers. We are not motivated by fear of punishment, reward, or loss of reward. When Paul says, “If ye are led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law,” this, too, is implied. — If you are led by the law, you are not led by the Spirit.
Life in the Spirit
What is this life that Paul is describing?
Is it a “deeper” life? Is it a “higher” life? Is it a life that some believers
enjoy, while others live as mere “carnal Christians?” Is Paul here promoting
the idea that there are class distinctions in the church and
To “walk in the Spirit (v. 16) is to be “led of the Spirit” (v. 18). And those who walk in and are led of the Spirit of God bear fruit by the Spirit, having “crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (vv. 22-25). Paul’s whole emphasis here is the work of God the Holy Spirit in us, not a work we do for God. Paul is telling us that his admonition to use our liberty in Christ to “by love serve one another” (v. 13), and asserts that “all the law is fulfilled in this one word, even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (v. 14), he is not urging us to go back to the law. Rather, he is telling us that the grace of God in us writes the law of God upon our hearts (Heb. ), causing us to love one another.
“Ye Shall Not”
Remember, Paul did not say, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye may not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.” He said, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh” (v. 16). Verse 18 is another way of saying the same thing. — “If ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” Then, in verses 19-21 he tells us what the works of the flesh are.
"Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 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."
We do not need to look very far to see the horrible evils Paul
here speaks of as “the works of the flesh.” We find them in our own
hearts. This we must confess if we are honest before God. Remember, as Paul
uses this term “flesh” he does not have reference to the physical body,
but to the fallen nature of man. It is the word from which we have the word
carnal. The carnal man is all that man is by nature and all that he brings with
him into the world. Our thoughts, our affections, our consciences, and our
wills are all governed by sin as natural men. The flesh is the carnal mind,
which is enmity against God. It will not and cannot please God (
Paul says these things are works of the flesh, whereas that produced in us by grace is the fruit of the Spirit. Paul specifically mentions seventeen different, manifest works of the flesh. These sins of humanity are common in all human beings in all ages. That which Paul describes here are evils flowing in a constant stream of vileness from the depraved hearts of depraved men. These are not things learned by bad company, but evils arising from the corrupt hearts of fallen men (Mark -23).
Paul first mentions sins of passion. Passion is a disease of the heart that betrays itself in constant restlessness. It is never satisfied with what it possesses. They include, but are not limited to, what we commonly think of as “sexual sins.” The sins of passion Paul names are “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, and lasciviousness.” — “Adultery” is the defilement of the marriage bed (Pro. -19). — “Fornication” is a word used to describe any illicit sexual behavior between unmarried people. The word here translated “fornication” is the word from which we get our English word “pornography.” It includes incest, homosexuality, and all other forms of deviant sexual behavior. — “Uncleanness” is a word generally used to portray any lack of chastity in thought, word, or action. Like fornication, it commonly has reference to sodomy and other perversions. — “Lasciviousness” speaks of all lustful, sensual desires and those things that lead to acts of uncleanness, such as impure words and filthy gestures. Lasciviousness is the lack of self-control that characterizes the person who gives way to his lusts. Society and, often, even the religious world tolerates and even promotes these evils. But they are things in direct opposition to both the law of God and the gospel of the grace of God (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
Sins of Profanity
Next, the Apostle speaks of sins of profanity: idolatry and witchcraft. — “Idolatry” certainly includes covetousness (Col. 3:5). However, in this place it has specific reference to the worship of false gods and images. Idolatry is participating in such worship. Any representations of the divine being are idolatrous, including religious pictures, images, icons, etc. The substitution of anything, or any person, for the love, adoration, and desire of the true God as he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ is idolatry. — “Witchcraft” is the use of magic to accomplish real or supposed superhuman acts. The carnal mind turns to the basest absurdities of witchcraft (fortune tellers, horoscopes, etc.), and rejects the Revelation of God in Holy Scripture.
Sins of Pride
Next, Paul names a long list of what might be called sins of pride. — “Hatred” is murder. G. S. Bishop wrote, “The two extremes of nature are sensuality and murder. The pendulum swings between these. The worship of the beautiful ends in an orgy! Shechem admires Dinah and defiles her. Amnon ruins Tamar and drives her from his house in anger.”
“Variance” is fighting and quarreling with one another. — “Emulations” are a boiling, a rising of temper because of the honor or happiness enjoyed by someone else. — “Wrath” is the violent passion that seeks revenge.
“Strife” is the disruption of peace and harmony, causing discord (James -16). “A wrathful man stirreth up strife.” Believers appease it (Pro. ). Strife always occurs when men are moved by selfish motives, each craving honor for himself. “He loveth transgression that loveth strife: and he that exalteth his gate seeketh destruction” (Pro. ). Strife is always the result of pride. “He that is of a proud heart stirreth up strife” (Pro. 28:25).
“Seditions” are schisms, factions, and divisions. Whether social, domestic, or religious, “seditions” (schisms) are always the evil result of pride and strife. — “Heresies” are bad principles of doctrine, things that subvert the gospel. Heresy is the result of that miserable pride which sets itself up as the critic and judge of God’s Word.
“Envyings” are those uneasy, grieving vexations of the mind that arise because of the good others enjoy. Envy is aroused by pride when we see someone else advancing before us. Envy destroys the soul (Pro. ). Envy caused Cain to murder Abel. Envy caused Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery. Envy caused Korah, Dathan, and Abiram to rise up in rebellion against Moses. Envy kept the prodigal’s brother out of the Father’s house. Love is not envious (Gal. ; 1 Cor. 13:4).
“Murders” are acts by which one man takes the life of another deliberately, merely to gratify his own hatred and wrath. — “Drunkenness” is intoxication of the mind and body with drugs, alcoholic drinks, or any other means. — “Revelings” are the uncontrolled riotousness of drunks.
Then, Paul says, “and such like.” With those words, John Gill tells us “He shuts up the account, it being too tedious to give an enumeration of all the works of the flesh; nor was it necessary, judgment may be made of the rest by these; nor might it be so proper, since the carnal heart is but the more pleased with, and irritated by, the mention of evil things.” The law of God was given to restrain and condemn all such behavior among men (1 Tim. 1:9-10).
At the end of verse 21 the
Apostle tells us plainly that all such people are utterly without grace and
life in Christ. They are unregenerate, unbelieving people. — “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
“Understand that these sinful practices are
characteristics of the flesh, and though we have done these things and the
potential to do them is still present in our flesh (as evidenced by Abraham,
The flesh is the proud root of depravity and God hating rebellion in every human heart. It always exalts itself, either with great subtly in proud self-righteousness or in blatant, God defying immorality. It is written, “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die” (Rom. ).