Columns 663-674 in Migne PG vol. 61

Verse 1: It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then,

[1.] What gives you the right to put yourselves back under the authority of your previous master? Did you save yourselves? No, it was another who redeemed you, another who paid your ransom. Paul uses many means to lead them away from the error of Judaism. First he shows them that it was extreme foolishness for those who had been freed from slavery to give up their freedom and become slaves again. Second, he shows that if they despised Christ who showed them such kindness by delivering them, while at the same time they loved those who enslaved them, they would be guilty of neglect and ingratitude. Third, he shows it was impossible to return to the law. Since Christ has redeemed us from the law once and for all, the law no longer has any power. When he says, “Stand firm,” he implies they are wavering.

Verse 1: And do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

He uses the word “yoke” to indicate how burdensome their course of action is. The word “again” points out how utterly senseless they have been. If they had never experienced this burden, they would not have deserved such a severe rebuke, but since they had tried it out and understood how tiring it was, it was truly unpardonable for them to subject themselves to it again.

Verse 2: Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.

What a threat! This is the reason he even condemned angels who preached another gospel. But how can he say that Christ will be of no value to them? He doesn’t bring evidence to argue for this position. He merely declares it to be so. His personal authority gives his statement credibility and makes up for his lack of supporting evidence. That is why he stresses his person by saying, “Mark my words! I Paul tell you.” This shows his confidence in what he asserts.

Let us now digress and explain how it is that Christ will be of no value to those who are circumcised:

Whoever is circumcised does so out of fear of the law. But anyone who fears the law must distrust the power of grace. A person who distrusts cannot receive any benefit from that which is distrusted. So that person will receive no benefit from grace.

It could be put this way: he who is circumcised considers the law to be in force. Since he considers it to be in force and yet breaks the law in substantial ways while keeping it in lesser ways, he puts himself under its curse. How can anyone be saved who submits himself to a curse while refusing the freedom which is by faith? If we can state what seems to be a paradox, such a person believes neither Christ nor the law, but stands between them, desiring to benefit from both of them, but in fact reaping the fruit from neither. Having said that Christ shall be of no value to them, Paul then gives proof of this which is short and to the point:

Verse 3: Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.

“I don’t want you to think that I am speaking out of ill-will towards you,” says Paul. “I am not only talking about you. Anyone at all who receives circumcision is obligated to obey the whole law.”

The different parts of the law are interconnected. The man who goes from being free to becoming a slave can no longer do what he pleases, but is bound by all the laws of slavery. So it is in the case of the law. If you take upon yourself a small portion of it, and submit to its yoke, you draw down upon yourself its whole weight. It is also this way in a worldly inheritance: If someone is not involved, he has absolutely nothing to do with what is inherited from the deceased. But if he receives even a small portion of the inheritance, he still becomes liable to all its provisions.

There is another way that obedience to the various different laws is linked together. For example, circumcision is connected with sacrifice and observing rites on certain days; sacrifice again involves doing things on specified days and in specific places; different holy places involve the details of endless purifications; purifications involve a whole swarm of manifold observances. It is unlawful for someone who is ritually unclean to sacrifice, to enter the holy shrines, or to do any other such act. Thus even one commandment introduces many obligations to the law.

If you are circumcised, but not on the eighth day, or on the eighth day, but a sacrifice is not offered, or a sacrifice is offered but not in the proper place, or it is offered in the proper place but the proper objects are not sacrificed, or if the proper objects are sacrificed but you are unclean, or if you are clean but not purified by the proper rituals, everything is frustrated. That is how Paul can say, “he is obligated to obey the whole law.” If the law is in force, don’t fulfill only a part, but all of it. But if it is not in force, don’t fulfill even a part.

Verse 4: You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

Now that he has established his point, Paul declares that they are in danger of a most severe punishment. When a man returns to the law, which cannot save him, and falls from grace, what remains for him but an inevitable retribution, since the law is powerless, and grace rejects him?

[2.] Paul has increased their anxiety, disturbed their consciences, and shown them the disaster that awaited them. Now he changes tone, and opens to them the shelter of grace which was nearby. This is what Paul always does. He shows that under grace salvation is easy and secure, by adding the following words:

Verse 5: But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.

He says that we do not need to observe the law. Faith is sufficient for us to obtain the Spirit, and by the Spirit we obtain righteousness, along with many other great benefits.

Verse 6: For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Paul now faces his opponents with great boldness. He says that the man who has put on Christ will no longer care about such matters as circumcision. But since he previously said that circumcision was harmful, how can he now be so indifferent about it? He is indifferent about those who were circumcised before they came to the faith, but not for those who were circumcised after coming to faith. Note how he places it side by side with uncircumcision. It is faith that makes the difference. Its like evaluating wrestlers; it makes no difference whether they are hook-nosed or flat-nosed, black or white, as long as they are strong and skilful. So these bodily traits neither hinder nor help the one about to enter the New Covenant.

What is meant by “expressing itself through love?” Here he hits them hard by showing that this error had crept in because the love of Christ had not taken root within them. To believe is not all that is required, but also to live in love. It is as if he had said, “If you loved Christ as you should, you would not have reverted to slavery, nor abandoned the one who redeemed you, nor treated with insolence the one who gave you freedom.” Here he also hints at those who have plotted against them, implying that they would not have dared to do so, if they had felt affection towards the Galatians. He also wishes to correct their course of life with these words:

Verse 7: You were running a good race. Who cut in on you…?

Paul is not really asking a question, but rather expressing his doubt and sorrow. How has such a race been ruined? Who was able to do this? You who were superior to everyone else and were ranked as teachers have not even continued to qualify as students. What happened? Who could do this? These are the words of one who is exclaiming and lamenting, as he said before, “Who cast an envious eye on you? [NIV: who bewitched you]” (Gal 3:1).

Verse 8: That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.

The one who called you did not call you to such wavering. He did not tell you to Judaize. Paul anticipates someone might object, saying, “Why are you making such a big deal out of this? We have kept only one commandment of the law, and yet you make this great outcry!” Paul goes on to terrify them, not of the present situation but by what will happen in the future. He says:

Verse 9: A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.

And so this slight error, he says, if not corrected, will have power (like yeast has in a loaf of bread) to lead you completely into Judaizing.

Verse 10: I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view….

He does not say, “you are taking no other view,” but “you will take no other view.” He is confident they will be set right. And how does he know this? He doesn’t say “I know,” but “I am confident in the Lord, and invokes God’s aid in order to correct you, I hope.” And he says, not merely, “I am confident in the Lord,” but, “I am confident in the Lord towards you.”

He always adds a word of praise after he has complained. Here it is as if he had said, “I know my disciples, I know your readiness to be set right. I have great hopes, partly because of the Lord who suffers nothing, however trivial, to perish, partly because of you who are quick to recover yourselves.” At the same time he exhorts them be diligent, for it is not possible to receive aid from God if our own efforts are not contributed.

Verse 10: The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.

Paul has given them words of encouragement, now he gives another incentive by uttering a curse, or a prophecy, against their teachers. Observe that he never mentions the name of these plotters, which would only make them more shameless. This is his meaning: “Those who originated your seduction will not be relieved from their punishment when ‘you will take no other view.‘ They will still be punished. For it is not proper that the good conduct of one group should become an encouragement to the evil actions of the other.” He says this so that they might not make a second attempt to influence the others. And he doesn’t only say “the one that is troubling you,” but, “whoever he may be,” that is contributing to the trouble.

Verse 11: Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted?

Note how clearly Paul exonerates himself from the charge that in other places he Judaized, and was therefore hypocritical in his preaching. He calls the Ephesians as witnesses. “For you know,” he says, “that my command to abandon the law was used as a pretext for persecuting me. So if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? For this is the only charge which those of Jewish descent have to bring against me. If I had permitted them to receive the faith while still retaining the customs of their fathers, then neither believers nor unbelievers would have laid traps for me, since none of their own practices were disturbed.”

[3.] Wait a minute! Didn’t Paul preach circumcision? Didn’t he circumcise Timothy? Yes, he did. How then can he say, “I do not preach it?” Note the accuracy of what he says. He doesn’t say, “I have never performed circumcision,” but, “I am not preaching it,” that is, “I did not encourage men to believe in it. So don’t think my actions confirm your teaching. Though I circumcised, I did not preach circumcision.”

Verse 11: In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.

“If I really preach circumcision as you assert, the obstacle and hindrance has been removed from my preaching.” The cross itself was not so great an offense to the Jews as the teaching it brought, that their father’s customs did not need to be obeyed any longer. When they brought Stephen before the council, they didn’t accuse him of worshiping the crucified one, but of speaking “against this holy place and against the Law” (Acts 6:13). Jesus himself was also accused of the same charge, breaking the law.

So Paul says, “If we give in to circumcision, then the discord in which you are involved will come to an end. Then there will be no remaining hostility to the cross and our preaching. But what is the charge they bring against me, while waiting day after day to murder me? They assert that I brought an uncircumcised man into the Temple (Acts 21:29), which is why they attacked me. Am I so senseless, that I would give up my preaching about circumcision, only to carelessly expose myself to such injuries, and to place such a stumbling-block before the cross? Observe that they attack us with more vehemence on the issue of circumcision than any other. Am I then so senseless as to suffer hardships and give offense to others for no good reason?”

Paul calls the abolition of circumcision “the offense of the cross,” because it was a necessary consequence of the cross. This command to abandon the customs of their ancestors is what principally offended the Jews and kept them from accepting the cross.

Verse 12: As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

Observe how bitterly Paul speaks here against those who were deceiving the Galatians. At first he directed his message against those who were deceived, and called them foolish several times. Now that he has sufficiently corrected and instructed them, he turns his attention to their deceivers. You should note his wisdom in how he admonishes and reproves the Galatians as if they were his own children, knowing they were capable of receiving correction, but how he cuts off their deceivers as foreigners who were incurably depraved. He does this partly by saying, “he will bear his judgment whoever he is;” partly when he utters the curse against them, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves.”

His choice of words, “those agitators,” is very well chosen. They had compelled the Galatians to abandon their own fatherland, their liberty, and their heavenly brothers, and to seek a new and foreign one. They had thrown them out of the Jerusalem which is above and free, and compelled them to wander as captives and emigrants. No wonder he curses them! His meaning is as follows: “I have no concern for these, for ‘Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him’ (Tit 3:10). If they want, let them not only be circumcised but fully emasculated.

Where are those who dare to mutilate themselves? They draw down this apostolic curse upon themselves, and criticize the workmanship of God, and join the cause of the Manicheans. These latter call the body a treacherous thing which comes from the evil principle; and the others by their acts approve of these wretched teachings, cutting off the male organ as something hostile and treacherous. Shouldn’t they rather put out their eyes, for it is through the eyes that desire enters the soul? But in truth neither the eye nor any other part of us is to blame, but only our depraved will. If you will not accept this fact, why do you not mutilate the tongue for its blasphemy, the hands for their greed, the feet for their evil ways, in short, the whole body? For the ear that is enchanted by the sound of a flute has often made the soul lazy; the scent of a sweet perfume by the nostrils has bewitched the mind and made it frantic with desire.

Yet doing so would be extreme wickedness and satanic madness. The evil spirit, ever delighting in slaughter, has seduced these men to crush the instrument, as if its maker had made a mistake, whereas in reality, a person only needs to correct the rash desires of his soul. How then does it happen, one may ask, that when the body is pampered, lust increases? Note that here too it is a matter of sin by the soul. Pampering the flesh is not an act of the flesh, but of the soul. If the soul chooses to control the flesh, it would possess absolute power over it.

Their shameful action is just as if they saw a man light a fire. They watched as he heaped on fuel and set a house on fire. But then they blame the destruction on the fire instead of the man who started it! Even if it had spread from a heap of fuel and risen to a great height, it would not be right to blame the fire but rather the one who kindled it. Fire was given to man for the purpose of preparing food, producing light, and other similar uses, not for burning down houses. In the same way, sexual desire is implanted in man for the raising up of families and to ensure the continuance of life, but not for adultery, or fornication, or lustful thoughts. It is so that a man can become a father, not an adulterer; a lawful husband, not a seducer; leaving heirs for himself, not doing damage to another man’s. Adultery does not arise from nature, but from the abuse of nature; nature sets down the proper use of sex, not its misuse.

[4.] These thoughts of mine are not random, but they are the preliminary remarks to an argument, the first skirmish in a debate against those who assert that the workmanship of God is evil, and who neglecting the laziness of the soul, madly rant against the human body, and rail against our flesh. When Paul later discusses this, he does not blame the flesh, but rather our own satanic thoughts.

Verse 13: You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

From this point on Paul appears to digress into a moral discourse, but in a way that is different from any of his other letters. All his other letters are divided into two parts. In the first he discusses doctrine, in the last how to live. But here, after starting this moral discourse, he inserts another doctrinal section.

This passage has teaching that can be referred to in the controversy with the Manicheans. What does it mean when he says, “Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature?” “Christ has delivered us,” he says, “from the yoke of bondage. He has left us free to act as we want, not so that we can use our freedom for evil, but so that we can be prepared to receive a higher reward, and advance to a higher philosophy.” He wants to make sure that when he calls the law over and over again a yoke of bondage and the bringer of the curse, no one suspects that his goal is to urge people to abandon the law and live lawlessly. He corrects this idea, and states his goal – not that our way of life might be lawless, but that our philosophy might surpass the law.

The bonds of the law have been broken, and I say this not so that our standards might be lowered, but so that it may be exalted. Both he who commits fornication and he who leads a celibate life surpass the bounds of the law, but not in the same way. The one is led to a worse lifestyle, the other is elevated to a better one; the one transgresses the law, the other transcends it. Paul says that Christ has removed the yoke from you, not so that you may act up and party, but so that you can go forward at a faster pace, now that you are unyoked. Next he shows how this can most readily be accomplished. What way is that? He says:

Verse 13: Rather serve one another in love.

Here again he hints that strife and a partisan spirit, wanting to be in charge and presumptuousness, were the causes of their error. The desire to be in charge is the mother of heresies. By saying, “Serve one another,” Paul shows that the evil had come about from this presumptuous and arrogant spirit, and therefore he applies a corresponding remedy. Just as your divisions arose from your desire to be domineering over each other, “serve one another,” for in this way you will be reconciled again.

He does not openly spell out their faults, but he openly tells them how to correct them, so that in this way they will become aware of them. It is as if instead of telling an immoral person about his immorality, you would continually encourage him to live a pure life. He that loves his neighbor as he should does not object to being a servant to him more humbly than any servant. As fire, brought into contact with wax easily softens it, so does the warmth of love dissolve all arrogance and presumption more powerfully than fire. That is why he does not simply say “love one another,” but “serve one another in love,” showing the intensity of the feeling. His goal is that when the yoke of the law is taken off them, they might not run away after the desires of their flesh, but rather that they would receive a new yoke, stronger than the former, yet far lighter and more pleasant, the command to love. In order to point out the way to obey it, Paul adds:

Verse 14: The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Seeing that they made so much of the law, he says, “If you wish to fulfill it, don’t be circumcised. The law is not fulfilled in circumcision, but in love.” Note that Paul cannot forget his grief, but constantly mentions what was troubling him, even after he had launched into his moral discourse.

Verse 15: If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

In order not to distress the Galatians, Paul does not assert that they are biting and devouring, though he knew it was the case, but speaks very ambiguously. He does not say, “Since you are biting one another,” nor again does he assert in the following clause that they will be consumed by each other. Instead he says “watch out or you will be destroyed by each other,” and this is the language of concern and warning, not of condemnation.

The words which Paul uses are carefully chosen. He does not merely say, “you are biting,” which one might do when in a passion, but also “you are devouring,” which implies an attitude of hatred. To bite is to satisfy one’s feeling of anger, but to devour is proof of the most savage ferocity. The biting and devouring he speaks of are not bodily, but of a much more cruel kind. To taste the flesh of a human is not as serious an injury as to fix one’s fangs into his soul. Just as the soul is more precious than the body, so damage to a soul is also more serious.

“Watch out that you are not devoured by another.” Those who commit injury and lay plots are acting in order to destroy others. So Paul says, “watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” Strife and dissension ruin and destroy those who merely allow them in as much as they ruin those who invite them in. They devour everything they touch, worse than a moth does.

Verse 16: So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh [NIV: sinful nature].

[5.] Here Paul points out a different way, which makes one’s duty easy. It secures what he had said – a path by which love is generated, and which is protected by love. Nothing, I repeat, nothing makes us so susceptible to love as being spiritual. Nothing is such an inducement to the Spirit to live in us, as the strength of love. Therefore Paul says, “Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh [NIV: sinful nature].” After having spoken of the cause of the disease, he likewise mentions the remedy which restores health. What is this, what is the destruction of the evils we have spoken of, except life in the Spirit? So he says, “Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh [NIV: sinful nature].

Verse 17: For the flesh [NIV: sinful nature] desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh [NIV: sinful nature]. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.

Some make the charge that in this passage Paul has divided man into two parts, and that he teaches that the essence of man is a combination of different parts and fights within itself, namely that the body is in conflict with the soul. This is certainly not true. By “flesh,” he can not mean the physical body. If he did, what would be the sense of the words, “it is contrary to the Spirit”? The body doesn’t direct itself, but it is directed by the soul. It is not an agent, but is acted upon. How could the body act contrary, for its actions are the product of the soul, not to the body, as it says in another place, “My soul yearns,” (Ps 84:2) and, “Whatever your soul [NIV: you] wants me to do, I’ll do for you,” (1 Sam 20:4) and, “Don’t walk according to the desires of your heart,” and “My soul pants for you” (Ps 42:1).

Why then does Paul say, “the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit?” Because he is in the habit of speaking about ‘the flesh,’ not as a reference to the natural body, but the depraved will. For example, he says, “You, however, are controlled not by the flesh but by the Spirit,” (Rom 8:9); and again, “Those controlled by the flesh cannot please God.” So is the flesh to be destroyed? Wasn’t the one speaking also clothed in flesh? Such teachings do not come from the body, but from the Devil, for “he was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). What then does he mean? It is the earthly mind, lazy and careless, that he here calls the flesh. He is not accusing the human body, but the lazy soul.

The flesh is an instrument, and no one feels aversion and hatred to an instrument, but rather to the person that abuses it. It is not the iron weapon but the murderer who uses it whom we hate and punish. But someone might say that merely by calling the faults of the soul by the term “the flesh” or “the sinful nature” we are already accusing the body. I admit that the flesh is inferior to the soul, yet it too is good. That which is inferior to what is good may itself be good. But evil is not inferior to good, it opposes good. Now if you are able to prove to me that evil originates from the body, then go ahead and accuse it. But if you want to prove this simply from the use of the term “the flesh,” then you ought to accuse the soul in the same way. For the person who is deprived of the truth is called “the natural man (psychikos)” [NIV “man without the Spirit”] (1 Cor 2:14), and the race of demons are called “the spiritual forces of evil” (Eph 6:12).

Again, the Scriptures regularly give the name “flesh” to the mysteries of the Lord’s Supper, and to the whole Church, calling them the Body of Christ (Col 1:24). In order to induce you to call those things “blessings” for which the flesh is the means, one has only to imagine life without the senses, and then you will find the soul is deprived of all discernment, and ignorant of what it knew before. The power of God is “since the creation of the world … clearly seen, being understood from what has been made,” (Rom 1:20) but how could we see those things without eyes? And if “faith comes by hearing,” (Rom 10:17), how can we hear without ears? Preaching depends on making journeys using our tongues and feet. “For how can they preach, unless they are sent” (Rom 10:15)? In the same way it is with our hands that we write. Do you not see that the use of the flesh produces a thousand benefits for us?

So when Paul says, “the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit,” he is talking about two mental states which oppose one another, namely, virtue and vice. He is not talking about the soul and the body. These two would destroy each other if they were in opposition, like water destroys fire and light overcomes darkness. But if the soul cares for the body, and takes great precautions because of it, and endures a thousand things in order not to leave it, and resists being separated from it, and if the body too serves the soul, and passes on to it much knowledge, and is adapted to its operations, how then can they be contrary, and conflicting with each other? For myself, I can see by their actions that they are not in any way contrary. They work closely together and are attached one to the other. Therefore Paul is not speaking about these being in conflict with each other, but rather of the contest between good and evil principles (compare Rom 7:23). To will and not to will belongs to the soul. That is why Paul says, “they are in conflict with one another,” so that you will not allow the soul to go forward with its evil desires. He speaks this in a threatening way, like a master and teacher.

Verse 18: But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

[6.] If you ask in what way these two are connected, I will answer that they are connected clearly and intimately. The person who has the Spirit should use it to overcome every evil desire, and he who is released from those desires does not need any help from the law, but has been elevated far above its demands. He who is never angry has no need to hear the command, “You shall not kill.” He who never casts unclean looks has no need of the admonition, “You shall not commit adultery.” Who would discuss the fruits of wickedness with a person who had uprooted it altogether? For anger is the root of murder, and the longing glance is the source of adultery. So Paul says, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” In doing so, it appears to me that he has given a high and striking eulogy of the law, since the law stood in the place of the Spirit before the Spirit’s coming upon us.

But that does not mean we are required to continue on with a new tutor. At that time we were rightly subject to the law, so that by fear we might discipline our lusts, since the Spirit had not come into play. But now that grace has been given, which not only commands us to avoid these sins but both overcomes them, and leads us to a higher rule of life, why do we need the law anymore? He who has obtained a higher excellence from some inner impulse has no need for a tutor; nor does anyone who is a philosopher require help from a grammarian. So why do you so degrade yourselves by still listening to the law, when you have already given yourselves to the Spirit?

Verses 19-21: The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Answer me now, you who are accusing your own flesh, and suppose that these things are said about it because your body is your enemy and adversary. Even if we were to agree that adultery and fornication proceed from the flesh, as you assert, still you must admit that hatred, conflict, emulations, discord, heresies, and witchcraft all come about due to depraved moral choices. So it is with the others, for how can they be blamed on the flesh? You see that Paul is not here speaking about the flesh, but about earthly thoughts, which trail upon the ground. That is why he raises the alarm for his readers by saying, that “those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

If these things were part of nature and not a bad moral choice, his expression, “they practice” [NIV: live] is inappropriate. Instead he would have said “they suffer” from these things. And if that were the case, then why should they be thrown out of the kingdom? Rewards and punishments are given not on the basis of what comes out of one’s nature but on one’s choices.

Verse 22: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Paul does not say, “the work of the Spirit,” but “the fruit of the Spirit.” But is the soul somehow superfluous, since he mentions the flesh and the Spirit, but not the soul? Is he talking about beings without a soul? If the works of the flesh are evil, and those of the Spirit good, the soul must be superfluous. Not at all! Mastering one’s passions is done by the soul. When the soul is placed amid vice and virtue, if it has used the body properly, it has made it spiritual. But if the soul would separate itself from the Spirit and give itself up to evil desires, it would make itself more earthly. So you see again that Paul’s discourse does not relate to the literal flesh, but to the moral choice, which is or is not evil. And why does Paul say, “the fruit of the Spirit?” It is because evil works originate in our very selves, and therefore he calls them “works,” but good works require not only our own diligence but God’s loving kindness.

He first mentions the root of these good things, and then proceeds to recount them when he says, “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” For who would issue a command to him who already did these things by nature, and who loves the finished mistress of philosophy? Just as horses who are docile and are obedient of their own accord never need to be whipped, so the soul, which has attained excellence by the Spirit never needs the admonitions of the law. Here too he completely and strikingly throws out the law, not as bad, but as inferior to the philosophy given by the Spirit.

Verse 24: Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh [NIV: sinful nature] with its passions and desires.

Yet, so that no one might object, “Is it really possible for anyone to become that sort of man?” Paul points out those who by their works have attained to that perfection. He again uses the term “flesh” to refer to such evil actions. He does not mean that they had destroyed their literal flesh, otherwise they would be dead. For what has been crucified is dead and can do nothing. So he is referring to someone who has attained perfect self-control over his sinful desires. Such desires, although they are troublesome, rage in vain against this man. Since this is the power of the Spirit, let us live in it and be content with it, as he himself adds:

Verse 25: Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit,

i.e., being governed by the Spirit’s laws. This is the meaning of the words “let us live,” that is, let us be content with the power of the Spirit, and not seek help from the law. Then, indicating that those who wished to introduce circumcision were motivated by ambition, he says,

Verse 26: “Let us not become conceited,” which is the cause of all evils, “provoking each other” to disagreements and strife, “and envying each other.” For conceit is produced by envy and from envy come all these countless evils.

Chrysostom on Galatians – main page

Chrysostom on Galatians 6

Revised by GLT

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