It is evident from the Greek text here that there was a very bad spirit in the church. Bad doctrine and bad walk in life go hand in hand inevitably! Sound words of doctrine make for healthy piety, preparing us unto every good work. (II Tim. 3:16-17) We must be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work. (II Tim. 2:21) But such was not the case with these legalizers, who would have a Gospel, which is not a Gospel. (Gal 1:7) These “troublers” of the church could be seen by their fruits as being false prophets. (Matt. 7:15-20

The text says: “but if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.” We should notice here that, in the three verbs, “bite, ” “devour,” and “consume,” there is an increase in the description of the destructiveness. To bite one another is bad; however, to “devour” is much more destructive. Yet, “to consume one another” is far worse. Then there would be nothing left of the congregation; she would be entirely destroyed. The conditional sentence is stated as presupposing a determined reality. Such is actually the condition of the Galatian churches, who do not walk in their liberty in Christ, but who are now acting from the principle of law and of the sinful flesh. Having their mouth full of laws and precepts upon precepts, they fail to grasp in a spiritual-psychological way what the real fulfillment of the law is: to love the neighbor as ourselves. 

Legalists have a way of devouring one another; legalists cannot forgive in their own self-righteousness because they do not themselves taste the justifying and forgiving love of God. (Eph. 4:31-32) Legalists strain at the gnat and. swallow the camel! (Matt. 23:24) They look with disdain upon the repentant and joyful sinner, who has found peace in the blood of the Cross; to kiss the feet of Jesus in sheer joy of heavenly gratitude. (Luke 7:45)And now Paul warns these Galatians, in the Gospel context of their liberty in Christ, not to be enslaved with such a bondage of the law which can only provoke to sin as the power of sin. They are not under law but under grace; sons of Sarah they are and not of Hagar, which gendereth to bondage! We are from Jerusalem above, we are free, and, therefore, we must not walk according to the flesh but we must walk according to the Spirit. 

Paul does not give a little larger dose of “law” to correct these erring brethren in Christ. More than one minister, which I have heard, does exactly this: thunder the law. Nay, we need to be called to our spiritual senses, when we wander away from the straight and narrow path of the liberty in Christ, by showing us the devastating effects of walking after the flesh, which is tantamount to walking as being “under law.” The call to repentance is a Gospel-call to walk in our liberty in Christ: to love our neighbor as ourself, by a faith which works by love, and which expects the hope of righteousness. That is the only Scriptural and Reformed pedagogy in the church; it is the very quintessence of the law of God as promulgated from Sinai to the church of God in the wilderness; it is the very essence of the moral law as it is interwoven in every Gospel-precept in the New Testament Scriptures, calling us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, reminding us that it is God, Who works (energizes) in us both to will and to do after His good-pleasure. (Exodus 20:1-2Phil. 2:12-13 ) 


Paul will now clarify what he has said concerning this danger of a fleshly-legalistic walk, this departure from fulfilling the royal law of liberty. Writes he, “Now I say walk by the Spirit and ye shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:16) That is the thrust of Paul’s argument. That is the only sound pedagogical approach to any trouble in the church in Galatia and to the church at any point and place in history. 

The church is the temple of the Holy Spirit, the dwelling-place of God in the Spirit (Eph. 2:21-22); the only life in the church is by the life-giving Spirit. Writes Paul in Gal. 5:25, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” The Greek text literally states: If live we by the Spirit, by the Spirit also let us walk! We can only walk by the Spirit because we live, have our life’s blood from the Spirit. 

We may remark here, in passing, that Paul contrasts the Spirit on the one hand, with “the flesh” in the Christian who is reborn, and on the other hand with “the law” For the former see Gal. 4:16 and for the latter see Gal. 4:18. This contrast which Paul makes we should keep in mind and see more in depth. The truth of the matter is that, in the Bible, being “under law” is tantamount to being “under sin.” Only when we walk according to and by the Spirit do we stand on higher ground. To that higher ground of our freedom in Christ Paul exhorts us in this passage concerning the work of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 6:12-14) Only thus do we come to the higher ground of sanctification, which cries out, “God forbid, that I should remain in sin, that grace may abound.” 

Paul makes the profound and yet lucid pronouncement here in Gal. 5:16 that, when we walk by the Spirit, we shallnot fulfill.(ou mee teleseete) the lusts of the flesh! Paul puts this statement in the imperative mood. Let the entire circumference of all your life, your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength be such that you are Spirit-led; that the inward quickening, drawing, sanctifying, renewing power of the Spirit is the motivation and power of your life toward God, your fellowman, and toward all things, as circumscribed and demanded by the law of God, as fulfilled in Christ on the Cross. LetChrist dwell in you by the Spirit. Only this Spirit of sanctification will banish the flesh from your life; it alone is the power to mortify our members upon the earth. That will be the end, once and for all, of all biting, devouring and consuming one another! That will be the law written upon our fleshy (not fleshly) hearts. (I1 Cor. 3:3; Jer. 31:33Ezek. 11:19;Heb. 8:10)The only remedy for overcoming the works of the flesh is that we serve the Lord in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. (Rom. 7:6

Thus we shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. Paul begins by defining this flesh from the viewpoint of the “lusts.” He begins by pointing out the deep spiritual nature of the law in opposition to the “lusts.” Paul had not known “lust” to be sin, its very root, if the law, the tenth commandment did not say “Thou shall not covet.” Here Paul sees the “motions of sin ” in his members, the deep, inner, uncontrollable “passions,”(patheemata) which are wrought in him by the law. Paul could never say: walk according to the law and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. More law-principle would only result in more sin, more transgression! On the contrary Paul says: lust can only be mortified by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ became a curse for us on the Cross in order that we, the Gentiles, might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Gal. 3:13-14) That is the starting-point of Paul’s great Gospel-precept, the warning and exhortation by which grace is wrought in our hearts. To do less would be tempting God in the church. (Acts 15:10; Canons of Dordt, III, IV, Art. 17) 

Hence Paul can state as a most certain axiom that when we walk according to the Spirit “ye shall not at all (ou mee) fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:16

What does it mean to “fulfill” the lust of the flesh? The term in the Greek for “fulfill” is “teleseete. ” The idea of the verb is: to bring to a close, to finish, to end. It is not the same as the term “plerooo” which means to make the measure full. Rather we are here dealing with bringing the lust to its full end, as it expresses itself in words, thoughts, and actions. We see this very strikingly set forth by James where he writes, “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when sin hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:14-15) He that walks by the Spirit does not come to this “finishing” of the lusts of the flesh in actual deeds. Instead, he sees the fruit of the Spirit in his life, and may with holy joy see the infallible fruits of election in his life, and be assured of his faith by the fruits thereof. (Canons of Dort, I, 12; II Pet. 1:5-10Matt. 12:33)

Such is the great power of the Spirit of sanctification in our lives! 

Paul lays great and repeated emphasis upon the work of the Holy Spirit in this epistle to the Galatians. He reminds them that their very beginning in grace, was by the Spirit, (Gal. 3:2) (and that they must not try to be perfected in the flesh) which is the very opposite, the sin-principle, the law-principle of the old Adamic, fallen nature, which is totally corrupt and sold under sin. (Gal. 3:3) God is the One, Who ministers the Spirit unto us, working powerfully in our hearts. He sent His Son to the Cross that we might receive the promised. Spirit; yea, He sent Him in the fullness of time, made from a woman, and made under law, that we might receive the Spirit of adoption through which we cry, Abba, Father! It belongs to the essence of our sonship of adoption to receive the Spirit of adoption, which is not a Spirit of bondage again to fear, to slavery once more, but to freedom. (Gal. 4:6-7) And Paul enforces this with the allegory of the two mothers, Hagar and Sarah, which are two mountains, as we have seen in earlier essays. (Gal. 4:21-31) For the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. For the Spirit of grace and glory rests upon the church, which is God’s dwelling-place in the Spirit. (I Peter 4: 14; Eph. 2:22) Every individual believer is the temple of the Holy Spirit, the very inner sanctuary. (naos) This temple must not be defiled! (I Cor. 6:18-20

This we must keep constantly in mind, that we are God’s holy temple in the Spirit of Christ. We have been raised with Christ unto a new life, which is not in the oldness of the letter, but which is in the newness of the Spirit. We are not under law, but we are under the mighty, quickening power of grace in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

And this calls for a mighty battle!