"I say, then, walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these two are opposed to each other, so that you don't do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Gal 5:16-18)
Throughout the whole letter to the Galatians, Paul is setting up a dichotomy between what it means to live under in the Spirit, and what it means to live in the flesh. He explores this in many ways through many different metaphors, which can at times be confusing as he draws on images from daily life (back then), as well as Old Testament scripture.
But these images and metaphors climax in this week’s passage where it is most plainly laid out in front of us – it is a battle between the Spirit versus the Flesh. Paul himself admits that this is not a complex issue – “Now the works of the flesh are obvious…” (v. 19), and yet they are the very things that the people of Galatia have fallen back into. We ourselves are only human, and can find it easy to be swayed by negative influences “so that you don’t do what you want” (v. 17). Despite a genuine eagerness to do the right things and be ‘good Christians’, for both the Galatians and us today, we simply cannot do things to make ourselves perfect. This is the very law Paul has been speaking against in this letter!
Instead, Paul calls us to belong to Christ Jesus (v. 24) so that we can live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit (v. 25). When we hand ourselves over to God, then he produces the fruit of the Spirit in us instead of the ways of the flesh – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (v. 22-23).